Monthly Archive: March 2017

Harness Your Company’s Public Relations

thmb_ink_pen_writing_paper_amKeep the Message Consistent

If your company is planning an acquisition, merger, sale, corporate restructuring or a major management change, you may want the public to be informed and you want to control the flow of the information.

Once you announced the news publicly, your company is likely to be in the limelight for quite some time, so it’s important that you develop a plan to cover all the bases. Here are some areas to prepare for when planning a communications strategy:

 Influencing Expectations

 If your company is making a material acquisition or sale, the way you present the message can influence the expectations of shareholders and the market over the long and short term.

Among the questions that you should consider answering:

  • Did the company get a good deal?
  • With a purchase, how long will it take to integrate the new asset and how much is that going to cost?
  • How is the company financing the purchase?
  • If a sale is involved, how will you replace the lost revenue? What do you plan to do with the money from the sale of the asset? Pay down debt? Invest in expansion or new plant and equipment?
  • Does the transaction accurately reflect the company’s long-term growth strategy or does it indicate a new direction?

Craft your message - This is the starting point and it must reflect your overall corporate strategy. Although you will probably tailor the message to different audiences, such as employees, the media, stockholders and analysts, the overall message should be consistent.

Highlight the benefits - When explaining the transaction, include the business or financial rationale, how the deal fits into your short and long-term strategy and what your company expects to gain from the transaction, such as a boost in sales or earnings or an expansion of your market.

Clear a path - Outline the process from beginning to end. Determine a timetable for disseminating information fairly and in a timely manner. Keep in mind any disclosure requirements. Be prepared for the unexpected.

Pick the right people - Name the individuals who will act as your company’s spokespersons, both to the public and internally to staff members. Line up people who will put your plan into effect, report on its status, and sign off on all intermediate transactions.

Brief and rehearse - Key players need to know the facts and be prepared for interviews or news conferences. Draft answers for the most difficult questions and for those you don’t want to answer for competitive or regulatory reasons. Prepare news releases. Be ready to offer timetables, quotes from top executives, and the company’s long-term outlook. Include phone numbers and e-mail addresses to contact individuals for interviews.

Tap into the Power of Customer Testimonials

thmb_sign_ask_me_bzOut of the Mouths of Customers

“You have a great product. It was delivered quickly and in perfect shape. I’ll be sure to tell my friends.”

Statements like this can boost your company’s sales as much as 250 per cent. Even better, when you get a testimonial from a consumer, that person is likely to become a more loyal customer and help spread the word about your company’s products.

What Makes a Good Testimonial?

Not all testimonials are created equal. To ensure yours have an impact, keep them:

Real – Testimonials have to be honest and believable. Otherwise, your company won’t gain credibility and it could lose some.

Specific – Customers should say exactly what they like. Whether it’s fast delivery, great customer service, or excellent quality, the more specific the details, the more believable and powerful the testimonial.

Comparative – Ask customers to discuss how your product or service has made life easier for them. Potential customers are likely to identify with those same problems.

Varied – Testimonials should reflect different aspects of your products and services so they appeal to different customers. The more benefits described, the more business will be generated.

If your company is a small or medium sized enterprise, it probably doesn’t have the built-in credibility of a national brand. But even on a tight advertising budget, you can build credibility with the help of satisfied customers.

Testimonials increase the comfort zones of potential buyers and help them overcome their concerns about trying new products. So consider a campaign to snag customer testimonials. Among the benefits:

Feedback - Customer testimonials provide valuable insight into what your company is doing right.

Increased loyalty - People who are willing to attach their names to your product are likely to become repeat buyers. These devoted customers also tend to develop a vested interest in your company and believe they have a hand in helping it grow.

Free advertising - Satisfied customers who put their names and reputations at stake for your company’s products or services become a source of free, viral advertising.

The first step in gathering testimonials, of course, is to provide top-notch products or services and to support them with consistently high customer service. Then, start the testimonial collection process by taking these steps:

File away positive customer comments that come in. These comments might come from casual conversations with your employees on the phone or in person. Ask employees to write down complimentary comments they hear from customers and submit them to someone in the company who is assigned to manage the file. And ask customers to write down their opinions in a letter or e-mail after you hear a flattering comment.

Actively solicit testimonials by sending out postcards or e-mail messages. Ask buyers what they like the most about your products or services.

Act fast. The best comments come shortly after a purchase when customers are satisfied. That is when they are the most likely to take the time and write something positive.

Once you receive complimentary comments, get permission to use them. Ask the customers if you can use their names, titles, and locations. A positive testimonial from a respected customer in your field goes a long way toward boosting your company’s credibility. Depending on your company’s marketing strategy, you may even want to get a picture with customers using your product or service.

