When and how to file this year’s tax return

Each year, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) publishes a statistical summary of the tax filing patterns of Canadians during the previous filing season. Those statistics for the 2018 show that the vast majority of Canadian individual income tax returns — nearly 87%, or almost 26 million returns — were filed online, using one or the other of the CRA’s web-based filing methods. 

The remaining 13% of returns were, for the most part, paper-filed, and a very small percentage (0.1%) were filed using the File My Return service, in which returns are filed by telephone.

Clearly, electronic filing is the overwhelming choice of Canadian taxpayers, and those who choose electronic filing this year have two choices — NETFILE and E-FILE. The first of those — NETFILE, which was used last year by just under 30% of tax filers) — involves preparing one’s return using software approved by the CRA and filing that return on the Agency’s website, using the NETFILE service. E-FILE involves having a third party file one’s return online. Almost always, the E-FILE service provider also prepares the return which they are filing. And, it seems that most Canadians want to have little to do with the preparation of their own returns, as last year 57.3% of all the individual income tax returns filed came in by E-FILE. 

The majority of Canadians who would rather have someone else deal with the intricacies of the Canadian tax system on their behalf can find information about E-FILE on the CRA website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/esrvc-srvce/tx/ndvdls/fl-nd/menu-eng.html. That site will also provide a listing (searchable by postal code) of authorized E-FILE service providers across Canada, and that listing can be found at https://apps.cra-arc.gc.ca/ebci/efes/epcs/prot/ntr.action.

Those who are able and willing to prepare their own tax returns and file online can use the CRA’s NETFILE service, and information on that service can be found at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/esrvc-srvce/tx/ndvdls/netfile-impotnet/menu-eng.html. While there are some kinds of returns which cannot be NETFILED (for instance, a return for a non-resident of Canada, or for someone who declared bankruptcy in 2018 or 2019), the vast majority of Canadians who wish to do so will be able to NETFILE their return. As well, while it was once necessary to obtain an access code in order to NETFILE, that’s no longer the case. The CRA’s NETFILE security procedures can be satisfied by providing specific personal identifying information, including one’s social insurance number and date of birth.

A return can be filed using NETFILE only where it is prepared using tax return preparation software which has been approved by the CRA. While such software can be found for sale just about everywhere at this time of year, approved software which can be used free of charge is also available. A listing of free and commercial software approved for use in preparing individual returns for 2018 can be found on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/e-services/e-services-individuals/netfile-overview/certified-software-netfile-program.html.

Copies of the 2018 tax return and guide package can also be ordered online, at https://apps.cra-arc.gc.ca/ebci/cjcf/fpos-scfp/pub/rdr?searchKey=ncp%20, to be sent to the taxpayer by regular mail. Taxpayers can also download and print hard copy of the return and guide from the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/forms-publications/tax-packages-years/general-income-tax-benefit-package.html. Finally, the CRA has made a “limited” number of tax packages available at Service Canada offices and post offices across the country.

Last year the CRA reinstated (for some taxpayers) a tax return filing option that was previously discontinued. For several years, taxpayers with simple returns had the option of filing their returns using a touch-tone telephone. That option, now called  File my Return service (FMR) will be available to eligible Canadians with low or fixed incomes whose situations remain unchanged from year to year, even if they have no income to report, so that they receive the benefits and credits to which they are entitled. The FMR option is, however, available only to taxpayers who are advised by the CRA of their eligibility, and those individuals will have been notified by letter during the month of February.

Finally, taxpayers who are not comfortable preparing their own returns, but for whom the cost of engaging a third party to do so is a financial hardship, have another option. During tax filing season, there are a number of Community Volunteer Tax Preparation Clinics where taxpayers can have their returns prepared free of charge by volunteers. A listing of such clinics (which is regularly updated during tax filing season) can be found on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/campaigns/free-tax-help.html.

While there are a number of filing options available to Canadian taxpayers, there’s no element of choice when it comes to the filing and payment deadlines for 2018 tax returns. All individual Canadians must pay the balance of any taxes owed for 2018 on or before Tuesday April 30, 2018, with no exceptions and, absent very unusual circumstances, no extensions.

For the majority of Canadians, the tax return for 2018 must also be filed on or before Tuesday April 30, 2019. Self-employed taxpayers and their spouses have until Monday June 17, 2018 to file their returns for 2018 (but they too must pay any 2018 taxes owing on or before April 30, 2019).

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.