My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant and a partner with a National Accounting Firm in Toronto. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are written solely in my personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which I am affiliated. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humor/sarcasm. You've been warned.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Breaking The Money Taboo – It Makes Cents

In 1913, Sigmund Freud recognized the taboo of money when he wrote, “money questions will be treated by cultured people in the same manner as sexual matters, with the same inconsistency, prudishness and hypocrisy.”

One hundred years later, sex is often openly discussed, yet many money matters are still considered taboo. As consequence many people make bad financial and personal monetary decisions because they avoid the topic. This lack of communication can impact anything from your estate planning, to your marriage, to the selection of your executor, to even losing friends over how to split a restaurant bill.

In my opinion, the money taboo is out-dated and potentially detrimental from both a familial and financial perspective and needs to be broken.

The Free Dictionary defines a taboo “as a ban or inhibition resulting from social custom or emotional aversion”. I think that is a simple and elegant definition. Whether the taboo’s origin is Victorian, French, or biblical in nature, our parents and their parents have propagated the notion that it is bad social etiquette to discuss money matters of any kind.

Every culture and every family have different money taboos. For example, North Americans dislike revealing how much money they earn. It is taboo. Norwegians, on the other hand, have the tax records of all citizens available as public record and have no expectations of privacy.

I have observed first-hand, the financial cost to clients, friends and family and the related personal cost in regard to marriages, sibling and personal relationships where people did not have open frank discussions about money. This issue caught my attention to such a degree that in 2013 I decided to write a book on the topic, encouraging people to confront and/or consider various money taboos.

As they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry and unfortunately two years later, due to time and work constraints and the realization that many of my proposed topics had psychological bents I was not qualified to discuss, I had only finished two (way too long) chapters of my proposed 17 chapters. I thus decided to set aside the book on money taboos and wrote Let’s Get Blunt About Your Financial Affairs (which was a collection of my best blog posts and thus required more editing than writing). Check - bucket list item taken care of.

As I expect to go in a different direction should I ever write another book, I figured I may as well get some use of the time I spent on my proposed book, so I have decided to post excerpts of the two chapters I wrote (the first chapter over the next couple weeks, the second likely in September). These two chapters are:

1. I Will Not Talk About It – this chapter revolves around our reluctance to discuss our will with our family

2. Asking For Money: The Intergenerational Communication Gap – this chapter discusses situations where children need money (example to escape abusive relationship or start a new career) and situations where parents need money (example: need to reverse mortgage their home since they have no money left and have medical bills or just daily expenses they can no longer afford to cover).

In these posts I am going to discuss reasons people have given me for continuing specific money taboos and review the consequences they face by adhering to these off limit discussions. I attempt to explain why we should consider challenging these prohibitions and how to break some of these taboos.

Hopefully by the time I conclude this “mini-series”, you may understand why I think Canadians need to talk about money.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Public Retirement Systems: Comparing CPP/OAS in Canada to Social Security in the United States

I'm back. I made it through yet another tax season. I request your indulgence for a paragraph, as I have one last rant about the timing of the issuance of tax season T-slips.

You would not believe (or maybe you would, since you are probably like many of my clients, who received their tax slips into the first ten days or April, let alone the number of amended slips received up to the third week of April) how many returns we had to amend or hold because of late or amended T-slips. With current technology and payroll services, I really don't see why the CRA does change the required issuance date for T4's and T5's from the end of February to either the end of January or the middle of February. This would allow the corresponding acceleration of T3's for public entities and T5013's to say March 1st or 15th (I would keep trust filings for private trusts to March 31st so they would not have to amend each return for the tax slips received after March 31st). By doing such, taxpayers could file their returns on a timely basis without being rushed and constantly amending their returns.

Okay, let's move on to today’s post, which contrasts and discusses retirement benefits under the social insurance systems of Canada and the United States. 


 This post lays the groundwork for a future guest post by Alyssa Tawadros a senior manager U.S. tax with BDO Canada LLP, which will discuss various cross-border aspects of social insurance, such as:
  • How CPP/Social Security contributions work when one goes on a temporary cross-border assignment (i.e. totalization agreements and certificates of coverage) 
  • How contributing to the U.S.’s social security during one’s lifetime affects their ability to claim benefits for CPP (and vice versa)
  • How each respective country taxes a resident’s social security benefits

Public Retirement Systems


As noted above, today’s post will compare retirement benefits under the social insurance systems of Canada and the United States. In Canada, this would be the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS), and in the U.S. this would be Social Security.

