Making the Income Tax System Work for You, with Neal Winokur
Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.
Did you receive an income tax refund this year? If so, it means that you gave the government extra money during the year, only to see them pay it back to you without interest. Surely there must be a better way.
My guest this week is a tax accountant who says he feels a moral obligation to speak out against the inherent flaws and needless complexities that define taxation in Canada. Neal Winokur is a CPA, blogger, and author of the book, The Grumpy Accountant.
Neal dreams of a day when the Canadian tax system is simplified to the point where people no longer need his services. Neal explains some of the ways in which the tax system is broken, who’s at fault, and shows us a few ways we can make the income tax system work to our advantage.
Did you know? It’s been over 50 years since the Canadian government completed a full review of our income tax system. Today, it’s one of the most complex in the world, at a time when many other western nations have moved to a more modern and streamlined method of collecting taxes.
According to Neal, the CRA collects $32 billion more in taxes during the year than they should be. This is interest-free money that ends up being given back to taxpayers in the form of a refund. Another problem Neal sees is the piling on of various income tax credits and deductions that happens whenever there is a change of government. Neal explains that by removing all of these complexities, it would spare most of us the hassle of having to complete an income tax return.
We also discuss the topic of raises at work, and why making more money is always in your best interest, even if it moves you into a higher tax bracket.
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In less than 20 minutes and for a fraction of the price of visiting a lawyer, you can gain peace of mind knowing you’ve put a plan in place to protect your children, pets and loved ones in the event of an emergency. Get started for free at Willful and use promo code MAPLEMONEY to save 15%.
- Changes in government over-complicate the tax system
- The income tax system has not been reviewed in Canada for over 50 years
- CRA budget is almost $5B per year
- Why you should always file a tax return
- The penalties associated with filing your taxes late
- The benefits of a simplified income tax system
- Why your tax refund is nothing to brag about
- Understanding how tiered tax rates work
Did you receive an income tax refund this year? If so, that means you gave the government extra money during the year only to see them pay it back to you without interest. Surely there must be a better way. My guest this week is a tax accountant who says he feels a moral obligation to speak out against inherent flaws and needless complexities that define taxation in Canada. Neal Winokur is a CPA blogger and author of the book, The Grumpy Accountant. Neal dreams of a day when the Canadian tax system is simplified to the point where people no longer need his services. Neal explains some of the ways in which the tax system is broken, who’s at fault, in addition to showing us a few ways we can make the income tax system work to our advantage.
Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. Do you know that 57 percent of Canadian adults don’t have a will? Willful has made it more affordable, convenient and easy for Canadians to create a legal will and power of attorney documents online from the comfort of home in less than 20 minutes. For a fraction of the price of visiting a lawyer, you can gain peace of mind knowing you put a plan in place to protect your children, pets and loved ones in the event of an emergency. Get started for free at maplemoney.com/willful. Use the promo code Maple Money Show to save 15 percent. Now, let’s chat with Neil…
Tom: Hi Neal, welcome to the Maple Money Show.
Neal: Hi, thanks for having me on.
Tom: Thanks for being on. You recently released a book called, The Grumpy Account. First of all, I love the name of it. One of the things I found most interesting is you’ve brought up this idea that our tax system is pretty complicated. From my view, it seems like a lot of this may have to do with elections. It seems like every time there’s an election, the two main political parties will basically say, “That old system doesn’t work but we’ve got this new tax rebate…” When I bought my house in 2009, there was a tax renovation credit for $10,000 in renovations. It was great timing in buying an old house and to be able to upgrade it. Is that why it’s so complicated? Or are there other things going on here? It seems like we’re just putting in layers and layers of new things on top.
