For most Canadian taxpayers, income tax is an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” subject, with most taxpayers giving serious thought to their tax situation only when it’s time to file the annual tax return. And, too often, that approach leads to an unexpected (or higher than expected) tax amount owing when the return is filed – and seemingly no way to fix that problem.
While it is true that nearly all tax planning and tax saving strategies need to be implemented before the end of the calendar year in order to be effective for that year (the RRSP contribution deadline of 60 days after year-end being the only major exception), it’s not the case that nothing can be done at tax filing time to minimize the tax bill payable.
The available strategies are better characterized as tax filing rather than tax planning techniques. While it’s not possible, after the RRSP contribution deadline has passed, to create any expenditure-based deductions or credits for 2016, the taxpayer can realize some tax savings through the strategic use of deductions and credits for expenditures already made, either in 2016 or in previous years. And, many of those expenditures are ones which are incurred by millions of Canadian taxpayers every year.
Medical expense tax credit
While many medical expenses incurred by Canadians (like doctor’s visits and hospital care) are covered by public health care plans, there is a very long list of such expenses (like prescription drugs and dental care) which must be incurred on a regular basis and which must be paid out-of-pocket. Some individuals, of course, have such costs covered by an employer-sponsored benefits plan, but they are a diminishing group – for many Canadians, there is no private or public coverage for such costs.
Taxpayers who must pay out of pocket without reimbursement for medical costs do, however, have the option of claiming a federal credit equal to 15% of qualifying medical expenses. Each of the provinces and territories also offers a medical expense tax credit, with the percentage amount varying by jurisdiction.
In all cases, the credit for medical expenses can be claimed only on such expenses which exceed 3% of the taxpayer’s net income, or $2,237 (for 2016), whichever is less. It is possible, however, for all medical expenses of both spouses and all children who were born in 1999 or later, to be combined and claimed by either spouse. So, while the medical expenses incurred by a single family member might not be enough to allow him or her to make a claim, aggregating those expenses may well mean that total expenses are enough to get over the 3% of net income/$2,237 threshold.
Similarly, it’s also possible to claim, on the 2016 return, expenses which were incurred prior to 2016. Taxpayers are entitled to claim all qualifying expenses incurred in any 12-month period which ends during the taxation year for which the return is being filed. So, if the taxpayer and his or her family incurred medical expenses during 2015 which did not exceed the 3% of net income threshold, they can combine such expenses with qualifying expenses incurred in 2016 in making their claim on the 2016 return. The only restrictions on doing so are that all such expenses must have been incurred within a single 12-month period ending in 2016 and, of course, any expense claimed can only be claimed once.
In determining who will make the medical tax credit claim for a family, there are two points to remember. Since total medical expenses claimable are those which exceed 3% of net income or $2,237, whichever is less, the greatest benefit will be obtained if the spouse with the lower net income makes the claim for total family medical expenses. However, the medical expense credit is a non-refundable one, meaning that it can reduce tax payable, but cannot create or increase a refund. Therefore, it’s necessary that the spouse making the claim have tax payable for the year of at least as much as the credit to be obtained, in order to make full use of that credit.
There are a huge number and variety of medical expenses which can be incurred. Some of those will qualify for the medical expense tax credit whenever a qualifying expenditure is made, while in other cases, it is necessary to have a doctor’s prescription certifying that the particular product, service, or equipment are necessary. A listing of medical expenses eligible for the credit, and any requirements (such as a doctor’s prescription) which must be obtained, can be found on the Canada Revenue Agency website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/ndvdls/tpcs/ncm-tx/rtrn/cmpltng/ddctns/lns300-350/330-331/menu-eng.html#mdcl_xpns.
Charitable donation tax credit
Canadians who make donations to registered charities are entitled to claim a non-refundable charitable donations tax credit for those donations, for both federal and provincial/territorial tax purposes. The amount of the provincial/territorial credit will vary by jurisdiction: the federal credit is calculated as 15% of donations up to $200 and 29% of donations over that amount.
Taxpayers are entitled to make a claim on the annual tax return for charitable donations made in the current (2016) year, or in any of the previous five years. While it may seem counter-intuitive not to claim a contribution made during the year, in some cases a better tax result may be obtained by waiting.
For taxpayers whose total charitable donations made during 2016 are more than $200, the full claim should be made on the 2016 return – there is no benefit to such taxpayers in delaying the claim. Where, however, total charitable donations made during the year do not exceed that $200 threshold, it may be better to wait. For example a taxpayer who contributes $150 to a charity in a year and claims that amount on the return will receive a 15% federal credit. Where the same taxpayer makes a similar $150 donation in the next year and claims the entire $300 in donations on that year’s return, he or she will receive a credit of 15% on the first $200 and 29% on the balance of $100 in donations.
Pension income splitting
Each of the tax filing strategies outlined above require that the taxpayer make some kind of expenditure in order to claim the related credit. That’s not the case for pension income splitting, which can provide eligible taxpayers with significant tax benefits.
Pension income splitting effectively allows spouses to split private pension income (generally, income from an employer-sponsored pension plan, from a registered retirement savings plan or a registered retirement income fund) between them for tax purposes. So, a taxpayer who receives $40,000 a year in qualifying pension income can report $20,000 of that income on his or her return, with the remaining $20,000 reported by his or her spouse. There’s no need for any actual transfer of funds – the “transfer” is simply a notional one done for tax reporting purposes only.
The mechanics of pension income splitting are relatively simple. Taxpayers who wish to split eligible pension income received by either of them must each file Form T1032E(12), Joint Election to Split Pension Income, with their annual tax return. That form, which is unfortunately not included in the general tax return package issued by the CRA, can be found on the CRA website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pbg/tf/t1032/README.html. There is relatively little information in the General Income Tax Guide on pension income splitting; much more extensive and detailed information on qualifying income, mechanics, benefits, and tax results of the strategy can be found on the CRA website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/pensionsplitting/.
The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.