  The Canada Pension Plan (CPP)


The CPP is a contributory public pension plan administered for employees and self-employed individuals. It provides a basic level of earnings replacement in retirement for workers throughout Canada, with the exception of Quebec. Quebec workers are covered by the Quebec Pension Plan (QPP), which is an almost equivalent plan. For simplicity’s sake, we will focus on the CPP only. In addition to retirement benefits, the CPP also provides disability and survivor benefits.

The CPP is financed by employer, employee and self-employed contributions as well as income earned on CPP investments. Contributions begin at age 18 and end at age 65 unless the individual has already begun receiving benefits or has died. Currently, the CPP contribution is 9.9% of annual pensionable income. Employees make half (4.95%) of the contribution and the other half is paid by their employer. Self-employed contributors pay the full 9.9%, and they receive a corresponding tax deduction on their tax return for one half of the contribution to represent the “employer” portion of the contribution. When calculating the contribution, there is an annual exemption of $3,500 that is deducted from the annual pensionable income. CPP contributions are limited by the “year’s maximum pensionable earnings”, which in 2017 is $55,300. The year’s maximum pensionable earnings approximates the average Canadian wage and is indexed to average wage growth annually.

For example, let’s say you’re employed and your total annual income in 2017 is $130,000. Since this income is in excess of the maximum pensionable earnings, the CPP contributions are calculated based on pensionable earnings of $55,300. After the deduction of $3,500, you and your employer’s contribution would each be $2,564.10 (4.95% of $51,800), for a total contribution of $5,128.20.

Currently, when the contributor reaches the normal retirement age of 65, the CPP provides retirement benefits equal to 25% of the contributor’s pensionable earnings for the years that the contributor is aged 18 to 65. A certain number of months with lowest earnings may be automatically disregarded under a general “drop out” provision to account for certain periods when one wasn’t working (e.g. unemployment, attending school, etc.). The maximum CPP retirement pension one could be entitled to is calculated as 25% of the average of the maximum pensionable earnings for the last five years. For 2017, that maximum is $13,370.04. The average annual amount of benefit for new beneficiaries is typically much lower than the maximum. In 2016, the average amount of benefit collected was $7,732.202.

It is possible to apply for and receive CPP benefits as early as age 60, but the pensioner will receive a reduced amount. On the other hand, by delaying CPP benefits until the age of 70, the pensioner will get an increased benefit. Calculating what your benefit might be at retirement is quite intricate, but estimates can be requested for ages 60, 65 and 70 from the Service Canada website. In order to qualify for CPP benefits, the pensioner must be at least a month past their 59th birthday, have worked in Canada, have made at least one valid contribution to the CPP, and want their CPP retirement pension payments to begin within 12 months.

You may be aware that in 2016 the government introduced Bill C-26, which sets out amendments to enhance CPP benefits. The main changes will be an annual payout target raised up to 33% from 25% and to increase the Year’s Maximum Pensionable Earnings to $82,700 when the program is fully phased in by 2025. The program will be funded by an increase in contributions by employees and employers from 4.95% to 5.95%, phased in slowly starting in 2019. In today’s dollars, the Department of Finance has indicated that the maximum benefit under the enhanced CPP will increase to nearly $20,000.

Old Age Security (OAS)


OAS is a government program that provides a basic level of retirement income and is funded out of the general revenues of federal government. It is not tied to past work history or funded through payroll taxes. It operates as a monthly payment available to seniors aged 65 and older who are Canadian citizens or legal residents living in Canada or elsewhere – provided that the minimum residence requirements are met. In addition, low-income seniors who qualify for OAS may be eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), which is a tax-free benefit. To qualify for the GIS in 2017, a single pensioner’s income must be $17,544 or below and married pensioners’
combined income must be $23,184 or below.

The OAS maximum monthly benefit for 2017 is $578.53. The benefit is subject to a reduction also known as a “clawback” starting at incomes of around $70,000. The benefit is fully clawed back at incomes around $120,004. It should be noted that when people complain their OAS is clawed-back, it is not their own money, but the governments money. Here is a link to a post I wrote on strategies to reduce the claw-back.

The annual retirement benefit for someone who is entitled to maximum CPP and OAS benefits is around $20,312 ($578.52 x 12 + $13,370.04). However, as the average CPP benefit in 2016 was lower than the maximum, an estimate of the average retirement benefit from CPP and OAS would be around $14,674 ($578.52 x 12 + $7,732.20)

How Does Social Security Compare?