Neal: Yeah, that’s definitely one of the reasons. Every time there’s a change in government, the new government will recreate the tax system in its own image based on its party’s values. A good example, like you said, is the home renovation tax credit. Through the Harper conservatives, there used to be the Child Fitness Tax Credit, Child Arts Tax Credit, Public Transit Tax Credit, and the Home Renovation Tax Credit. Then the Trudeau Liberals came in, eliminated a lot of those and brought in their own. They have a tax credit for school teachers purchasing school supplies. And they have a climate action incentive tax credit. Each party tinkers with the system here and there, but there’s no comprehensive review of the whole system. The last time Canada had a full, comprehensive, complete review of the entire system was in 1967. The world has changed a lot in over 50 years. And every government since then has been tinkering here and there but we haven’t had a full complete review. These deductions and credits that people love to claim on their tax returns… Although I like that they minimize our tax bills and they may even be well-intentioned in trying to help people at certain stages in life, but they just add so much complexity into the system. It ends up that people are afraid to file their own tax returns because they think they might be missing something. And it costs people money too. They may have to purchase tax software or hire an accountant. And of course, it costs the CRA money to administer the tax system because they need to hire an employee and have whole departments to administer every credit. Every new deduction and credit requires more people at the CRA to administer this to make sure people aren’t making false claims. So the CRAs budget now is almost $5 billion every year. It’s gotten out of hand. People are afraid to file their own tax returns. Even for people with low incomes, modest incomes, or people who just got a T4 slip and don’t have much else in their tax return, it could still be pretty complicated.
Tom: Yeah, I had a coworker that was pretty much bragging that she hadn’t filed her taxes for five years. Is this a common thing that people just let it go? Or is it not that bad?
Neal: It is common. A lot of people file their own tax returns. There are a lot of people who download Turbo Tax or U-file who get it done every year. They’re on top of it. They want to get their tax refunds. They want to get their Canada Child benefits or GST credits. But there are people who let it go. Sometimes they let it go for two years, three years, five years, 10 years. Then they start receiving letters from the CRA. And worst-case scenario, if you don’t file every year, the CRA will do it for you. They do what’s called an “arbitrary assessment” where they just make up the numbers based on what they think you had or from what T-slips they have on file for you. But the problem is they’re not claiming any deductions and credits you may be entitled to. So people really shouldn’t brag about not filing for many years because they’re leaving money on the table. Most people get refunds unless you’re self-employed. If you’re self-employed, you owe tax usually. But if you’re an employee, you get a T4. And if you have no other income, you’re probably entitled to a refund every year. So it’s not a good idea to let it slide.
Tom: Yeah, exactly. At least if you’re expecting a refund, you’re not talking about how the CRA is going to add all these penalties and interest and everything else on top of your late deductions.
Neal: Right. If you owe tax and you file late, they hit you with the five percent penalty of the amount owing on that tax return. Plus there are other late payment penalties and interest. It’s a mess to clean that up. There are ways to actually request relief of penalties and interests. There is a taxpayer relief department. But that’s only in very extenuating circumstances if you can prove why you filed the tax return late. Maybe you had a death or in a family and illness in the family. You really need a crazy, extenuating circumstance to be granted relief of penalties of interest. I always tell people, “It’s such an easy thing to miss but just file your tax return on time every year.” I wish we had a system where the majority of people wouldn’t have to file tax returns every year, which is what some other countries actually have. But the way it is right now, you need to file on time every year. Don’t waste money on penalties and interest to the CRA.
Tom: You mentioned other countries. Something you told me was that 90 percent of people in Britain don’t file any taxes. How does that work?
Neal: The way it works over there in the U.K.—and there’s quite a few countries with this type of system. I think they call it, Pay As You Go. What it means is—and this is what we do here, by the way, for employees. You get your T4 that shows every paycheck you received, the tax has already deducted. Your employer sends that money to CRA every month or every quarter. So, at the end of the year when you get your T4 and file your tax return that’s why you get a refund because they took off too much tax. What they do in the U.K. is they make it a bit simpler. Basically, the T4 is the tax return because the employer is filing the T4 for the tax authority, which is what we do here right now. When you get your T4 slip, the CRA also gets it. The employer sends it to CRA and they send it to you. Then you have to take that T4, put it in a tax return and file it to the CRA. In the U.K. they just cut out that step. They have a much simpler tax system with hardly any tax deductions or credits. There are some for higher income people. But for most people, it’s already done by the employer. The T4 is the tax return. No deductions, no credits. Correct amount of tax deducted from your pay for the year. And you don’t have to file anything at the end of the year. That makes it a lot easier on people. If you want to file because you think you’re entitled to something since they do have a few deductions and credits, it’s a lot easier. You could file it right online on the government website for free. And there’s quite a few countries with that type of system in place, at least four employees, which are the majority of tax filers. If you’re self-employed, to simplify and massively simplify the tax system, some people would still have to file, self-employed people and people with investment income. But even for them, it could still be made much simpler. Anyone who is an employee and gets a TF with no other income should not have to file a tax return.
