A mid-year check up on your taxes

Most Canadians have now filed their individual income tax return for the 2018 tax year and received a Notice of Assessment outlining their tax position for that year. Those who receive a refund will celebrate that fact or, less happily, those who receive a tax bill will pay up the tax amount owed. 

Both groups of taxpayers are then likely to forget about taxes until it’s tax filing time again in the spring of 2020. The fact is, however, that mid-year is very good time to assess one’s tax position for the current year and is particularly a good idea for taxpayers who have received a large refund or a bill for tax owing.

Although few Canadians have this perspective, the reality is that getting either a big tax refund or having to pay a large tax bill is a sign that one’s tax affairs need attention. A refund, especially a large refund, means that the taxpayer has overpaid his or her taxes for the previous year and has essentially provided the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) with an interest-free loan of funds that could have been put to better use in the taxpayer’s hands. The other outcome — a large bill — means that taxes have been underpaid for the previous year and could mean paying interest charges to the CRA. Either way, it’s in the taxpayer’s best interests to ensure that tax paid throughout the year is sufficient to cover his or her taxes, without overpaying or underpaying. The best-case scenario is to complete one’s tax return and to then receive a Notice of Assessment which indicates that there is neither a refund payable nor any amount owing.

All of this makes the mid-point of the tax year a good time to make sure that everything is on track, and put in place any adjustments needed to help ensure that there are no tax surprises when filing one’s tax return for 2019 next spring. And, as the calendar year goes on, the opportunities to make a significant difference to one’s current year tax situation diminish.

The first step in doing that review is to get a sense of how much tax one will have to pay for 2019. The income of most taxpayers doesn’t change significantly from year to year and, by mid-year, most taxpayers will have a good sense of what their income will be for 2019. Consequently, where income hasn’t changed much, the amount of tax which was paid for 2018 (a number which can be found on Line 435 of the Summary on page 3 of one’s 2018 Notice of Assessment) serves as a good starting point. (In most cases, owing to increases in tax brackets and credits, the amount of tax payable by taxpayers whose income doesn’t change significantly between 2018 and 2019 will decrease slightly.)

There are two ways of paying taxes throughout the year. The majority of Canadians (including all employees) have income taxes deducted from their paycheques and remitted to the federal government on their behalf — known as source deductions. Taxpayers who do not have income tax deducted at source — which would include self-employed individuals and, frequently, retired taxpayers — make tax payments directly to the federal government (four times a year, on the 15th of March, June, September, and December) through the tax instalment system.

Once a rough idea of one’s tax liability for 2019 is arrived at, it’s necessary to figure out whether income tax payments made to date, either by source deductions or instalment payments, match up with that tax liability figure, recognizing that by this point in the year, approximately one-half of 2019 taxes should already have been paid. If they haven’t, and particularly if there is a shortfall which will mean a balance owing when the tax return for 2019 is filed next spring, the taxpayer will need to take steps to remedy that.

Where the individual involved pays tax by instalments, the solution is simple. He or she can simply increase or decrease the amount of remaining instalment payments made in 2019 so that the total instalment payments made over the course of 2019 accurately reflect the total tax payable for the year. The only caveat in that situation is that the individual should err on the side of caution to ensure that there isn’t a shortfall in instalment payments, which could result in interest charges being levied by the CRA.

The situation is a little more complex for employees, or for anyone who has tax deducted at source. Often when such individuals discover that they are overpaying taxes through source deductions, it’s because other deductions which they claim on their return for the year — for expenditures like  deductible support payments, child care expenses or contributions to a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) — aren’t taken into account in calculating the amount of tax to deduct at source. The solution for employees who find themselves in that situation is to file a Form T1213, Request to Reduce Tax Deductions at Source, which is available on the CRA website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pbg/tf/t1213/README.html with the Agency. On that form, the taxpayer identifies the additional amounts which will be deducted on the return for the year and, once the CRA verifies that those deductible expenditures are being made, it will authorize the taxpayer’s employer to reduce the amount of tax which is being withheld at source, so as to reflect the reduced tax payable for the year by the employee/taxpayer.

Where it’s the opposite situation and a taxpayer finds that source deductions being made will not be sufficient to cover his or her tax liability for the year (meaning a tax bill to be paid next spring) the solution is to have those source deductions increased. To do that, the employee needs to obtain a TD1A form for their province of residence for 2019, which is available on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/forms-publications/td1-personal-tax-credits-returns/td1-forms-pay-received-on-january-1-later.html. On the reverse side of that Form TD1, there is a section entitled “Additional tax to be deducted”, in which the employee can direct his or her employer to deduct additional amounts at source for income tax, and can specify the dollar amount which is to be deducted from each paycheque, on a go-forward basis.

A final note — while no one likes getting a tax bill, there are taxpayers who simply like getting a tax refund and overpay their taxes through the year to create that result. Some of them view that approach as a kind of “forced” savings plan, while others simply like the idea of getting an annual cheque or direct deposit from the tax authorities. There is nothing inherently wrong with that approach, so long as the taxpayer understands that a tax refund is simply money which was always theirs and is simply being returned to them by the CRA (without interest).  Those who would rather not loan money to the CRA interest-free and who don’t want to face a tax bill each spring can avoid both scenarios by investing a couple of hours of time and a little paperwork to ensure that this year’s tax payments are on track.  

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.