My name is Mark Goodfield and I am a tax partner and the managing partner of Cunningham LLP in Toronto. This blog is about income tax, business, the psychology of money and investing topics and is meant for taxpayers no matter their income bracket, but in particular for high net worth individuals and entrepreneurs who own private corporations. I also blog about whatever else crosses my mind; I have to entertain myself. This is my personal blog and the views and opinions expressed in this blog do not reflect the position of Cunningham LLP. I am blunt and opinionated (at least for a Chartered Professional Accountant). You've been warned.

The blogs posted on The Blunt Bean Counter provide information of a general nature and should not be considered specific advice, as each reader's personal financial situation is unique and fact specific. Please contact a professional advisor prior to implementing or acting upon any of the information contained in one of the blogs.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Punitive Income Tax Provisions

The Income Tax Act ("Act") contains numerous punitive provisions that can catch taxpayers off-guard. Today I will review some of those provisions.

Late Filed Income Tax Returns


Many taxpayers who cannot afford to pay their income liability on April 30th or June 15th (if you are self-employed) do not file their income tax returns on time. That is the worst possible decision. The Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") imposes a late-filing penalty of 5% of the balance owing for late filed returns and then tacks on an extra 1% a month for each full month your return is late to a maximum of 12 months. For those mathematically challenged, that is a potential  17% penalty for simply not mailing in your income tax return by the deadline. If you file on time, you will owe interest, a small cost to avoid the penalty.



If you have incurred a late-filing penalty in either of the three preceding taxation years, your late filing penalties are doubled and apply for up to 20 months for a maximum penalty of 50%. Yes, fifty percent, that is not a typo. You may be able to apply for Taxpayer Relief ("Fairness") on your penalty; however any reduction in the penalty relies upon the discretion of the fairness committee. My advice, always file on time even if you cannot afford to pay your tax liability.

Interest on Taxes Owing and Refunds


As noted above, you can easily avoid a late-filing penalty by just filing on time. Unfortunately, you cannot avoid interest on  taxes owing. Interest compounds daily at the prescribed rate on any balance of tax owing after April 30th, currently at 5% as per this CRA schedule of interest rates.

Some may find this hard to believe, but as per the above schedule of prescribed rates, the CRA only pays taxpayers filing personal income tax returns 3% on overpayments and refunds, yet charges 5% on deficient payments. Go figure.

Instalments


Per this CRA instalment guide the CRA will charge interest at the prescribed rate of 5% if you did not make instalment payments or made payments that were less than the required amounts.

You may also have to pay a penalty if your instalment payments are late or less than the required amount. The penalty only applies if your instalment interest charges are greater than $1,000. The penalty is calculated as follows:

The higher of:

■ $1,000; or
■ one-quarter of the instalment interest that you would have had to pay if you
had not made instalment payments for 2012.

The CRA then subtracts the higher amount from your actual instalment interest charges for 2012 and finally, they divide the difference by two and the result is your penalty. Since no one can follow that calculation, the CRA provides the following example:

Example

For 2012, John made instalment payments that were less than he should have
paid. As a result, he has $2,500 of actual instalment interest charges for 2012. If
John had not made any instalment payments in 2012, his instalment interest
charges would have been $3,200. Since one-quarter of $3,200 is $800, we
subtract $1,000 (the higher amount) from $2,500. The difference is $1,500. Then,
we divide $1,500 by two. John’s penalty would be $750.

There you go, clear as mud. Just pay your instalments on time, since your accountant has no clue if the instalment penalty is calculated correct or not :)

Penalty for Unreported Income (missed tax slips)


Under Subsection 163(1) of the Act, where a taxpayer has failed to report income twice within a four-year period, she/he will be subject to a 20% penalty of the amount you failed to report the second time. It is important to note that the amount of income that was unreported the first time is not relevant in the calculation. If you failed to report $100 the first time and $10,000 the second time, the penalty will be $2,000, a somewhat ludicrous result considering if the slips were missed in the reverse order the penalty would only be $20. In addition, the reality of the situation is that it is very easy for a T3/T4/T5 slip to be misplaced or lost in the mail.

I find this penalty insidious and have previously written on this issue in a couple different blogs.

T1135 penalty


Where you hold certain types of foreign property with a cost over $100,000, you must file the required T1135 Foreign Reporting Form. Where the form is not filed as required, the CRA can levy a penalty equal to $25 a day to a maximum of $2,500. The quantum of this penalty is just unconscionable where the income has been reported, but the form not filed. I can understand this penalty where the income has not been reported, however, where the income is reported, how can a penalty of such magnitude be charged?

Wow, that's all I can say when I read back my post and digest the various punitive provisions. While these provisions are necessary to ensure compliance with the Act, the quantum of many of these penalties is just obscene.