Tom: I don’t want to go too far down the trail of different countries and what they do, and I don’t expect you to know every country but in the United States, didn’t they make a change where they just have a simple version? Do you know about that? I think there’s a complicated way and then a single form way or something like that?
Neal: Exactly. In the U.S., they have something called, standard deductions, itemized deductions. When you file your tax return there, you can claim standard deductions. Everyone’s entitled to them… their basic amounts and deductions. I’m not the U.S. tax guy, so I don’t know the details, but the standard is easier for people. It’s less complicated. And itemized deductions are for people who think they bank be better off. They get to actually claim the specific amounts of what they’re really entitled to. It’s a little more complicated for them but at least the IRS is giving American tax filers a choice. You can choose a simplified version or a complicated version. But even that itself is complicated because then you have to calculate it anyways to see if you’re better off. It’s not a perfect solution. I would much prefer a system where there is really no tax deductions, no tax credits, and you have a lower rate of tax to make up the difference. You could still have a progressive tax system for people across the political spectrum. You could redesign our system in a nonpartisan way that could still be acceptable to people across the spectrum. This doesn’t even have to be really a political, controversial issue. A system where there’s no deductions, no credits, a lower rate of tax where employees don’t have to file, I think that would go a long way. We could cut the CRA’s budget maybe in half and save taxpayers money. People wouldn’t have to download tax software or hire accountants. And they wouldn’t have to worry about missing deductions or credits. They wouldn’t have to keep receipts on file for six years. Right now in our system, there’s a huge burden placed on ordinary, everyday—every single Canadian to comply with our tax system. It’s really frustrating me to see that on a daily basis, the bureaucracy that people have to go through.
Tom: Again, I think back 10 years ago when there was that home renovation tax credit. There was also everything else you mentioned. I felt like I hit a sweet spot. Here I am with a new house, married, with a kid on the way. I was going to get all the advantages of playing the “tax” game. But it also didn’t feel fair. We had Jackie Porter on last week talking about finances for single people. And they seem like they get the short end of the stick very often with these things. There’s no tax help. And potentially, they’re already a step behind because they only have a single income when dual incomes are so much more common nowadays. I really like what you’re suggesting here because it makes it fair for everyone. I assume you still mean having actual tax brackets. If you’re making more, sure you can pay more in taxes and you’ll be okay. That seems like the most important thing. If you’re making less money, you should pay less taxes. Not just in dollars but as a percentage so you still have money for other things. That seems like the most important deduction there is. It’s really just the tax bracket system and not getting into all these things, like whether your kid is doing physical activity or in a certain school? Not only do I agree that it would be more simplified, I think it would also just be fair. Everyone just pays, based on the income they make.
Neal: Yeah, for sure. The targeted tax credits and deductions are ways politicians, academics and policymakers (who come up with these ideas) micromanage our lives as Canadians. For example, there’s a tax credit called, the Volunteer Firefighters Tax Credit. I think anyone who’s a volunteer firefighter is a hero but I don’t know if they need a tax credit. It just makes their tax returns more complicated. And they have to prove to CRA that they’re a volunteer firefighter. They’re going to have to send them documentation. Even teachers with the School Supplies Tax Credit. Teachers who have to pay out-of-pocket for supplies they use in the classroom that the school’s not reimbursing them for, okay. We want to give them a tax break for that. But it’s a small amount. It’s 15 percent of $1,000 that they can claim. It works out to $150 if they spend $1,000 during the year. So, for $150 refund, they now have to keep a receipt for every single expense they paid. And the CRA audits it. I had this client in the past year who received a letter from the CRA asking for proof she spent $1,000 on school supplies like she claimed. She had to send in 100 receipts. They also wanted a letter from the school, from the principal or vice principal, an official from a school that certified that she was not reimbursed. And the school refused to provide the letter because they didn’t want to get involved in a tax situation. You have one arm of the government fighting with the other arm of the government (because it’s a public-school system) and it’s just a mess. I’m really not a fan of the targeted, tax credits and deductions. What would be fair for everyone is a