Update on July 18, 2017 Tax Proposals

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The last few months have been a very tumultuous time for Canadian tax practitioners and taxpayers. Proposals were made by the federal Liberal government on July 18, 2017 that had some of the most significant changes to the taxation of Canadian private corporations since the early 1970′s.

The government promoted these changes as “tweaks”, however, as details emerged, they revealed themselves as fundamental changes to how income was taxed for private corporations. There was a dramatic and strong negative reaction to these proposals from tax practitioners, taxpayers and the business community. In response to the mounting concerns directed to Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s proposals, the government has since made pronouncements by news release that will adjust the original proposals.

The original proposals from July 18th, 2017 are summarized below with updates from the most recent news releases from the federal government including discussion of those that are still on the table. For clarity – there has been no new draft legislation since the July 18, 2017 proposals. There remains a great deal of uncertainty as to what the actual rules will be as of January 1, 2018.

The July 18 amendments can be summarized under the following headings:

  1. Multiplication of capital gains exemption;
  2. Conversion of income into capital gains;
  3. Dividends / income sprinkling;
  4. Taxation of passive income.

Multiplication of Capital Gains Exemption

In the initial proposals, there were rules that would eliminate the ability for family members to claim the capital gains exemption on shares of a private corporation where those family members were not active in the business. By way of news release, these proposed rules have been removed.

Conversion of Income into Capital Gains

There were a number of rules that proposed to re-characterize capital gains into income. As well, they affected the ability to pay out a capital dividend account when assets were sold to a related corporation.  Both of these proposed rules have been removed by way of news release.

Dividend/Income Sprinkling

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These rules are some of the most detailed and far ranging rules that we have ever seen.

The goal of these rules is to tax family members at the highest marginal tax rate on dividends or income received from certain private corporations. In the past, dividends to minors were taxed at the highest tax rate. The new proposals are to tax family members up to 24 years old as well as all family members who have not worked in the business or contributed capital to the business.

These new rules propose a “reasonableness” test to determine if the amounts paid to the family members should be taxed at the highest tax rate or not. This concept is called tax on split income (“TOSI”).

If an individual is subject to the TOSI then that individual will pay tax at the highest marginal tax rate and will not be allowed any deductions against that income.

Previously, this tax was only applied to dividends, shareholder benefits, and certain partnership and trust income. The rules are now being expanded to include income from loans to certain corporations, partnerships and trusts and the disposition of shares in private corporations. Moreover, there is now a proposal to tax investment income earned on the initial income that was taxed at the highest tax rate. That is, if an individual earned $100 and was taxed at the highest tax rate and then invested that $100, the income earned on that investment would still be subject to the TOSI rules and be taxed at the highest marginal tax rate.

The notion of reasonability is being proposed to include all sources of income from the corporation to determine if the dividend income or interest income would be reasonable with regard to the entire remuneration. This obviously is very subjective and we have many concerns about how these rules would be applied.

In the draft legislation, these rules were to be effective January 1, 2018. As a result, we are suggesting that clients consider paying larger than usual dividends to any family member that is over 18 years old in order to maximize the funds available to the family members as of December 31, 2017. The actual amount of dividends should be determined in consultation with your Segal tax advisor.

Taxation of Passive Income

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In the past, an active business could accumulate funds after paying corporate tax and invest those funds in whatever manner decided upon by the shareholders. The new rules are proposing to set a limit on the amount of investment income that can be earned using active business income. At present, the government has proposed a $50,000 annual limit. It must be stressed, that there has been no draft legislation on this matter. As well, the government has indicated that they will table the draft legislation in their 2018 budget. The date of this is unknown.

The general concept is that the income on any assets owned before the rules come out would not be subject to these new rules. At this point, there is no clarity from the government on what the cutoff time will be. We are suggesting that clients maximize their retained earnings and assets as of December 31, 2017 to maximize the amount of investment income that can be earned on these assets in the future. This suggestion is in contradiction to the suggestion above of paying larger than normal dividends to family members. An analysis must be done to determine what the actual dividends should be and what the maximum amount of assets that should be retained in the corporation.

The details of how the income will be taxed are not available. The general idea is that if capital has been injected into the company from personal assets, then these rules would not apply. However, if the capital to invest in the business has been accumulated because the company or its subsidiaries engaged in an active business then these rules will apply.

The proposed rules would be that there is a tax of approximately 50% in the corporation and then full personal dividend tax upon payment out of the corporation. The difference between the proposed rules and the current rules is that under the current rules, the corporation would get a refund of a portion of the corporate taxes paid when dividends are paid. The net effect is that an individual taxpayer would be indifferent to earning investment income in a corporation versus personally. Each province has different tax rates and therefore there is not perfect integration. However, under the new rules the effective tax rate in Ontario, would go from 56% to 73% when considering the corporate and personal taxes.

