What’s new on this year’s tax return?

While Canadian taxpayers must prepare and file the same form – the T1 Income Tax and Benefit Return – every spring, that return form is never the same from one year to the next. The one constant in tax is change, and every year taxpayers sit down to face a different tax return form than they dealt with the previous year.

First, there are “automatic” changes to the tax rules which are reflected on the return every year. The basic personal credits which can be claimed by most taxpayers increase every year, as do the income brackets which determine the tax rate which applies at each level of income, as both are changed to reflect the rate of inflation.

Changes in tax credit amounts or tax bracket figures are largely invisible to the average taxpayer, as they don’t require any change to the layout or organization of the tax return form, or the process of completing it. The more significant changes are those which provide new credits or deductions to qualifying taxpayers or, conversely, eliminate such credits or deductions which taxpayers might have claimed in previous years. What follows is a listing of such changes which taxpayers will find when completing their return for the 2018 tax year.

Climate Action Incentive

Perhaps the best news in the 2018 tax return, for taxpayers who are residents of Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba, or New Brunswick, is the new Climate Action Incentive (CAI) – a refundable tax credit intended to help mitigate the impact of carbon taxes. The Incentive is extremely broad-based; it is, with few exceptions, claimable by any resident of one of those provinces who is 18 years of age or older, has a spouse or common law partner, or is a parent who lives with his or her child.

The CAI rates vary by province, with the basic incentive ranging from $128 in New Brunswick to $305 in Saskatchewan. An individual who has a spouse or common law partner, or a dependant, can claim an amount in respect of each, and a separate amount is claimable by a single parent in respect of each qualified dependant. As with the basic amount, the amounts claimable for spouses or common law partners and for qualified dependants will vary by province.

The amount of the CAI is increased for individuals who live in rural areas, where the impact of a carbon tax is likely to be greater. Such individuals can increase their basic CAI claim (as outlined above) by 10% to arrive at the total amount claimable. The definition of what constitutes “rural area” for purposes of the CAI has been defined by the tax authorities and a listing of locations in each province which do not qualify as a rural area can be found on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/individuals/topics/about-your-tax-return/tax-return/completing-a-tax-return/deductions-credits-expenses/line-449-climate-action-incentive/qualify-for-the-supplement.html.

Finally, the CAI is a refundable credit, meaning that it is paid to the taxpayer even where no tax is payable for the year and, finally, there are no income restrictions when it comes to eligibility – all qualifying taxpayers receive the amounts outlined above, regardless of their income for the year.

Medical expense tax credit

The list of medical and para-medical expenses for which the medical expense tax credit can be claimed is long and detailed and subject to continual revision. This year, that list has been expanded to include a variety of expenses relating to service animals specially trained to perform specific tasks for a patient with a severe mental impairment.

Unfortunately, the two changes listed above are the only ones which are likely to put money in the taxpayer’s pocket this year. The other major changes which are effective for 2018 cancel existing credits or deductions which were formerly available.

First-time donor super-credit expires

In 2013, the federal government introduced a so-called “first time donor super credit”, which allowed individuals who had not claimed a charitable donation tax credit for a specified period to claim an enhanced credit for donations made in 2013 and the subsequent four years. The first-time super donor tax credit expired at the end of 2017 and consequently no such claim can be made on the 2018 return.

Employee home relocation loan deduction eliminated

Under general tax rules, employees who receive a loan from their employer are considered to have received a taxable benefit. Prior to 2018, preferential tax treatment in the form of a deduction was provided for employees who were required to relocate for work purposes and who received a loan from their employer to assist with related expenses. However, the employee home relocation loan deduction was eliminated as of January 1, 2018.

Changes to the Return, Schedules, and Guide

It’s not news to anyone that our tax system is complex, and that complexity is reflected in the annual tax return form, and in the guide which is intended to provide assistance to taxpayers in completing that return. The income tax return is composed of a four-page return form (the T1) and a number of schedules. Each of those schedules is used to calculate a particular amount – usually a tax credit or tax deduction amount, which is then transferred to a particular line on the return form. Anyone who has ever prepared a tax return is familiar with the sometimes frustrating process of moving back and forth from the return to the schedules to the guide (and back again!), searching for the information needed to figure out just how to complete a particular line or lines of the return.

This year, the Canada Revenue Agency has made some changes in the return, the schedules, and the guide, which are intended to streamline and simplify that process. Specifically, instructions and information which are needed to complete a particular schedule have been moved from the guide and included on that schedule. As well, there are a number of schedules for which it is necessary to first complete some calculations on a worksheet. This year, such calculations, instead of being included in the guide, are incorporated with the worksheet for the particular schedule. Overall, the changes seek to gather in one place all of the information, instructions, and calculations needed to complete a particular schedule, hopefully reducing or eliminating the frustrating need to search through the entire guide for the needed information.

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.