lower rate of tax. You get rid of these deductions and credits and you can have a much lower rate of tax. You could have a much higher basic exemption. And the basic exemption is the amount of income that everyone’s entitled to earn without paying income tax on. Right now, it’s way too low. It’s $13,000, approximately. That’s really low. Everyone’s cost of living is well over $13,000 for a single person. If you eliminated every deduction and credit and did a whole calculation, we could actually increase that exemption to almost $50,000. That would help a lot of people in that first tax bracket. About 65 percent of income earners in Canada earn below $50,000. I don’t think they should be paying income tax. Now, some people disagree and would prefer a flat tax where everyone pays the same percentage. There are different views about this. There are different ways to look at it. But generally speaking, we need more simplicity. If we look at the history of income tax, in 1917 when it first started, it was supposed to be temporary—just to help fund the costs of WWI. It was called, The Income War Measures Act. The Income War Measures Act, in 1917, only force the top two percent of income earners to pay income tax. The bottom 90 percent of people did not have to file a tax return and do not have to pay any income tax. Today, everyone has to file a return if you want to receive your GST credits or child benefits. As soon as you hit $13,000 in income, you start paying income tax. It’s gotten out of hand. And it needs a reset. That’s why I felt I had to write the book—to put these ideas out there in plain language that everyone can understand.
Tom: I really like this idea of raising that exemption. It seems way more useful for that single person out there. It’s going to help them out a lot more if they’re making $35,000, $40,000. That’s going to help them out a lot more than a bunch of credits for kids they don’t have or pension splitting with a wife they don’t have. Now, to pivot a bit, the other part of your book includes a lot of tips because the system is not going to change anytime soon.
Neal: I hope it will.
Tom: Yeah, but currently we have to play within the rules of the scheme. One of the things we touched on was tax refunds where coworkers in corporate jobs often brag about their tax refund. One says, “I got a $1,000 refund,” while another says, “Yeah, well I got a $5,000 refund.” This isn’t really a refund, right? Is it really more just of a loan.
Neal: Exactly. If you’re receiving a big tax refund every year, that means too much tax was deducted from every one of your paychecks. It’s like you’re giving government extra money throughout the year and then they give it back to you a year later, but they don’t give you interest. It’s almost like you’re loaning money to the government, interest free and then they’re giving it back to you. It’s like this evil genius plan that the government created with these tax refunds because what they’re doing is making people look forward to filing their tax returns so they get a tax refund. And often the only interaction that citizens have with the federal government every year is filing their tax return and getting their tax refund. So people walk away thinking, “Oh, I love our tax system. I love the Canadian government. It’s amazing. I got a big refund. That was so great,” but that was your money that you were entitled to. And maybe you could have actually used that to help your cash flow throughout the year. There are actually ways where if you get a big tax refund every year, you can actually request that your employer deduct less tax from each paycheck if you’d rather have that money every two weeks or every month as opposed to waiting until the end of the year. I’m not a big fan of these tax refunds. People love them. I have the statistics, but in the past two years I think it’s something like 18 million or 28 million Canadians receive tax refunds that totaled $32 billion that the CRA had to give out in tax refunds. That means that the government is collecting $32 billion more income tax throughout the year than it should be. The whole system is out of whack, honestly. It shouldn’t really be that way for most people.
Tom: I had this problem when I was pretty much just a T4 and RRSPs. It would bring down my taxes for the year. I’d get a big refund. I filled out the form that I think it was a T21-25. I could be totally wrong…
Neal: Yes, it’s a different one but that’s okay.
Tom: Okay. I don’t know what I was referencing at the time. I don’t know. We’re talking 10 years ago. Anyway, it was a form I filled out that would reduce the taxes right off my paycheck and balance it out a little bit. When it was just a T4 and RRSP, you were pretty much guaranteed to get a refund.
Tom: What I’ve also heard around how much you’re paying in taxes and whether you are getting a refund or not, again, in this corporate setting, people complained that the raise they got cost them more and they’d be better off if they didn’t get the raise. I could see this as maybe a temporary blip on a paycheck and it all just balances out. But in general, this is not true, right? There’s no 100 percent tax rate that’s going to make you worse off.