Given the extremely high tax rate noted above, there has been a significant response to the government about changing these rules. However, there is currently no draft legislation and there is no effective date.

As of now we are waiting for the rules on dividend/income splitting in “the fall” from the government. The passive income rules may not be released until March or April 2018.

Other Changes

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The federal and the Ontario government have both announced corporate tax rate reductions for small business corporations. The Ontario rate will decrease by 1%, effective January 1, 2018. The federal rate will decrease by 0.5% effective January 1, 2018 and by an additional 1% effective January 1, 2019. Although these tax cuts will benefit small business corporations, they will have a detrimental effect to the shareholders. To maintain integration, there will be a corresponding increase in the personal tax rates on dividend income. Consequently, individual shareholders receiving dividends after 2017 will be facing a higher personal tax rate.

NEW TAX RULES EFFECTING PRIVATE CORPORATIONS

On July 18, 2017, the Liberal government and the Department of Finance issued draft legislation which significantly alters the tax planning available for private corporations. The following is a brief summary of each of the proposed new rules. We strongly suggest you consult your Segal advisor to discuss how these rules affect you and your business.

Income Splitting

It has been common tax practice to set up a structure whereby a trust owns shares in an operating company with both minor and adult beneficiaries. Alternatively, family members owned shares directly in the operating company. In the past, dividends could be paid to the adult family members who would pay tax at their graduated tax rate. For those adult family members who earned no other income, such as a student, the tax owing could be low on those dividends.

The new legislation proposes to tax those dividends at the highest tax rate. As well, the new rules propose to tax other kinds of income paid to related adult family members. There is relief if the adult family member contributes to the corporation by way of capital or involvement. CRA will have discretion to determine if the amounts paid to the related adult family member are reasonable in the circumstances. These rules are effective in 2018.

Multiplication of the Capital Gains Exemption

In the structure noted above, if a trust owns shares in an operating company, it is possible that a capital gain realized by the trust could be allocated to the beneficiaries and the beneficiaries could claim the capital gains exemption. The new rules would eliminate the ability for a trust to have a capital gain subject to the exemption. Moreover, any gain on a share owned by a trust would not be eligible for the capital gains exemption. This would also apply where family members acquired shares for a nominal amount without the use of a trust. If shares were owned by a minor, and the shares were ultimately disposed when that individual became an adult, the gain that would have accrued while the individual was a minor could not be sheltered by the capital gains exemption. The capital gains exemption will not be available to family members who are subject to the income splitting rules noted above.

There is a rule that will allow for trusts and family members to make an election to crystallize the capital gains exemption in 2018. However, this crystallization will only be available to adult beneficiaries and adult family member shareholders. These rules are effective in 2018.

Conversion of Dividend Income to Capital Gains

There is a significant difference in the tax rate of a dividend (39.34 or 45.30%) and capital gains (26.76%). Historically, with tax planning, one could convert what otherwise might have been a dividend into a capital gain. The new rules propose to convert the capital gains realized between non-arm’s length parties into a deemed dividend. This would mean that the tax-free portion of the capital gain would not be added to the capital dividend account. Moreover, it appears that there would not be an increase of the cost base of the shares that were received as consideration which could possibly result in double taxation.

There are also new rules that propose treating payments out of the capital dividend account as a taxable dividend where the capital dividend account was created by transactions whose goal was to reduce the personal income tax of the shareholder.

These rules could also affect post-mortem planning. These rules are effective for transactions and amounts paid or payable after July 18, 2017.

Making Investments in an Operating Company

While still in the public consultation phase, the government has proposed to increase the tax burden on an active corporation investing surplus funds. Those investments would no longer enjoy preferential tax treatment and access to the refundable tax regime and capital dividends. The government appears to be concerned that an active company subject to low tax rates would have significantly more to invest than if the funds were paid to the individual shareholder and all taxes were paid.

This issue gets complicated in terms of tracking which investments are from surplus funds and what the actual income related to those surplus funds are. The government has asked for input on how to apply their proposals.

Summary

These proposals are significant on their own and collectively will change the tax planning landscape for all privately held businesses and their shareholders. Every situation where a trust owns shares in a private corporation must now be evaluated to determine what the best tax planning is on a go forward basis.

Please contact your Segal advisor as soon as possible so that planning can start now.

Segal LLP | Tax Advisory

Protecting your personal financial information – the Equifax cyberattack

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News about another successful cyberattack, on government or on a private company, in a single country or worldwide, is now almost routine. What such events usually have in common is a desire by the hackers who perpetrate the attacks to profit by it — either by demanding payment from the entity whose systems have been compromised, or by obtaining confidential personal information about individuals, which the hackers can then use fraudulently or sell to others who wish to do so.

In September of this year, the credit reporting firm Equifax announced that it had been subject to such a successful cyberattack, and that attack was especially concerning, both because of the nature of the information Equifax holds.

