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.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The CRA's Matching Program - Mismatch and You May be Assessed a 20% Penalty

How can you be issued a 20% penalty for missing information the CRA has on hand? Read on and you will find out!

In the next month or two, the CRA’s matching program will begin kicking out notices of reassessment to Canadians whose reported income on their 2012 income tax returns does not match the CRA's records. Some of these income tax filers will be assessed penalties of 20% on income not reported. Yes, that is income not reported, not tax underpaid! This penalty applies to income tax information your employer or financial institution provided to the CRA which was not reported on your return. In most cases, the omission of income was purely unintentional.

What is wrong with this picture? How can one be considered to not have reported income that the CRA has in its database? Is this not a penalty for failing to confirm income, as oppossed to not reporting income?

In this two part blog, I am going to look at the penalty itself and why I think it is egregious, as well as how the CRA could easily remedy the situation. Long-time followers of this blog will be aware I have written about this penalty a couple of times. However, this week’s blogs look at the penalty from two new perspectives:

1. The matching aspect
2. How I think the CRA could easily address this issue.

So let’s start from the beginning.

The Matching Program


The CRA’s matching program catches the non-reporting of income every fall. Each year the CRA checks the T-slip information in its database against Canadian taxpayer’s income tax returns to ensure the T-slip income reported matches. Where the income filed by a taxpayer does not match the CRA's database records, an income tax reassessment is mailed to the taxpayer asking for the income tax due. If the taxpayer is a first time offender, they are just assessed the actual income tax owing and possibly some interest. If this is the second occurrence in the last four years, a 20% penalty of the unreported income is assessed.

The Penalty Provision

Under Subsection 163(1) of the Income Tax Act, where a taxpayer has failed to report income twice within a four-year period, he/she will be subject to a penalty. The penalty is calculated as 10% of the
amount you failed to report the second time. A corresponding provincial penalty is also applied, so the total penalty is 20% of the unreported income. 


Ouch! Is this Fair?

I find this penalty unfair for the following reasons:

1. It is excessive. I can accept a penalty of 5%, maybe 10%, but 20%?

2. The penalty can be levied even if you owe no income tax. I.e.: If someone in Ontario fails to report a T4 slip with $5,000 of employment income and the slip also reported $2,325 of income tax deducted, they would owe no income tax, as the maximum marginal income tax rate of 46.41% was applied (ignoring Ontario supertax). However, if you had failed to report income in any of the three prior years, the penalty under subsection 163(1) would be $1,000 (20% x $5,000), even though you owed no income tax and the CRA was provided this information by your employer. 

3. The penalty can vary wildly on the exact same total of non-reported income. If you fail to report $2,000 two years ago and fail to report $100 this year, your penalty is $20. However, if you failed to report $100 two years ago and failed to report $2,000 this year, the penalty is $400! That is a huge difference in penalties for the exact same total of unreported income.

4. Most penalties relate to T-slips taxpayers did not knowingly ignore or evade. In most cases, the missing income relates to T-slips lost in the mail or sent to the wrong address. Also, as a reader notes below in the comment section, many T-slips are now issued online and easy to miss.

According to an article by Tom McFeat of CBC News, the number of Canadians penalized for this repeated failure to report income totaled over 81,000 in 2011 with an income tax cost of slightly over $78,000,000.

To be clear, my issue with this penalty is that taxpayers in most cases are being penalized where there is no intent to hide income and the CRA receives that information. However, I am not as forgiving with the non-reporting of rental income, capital gains or self-employment which relies on taxpayer honesty.

Tax Tip for T-slips Received after You Filed Your Return?

I think most people will agree that this penalty is excessive. Wednesday I suggest a simple solution to the issue. However, here is a quick tip before you leave. If you received a T-slip after filing your tax return and ignored the slip since it was a small amount, dig it out tonight and file a T1 adjustment as soon as possible before the matching program gets you. Even a small $10 missed slip will start your clock ticking for a potentially larger penalty if you miss reporting income again in the subsequent three years.

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.