Neal: The way the tax brackets work is, if you go into a higher tax bracket, the income you’re earning in that bracket will see you pay a higher rate of tax. But you’re still better off after tax. You’re still making more money. I’ve been asked this question as well. People would say, “I was offered a raise. Should I refuse it or should they take it?” I’d tell them, of course, you should take it. If your salary is going up, that’s always a good thing. Now, they’ll have to deduct more CPP, more EI and more income tax but you’re always better off after tax. Let’s say your income is $300,000. I don’t know the exact brackets in Alberta but in Ontario, as soon as you hit $200,000, approximately, your income above $200,000 is actually taxed at 51 percent. And above $220,000 it’s at 53 percent. So someone making $300,000, let’s say they’re not paying 53 percent tax on the entire $300,000. They’re only paying it on the amount above $200,000 in that higher bracket. That extra $100,000 will be taxed at 51 percent or 53 percent. But the first $200,000 of income still goes through the regular tax brackets. It’s always worth it to get that raise, although right now in Canada, seven out of 10 provinces, the highest marginal rate is over 50 percent. And some people cannot stand the idea of paying the government more than 50 percent of every dollar they earn at those rates. So people desperately try to steal of those highest tax brackets. They make big RSP contributions or donations. They’d rather make donations and give money to charities rather than the government so there are ways to minimize their tax bill because tax rates of over 50 percent can really motivate people to not want to work harder at that level. And that is the big problem. But even in that case, if even if you’re in one of those highest brackets, it’s not all your income being taxed at that highest rate. It’s only the income above the level for that bracket.
Tom: You could literally hit the next bracket by one dollar and only that one dollar is going to be taxed at that rate?
Tom: I think it’s important for people to keep in mind, what a great time it is to get an RSP if you haven’t made your maximum contribution. I believe regular contributions are important but if you have room for an annual contribution, you can literally match it to your bracket to kind of eliminate that highest bracket if you’re really try to optimize taxes.
Neal: Yeah, for sure. The RSP is a great tool for people who are in those higher brackets. The TFSA as well. The TFSA was created in 2009 by the Harper conservatives. In my opinion, it’s the same problem. It adds more complexity. In my ideal tax system we would abolish RRSPs, abolished TFSAs, abolish our RESPs for your kid’s post-secondary education. Abolish it all and just lower the tax. You could lower the tax rates dramatically if we did that. We could then try and incentivize people to save money in other ways if we educated people that we have a much lower tax rate on the first $50,000 of income. That would include investment income—and any type of income. To keep it simple so people could save money and invest it. And some of that investment would be tax-free. There are ways we could simplify the whole RRSP, TFSA, our RESP system. But generally speaking, if you’re in a higher bracket, it’s probably a good idea to contribute to your RSP. It’s always a good idea to try and max out your TFSA every year. I tell everyone that. The TFSA is really a no-brainer. If people are able to max it out, they should absolutely be doing that every year.
Tom: Yes. And especially lower income because you don’t get that immediate tax benefit of the RSP. Yes, you are really looking for a much simpler tax system. I didn’t realize this included getting rid of RSPs and TFSAs and all of that.
Neal: Oh, it includes everything.
Tom: I really like my savings accounts.
Neal: For sure, everyone loves them. But people have so much trouble deciding which one to put money into. Which one is better, the RRSP or TFSA? It forces people to hire financial planners and financial advisers and accountants where they have to pay for advice. It’s just become too complicated. Remember, for retirement planning, you also have to take into account CPP, OAS (Old Age Security), the GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement), RIFFs. There is a lot that goes into planning this. No one can really plan it on their own because it’s become too complicated. That’s what I don’t like about it. We should move to a system where it’s so simple that most tax accountants jobs would not really be necessary. We shouldn’t have a system designed like this. It’s so poorly designed and it’s too complicated. Even with RRSPs and TFSAs, I forget the exact number, but with the majority of contribution room people have, they aren’t contributing. There is approximately 80 percent of RRSP contribution room that is unused. People can’t save enough money to contribute to it. I think the TFSA is more widely used. About two thirds of Canadians, I think, have opened to TFSA and contributed money into it. The TFSA seems more popular because it’s more flexible. I love the TFSA and RRSP too, for myself and for my own personal planning, but I would rather have a simpler system overall.