Most Canadian adults have used credit at one time or another. Whenever an individual obtains and uses credit — whether through a credit card, line of credit, car loan, or otherwise, the financial institution which provided the credit provides information about that credit use to a credit reporting agency like Equifax. The information provided includes the original amount of the debt, the payment history, whether any payments were made late, and the current balance. The file held by the credit reporting agency also includes personal identifying information about the individual, which can include the individual’s social insurance number (SIN). Such information is accumulated throughout the individual’s financial life and is used by credit-granting institutions to assess an individual’s creditworthiness whenever he or she makes an application for credit.

It’s readily apparent that credit rating agencies have a great deal of personal and financial information about individuals and it was that information which was compromised in the cyberattack on Equifax which took place between mid-May and July 2017. Equifax has confirmed that personal and financial information of about 100,000 Canadians had been accessed in the cyberattack. (That number is subject to change and increase, as the investigation continues.) The information accessed included individuals’ names, addresses, credit card numbers, and – most ominously – SINs.

Equifax has committed to contacting, by mail (not e-mail or phone), the 100,000 Canadians whose personal information has been compromised. It will also be providing such individuals with credit monitoring and identity theft protection for a period of 12 months, at no charge. Individuals who are not contacted but have questions can contact Equifax at 1-866-699-5712 or by email at EquifaxCanadaInquiry@equifax.com.

Anyone whose personal and financial information is stolen, whatever the circumstances, has good reason to be concerned. And, given the number of instances in which Canadians routinely provide such personal and financial information, online or otherwise, the chances of being affected by an information security breach continue to increase.

As a practical matter, there is really nothing individual Canadians can do to ensure that companies, institutions and governments which have and hold their personal information are not subject to a cyberattack or other information breach. What Canadians can (and should) do is to restrict the personal and financial information which they provide to others to that which is required by law or absolutely necessary in the particular circumstances. And there are a number of steps which individuals can take to protect the personal identifying and financial information which they do disclose, and so minimize the risks that such information will misused or that they will become victims of identity theft.

Perhaps the most important of those steps is the need to protect one’s SIN. Having someone else’s SIN can give an unauthorized person significant access to additional information about that person, and can even allow them to impersonate that person, especially online, where bona fides can often be established simply by providing requested personal identifying information.

The circumstances in which Canadians are legally required to provide their SIN are relatively few. We need to include on the annual tax return, we must provide to financial institutions where the individual holds an interest-bearing account, a registered retirement savings plan, a registered education savings plan, or a tax-free savings account. There are not many other instances in which providing one’s SIN is required.

Online shopping is now ubiquitous and, of course, purchasing anything online requires an individual to provide a method of payment, which is usually a credit card number. The major online shopping sites have security protocols in place, but the reality is that providing one’s credit card number online will always carry a risk. There are ways to minimize that risk. Individuals who shop online on a regular basis might consider obtaining a credit card which is used only for online shopping, and which has a relatively low credit limit.

For those who wish to obtain personal information about someone else for fraudulent purposes, all forms of social media are, of course, a gold mine. Everyone has heard of the need to exercise caution with respect to the personal information disclosed on social media. What many don’t recognize is the need to consider the totality of information that is being “shared” on all social media platforms in the aggregate, not just on a single site like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or in a single post on any of those sites. Anyone seeking to collect personal information about an individual for identity theft or other fraudulent purposes will certainly put together information from all available sources. And, while a single piece of information disclosed in passing, or in isolation, may not seem to pose a risk, it doesn’t take much information to create that risk. For instance, no one would post their bank account number on social media. But, someone who posts on Facebook about their frustration with a particular interaction with their (named) financial institution has created an opportunity for someone to approach them (weeks or months later) with fraudulent intent, purporting to be from that financial institution and asking them, for instance, to confirm their bank account number as part of the bank’s regular fraud prevention program. And too often, recipients of such approaches don’t consider that the caller might have obtained information about who they bank with from a months-old social media post. Such fraudulent approaches rely on the fact that most recipients don’t think to verify the authenticity of the call or the caller.

Not disclosing one’s SIN unless legally required to do so, and taking care when online shopping or in posting on social media are only some of the precautions which can be taken to protect one’s personal information. There are many others, and there’s a lot of information available on how to protect yourself and what to do if your personal or financial information falls into the wrong hands. The following websites are a good place to start:
www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/scams-fraudes/id-theft-vol-eng.htm and https://www.getcybersafe.gc.ca/cnt/prtct-yrslf/prtctn-dntty/index-eng.aspx

 

Disclaimer

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 your Segal advisor at 416-391-4499 for more information on these subjects and how they pertain to your specific tax or financial situation.

