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. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Prescribed Rate Loans Using a Family Trust

In July 2011, I wrote about the income tax savings that may be derived by using a 1% prescribed interest rate loan to income split with your spouse and children. As the world economies would have it, interest rates have not moved very much over the last eighteen months; consequently, the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) prescribed interest rate is still 1% for this quarter. I would therefore suggest that the use of a prescribed interest rate loan is still an attractive tax planning alternative, however, today I will expand the use of these types of loans to include a loan to a family trust for purposes of income splitting.

To recap the above blog post. The Income Tax Act contains income attribution rules that typically reallocate income to the higher income earner when he or she tries to income split with his or her spouse or children. However, there is an exception to the above attribution rules where an individual makes a loan to a spouse or minor child and interest is charged on the loan at a rate at least equal to the CRA’s prescribed interest rate at the time the loan was made. Where the loan carries interest at a rate no less than the prescribed interest rate, the attribution rules will not apply. For the loan to avoid the income attribution rules, the interest owing must be paid each year within 30 days after the end of the year (i.e. January 30th).

As I noted at the end of the blog post, income splitting with minors can be problematic because minors generally cannot enter into an enforceable contract. Thus, I suggested the use of a family trust to navigate the enforceability issues. Today, I want to expand on the use of a family trust for these type loans.

Using a Family Trust

Where a family trust is a shareholder in your company, the kiddie tax rules make income splitting with beneficiaries problematic and typically the trusts are only beneficial for children once they turn 18 or where the company is sold and you can "sprinkle" the $750,000 capital gains exemption amongst your family members.

Shockingly, for once, individuals have a planning advantage over corporations. Where you do not have a corporation or the circumstances don’t allow for the introduction of a family trust as a shareholder of a corporation, a family trust can still be utilized to income split, by utilizing a prescribed interest rate loan to a family trust. The beauty of making a prescribed loan to a trust is that the kiddie tax will not be applicable and if structured properly, children under 18 who are beneficiaries of the trust can be used to income split. 

To prevent any confusion, let me clarify. A family trust is not an “in trust” account that some institutions allow. What I am talking about here is a formal discretionary family trust governed by a trust agreement or trust deed drafted by a lawyer and properly settled, often by a grandparent. The beneficiaries of a family trust in the case of a prescribed loan trust would include both minor children and children 18 years of age and over and the trustees would typically include at least mom or dad, if not both, and an arm’s length third party.

Once the family trust is settled, mom or dad makes a loan to the trust at the prescribed interest rate in effect at the time of the loan (i.e. 1% if the loan was made this quarter). It is very important to understand that the Income Tax Act requires that the loan carry an interest rate at least equal to the prescribed rate at the time of the loan and that this interest rate remains in effect the entire time the loan is outstanding. Thus, the 1% interest rate will not change as long as the loan is in existence, even if the CRA’s prescribed interest rate increases in the future. I cannot emphasize what a huge benefit the low permanent interest rate is in our current low rate environment. If rates begin to rise, the trust will continue to only pay 1% interest, yet the family trust can earn say 7% interest without the risk that would be required today to try and achieve a 7% return.  

Once the trust receives the loan proceeds, it will then invest the funds, but must  pay mom or dad the 1% interest by January 30th of the following year. Mom or dad must report the interest earned on the loan in their personal income tax return and the trust is entitled to an interest expense deduction for the interest paid.

The income earned by the trust less the interest expense paid is then allocated out to the children and is taxed in their hands, which in most cases will result in no income tax.

The trust can be used to pay the children’s school costs, camp costs, etc.

So why isn't there a proliferation of family trusts used for income splitting of investment income? Well, the legal and accounting costs of setting up the trust can range from $4,000 to $8,000 give or take and there are also annual T3 Trust filing costs charged by an accountant. In addition, as noted yesterday, in order to make this worthwhile, the parents would typically need to advance at least $500,000, but probably closer to $1,000,000 in this low rate environment to make the additional income tax filings and administration costs worthwhile. However, you could establish or settle a trust and loan it, say $100,000 today, to lock in the 1% rate, if you believe the compounding effect of the invested money will provide you with significant investment income down the road or you expect the stock market is going to go gangbusters in the near future. Remember though, any loans advanced to the trust in the future will need to carry an interest rate at least equal to the prescribed rate at that time, so if you loan the trust more money in the future and the prescribed rate increases to say 5%, the additional loan will be subject to the higher interest rate.

Where you have funds available for investing and have children with significant private school or university costs, then you should consider the creation of a family trust and the use of a prescribed interest rate loan for income splitting purposes. Alternatively, you can just use the trust to build up funds in your child's name to help them buy a car or a house.

Tax planning of this nature is very complicated as you must navigate several income tax and trust law provisions to ensure compliance. Before considering tax planning of this nature, you must consult with an accountant and/or lawyer.

The blogs posted on The Blunt Bean Counter provide information of a general nature. These posts 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. Please note the blog post is time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.