What about surveys? Avoid asking for testimonials in the course of conducting them. Surveys are generally meant to be anonymous and customers need to feel free to make negative comments that can help your company improve.

Customer testimonials are among the best promotional copy around. In the end, let the customers speak for themselves so that the comments reflect their excitement and satisfaction. Edit them only when they need a little polish and get permission for the final version.

Why You Might Want Some Title Protection

You know that you can insure against what might happen to your home and its contents in the future, but are you aware that you can also protect your home from matters that happened in the past?

lores_insurance_file_folder_am

The Risks That Are Covered

Title insurance policies cover a broad range of risks that include:

  • Unpaid property taxes;
  • Survey defects;
  • Construction liens;
  • Defects in title;
  • Costs arising from building code violations;
  • Title fraud;
  • Zoning issues;
  • Claims of mental incapacity;
  • Defects in title that may occur from conflicting ownership claims, liens, or unreleased mortgages, and
  • Compliance and access issues such as work orders, permit violations, fences, boundaries, tenancies, rights of way, and certain easements.

Consider this situation: A man knocks on your door and tells you that he actually owns the home you purchased several years ago and have lived in since. The problem, he explains, is that a deed was forged twenty years earlier that illegally transferred the property owned by his now-deceased father. Even though you later bought the property in a legitimate deal, the forgery voided that original sale and all subsequent sales, including yours.

This is when you want to be able to pull out your title insurance policy.

Depending on the age of the home, it may have gone through many changes of ownership in the past, and before the house was built, the bare land may have gone through many more. Every transfer of ownership provides an opportunity for error, deliberate omission, or crime.

When you purchase a property, the seller generally provides a deed that contains a guarantee that the title is good. The seller is stating that no other party will show up and claim to own your home because of an improper transfer in the past and you won’t be hit with years of unpaid property taxes or other potentially devastating problems. However, that seller may be completely unaware of a past problem that, if discovered, would void the sale.

Title insurance is aimed at protecting you from such problems.

Title insurance companies assume the risk that a homeowner may be required to remedy a title problem at a later date. When covered title problems arise, it is the role of the insurance company to correct the problem or pay for any loss the policyholder incurs up to the policy amount. Additionally, all title insurance companies pay for legal costs incurred in defending title against the claims of others. (See right-hand box for a list of risks title insurance generally covers.)

Most title insurance policies contain exceptions for such matters as failure on your part to disclose pertinent information that could affect the title.

The policy remains in effect as long as you or your heirs own the property, and you can purchase a policy long after you bought it.

Many lenders require title insurance to protect them against a loss on the mortgage up to the principal amount of the loan. Those policies remain in effect as long as the mortgage remains on the title.

Before a title insurance policy is issued, the title company or an attorney examines all public records that pertain to the ownership of the property, usually going back 50 years, to ensure that the chain of title is problem-free. Once the company is certain that the title is clean and unencumbered, a title insurance commitment will be drawn up, and a policy issued.

Title insurance can cut a homebuyer’s costs by eliminating many of the searches a lawyer would normally do as well as the costs of having a survey prepared and the expenses involved to remedy any problems a survey would have disclosed.

Depending on the problem, title insurance companies will sometimes provide coverage for issues that would otherwise prevent a deal from closing with problems. For example, if a bank refuses to release funds because the homebuyer has the same name as someone who is subject to a court judgment, title insurance can be used to ensure the transaction closes.

Or if it is discovered that the garage or pool of the house being purchased extends onto a neighbouring property, title insurance can cover the cost of removing the structure if that is necessary. Considering the costs that could be involved in such situations, title insurance can be a cost-effective proactive move.

The one-time cost for title insurance ranges from around $200 to about $325, depending on the province and the type of property.

Help Pump up Business by Listing Yours on a Popular Federal Database

031017_Thinkstock_497366187_lores_kwSome Canadian companies and individuals seek opportunities to export their goods or talents. If you’re one of them, how do you get potential foreign business associates to notice you?

There are many ways you can drum up export business. You can make contacts in a foreign country starting with foreign consulates, find a local mentor or investor and develop a supply chain.

Or you can start more simply, by registering your company on the federal government-run Canadian Company Capabilities (CCC)

Canadian businesses have much to offer the world. We ranked second among 80 nations evaluated in the recently published 2017 Best Countries Report in U.S. News & World Report magazine. Canada is the largest trading partner of the United States. The biggest economic driver is the service sector, but it’s also a significant exporter of energy, food and minerals. Canada ranks third in the world in proven oil reserves and is the world’s fifth-largest oil producer.