Deciding when to start receiving Old Age Security benefits

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The baby boom generation, which is now in or near retirement, has always been able to factor receiving Old Age Security benefits, once they turn 65, into their retirement income plans. While receipt of such benefits can be still be assumed by the majority of Canadian retirees, the age at which such income will commence is no longer a fixed number. Retirees are now faced with a choice about when they want those benefits to start. For the past four years, Canadians have had the option of deferring receipt of their Old Age Security benefits, for months or for years past the age of 65, and that election to defer continues to be available. The difficulty that can arise is how to determine, on an individual basis, whether it makes sense to defer receipt of OAS benefits and, if so, for how long. It’s a consequential choice and decision, since any election made to defer is irrevocable.

Under the rules now in place, Canadians who are eligible to receive OAS benefits can defer receipt of those benefits for up to five years, when they turn 70 years of age. For each month that an individual Canadian defers receipt of those benefits, the amount of benefit eventually received would increase by 0.6%. The longer the period of deferral, the greater the amount of monthly benefit eventually received. Where receipt of OAS benefits is deferred for a full 5 years, until age 70, the monthly benefit received is increased by 36%.

The decision of whether to defer receipt of OAS benefits and for how long is very much an individual one — there really aren’t any “one size fits all” rules. There are, however, some general considerations which are common to most taxpayers:

  • The first consideration in determining when to begin receiving OAS benefits is how much total income will be required, at the age of 65 by determining what other sources of income are available to meet those needs, both currently and in the future.  Once income needs and sources and the possible timing of each is clear, it’s necessary to consider the income tax implications of the structuring and timing of those sources of income.  Taxpayers need to be aware of the following income tax thresholds and cut-offs.
    • Income in the first federal tax bracket is taxed at 15%, while income in the second bracket is taxed at 20.5%. For 2017, that second income tax bracket begins when taxable income reaches $45,916.
    • The Canadian tax system provides (for 2017) a non-refundable tax credit of $7,225 for taxpayers who are over the age of 65 at the end of the tax year. That amount of that credit is reduced once the taxpayer’s net income for the year exceeds $36,430, and disappears entirely for taxpayers with net income over $84,597.
    • Individuals can receive a GST/HST refundable tax credit, which is paid quarterly. For 2017, the full credit is payable to individual taxpayers whose family net income is less than $36,429.
    • Taxpayers who receive Old Age Security benefits and have income over a specified amount are required to repay a portion of those benefits, through a mechanism known as the “OAS recovery tax”, or clawback.   For the July 2017 to June 2018 benefit period, taxpayers whose income for 2016 was more than $73,756 will have a portion of their OAS benefit entitlement “clawed-back”. OAS entitlement for that time period is entirely eliminated where taxpayer income for 2016 was more than $119,615.

The goal is to ensure sufficient income to finance a comfortable lifestyle while at the same time minimizing both the tax bite and the potential loss of tax credits, or the need to repay OAS benefits received. Taxpayers who are trying to decide when to begin receiving OAS benefits could, depending on their circumstances, be affected by one or more of the following considerations.

  • What other sources of income are currently available?
  • Is the taxpayer eligible for Canada Pension Plan retirement benefits, and at what age will those benefits commence?
  • Does the taxpayer have private retirement savings through an RRSP?

Finally, not all the factors in deciding how to structure retirement income are based on purely financial and tax considerations. There are other, more personal issues and choices which come into play. Those include the state of one’s health at age 65 and the consequent implications for longevity, which might argue for accelerating receipt of any available income. Conversely, individuals who have a family history of longevity and who plan to continue working for as long as they can may be better off deferring receipt of retirement income where such deferral is possible.

Many Canadians put off plans, like a desire to travel, until their retirement years. Realistically, from a health standpoint, such plans are more likely to be possible earlier rather than later in retirement. The early years of retirement are usually the most active ones, and consequently are the years in which expenses for activities are likely to be highest. Having plans for significant expenditures in the early retirement years might argue for accelerating income into those years, when it can be used to make those plans a reality.

The ability to defer receipt of OAS benefits does provide Canadians with more flexibility when it comes to structuring retirement income. The price of that flexibility is increased complexity, particularly where, as is the case for most retirees, multiple sources of income and the timing of each of those income sources must be considered, and none can be considered in isolation from the others.

Individuals who are facing that decision-making process will find some assistance on the Service Canada website. That website provides a Retirement Income Calculator, which, based on information input by the user, will calculate the amount of OAS which would be payable at different ages. The calculator will also determine, based on current RRSP savings, the monthly income amount which those RRSP funds will provide during retirement. Finally, taxpayers who have a Canada Pension Plan Statement of Contributions which outlines their CPP entitlement at age 65 will be able to determine the monthly benefit which would be payable where CPP retirement benefits commence at different ages between 60 and 70.

The Retirement Income Calculator can be found at https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/publicpensions/cpp/retirement-income-calculator.html

The Debt load of Canadian households – onward and upward?

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The fact that Canadian households are carrying a significant amount of debt is not news.  In fact, debt loads seem to continually set new records. For several years, both private sector financial advisers and federal government banking and finance officials have warned of the risks being taken by Canadians who took advantage of historically low interest rates by continuing to increase their secured and unsecured debt.