Social Security is similar to CPP in that it is a mandatory publicly-provided system providing retirement assistance which is funded by contributions from employees and employers and the self-employed. The funding is by way of FICA taxes (FICA stands for Federal Insurance Contributions Act) where contributions to Social Security are 12.4% of eligible earnings. Similar to CPP, half (6.2%) is paid by the employee and half by the employer. Those who are self-employed are liable for the full 12.4%, but receive a deduction for 50% of their contribution on their tax return to represent the “employer” portion. Similar to CPP, there is a maximum earnings cap known as the “wage base limit” which is $127,200 for 2017. So as you can see, Social Security requires higher annual contributions than CPP, mainly because the both maximum pensionable earnings and contribution rate is significantly higher.

Using our example from above to compare both systems, the individual earning $130,000 a year would contribute the maximum under both systems since the salary is higher than the maximum earnings cap in both countries. For 2017, the individual would contribute $7,886.40 to Social Security ($127,200 x 6.2%) or $2,564.10 to the CPP (ignoring exchange rate considerations).

With a high contribution you would hope it would come with a high reward at retirement – especially since the U.S. does not have an analogous program to OAS. Social Security is a credit-based system and the number of credits one has determines whether one is eligible to collect. In 2017, one credit is received for every $1,300 in earnings up to a maximum of four credits per year. To claim retirement benefits, 40 credits are needed, generally representing ten years of work. However you can’t collect retirement benefits until you earn 40 credits and reach the age of 62 or older. Retiring at age 62 is considered early retirement, with the full retirement age being 67 for those born in 1960 or later. Similar to CPP, if one collects early starting at age 62, they get a reduced payment. Conversely, if they wait to collect after age 67 they get a higher payment, which tops out at age 70.

The retirement benefits depend on how much money was earned during one’s working years and when they started collecting. The program was designed to replace roughly 40% of pre-retirement wages for an average earner. Getting the highest benefit possible means that the income must have been at or above the Social Security ceiling each year for at least 35 years. In 2017, the maximum benefit for one retiring at the full retirement age is $32,244. However the published average benefit for 2016 was around $16,092. Similar to CPP, the average collected is typically less than the maximum benefit.

Expanding CPP – was it a necessary step?


Currently, Social Security covers a much higher income range (and requires a higher contribution) than CPP and generally aims to replace more pre-retirement wages than CPP. However, the U.S. does not have an analogous program to OAS. Social Security tends to provide a larger benefit at retirement to those who were high income earners during their working years in comparison to CPP and OAS. In contrast, Canada’s system can provide more benefits to those who had lower incomes when they are working. This is consistent with the Department of Finance’s study that found lower income families had the lowest risk of undersaving for retirement as OAS and CPP benefits provide a relatively high income replacement at their income range.

CPP reform appears to be targeted more toward middle class families. The Department of Finance found that 24% of families nearing retirement age are at risk of not having adequate income in retirement to maintain their standard of living. They also suggest that roughly 1.1 million families will have trouble maintaining their standard of living at retirement. The Department of Finance identified a number of factors which have increased the level of savings required, such as the decline of workplace pension plans, the shift from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans, and younger workers living longer lives. The enhancement to the CPP is meant to provide higher, predictable retirement benefits. Although the mandate is arguably needed in today’s world, both employees and the employers must now take on a higher burden through increased contributions. Where labour can often be one of the largest costs of a small business, the increase in contributions lowers the bottom line and can be an inhibitor of growth. Ideally, the gradual phase-in will help small businesses integrate the changes into their business and financial planning

I would like to thank Alyssa Tawadros, Senior Manager, U.S. Tax for BDO Canada LLP for her extensive assistance in writing this post. If you wish to engage Alyssa for individual U.S. tax planning, she can be reached at atawadros@bdo.ca

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Realized Capital Gain/Loss Reports – Rely on Them at Your Own Risk

Back in the day, when I was young and energetic, during tax season I would write a series called Confessions of a Tax Accountant, in which I would highlight contentious and/or interesting issues that arose in my practice.

On a few occasions (especially in the middle of tax season when I am most cranky), I wrote about the inaccurate capital gain/loss reporting by some financial institutions. These reports can be flawed in three ways:

1. Incomplete cost base information for U.S. stock holdings
2. Failure to reduce the adjusted cost base ("ACB") on the sale of flow-through shares.
3. Phantom or inaccurate information on the disposition of stocks and mutual funds.