The country’s top exports1 are:

1. Vehicles (16.5% of total exports)

2. Mineral fuels including oil (16%)

3. Machinery including computers (7.7%)

4. Gems and precious metals (4.8%)

5. Wood (3.4%)

6. Electrical machinery and equipment (3.2%)

7. Plastics and plastic articles (3.1%)

8. Aircraft and spacecraft (2.6%)

9. Pharmaceuticals (2.2%)

10. Aluminum (2.1%)

Clearly there is ample opportunity to provide goods and services beyond your borders, and CCC can help. (It can also be used to find suppliers, services and technology in Canada.)

The website houses an Industry Canada database of more than 60,000 Canadian businesses. Over 500,000 domestic and international companies browse the site each month looking for Canadian businesses that can fulfill their needs.

The database includes hundreds of specialized product, service and manufacturing directories. Each directory has an advanced search capacity and the business profiles contain comprehensive information on contacts, products, services, trade experience and technology.

Registration is free and the site lets businesses create profiles and custom printable reports. It’s specifically designed to help companies find enterprises that can supply the goods, services and technology they need.

The main page lists the 20 broad industries that the database includes, each with its own subcategories. Among the main industries, users will find:

Agriculture

Construction

Manufacturing

Wholesale Trade

 

Retail Trade

Finance and Insurance

Professional, Scientific and Technical Services

Arts, Entertainment and Recreation

Users can then search subcategories. For example, under the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services category, subcategories include:

Legal Services

Offices of Accountants

Architectural Services

Geophysical Surveying and Mapping Services

Computer Systems Design

Scientific Research and Development Services

Users may also browse by specialized directories, such as businesses owned by Aboriginals or women, Canadian social enterprises, Aerospace & Defence and aftermarket exporters, to name a few.

Searches can be refined by many factors including company name, province or territory, city, postal code, product or service, number of employees, total sales and export sales.

So, let’s say a company is looking for a business that supplies industrial moulds. That term can be entered into the search function on the site and an alphabetical list of links and brief descriptions of businesses pops up.

Each link takes you to that company’s profile page with more detailed information, including:

  • Mailing and location addresses,
  • Links to the business’s website and its president’s email, and
  • A description of the business that includes its age, whether it exports, its primary and alternate industries, total sales, export sales (if any) and number of employees.

Drill deeper and you can find information about a company’s product names, licenses and export experience, such as where it generally exports.

And it isn’t just businesses that list here. Under the category of Arts, Entertainment and Recreation, a single performer from Calgary, Alberta, lists himself as:

“A one-man physical comedy show performed around the world [that] has been booked on cruise ships, exhibition, festivals, county & state fairs. The United States is our main export … has also showcased his talents in Singapore, Asia and Europe. We also book other entertainment for a variety of events in Canada from coast to coast.”

Participation in CCC generally is open to all Canadian businesses and related organizations, although Industry Canada reserves the right to exclude enterprises that:

  • Are identified as ineligible for support, in particular projects or activities that provide or are likely to provide sexually exploitative or sexually explicit entertainment, products or services,
  • Market products or services that are illegal or restrained by court order (for example a court order regarding the right of a company to use a trademark),
  • Can’t be independently verified as a fully operational business in Canada, and
  • May be or whose activities may be inconsistent with or non-compliant with federal or provincial legislation, policies or programs.

Registration is simple. You first set up an Industry Canada account (the site supplies a link) and then create a CCC username and password. The accuracy and reliability of the information you provide is up to you and you’re expected to monitor it and modify it when necessary.

CCC also lists other company directories, including the Canadian Trade IndexContact CanadaFRASERSProfile Canada and Scott’s Canadian Business Directory and Database.

If you’re looking to expand your business, CCC could be a good place to start to make your company more noticeable and gather ideas for expanding its operations abroad.


1Source: World’s Top Exports, an independent education and research website.

Investment Expenses Can Lower Your Tax Liability

031417_Thinkstock_509536872_lores_kwAs an investor, you incur many expenses related to your investment activities.

Some of these costs are tied to the purchase and sale of securities and others are for maintaining and administering an account.

Basic Rules for Fee Tax Deductions

There are two main types of investment expenses that can be deducted. First, you can claim some, but not all, of the costs associated with investing, including some fees you pay your investment advisor and your accountant.

Much of the interest on investment loans can be deducted, provided the money is used to earn investment income. However, the interest isn’t deductible if your investments earn only capital gains.

Because investment income is added to your income, it makes sense to take advantage of these tax breaks. By reducing your taxable income, you might wind up in a lower tax bracket with a lower tax rate.