The risks most commonly cited by those advising more borrowing restraint was the impact that an increase in interest rates would have on the ability of those debtors to repay  the debt which they had accumulated. As well, to the extent that such borrowings were secured by home equity, the risk was that a downturn in the real estate market could put those borrowers at risk.

Both of those circumstances have started to materialize in the last two calendar quarters. The Canada-wide real estate market is not in a downturn. However, the expectation among borrowers that real estate values in major urban markets would simply continue to increase without limit has been tempered by the drop in real estate sales in the Greater Toronto Area since the spring of this year. While real estate prices in that market are still up, as measured on a year-over-year basis, they have declined, overall, from the highs recorded in the winter and early spring of 2017.

The long-anticipated increase in interest rates has finally occurred as well; The Bank of Canada raised the interest rate for the first time since September 2010. Financial institutions responded by increasing their mortgage and other loan interest rates.

The end of June, just prior to The Bank of Canada’s first interest rate increase, marked the end of second quarter of 2017. And, as is usually the case, many government and non-government organizations issued statistics and analysis of the current state of Canadian consumer debt. Given the timing, those figures will create a kind of benchmark against which future statistical summaries will be compared, as they create a “snapshot” of the state of Canadian consumer debt taken just as interest rates began to rise, at the end of the ultra-low interest rate environment which began in 2009, and as the ultra-hot real estate market started to cool down.

As of the end of June, the debt to disposable income ratio stood at $1.68, meaning that the average Canadian household carried $1.68 in debt for each $1.00 of disposable (after-tax) income.

While it’s easy to see that an increasing debt-to disposable income ratio means that Canadians are taking on more debt. What is striking is the growth of that ratio over the past quarter century and, especially, since 2005.

In 1990, that percentage stood at 93%, meaning that the debt load of the average Canadian household was 93% of disposable income. By 2005, the debt-to-disposable ratio had risen to 108%. It took 15 years for the percentage to increase from 93% (in 1990) to 108% (in 2005). From that point, the debt to disposable income ratio accelerated dramatically, as it rose from 108% in 2005 to 150% just five years later, in 2010. The ratio now stands, as of the second quarter of 2017, at 168%.

The StatsCanada figure captures all forms of debt; secured and unsecured, meaning that it includes mortgages, car loans, installment loans of all kinds, lines of credit, and credit card debt. There are a couple of significant differences between secured and unsecured debt — secured debt, by definition, is secured against an asset, so that in the event the borrower goes into default, the lender can seize the asset in payment of the secured debt. The value of that asset is always, at the time of borrowing, greater than the amount borrowed. Unsecured debt is provided on no more than the borrower’s promise to repay. For both those reasons, it’s more likely that borrowers, when faced with an interest rate increase which bumps up their cost of borrowing, will get into difficulty with unsecured debt. And, as of the second quarter of 2017, the average unsecured debt owed by individual Canadians was for the first time, over $22,000.

That figure — $22,154 average debt load per individual borrower — appeared in a summary issued by TransUnion. The summary also outlines the average balance per borrower by the kind of debt incurred, as follows:

Bank card (credit card) ………… $4,069

Automobile …………………………… $20,447

Line of Credit ………………………… $30,108

Installment Loan …………………… $25,455

And, as recently reported by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, recent trends in secured debt patterns may also give rise to concern going forward.

One of the fastest growing consumer credit products in Canada is the home equity line of credit (HELOC). A HELOC is similar to a mortgage, in that the debt is secured against the homeowner’s equity in the property. However, under a HELOC, a lender agrees to provide credit to a borrower, not for a fixed amount, but up to a maximum amount, based on the value of the property. Once the HELOC is in place, the available funds can be used for any purpose, whether that purpose is related to home ownership or not. And, while monthly payments are required, the borrower can usually, if he or she wishes, pay only the interest amount which has accrued since the last payment, without reducing the principal at all.

The number of households that have a HELOC and a mortgage secured against their home has increased by nearly 40 percent since 2011.

  • 40 percent of consumers do not make regular payments toward their HELOC principal.
  • 25 percent of consumers pay only the interest or make the minimum payment.
  • Most consumers do not repay their HELOC in full until they sell their home.

If there is good news in the figures summarizing the ever-increasing debt load of Canadians, from all sources, it’s in the fact that borrowers are still managing to keep payment of those debts in good standing. In fact, delinquency rates (meaning debts on which payments are more than 90 days late) are, for the most part, down during the second quarter of this year, as measured on both a quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year basis. Whether that trend will continue or be reversed as the impact of the recent interest rate increases takes hold remains to be seen.

Legal fees — what’s deductible and when?

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For most Canadians, having to pay for legal services is an infrequent occurrence. In many instances, the need to seek out and obtain legal services is associated with life’s more unwelcome occurrences and experiences, such as a divorce, a dispute over a family estate, or a job loss. About the only thing that mitigates the pain of paying legal fees would be being able to claim a tax credit or deduction for the fees paid.