U.S. Stock Holdings


Many financial institutions provide you capital gains summaries in $U.S. based on your U.S. purchase price and U.S. sale price. If you then multiply that gain by say the average foreign exchange rate for 2016 your capital gain/loss is wrong since you need to translate the purchase and sales price for each stock sold at the F/X rate on the day of purchase and sale. I wrote about this issue in this blog post and will only add; that I have seen this again several times this year and you should inform your advisor you want this report in $Cdn based on the conversion rates when you purchased and sold any stock.

Flow-Through Shares


I discussed this matter in this 2014 blog post. The issue was, and still is, that the capital gain or loss reported by financial institutions on their realized gain/loss report is almost always incorrect. Why? This is because the initial ACB of your flow-through share should be reduced by the resource tax deductions claimed in prior years and these reports typically ignore this cost base reduction and reflect the original purchase price, not the reduced ACB.

I have been told that from a liability perspective, the financial institutions do not want to get into making tax cost base determinations, especially in respect of flow-throughs (although, I have seen some of the better investment advisors and investment management firms adjust this on their own) and thus, they put general disclaimers on the report that the institution is not responsible for the accuracy of the capital gain/loss statement. While I can understand this position, I cannot understand why the financial institutions do not put an asterisk beside these calculations with a comment that the ACB may have been reduced by prior tax deductions claimed to at least highlight this issue.

Phantom Gains and Losses


This year, in addition to the above issues, I have already twice noted very significant errors in the general realized capital gains/losses reports that the financial institutions send to their clients. I think because I am involved with wealth advisory services that I am more finally attuned to these issues, but in one case there was a massive phantom gain that made no sense since the fund was an income preservation type account and in the other, the report reflected a huge loss in a conservative balanced stock fund that seemed unlikely given the recent strength of the markets.

In the first case, I spoke directly to the advisor for the financial institution. They investigated and reported back that I had identified an error (a complicated transaction had taken place and had not been accounted for correctly) and they would amend my clients report and further, that they would have to amend all their other clients’ reports.

In the second case, I asked the client to call his advisor to double check. He was told the error had been caught and an amended report was on its way.


To be fair, with people moving from institution to institution, cost base numbers can easily get “messed up” and there are some very complex transactions that also cause ACBs to be reallocated.

So the lesson you should take from today is: when you receive a realized gain/loss report from your advisor, take a quick scan through it to see if something seems out of whack, on either the gain or loss side.

Note: I am sorry, but I do not answer questions in April due to my workload, so the comments option has been turned off. Thus, you cannot comment on this post and past comments on other blog posts will not appear until I turn the comment function back on. 

This is my last post for a couple weeks, so see you in May.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Lifestyle Expansion - The Plague of Boomers, Millennials and Everyone in Between


Over the years, on more than one occasion, I have had to read the riot act to clients who make high six-figure incomes about their spending habits. The discussion is almost always in context of their retirement planning and how if they continue their current spending, they will either not have enough to retire on, or will have to sell their house and/or cottage very early in their retirement to fund their future needs.

This issue is not isolated to high-net worth people and those near retirement; it is the same problem for someone who makes $80-$120,000 as for someone who makes $600,000 and the same issue for millennials (although more in context of saving for a home than retirement). If you continually expand your lifestyle to fit your increasing income or current income level, the reality of your retirement or your future living situation, may be far different than you envision it. That being said, obviously if you make $600,000, you have more leeway to catch-up, even if it seems incomprehensible you even have such an issue in the first place. 

The term “lifestyle creep” is often used to reflect this worrisome spending issue. Investorpedia defines lifestyle creep as “a situation where people's lifestyle or standard of living improves as their discretionary income rises either through an increase in income or decrease in costs. As lifestyle creep occurs, and more money is spent on lifestyle, former luxuries are now considered necessities”.

If you are in your late 40's or early 50's, the insidious part of lifestyle creep is that your current earnings support whatever you wish to do and thus you carry on without a care in the world. It is only when I force someone to face the reality that once the gravy train (salary or business) stops, their income requirements are so massive, that their current and retirement assets will be insufficient to fund their needs (even if they significantly reduce their costs in retirement) that I get their attention. 