For 2016, the tax rates for individuals are:

Taxable Income Tax Rate (%)
First $45,916 15
Between $45,916 up to $91,831 20.5
Between $91,831 up to $142,353 26
Between $142,353 up to $202,800 29
More than $202,800 33
Marginal tax rate for dividends is a % of actual dividends received (not grossed-up amount). Marginal tax rate for capital gains is a % of total capital gains (not taxable capital gains).
Gross-up rate for eligible dividends is 38% Gross-up rate for non-eligible payouts is 17%.

As an example of how your tax bracket can be lowered, let’s say your taxable income is $150,000.

You would owe $43,500 in taxes, based on the 29% rate, before taking any tax credits or deductions. If you reduced your taxable income to $142,353, you reduce your tax rate to 26% and your tax liability to $41,282.

Understanding what Lies under the Fees

You can’t deduct just any fees. You need to understand what they are for.

For example, fees for advice on what to buy, sell or hold are deductible. But any portion that relates to financial planning doesn’t qualify. Fees you pay for retirement-planning advice aren’t deductible. Generally, you may claim fees to manage or take care of your investments (other than administration fees for your registered retirement savings plan or registered retirement income fund) and for certain types of investment advice (your advisor can guide you on this.

Commissions paid for the purchase or sale of securities are transaction fees that can’t be claimed. Commissions on stock purchases are added to the cost of the investment. Sales commissions reduce proceeds from the deal. Ultimately, however, commissions will reduce any capital gain or increase any capital loss you claim.

Non-Registered Accounts

Another key element in the tax deduction of management fees is that they have to relate to advice only on  non-registered-account investments. Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) won’t allow any fee deductions that relate to Registered Retirement Savings Plans, Registered Retirement Income Funds, Registered Education Savings Plans or Tax-Free Savings Accounts.

Another consideration is how you pay the fees. You don’t deduct mutual fund fees because they’re part of the management expense ratio. They’re deducted from the income reported on the annual tax slip the fund sends to you.

But it’s different if you invest in a wrap account, where brokerage account costs are “wrapped” into a single or fixed fee. Because you pay the fees directly, you can deduct them.

Tax Preparation

You may deduct fees for the preparation of income tax returns when they relate to accounting and to reporting various investment activities on the return. If you own a business, the fees are generally deducted when you calculate net business income. You may also deduct payments for advice and assistance when appealing a CRA assessment or reassessment of tax, interest or penalties.

The CRA requires that investment management fees be reasonable. Generally, fees that are based on a sensible percentage of the fair market value of investments are considered acceptable.

Also take into account the amount of time spent and type of work done by the person providing the investment services. Arm’s length terms and conditions also should apply to fees, although this doesn’t come into play if you have no familial or corporate relationship with the investment manager.

Documentation

Hold onto any proof you have of your expenses, including receipts, statements and bills — in case the CRA requests it later.

Deducting investment fees and expenses is complex. Consult with your tax advisor, who can help ensure you use those costs to your advantage.

Get Your Tax Information to Your Accountant Early

030317_Thinkstock_493829487_kwIt’s tax season, so it’s time to gather that pile of documents from employers, banks, administrators and others. You need to check their accuracy and hand them off to your tax advisor.

Accuracy is critical, as errors on these slips of information can affect your tax liability. Here are details on what to expect and look for.

Generally, your accountant has until midnight April 30, 2017, to file your 2016 income tax return.

What’s the Difference between a Deduction and a Credit?

Deductions are taken off your gross, taxable income and are generated by various expenses you incur. Because they reduce your taxable income on your federal tax return, they can lower your marginal tax rate.

Tax credits are subtracted directly from the amount of tax you owe to the federal or provincial governments. They generally aren’t dependent on your tax bracket and come in two varieties:

1. Nonrefundable tax credits. If, when you claim these, you lower your tax payable to $0, you don’t receive a refund for any balance of the credit.

2. Refundable tax credits. Amounts are refunded to you if your tax payable reaches $0.

The value of tax credits depends on what they are for. Some are granted for specific situations or under certain classifications.

Pay Close Attention to Deductions

Many deductions are overlooked. Be sure you don’t forget to give your accountant documents and receipts related to these common deductions:

Health. Premiums for medical coverage, including private insurance and amounts taken for employer plans, can all be deducted.

Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). Contributions can be deducted from taxable income. The maximum limit you may deduct for the current tax year is 18% of your income for the previous year, or $25,370 for 2016. You may contribute more if you didn’t use your entire RRSP deduction limit for previous years and you can carry forward unused contributions for life.