Unfortunately, while there are some circumstances in which such a deduction can be claimed, those circumstances don’t usually include the routine reasons — purchasing a home, getting a divorce, establishing custody rights, or seeking legal advice about the disposition of a family estate. Generally, personal legal fees become deductible for most Canadian taxpayers only where they are seeking to recover amounts which they believe are owed to them, particularly where those amounts involved employment or employment-related income or, in some cases, family support obligations.

The first situation in which legal fees paid may be deductible is that of an employee seeking to collect (or to establish a right to collect) salary or wages. In all Canadian provinces and territories, employment standards laws provide that an employee who is about to lose his or her job (for reasons not involving fault on the part of the employee) is entitled to receive a specified amount of notice, or salary or wages equivalent to such notice. However, the employee can establish a right to a period of notice (or payment in lieu) greater than the statutory minimum. The amount of notice or payment in lieu of notice which is payable can then become a matter of negotiation between the employer and its former employee, and such negotiations usually involve legal representation, legal fees incurred by the employee to establish a right to amounts allegedly owed by the employer are deductible by that former employee. If a court action is necessary and the Court requires the employer to reimburse its former employee for some or all of the legal fees incurred, the amount of that reimbursement must be subtracted from any deduction claimed.

In some situations, an employee or former employee seeks legal help in order to collect or to establish a right to collect a retiring allowance or pension benefits. In such situations, the legal fees incurred can be deducted, up to the total amount of the retiring allowance or pension income actually received for that year. Where part of the retiring allowance or pension benefits received in a particular year is contributed to an RRSP or registered pension plan, the amount contributed must be subtracted from the total amount received when calculating the maximum allowable deduction for legal fees.

The rules covering the deduction of legal fees incurred where an employee claims amounts from an employer or former employer are relatively straightforward. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the rules governing the deductibility of legal fees paid in connection with family support obligations. Those rules have evolved over the past number of years in a somewhat piecemeal fashion. The current rules are as follows:

  • Legal fees incurred by either party in the course of negotiating a separation agreement or obtaining a divorce are not deductible. Such fees paid to establish child custody or visitation rights are similarly not deductible by either parent.

Legal fees paid for the following purposes will be deductible by the person receiving those support payments:

  1. Collecting late support payments;
  2. Establishing the amount of support payments from a current or former spouse or common-law partner;
  3. Establishing the amount of support payments from the legal parent of that person’s child (who is not a current or former spouse or common-law partner). However, in these circumstances the deduction is allowed only where the support is payable under a court order, not simply under the terms of an agreement between the parties; or
  4. Seeking an increase in support payments;

On the payment side of the support payment/receipt equation, the situation is not so favourable, as a deduction for legal fees incurred will generally not be allowed to a person paying support. More specifically, as outlined on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website, a person paying support cannot claim legal fees incurred in order to “establish, negotiate or contest the amount of support payments”.

Finally, where the CRA reviews or challenges income amounts, deductions, or credits reported or claimed by a taxpayer for a tax year, any fees paid for advice or assistance in dealing with the CRA’s review, assessment or reassessment, or in objecting to that assessment or reassessment, can be deducted by the taxpayer. A deduction can similarly be claimed where the taxpayer incurs such fees in relation to a dispute involving employment insurance, the Canada Pension Plan or the Quebec Pension Plan.

Segal LLP A 2017 Best of the Best Firm

best2017INSIDE Public Accounting (IPA) has named Segal LLP a Best of the Best Canadian Firm for the second consecutive year.  Segal is honoured to be one of only 5 Canadian CPA firms ranked as a 2017 Best of the Best firm based on a wide variety of financial and operational performance.

“We are honoured to once again be named a Best of the Best in Canada; it is a vote of confidence in our people and in Segal’s unwavering commitment to client service, our vision and our approach to our business” said Dan Natale, Managing Partner at Segal.

“Best of the Best firms excel by achieving the delicate balance of focus on culture, clients, team and financial results,” says Michael Platt, principal of the Platt Group and publisher of the accounting trade publication, INSIDE Public Accounting.

Proposed New Tax Rules – Have Your Say

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On July 28, 2017, the Segal team shared a summary of the proposed tax changes that Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau presented on July 18, 2017. You can review that summary here: http://www.segalllp.com/2017/07/28/new-tax-rules-effecting-private-corporations/

As professionals and business owners, we have studied and developed a better understanding of these proposals, and implications of these rules are far reaching and did not contemplate the negative consequences if adopted. The “marketing” of these proposals by Mr. Morneau and the government was very different than the actual content within the proposal language. As a business owner, these rules will affect you adversely as they relate to all privately held Canadian corporations.