From a psychological aspect, some people find it very important to maintain a certain image or lifestyle and/or keep up with the Joneses. However, the Joneses may have way more money than you and it is only your current income that allows you to keep up. The reality is you may be swept aside by the Joneses in retirement, as they may only hang out with those "friends" who can spend with them and who have the capital to continue spending at excessive levels.

For some people, all they need is that sobering meeting and they immediately start getting their act in gear. For others, their spending habits are so entrenched and/or so financed; they need to engage a financial planner or money coach. Most discouragingly, some people just pull an Ostrich and put their head in the sand.

Lifestyle creep is not only an “older person” issue. I observe many millennial's spending their entire salaries on bottle service at restaurants, expensive vacations, cars and costly bachelor and bachelorette parties to exotic locales for their friends.

Fixes and Suggestions


So if you have that sobering moment and come to the realization your lifestyle has expanded to your salary or business income, what can you do? Here are a couple basic solutions:

Spending Review


The first step to tackle this issue is to undertake a detailed review of your spending. Track you’re spending for 2-3 months and add on your large one-time expenses not included in the tracking period. Then analyze the results of your spending review and note your excesses. If you are a reader of this blog, you know I am not frugal and have written many times that in my opinion, it is important to enjoy your life and “knock off” some of your Bucket List items while you can. However, there is a huge difference between enjoying your life and spending excessively. All of us can easily cut-back, especially those of us who spend like there is no tomorrow. The obvious areas are always: restaurants, travel, clothes, cars, nanny’s and cleaning ladies (not saying don’t hire them, you may just not need them as often as you currently pay them for), dog walkers etc. 

Auto Savings


Once you undertake your review and decide to reduce your expenses, force yourself to do so by having automatic transfers from your bank account into your retirement or investment accounts, or if you are in debt, increase your monthly repayments (I am astonished at how many people who make $500,000 to $1,000,000 are in debt).

Work Longer


As noted in my recent blog post The Victory Lap, working longer or part-time in retirement is not only healthier and keeps you physically and mentally sharp, but it is a way to save you from having to encroach on your retirement capital. For some of us, it may be the only way to fund our retirements.

Financial Planner or Money Coach


As mentioned above, engaging a blunt accountant, financial planner or money coach is a vital step for many “free spenders”, since it provides discipline and structure in getting their finances in better shape.

Other Articles


Here are a few links to articles on this topic for high earners close to retirement, entrepreneurs or millennial's.


Millennials - Are You Showing the Signs of Lifestyle Creep?

Fighting Lifestyle Creep and Saving Money as an Entrepreneur

Lifestyle creep is sinister, as you often do not realize it is an issue until it has already become part of your financial fabric. If you are starting to creep, stop it now. If you are already caught in the spending web, take the steps noted above to get your spending under control.

Note: I am sorry, but I do not answer questions in April due to my workload, so the comments option has been turned off. Thus, you cannot comment on this post and past comments on other blog posts will not appear until I turn the comment function back on.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.

Monday, April 3, 2017

T1135 - Some Guidance on Common Issues

I have written multiple blog posts over the last few years on the T1135 Foreign Reporting Income Verification Statement. I have no interest in writing one more time on how to complete the form, but I thought I would provide you some guidance on some common questions I receive.

U.S. Bank Accounts and other Foreign Accounts

Cash situated, deposited or held outside of Canada even if in Canadian dollars is considered specified foreign property and subject to reporting on the T1135.

So, if you hold a $U.S. denominated bank account with a Canadian Financial Institution, you do not need to include the account on your form T1135. However, if you have a bank account with a U.S. or foreign bank you must include that account on your T1135.

Mutual Funds & ETFS

Mutual funds that are resident in Canada do not need to be reported, even if they hold foreign stock. However, any mutual funds not resident in Canada must be reported.

To the best of my knowledge, the CRA has not definitively answered how to treat ETFs. What they have said is that for the purposes of country reporting, the residency of the mutual fund or exchange traded fund itself is the country of the investment. Thus, one can seemingly infer that ETFs that are resident in Canada would be excluded from reporting. That may be easier said than done and some people make that determination based solely on whether there is a Canadian tax slip issued (inferring the ETF is thus Canadian resident). How is that for an opaque answer? 

Canadian Stocks denominated in $U.S. 

A Canadian stock denominated in $U.S. held at a Canadian brokerage does not need to be reported on the T1135. It is residence of the issuer that is the determinative issue, not the denomination.