Childcare. Working parents can claim childcare costs for babysitters or nannies. You can claim payments made to:

  • Caregivers providing child care services,
  • Day nursery schools and daycare centres,
  • Educational institutions, for the part of the fees that relate to child care services,
  • Day camps and day sports schools where the primary goal of the camp is to care for children (an institution offering a sports study program isn’t a sports school), or
  • Boarding schools, overnight sports schools, or camps where lodging is involved.

Self-employment. You can deduct expenses for the part of your home you use for business. If you own your home, you can claim part of your mortgage interest and property taxes. If you rent, deduct part of your monthly rent. You can also deduct the cost of:

  • Utilities,
  • Maintenance expenses for the percentage of your living space used for business,
  • Travel,
  • Insurance,
  • Supplies, and
  • Client entertainment

Interest and carrying charges. Mortgage interest isn’t deductible, but several expenses related to financing or investment may be deducted, including, among others:

  • Interest on loans for investments or to purchase income-producing assets, and
  • Interest on the purchase of Canada Savings Bonds through a payroll deduction plan.
  • Fees paid to accountants to prepare and file your tax and benefit returns, certain legal fees and certain expenses that go to managers of your investments can also be deducted in certain circumstances.

Moving costs. You can claim eligible expenses if you moved and established a new home to work or run a business or if you moved to be a full-time student in a post-secondary program at a university, college or other educational institution. To qualify, your new home must be at least 40 kilometers (by the shortest usual public route) closer to your new work or school. Eligible expenses include moving costs, travel, accommodations, temporary living arrangements and the costs involved in selling your previous residence.

Union or professional dues. If you belong to a union or professional organization, you may deduct all amounts you paid related to your employment, including union dues, professional membership fees or premiums for professional liability insurance.

Tax Credits Add Up

Be sure your accountant is aware of any tax credits that may apply to you. Your eligibility can change on an annual basis. Here are some of the more common tax credit areas:

Disability. You can claim substantial credits provided you expect the disability to last at least 12 months. The disability tax credit is a nonrefundable credit for disabled persons or their supporting persons. Individuals may claim the $8,001 disability amount once they’re eligible for the credit. If they qualify for the disability amount and were under 18 years of age at the end of 2016, they may claim up to an additional $4,667.

If you missed taking the disability amount in the past, you can amend filed tax returns. If you don’t need to use some or all of the tax credit because you have little or no income, you may be able to transfer all or part of it to your spouse, common-law partner or other supporting person.

Medical benefits. If you paid for hospital services, paid to live in a nursing home, or bought medical supplies such as pacemakers, vaccines or walking aids, you may be able to claim a nonrefundable tax credit. Married taxpayers can maximize the medical credit by pooling nonreimbursed, eligible expenses on the tax return of the lower-earning spouse or common-law partner. Claim expenses for any consecutive 12-month period that ends in the year of the tax return. Your accountant can help you choose the best period to maximize the benefit of this credit.

Most provinces and territories also offer nonrefundable medical tax credits. When an insurance plan reimburses expenses, only those not covered by the plan can be claimed.

The list of medical expenses eligible for the credit is extensive and includes costs incurred outside Canada. Your tax specialist will know them all.

The following are some of the expenses you can’t claim as medical expenses:

  • Athletic or fitness club fees,
  • The cost of blood pressure monitors,
  • The cost of organic food, and
  • The cost of over-the-counter medications and supplements, even if they were prescribed by a medical practitioner

Equivalent-to-spouse. An individual may claim, under certain circumstances, the “amount for an eligible dependant” non-refundable tax credit for a dependent child or other dependent relative. The $11,474 credit for 2016 is reduced by income earned by the dependant and can be claimed by only one person. It can’t be claimed:

  • If you claim the spousal amount tax credit, or
  • The claim is for a child for whom you were required to make support payments during the year. If you and your spouse were separated for part of the year due to a breakdown in your relationship, you can still claim the credit, as long as you don’t claim any support amounts paid to your spouse, and as long as the child was under 18 years of age or mentally or physically impaired during the separation.

Charitable donations. There’s a credit for charitable donations that increases the more you give. In any one year, you may claim:

  • Donations made by December 31, 2016,
  • Any unclaimed donations made in the previous five years, and
  • Any unclaimed donations made by your spouse or common-law partner in the year or in the previous five years.

You can claim eligible amounts of gifts to a limit of 75% of your net income. For gifts of certified cultural property or ecologically sensitive land, you may be able to claim up to 100% of your net income.

More about Credits

Education. Many people miss the chance to transfer credits when their children attend college or university. Make sure students file their own tax returns. If they don’t need all their tuition or education credits, they can transfer them to parents, grandparents, a spouse or common-law partner.