We believe as Canadian professionals and taxpayers, that the Members of Parliament (MP) need to hear and understand our concerns so that they can be communicated to the Finance Minister. Attached is a letter that the Segal partners, principals and team are sending to their Member of Parliament to express their concerns on new rules that will fundamentally change the way private corporations are taxed.

We are sharing it with you should you be considering providing the Minister of Finance with the feedback he has asked for; the 75-day consultation period ends October 2, 2017. Feel free to use any part of this letter in your communications with your Member of Parliament and copy Minister Morneau. You can find your MP’s contact information here: https://www.ourcommons.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members?view=List

When You Owe Money to the Canada Revenue Agency

canadian-dollors

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) doesn’t publish information or statistics on the number of individual taxpayers who owe money in the form of back taxes, interest, or penalties. Nonetheless, it’s a safe assumption that some percentage of the 28 million or so Canadians who filed a tax return this past spring either couldn’t pay their 2016 taxes when due or still owe money from past years, or both. Being unable to pay one’s bills on time obviously isn’t desirable, no matter who the creditor is, however, there are several reasons why owing money to the tax authorities is a particularly bad idea.

Start with the interest cost of carrying such debt- interest rates remain near historic lows, but the CRA, by law, charges interest at levels higher than normal commercial rates. The interest rate charged by the CRA on overdue or insufficient tax payments is set quarterly. For the third quarter of 2017, covering the months of July, August, and September, the interest rate charged on taxes owing is 5%.

While that 5% rate is still lower than the interest rate charged on many credit card balances, it is the interest calculation method used by the CRA which can really inflate the cost of having tax debts. Where an amount is owed to the CRA, interest charged is compounded daily, meaning that on each successive day, interest is being levied on the interest charged the day before. Not surprisingly, interest costs calculated in that way can add up quickly.

The CRA has a very broad range of options at its disposal to compel payment, and a very long period in which to use them. Where a taxpayer hasn’t paid an amount owed within 30 days after he or she receives a Notice of Assessment the CRA will usually contact the taxpayer, by phone or by mail, with a request for payment. If the taxpayer does not contact the CRA to make a payment or set up a payment arrangement within 90 days after the date the Notice of Assessment was mailed, the CRA will resort to its other collection options.

The CRA has the right, where there are any amounts owed to the taxpayer by any other department of the federal government (for example, a goods and services tax credit amount) to seize those amounts and apply them to the tax debt. The CRA also has the authority to intercept or garnish money which may be owing to the taxpayer from a third party, like an employer and, as a last resort, can direct that the taxpayer’s assets be seized and sold to satisfy the tax debt.

The CRA’s goal, like that of any other creditor, is to get the debt paid without having to resort to expensive and time-consuming administrative or legal processes.  It’s relatively rare for a tax debt to reach the stage of litigation or garnishment, as it is in everyone’s interest to resolve matters before things reach that point. And, perhaps contrary to popular belief, the CRA has some flexibility. When the amount of taxes due on filing can’t be paid, or can’t be paid in full, it’s in the taxpayer’s best interests to contact the CRA and let them know of that fact.

Not surprisingly, the CRA tries to make it easy for taxpayers to contact it to make such arrangements. The taxpayer can propose a payment schedule based on his or her ability to pay, and the CRA, if it is satisfied that the inability to pay is genuine, will generally be amenable to entering into some type of payment arrangement. Entering into such a payment arrangement does not, of course, stop the interest clock from running, as interest will continue to be assessed at the current rate, and compounded daily.

The alternative to making a payment arrangement and becoming subject to the CRA’s punitive interest assessment practices is sometimes to borrow the required funds at a lesser rate from a third party.  One final blow: interest paid on tax debts, whether paid to the CRA or to a third-party lender, is not deductible from income.

Tax Changes for Students

college

The end of summer means back to school for students of all ages. For parents of elementary and secondary school students the focus is on obtaining back to school clothes and supplies and starting the process of enrollment in after-school activities for the fall. For those already in (or starting) post-secondary education, choosing courses, finding a place to live and paying the initial bills for tuition and residence are more likely to be on the immediate agenda.

What both groups of parents and students have in common this school year, however, is that this is the first full school year affected by previously announced tax changes. Each of those tax changes, for students at all levels, means higher after-tax costs for education-related expenses.

For students enrolled in the public education system there is no cost to attend, however there are out-of-pocket costs for participation in most after-school activities.  Depending on the activity, those costs can easily amount to several hundred dollars per child over the course of the school year.  Parents have been able to offset those out-of-pocket costs by claiming the children’s arts credit or the children’s fitness credit; both credits have been eliminated as of the 2017 tax year. In budgeting for the cost of any contemplated after-school activity, parents must budget on the basis that they will be paying the full cost out-of-pocket, and will not be claiming any offsetting tax credit on their tax return for 2017.