Joint Ownership

Jointly owned investments must be split for purposes of the T1135. Thus, if you and your spouse jointly own U.S. stocks with a cost of $160,000 Cdn, you are each considered to own $80,000 of U.S. stocks. Each spouse must then independently calculate whether they have other foreign assets that would cause them to exceed the $100k threshold (i.e. you have more than $20k in other foreign assets).

Personal Use Property

If you own a personal use property outside of Canada, it is excluded from reporting. This will include a U.S. Condo, European Villa, time share or similar property. If there is incidental income, that income does not disqualify the property, as long as the primary use is personal use. This can be very subjective, so be careful.

New Immigrants and Returning Residents

An individual does not have to file Form T1135 for the tax year in which he or she first become resident in Canada. However, if you were formerly a Canadian resident and are returning, the exemption does not hold and you must file a T1135 from the entire year.

Gross Income for Rental Properties

The T1135 form asks you to report your income for real property. One would think that means you are required to report the net rental income (gross rental income less rental expenses), however, you are supposed to report just the gross rental income on the form and ignore the related expenses.

The above guidance is based on various CRA comments and CRA documents I have read. The CRA is not bound by any of the above, so I take no responsibility for the accuracy of the above guidelines.

Note: I am sorry, but I do not answer questions in April due to my workload, so the comments option has been turned off. Thus, you cannot comment on this post and past comments on other blog posts will not appear until I turn the comment function back on.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Federal Budget - Where is the Incentive For Success and Entrepreneurship?



Last Wednesday’s federal budget was pretty benign. Personal tax rates did not rise to 60% and the capital gains inclusion rate remained unchanged. However, many professionals, in particular accountants and lawyers, suffered a direct hit. The budget proposes that certain professionals must now pay tax on income they have not billed, by including work in progress in their taxable income. Small business owners escaped unscathed from this budget, but there are storm clouds on the horizon, as there could be some very punitive tax measures coming in the near term. 

If you wish to read a detailed summary of the budget, here is a link to BDO Canada's budget summary. However, for the purposes of today's post, I am just going to discuss the budgets impact on professionals and the warning shot sent across the bow of small business owners.

Let me state upfront, that I am of the view that government policy should not be to punish success and those willing to take risk (i.e. the so called top 1%, but probably the top 5-15%) but to encourage success and entrepreneurship. My view, which I will readily admit may be distorted because of my job and the high-net-worth individuals I deal with, is that small business owners and entrepreneurs (which in many cases includes professionals) are the largest creators of jobs for the “middle class”. Most prosperous people have risked much to achieve their success, in both financial capital and family time. They feel they deserve to be rewarded for that success, not penalized; which if I read the Liberal tea leaves correctly, is what is going to happen in the very near future. 

Professionals – A Change in Income Recognition – Billed Basis to WIP Basis


Currently certain professionals (accountants, dentists, lawyers, medical doctors, veterinarians and chiropractors) may elect to exclude the value of work in progress (WIP) pursuant to Section 34 of the Income Tax Act. This allows professionals to essentially recognize income for tax purposes only when it is actually billed (billed basis). The budget proposes that going forward, professionals will no longer be eligible for a Section 34 WIP deduction and will have to recognize income when services have been provided, even if not billed. The legislation provides a two-year transition period.

So in English. Let’s say I am doing some estate planning for Mary Smith. Mary engaged me to start the planning in November, 2016 and I spent $5,000 of time in November and December gathering information, corresponding with her estate lawyer and researching her issues. 

For accounting purposes, I must include the $5,000 of time I have spent on the file in my 2016 income under generally accepted accounting principles (accrual accounting). However, currently, I can elect under the aforementioned Section 34 to deduct the $5,000 of WIP from my 2016 taxable income since I have not yet billed Ms. Smith. Thus, for tax purposes my income in relation to Ms. Smith is nil. It should be noted that some professional firms have not even bothered recording their WIP, since it would net out with the offsetting Section 34 deduction. These firms will now be forced to change their reporting systems, so they can capture WIP. 

Back to my example. Let’s say I need to spend $2,000 more in time to finish the project in January, 2017 and finally get around to billing the client $7,000 in February, 2017. But Ms. Smith is one tough cookie. First she waits until March and calls me to argue about my bill and wears me down, so I reduce her fee to $6,000. She then takes three months to pay me so I finally receive $6,000 in June, 2017. 

Under current tax law, other than the fact she is a bit of a pain in the butt, I don’t really care about all this since I will pay tax on the $6,000 in 2017 and have the money in hand. 