Pensions. If you receive eligible pension, superannuation or annuity payments you may claim a credit of as much as $2,000. The credit is nonrefundable and may not be carried forward. Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS) or Guaranteed Income Supplements (GIS) aren’t eligible for the credit, but you can transfer it to your spouse or common-law partner.

Your accountant will help ensure that you get the most out of your available tax breaks, as long as you provide the necessary information and documents.

CRA’s Tricks and Traps for Tax Cheaters

022317_Thinkstock_640082576_lores_KWThe Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has no tolerance for tax cheats and warns Canadians that it has a “robust system” in place to track down those who illegally evade taxes.

One of its weapons is the Offshore Tax Informant Program (OTIP). The CRA says the program’s tip line has resulted in signed contracts with more than 20 informants and more than $1 million in tax reassessments and penalties. The tips have resulted in audits of 218 Canadian taxpayers, some of which have been completed and some of which are still being conducted.

The CRA pays out a reward of between 5% and 15% of the money collected as a reward, but only when the money is collected. National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier says some investigations into tax cheating can be complex and take years to complete. That may explain why the agency has yet to hand out a reward.

The tip line was started in January 2014 as governments around the world found themselves under pressure to curb offshore tax evasion following high-profile leaks of offshore tax records, such as the Panama Papers and banking records from Liechtenstein. That leak shed light on the extent of taxes that weren’t being paid.

Here are some of the ways the CRA hunts down big-ticker tax cheaters:

  • Reviewing cross-border electronic fund transfers. Canada requires financial institutions to report international electronic fund transfers totaling $10,000 or more to the CRA. This helps identify taxpayers who may be participating in aggressive tax avoidance or attempting to conceal income and assets offshore. Regarding offshore tax havens, there are currently over 750 audits and 20 criminal investigations underway. In three jurisdictions of concern, there are over 20,000 transactions in review worth over $7 billion.
  • Collaborating and sharing information with international partners. The government works with its international counterparts to coordinate strategies that will ensure that individuals and multinationals aren’t hiding assets offshore and that everyone pays their fair share. Canada has one of the largest treaty networks in the world, composed of 92 tax treaties, 22 tax information exchange agreements and the multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters. These treaties and agreements promote greater international cooperation through the exchange of information.
  • Taking part in BEPS to combat avoidance by big multinationals. Actions set in the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Action Plan (BEPS) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) aim to tackle international tax avoidance strategies used by some multinationals to inappropriately minimize their tax obligations, including schemes that artificially shift profits offshore. The CRA also has signed the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement (MCAA) on country-by-country reporting. The stronger international reporting obligations for large multinational enterprises under that agreement enhance the ability of nations to ensure that the global operations of these enterprises are more transparent and that they pay appropriate amounts of taxes where they make their profits.

But, of course, individual tax evaders are in the CRA’s sights too. Among other areas where the tax agency looks for cheating are:

  • Social media. Some posts on Facebook or Twitter may prompt the CRA to look into a taxpayer’s financial life. Keep in mind, these posts aren’t always private. So if individuals who only report modest incomes post pictures of their new luxury cars, trips around Europe or elaborate winter homes in Florida, the CRA could see them and look into what they’ve declared as income.

    The CRA practices “risk-based compliance,” so for taxpayers identified as high risk, any relevant, publicly available information may be consulted as part of the agency’s fact-gathering. However, Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien and former assistant commissioner Chantal Bernier have criticized the practice and say the Treasury Board needs to draft guidelines to ensure no one’s privacy is invaded.

    Bottom line: Taxpayers should be careful about their social media privacy settings and what they post online. For example, if they a person files a tax return listing $50,000 in net income and show photos of anew yacht, an auditor may come calling.

  • Dealings on Ebay. The CRA can data-mine transactions on Ebay and similar sites that may turn up some taxable income. Sales may be considered dispositions of capital property, eligible capital property, personal-use property or inventory, each of which has different tax treatment. If the sales are determined to be business income, the value is included in income when determining whether individuals have reached the threshold where they must become GST registrants.
  • Small business’s sales data. For small business owners, the CRA can dive through years’ worth of credit card transactions with the aim of matching what a company says its sales were with the information the agency collects.Also, CRA agents may show up at a restaurant or other small business in disguise. They may order, say, a meal with the intention of sizing up how the business works and how many people frequent it. That can give them an idea about whether the operation seems to align with what was reported on previous tax returns.
  • Bank accounts and investments. The CRA can gain access to information from all Canadian financial institutions. By going through that, it can find undeclared, taxable interest, dividend and capital gains income. The tax agency can also see if individuals exceeded contributions to their Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) or Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs).