There is some good news for parents of elementary school-aged children, in that fees for after-school care, can still be claimed as part of the general child care expense deduction. The deduction may be claimed (within specified limits) where child care costs are incurred for the parent to work, at employment or self-employment. The amount of deduction claimable depends on the age of the child and the actual amount expended, with an overall limit based on family net income. More information on claiming the child care expense deduction can be found on the Canada Revenue Agency (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-214-child-care-expenses.html.

At the post-secondary education level, students (and their parents) have benefitted from an “assist” through our tax system, which provides deductions and credits for some of the associated costs of college or university.  Two of those credits are, however, no longer available.

The biggest cost of post-secondary education is tuition, and the tax credit provided for eligible tuition costs remains in place the upcoming (and subsequent) academic and taxation years. Any student who incurs more than $100 in tuition costs at an eligible post-secondary institution can still claim a non-refundable federal tax credit of 15% of such tuition costs.  Some provinces and territories also provide students with an equivalent provincial or territorial credit, with the rate of such credit differing by jurisdiction.  In Ontario, a tuition credit can be claimed for eligible tuition up to September 4, 2017.  At both the federal and provincial levels, the credit acts to reduce tax otherwise payable. Where a student doesn’t have tax payable for the year, as is often the case, any credits earned can be carried forward and claimed by the student in a future year, or transferred in the current year to a spouse, parent, or grandparent.

For many years post-secondary students have also been able to claim two other federal tax credits — the education tax credit and the textbook tax credit. Both have been eliminated, however, where the education and textbook credits have been earned but not claimed in previous years, they are still available to be claimed by the student as carryover credits in 2017 or later years.

The CRA publishes a very useful guide to tax measures which affect students enrolled in post-secondary education. That guide, entitled Students and Income Tax, has been updated to take account of the recent changes, and the most recent version is available on the CRA website at http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pub/tg/p105/README.html.

Claiming the Guaranteed Income Supplement (September 2017)

Pensions

Most Canadians approaching retirement know that they will have some retirement income through the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) programs. Many, however, are unaware that there is a third federal program, the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), which provides an additional monthly income amount to eligible individuals. While there is no need for an individual to apply to receive an Old Age Security benefit, anyone who wishes to receive the GIS must apply to do so. Automatic enrollment in GIS is something that is planned for future implementation, but is not yet in place. Finally, while the OAS benefit is a standard amount for most recipients, the rules governing eligibility for GIS, and the amount an individual will receive, are more complex.

The first and most basic rule of GIS eligibility is that GIS is paid only to individuals who are already receiving the Old Age Security benefit. Canadians can begin receiving such OAS benefit at age 65, or can defer receipt of that benefit up until the age of 70. However, regardless of the age at which an individual chooses to begin collecting OAS, he or she cannot receive the GIS until that OAS benefit has started.

There is a perception that GIS benefits are available to only the lowest income seniors. While it is true that eligibility for the GIS is tied to income, the current reality is that in the first quarter of 2017, nearly 2 million Canadians, or nearly one-third of those who collect OAS, also received GIS benefits.

The basic rule is that single (or divorced or widowed) individuals who have less than $17,688 in net income for the previous year are eligible to receive at least partial GIS benefits each month. Once net income exceeds the $17,688 threshold, eligibility for GIS is eliminated. That figure is somewhat deceiving, however, as not all income sources are treated the same way when it comes to determining net income for purposes of assessing GIS eligibility. When determining such eligibility, the sources from which income is received is nearly as important as the amount of that income.

Generally, in calculating net income for purposes of determining GIS eligibility, the following income amounts are included:

  • Canada Pension Plan or Quebec Pension Plan amounts;
  • Amounts received from a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) or a registered retirement income fund (RRIF);
  • Amounts received from a registered pension plan (i.e., an employer-sponsored pension plan); and
  • Investment income (interest, dividends, etc.) from all sources.

The following income amounts are not included in net income for purposes of determining GIS eligibility:

  • Old Age Security amounts; and
  • Withdrawals from a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA).

Finally, many retirees work part-time, whether out of financial need or for social reasons. In calculating net income to determine GIS eligibility, an exemption is provided for the first $3,500 in employment income earned each year.

In 2017, an individual who is single, divorced, or widowed and is eligible for a full GIS amount will receive $871.86 per month. That amount is reduced as income increases and is eliminated entirely where the individual’s net income exceeds the $17,688 cut-off.

A similar calculation is required for taxpayers who are married. The net income calculation is the same, but the cut-off amount above which GIS eligibility for both spouses is eliminated, where both spouses are receiving OAS, is $23,376. Where one of the spouses does not receive OAS, the combined income threshold for GIS eligibility is $42,384. More information on the benefit and income cut-off amounts for the current quarter (July to September 2017), as well as links to tables which will show the exact amount of GIS payable at different income levels, can be found on the Canada.ca website at https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/publicpensions/cpp/old-age-security/payments.html.

A final note — where individuals receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement, whether the full benefit or partial amounts, all such amounts received are non-taxable.

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