Under the proposed rules, I will have to include in my 2016 income up to $5,000 of WIP even though I have not yet billed the client and I am not paid until June of the following year. I will thus potentially have a significant cash flow issue. I have to pay tax on money I have not yet billed and collected. Part of the government’s rationale for this proposed legislation is that professionals expense the costs of their WIP in the current year. While that is a fair concern to some extent, those costs are actually paid in the year, so expenses are being matched to payment, while the new legislation does not match billing to income inclusion.

I have been asked if contingent or success based fees could be considered WIP. I don't have an answer at this time; this will need to be clarified by the CRA.

Many professionals have used this WIP deduction to defer their current tax burden to their retirement years when their tax rates are lower. This will no longer be available.

Transitional Rules


In addition to the future cash flow issue discussed in my example above, professionals will face a short-term cash flow issue in that their current Section 34 WIP will be taxed over the next couple years, causing significant and unexpected increases to taxable income for which they had not expected to pay tax.

For the first taxation year that begins after March 22, 2017, in computing income, the budget proposes that 50% of the lesser of the cost of the WIP and its fair market value will be allowed as a deduction. For subsequent taxation years, 100% of the lesser of the cost of WIP and its fair market value will be required to be included in income. For professionals with December 31st year ends, these income inclusions will come in their December 2018 and 2019 year-ends. This additional tax comes on the heel of the increase in marginal rates to 54% further exacerbating the issue.

For those wondering what exactly is the cost of WIP, that is a good question, still to be determined. In the old days, a billable hour was set based on the formula of  1/3 salary, 1/3 overhead and 1/3 profit. So is the cost of WIP under this old school calculation the 1/3 salary, 2/3 salary and overhead or some other variation? That does not even consider the significant historical discount firms take on their WIP, anywhere from 10-30%.

Tax Planning Using Private Corporations


The budget discussion highlighted several tax planning strategies using private corporations, which the government feels can result in high income individuals gaining unfair tax advantages that are not available to other Canadians. The government is reviewing these areas and will be releasing a paper in the upcoming months setting out these issues in more detail and their policy responses. Every small business owner should be concerned significant changes are coming in respect of many of the standard current tax planning strategies they utilize.

The budget specifically noted the Liberals are reviewing the following strategies:

“Sprinkling income using private corporations, which can reduce income taxes by causing income that would otherwise be realized by an individual facing a high personal income tax rate to instead be realized (e.g., via dividends or capital gains) by family members who are subject to lower personal tax rates (or who may not be taxable at all)”. 

I interpret the above to mean the government will be reviewing family trusts and the use of discretionary dividends amongst other tax planning strategies.

“Holding a passive investment portfolio inside a private corporation, which may be financially advantageous for owners of private corporations compared to otherwise similar investors. This is mainly due to the fact that corporate income tax rates, which are generally much lower than personal rates, facilitate accumulation of earnings that can be invested in a passive portfolio”. 

This discussion point is very disconcerting. I interpret this to mean that the Liberals are not only going to review the use and availability of the small business deduction which has been rumored from day one, but they are even going to look at the after-tax earnings and the use of holding companies.

It should be noted there is no tax advantage to having an investment portfolio inside a corporation. The issue is that if a small business makes $10,000 from its active business activities, it would only pay $1,500 in corporate income tax and have $8,500 to invest, whereas a middle class Canadian would only have only say $6,000 to $7,500 to invest depending upon their income and marginal tax rate.

“Converting a private corporation’s regular income into capital gains, which can reduce income taxes by taking advantage of the lower tax rates on capital gains. Income is normally paid out of a private corporation in the form of salary or dividends to the principals, who are taxed at the recipient’s personal income tax rate (subject to a tax credit for dividends reflecting the corporate tax presumed to have been paid). In contrast, only one-half of capital gains are included in income, resulting in a significantly lower tax rate on income that is converted from dividends to capital gains”.

There is some planning that goes on along these lines, but I don’t see this as a major issue for the vast majority of small business owners.

Associated Companies


The government is proposing to change the rules regarding association such that if you have one corporation owned legally by one spouse and another legally by another spouse, they may become associated because they are factually controlled by one spouse. As result, instead of each corporation having a small business deduction, both the husband and wife’s corporation may have to share one small business deduction. 