    The over-contribution penalty on a TFSA is 1% a month on the amount of the excess. On an RRSP, generally, you have to pay a tax of 1 % a month on excess contributions that exceed your deduction limit by more than $2,000 unless you withdrew the excess amounts or contributed to a qualifying group plan.

    The CRA also hunts for disparities in retirement income. It can access information on bank account balances and income and match it with previous tax returns. If there’s a wide discrepancy, the agency is likely to start asking questions.

    Capital gains from “flipping.” Obviously, real estate flipping isn’t against the law. It’s a method of buying and selling real estate to earn income. Individuals may also use assignment clauses in real estate contracts to flip a property once (or more) before a final sale is made.

The CRA keeps a close eye on potential flipping and unreported capital gains (the difference between the purchase price and sale price). All the money made on real estate flips, including real estate commissions and capital gains must be reported to the CRA. Multiple property ownership where the taxpayer isn’t also declaring rental income is another trigger for investigation.

In another move, the CRA reportedly has started to fingerprint every person charged with tax evasion, which would restrict foreign travel for anyone accused but not necessarily convicted of a criminal tax offence. “The mobility restriction is an important deterrent, especially for people engaged in offshore tax evasion,” an internal memorandum reportedly says. If you have any doubts about the tax implications of your earnings or your investments, consult with your tax advisor to help ensure you stay in compliance with the law.

The Lowdown on Home Appraisals

Buying a home is likely to be the largest single investment you will ever make, and whether it’s your primary residence or a vacation home, you and your mortgage lender, will want to know that the value of the property is in line with the amount you plan to pay.

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Preparing for an Appraisal of Your Home

If your house is being appraised, it is helpful to have certain documents available when the appraiser arrives, including:

  • The most recent assessment from your local Municipality Property Assessment Corporation.
  • A plot plan or survey of the house and land if available.
  • The date you purchased the property.
  • A list of personal property that will be part of the sale.
  • Title policy that describes encroachments or easements and any written property agreements, such as a maintenance agreement for a shared driveway.
  • A list of major home improvements and upgrades, when they were done, and how much they cost. Include permits if you have them.
  • A copy of the current listing agreement and broker’s data sheet and purchase agreement if a sale is pending.
  • Information on Homeowners Associations or condominium covenants and fees.
  • A list of proposed improvements if the property is to be appraised “As Complete“.

You don’t need to accompany the appraiser during the inspection, but you should be available to answer questions and point out any improvements.

Make sure all areas of the home are accessible, including the attic and crawl space.

This is where an appraisal comes into play. A real estate appraisal provides an estimate of the fair market value of a property and it can make the difference between getting that mortgage and having the financing fall through.

But there are other reasons you may want to have your home appraised, such as:

  • Lowering your tax burden;
  • Establishing the replacement cost of insurance;
  • Settling an estate or divorce;
  • Satisfying a government agency request, say for tax purposes, or
  • Providing evidence in a lawsuit.

Mortgage lenders require appraisals to ensure that a property is worth the amount they are lending. Then, if a borrower defaults, the lender knows there is adequate collateral to recoup the initial investment.

As the potential buyer, you’ll pay for the appraisal. Costs vary widely, depending on the house, the province, the geographic location and the scope of the report.

Appraisers start by viewing the property inside and out to ensure that it is in a condition that a reasonable buyer would expect. The appraiser looks for any obvious features — or defects — that would affect the value of the house.

Once the site has been inspected, the appraiser employs one of two common methods for evaluating properties that are to be used only as personal residences and not to generate rental income.

Cost Approach

The appraised value is determined by combining the value of the land with the estimated reconstruction cost of the home minus accrued depreciation. This method is most useful for new properties, where the costs to build are known.

The appraiser takes data on local building costs, labor rates and other factors to calculate the cost of building a home similar to the one being sold. The appraisal often sets an upper limit on what price the property could fetch. Such mitigating factors as location and amenities are usually not reflected in the cost approach.

If the appraisal comes in lower than the amount you were planning to finance, the bank isn’t likely to provide the full amount you were hoping for. Depending on your contract with the seller, you may be allowed to back out of the purchase deal or make a lower offer.

You could make a larger down payment in order to secure a mortgage the lender would be willing to extend, but then you risk spending more cash than makes you comfortable. If the appraisal comes in higher than expected, the seller generally does not have the right to raise the asking price.

Sales Comparison Analysis

This method compares the attributes of the home for sale with existing houses in the area that have similar attributes and have recently been sold. No two properties are exactly alike, so the appraiser compares the comparable properties to the home you are interested in, making adjustments to make the comparable homes’ features more in-line with the listed property. The result is a figure that shows what each comparable home would have sold for if it had the same features as the listed property.