Tom: You and I might be more into this. A lot of listeners on the show will be more aware of all this. But for someone that isn’t, they’re missing all this time. They’re not putting their money away in the RSP. And if they catch on later in life, sure, they have that contribution room, but they’re already behind. Where, lower taxes in the first place can help them throughout their life.
Neal: Yeah, that’s a good point. The idea of a lower tax rate without all the deductions, credits, TFSAs and RRSPs is that it helps everyone automatically. You don’t need to think about it. You don’t need to hire an accountant to figure it out. Whereas right now, people think TFSAs and RRSPs are too complicated. They don’t want to deal with it. They don’t have the patience to learn about them. Or they don’t understand the deductions and credits. It’d be better if people would kind of… Remember that infomercial, “set it and forget it” that was for some sort of kitchen appliance? Some rotisserie oven—I don’t know. Our system should just be like that, set it and forget it. You don’t have to do anything. It’s a low rate of tax, no credits or deductions. There’s no complicated tax savings vehicles that nobody understands. Also, with TFSAs and RRSPs, there are penalties if you overcontribute. People don’t understand the contribution limits. If you withdraw money from your TFSA and you’ve already maxed it out, you can’t put the money back in until the next January 1st. People forget that. Then they are penalized. And there are penalties for overcontributing to your RRSP. You take out money from your RRSP, you have to pay tax… It’s just too complicated. And that’s what I don’t like about it.
Tom: And the RRSP has its own set of special conditions. If you’re buying a home or going into education there is a whole other set of little tricks to play by.
Tom: We’ve mentioned the CRA a few times. When I think of the CRA, I don’t see them quite as scary as people see the IRS. But still, people don’t want to be audited. What is the CRA audit process like and how can we avoid hitting the flags they may be looking for?
Neal: It really depends. If someone’s filing a simple tax return where they claim some medical expenses, a child care deduction or maybe some donation receipts, the main thing to keep in mind is, as long as you keep all those receipts for six years, you’ll be fine. Now, if you’re talking about someone who is self-employed, running their own business, then it could be more comprehensive because the CRA might want to audit every single expense the business owner is claiming. Or maybe just samples of its expenses. But the main thing to keep in mind is, whenever you claim any deduction or credit, you have to keep the receipts and the documentation on file for the previous six tax years. You might receive a letter from the CRA. We call it an audit. It’s not as bad as it sounds. They just want to see the backup documentation. That’s all it is. They want to verify that you’re not making a fraudulent, fake claim. So you just have to send in the receipts. You can keep scanned copies of receipts. If you are someone who doesn’t like paper and want’s everything on their computer, as long it’s legible and backed up, they’re allowed to keep scan copies. And actually, now you can submit the documents online to CRA through what’s called, My Account, which is online. If you Google, CRA-My Account, you can set it up. You’d be able to respond to their letters and submit documentation right through the “My Account” system.
Tom: That’s great. I’ve got My Account. I’ve just never been asked a submit anything. I didn’t realize there was a submission feature there now. Another thing with the CRA, is it fair to say that they’re not so scary? I’ve been asked for items before like back with the home renovation tax credit. You don’t need to be afraid of them, you just have to work with them. Maybe you made a mistake on your taxes. It’s not the end of the world if you can explain what happened?
Neal: Yeah, I totally agree. The vast, vast, vast majority of the people who work at CRA, are nice people who want to help. They’re doing their jobs. I always tell people the whole mess of our tax system is not the CRA’s fault. The CRA just administers it. The fault lies with the Department of Finance. And that’s the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister who are responsible for changing the legislation if we want actual change. That’s who’s to blame. It’s not the CRA’s fault and there’s nothing to be afraid of. When you receive a letter in a brown envelope from the CRA, it looks very scary. My clients always get scared of it and that’s why I deal with it for them. But there’s nothing to be scared about. Sometimes the letter says you only have 30 days or 60 days to provide the required documentation. But if you call, they’ll give you more time if you need it. Most of the time they’re helpful and they’ll work with you. They’ll explain things to you. So there’s nothing to be afraid of. Obviously, there are some stories about rogue people there that aren’t so good and that some not good things happen. Those stories end up making the news but the vast majority of the time, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Just keep all your receipts and documents and you’ll be fine, really.