Government’s Objective


In the budget paper, the government said it “will ensure that corporations that contribute to job creation and economic growth by actively investing in their business continue to benefit from a highly competitive tax regime”. How it intends to do this is the $64,000 question. My concern is that you risk shrinking the middle class that the government is so keen on helping, if you de-incentivize small business owners and entrepreneurs to take the personal and capital risks needed to start new companies and invest in new ones. I can tell you I already have significant negative feedback from my clients who have to pay 54% tax; if you also remove their ability to income split and small business tax preferences, my personal opinion is you will have a disenfranchised a segment of the population that like it or not, is a large part of the engine behind the economy.  

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What Small Business Owners Need to Know - Management Fees - The Importance of Having Proper Support


Management fees may be used to reduce taxes amongst a corporate group and/or to gain access to a greater small business deduction (i.e.: a company with taxable income pays a management fee to reduce its taxable income to a related company with losses that can absorb the management fee income and not pay taxes).

In other cases, management fees are used by an owner-manager as a “lazy” way to pay salaries to the owner.

Sometimes these fees are well thought out and supported with documentation. However, I also see these fees paid recklessly. In either case, the use of management fees have some risk associated with them, as they are often challenged by the Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") where they are not considered reasonable and justifiable. 

Today, Howard Kazdan, a tax expert with BDO Canada LLP, discusses management fees and what kind of support is suggested to strengthen the payer’s case for deducting such fees.

I thank Howard for his excellent post

Management Fees – The Importance Of Having Proper Support

By Howard Kazdan

As noted above, management fees are often used as a tax planning tool. Of course, to be effective, the fees must be deductible to the payer.

The criteria that are required for the management fees to be considered deductible, were established by the courts many years ago:

1. The expense must have been incurred (either actually paid or subject to a legal liability to pay);

2. The fees must have been incurred for the purpose of income from a business and

3. The fees must be reasonable in the circumstances.

In order to make a determination of whether the fees are deductible, the courts may:

1. Require documentation to support the expense, for example an intercompany agreement and/or invoices for work done.

Where the only documentation for intercompany fees is an accounting journal entry, the courts have concluded that such entries are not sufficient to establish that the amount was incurred during the year and represent a true liability at year end.

2. Require evidence from the corporation describing what services were provided and how incurring the expense contributed to the process of earning income.

3. Require evidence of the basis for the amount of fee, since a bona fide fee for service should be based on services performed and not profit. If a payment is based on profit (which may not be known until after year end) the CRA may argue that the payment is a distribution of profit and not a deductible expense.

The CRA has administratively allowed corporations to bonus down to the small business limit and considered such bonuses as reasonable when paid as salary to owner-managers. This administrative position is not available when such amounts are paid as management fees. In the latter case, the CRA will look at the nature of services performed, the time spent to perform those services and whether the fees paid are similar to what would be paid to other arm’s length sources.

Taking the above into consideration, successful claims of management fees that have been subject to CRA review and the courts have the following similarities: 

(a) written management fee agreements/service arrangements be in place describing services, fees, responsibilities

(b) documentation of a bona-fide business purpose for the intercompany fee (for example, use of a management corporation to keep compensation of key management confidential). 

(c) adequate records to keep track of services provided (time sheets)

(d) periodic invoicing rather than only once at the end of the year

(e) company rendering the servicing invoice should have the staff and ability to provide the services. 

(f) the fee should be based on services provided, not profit.

Claims which have not been as successful generally lack the above noted characteristics (for example, there is no agreement; could not provide details of services provided; company earning the income did not have the ability to provide the services; general lack of documentation other than journal entries).

In reviewing management fees, the CRA may send a questionnaire. It is possible that even if the deduction is disallowed in one entity, the company including the fees as income will still be taxed (effectively double taxation). This is why you will want clear documentation that fees are bona-fide management fees and treated consistently each year. 

Don’t forget that such fees may be subject to GST/HST unless the entities qualify for the closely related exception and the Form RC4616 has been properly filed. 

In addition to the criteria already discussed, an additional reason to issue invoices is GST/HST. An invoice will provide clarity on timing of when GST/HST is payable (i.e. when fee becomes legally enforceable) and ensure there is adequate documentation for the company incurring the expense, in support of any ITCs claimed.

If you or your related companies use management fees as a tax planning tool, ensure you review the criteria noted above with your accountant. 

Howard Kazdan is a Senior Tax Manager with BDO Canada LLP. If you would like to engage Howard for tax planning, he can be reached at 905-946-5459 or by email at hkazdan@bdo.ca

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.