Using knowledge of the value of such features as square footage, extra bathrooms, hardwood floors, fireplaces and view lots, the appraiser adjusts the value of the comparable home. For example, if a comparable property has a fireplace and the home you want does not, the appraiser may deduct the value of a fireplace from the price at which the comparable home sold. If the house you are looking at has an extra half-bathroom and the comparable home does not, the appraiser might increase the price of the other property.

This approach is generally considered the most reliable if adequate comparable sales exist.

In most instances when the cost approach is involved, the appraiser actually uses a mix of the cost and sales comparison approaches. For example, while the replacement cost to construct a building can be determined by adding the labor, material, and other costs, land values and depreciation must be derived from an analysis of comparable data.

If you are looking for an appraiser on your own, ask your real estate agent or use the search function on the website of the Canadian National Association of Real Estate Appraisers.

When Expectation Becomes Intention

Owning rental property has long been a popular investment, particularly when losses from the property can be deducted against other income. However, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) sometimes attacks rental-related expenses and denies the deductions.

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The Landmark Cases Stewart v. The Queen.

The taxpayer invested in four condominium units and the investment had no element of personal use.

He incurred losses from the beginning because the purchase was financed almost entirely with debt and he had significant interest expenses. Losses were projected to continue for up to 10 years. The CRA disallowed the losses using the “reasonable expectation of profit” test, arguing there was no source of income. The deduction for interest expenses was also disallowed.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Stewart was entitled to deduct his losses since his rental property lacked any element of personal use and was clearly a commercial activity.

Walls v. The Queen. A limited partnership invested in a warehouse business. The partnership paid service charges, management fees, and 24% annual interest on the purchase price of $2.2 million.

The taxpayers then deducted their share of the losses. The CRA again disallowed the losses based on real expectation of profit but the Supreme Court ruled:

” . . . there was no evidence of any element of personal use or benefit in the operation. Where, as here, the activities have no personal aspect, reasonable expectation of profit does not arise for consideration. Although the respondents were clearly motivated by tax considerations when they purchased their interests in the partnership, this does not detract from the commercial nature of the storage park operation or its characterization as a source of income.”

Over the years, a number of special provisions have been introduced into the Income Tax Act to limit taxpayers’ ability to claim rental losses. For example:

Regulation 1100(11). Under this provision, a rental loss can’t be created or increased by claiming the Capital Cost Allowance (CCA). All rental properties owned are pooled for purposes of this regulation. The result is that a taxpayer can only claim the CCA if total rental revenue exceeds total rental expense, and then, only enough to reduce income to zero.

Subsection 13(21.1). When land and buildings are sold together, any terminal loss on the building is reduced to the extent of any capital gain on the land. So, you can’t manipulate the amount of the deduction of a terminal loss at 100% and report a capital gain taxable at 50%.

The tax agency also has a long history of denying rental losses due to a taxpayer having no “reasonable expectation of profit”. But in two Supreme Court rulings described in the right-hand box, the court struck down the expectation of profit test and said the tax agency should use a two-pronged approach to losses:

    • If the taxpayer’s activity is “undertaken in pursuit of profit,” the income is deemed to be from a business or property and losses will be allowed. Where there is no personal element, the CRA shouldn’t second guess a taxpayer’s business decisions.

 

  • If the enterprise has a personal element, the tax auditors must consider whether the taxpayer had an “intention to profit” from a business operated in a “sufficiently commercial manner.” (Stewart v. The Queen, 2002, SCC 46 and Walls v. The Queen, 2002, SCC 47).

While “sufficiently commercial” wasn’t defined, all circumstances surrounding the activity should be considered in making that determination.

So Finance Canada added a more restrictive and onerous test aimed at eliminating many real estate investments (including tax shelters). A loss on a property is only allowed if it is reasonable to assume that the taxpayer will realize a cumulative profit from the property during the time the taxpayer has held, or can be reasonably expected to hold, the property.

In addition, the expected profit has to come from renting the property. It can’t come from a capital gain due to the increase in value of the property. The legislation specifically provides that there is no source of income from capital gains, and therefore no profit from a capital gain.

The test is to be applied every year a loss is deducted. On the other hand, if the property starts to make a profit – even if there previously had been no reasonable expectation of profit – the profit will be taxable in the year it is made. (It doesn’t appear a taxpayer will be allowed to go back and amend prior years’ returns to deduct losses not previously deductible.)

If you have leveraged investments in real estate where the rental revenue isn’t expected to exceed the expenses for many years, consult with your advisor and review these four points:

1. Have there been profits or losses in the past?

2. How does your training and background affect the situation?

3. What is your profit intention?

4. Is there any personal element? For example, do you or family members use or reside on the property?