Tom: You mentioned earlier about some tax software that can help. I remember at one point when I was doing my taxes, tax software was just filling in the forms. It wasn’t very helpful. Nowadays, is it a little better at helping you through some of this, asking you questions like, “Do you have children?” Can you actually increase your tax return through this?
Neal: Through the tax software?
Tom: Yes. I haven’t used it for a few years but I believe it’s getting a little better at walking people through some of these things so they don’t miss out on something they may be entitled to.
Neal: There is a lot of different software that’s out there now like Turbo Tax, U-file. There’s a website, simpletax.ca. There is studiotax.ca or studiotax.com… I forget. But they’re all similar. And yeah, they do all these questionnaires with questions to ask if you’re trying to file your own tax return. They want to make sure you’re not forgetting any options or credits. I think it’s a good idea to use a type of software like that if it only costs $20 or something like that. There are also books out there. I think there’s a book called, Canadian Tax for Dummies. Those types of books can help people make sure they’re not forgetting anything. But for people with simple situations, you get a T4—and I think there may be some other things you can claim. Those tax software programs are pretty good. There’s also a fairly new thing with the CRA called, Autofill. With Autofill, if you download one of those tax software’s like Turbo Tax or U-file, you type in SIN and then click Autofill and it will automatically fill in the information that CRA has on file for you. The CRA has your T4 slip and your past T4 slips. So at least the income side of it, with one click, you can fill in from whatever the CRA has on file for you already. So it’s kind of silly why we still have to file tax returns if the CRA has all the information. Why do we have to file anything? It’s so ridiculous. And that’s because of all the deductions and credits. Sometimes people have self-employment income or investment income. But it’s definitely a good idea to use the autofill system. Unfortunately, you have to double check it because it might not be perfect. It’s always a good idea to double check that. But I like the idea of people trying to do it on their own because they’ll learn about it and they’ll figure things out. But of course, if you feel you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for help because it can be complicated.
Tom: Is there anything else people should know about all of this? Anything we might’ve missed?
Neal: I think, generally speaking, as long as you’re filing your tax return on time every year, don’t file late because you’ll leave money on the table. Keep all your receipts for six years. You can keep them scanned in. I have 29 tax tips throughout the book that go through every stage in life. There are other basic things like having a will. I just read an article about this. I think something like almost half of Canadians don’t have a will. That’s really not a good idea, especially if you’re married, own a house, have children… You should get a will. I think that’s important. Again, if you have savings, use your registered accounts. Use RRSPs, TFSAs or RESPs if you think your children might go to college or university. The RESP is a great way to save money in a tax-efficient way. There is a lot in our tax system to help people at every different stage in life, which is what I don’t like about our tax system, because it makes it too complicated. But it’s important that if you’re thinking of buying a house, getting married or you are about to have a child—and certainly if you’re starting your own business or self-employed, there will be tax consequences. Basically, anything you do will have a tax consequence. So you might want to do some research. Google it. Look it up online. Maybe speak to an accountant just to make sure you’re not missing anything important.
Tom: That’s great advice. I love that you brought up a will. What you don’t know is that this episode is the first one sponsored by Willful.
Neal: Wow, that’s so funny.
Tom: So it’s a great time to head over to Willful (which we’ve already mentioned in the intro). You’re at your episode number one with Willful as a sponsor. Can you tell people about the book and where they can find it online?
Neal: Sure. This is my labor of love, The Grumpy Accountant. The paperback in on Amazon.ca. And the e-book is available everywhere. There’s also an audio book. If you want to listen to me rant for five hours, I recorded the audio book as well. That’s on Audible and Apple. It’s everywhere. I have a website, grumpyaccountant.ca where the introduction to the book is right on the website. I also have other articles I’ve written about these issues that are on the blog page of, The Grumpy Accountant. It’s a fun read. It reads as a story. When you’re reading this book, you’re not reading a textbook. You’re reading a story about Jerry, George and Elaine. It follows Jerry through every stage in life as he meets with his accountant, George, to figure out how to navigate this tax system. It’s a fun read if you want to hear about ideas on how we could simplify our system, but also if you want to learn more about how our system works right now.
Tom: I think anyone that has read, The Wealthy Barber, will really like reading, The Grumpy Accountant. It’s a great fit with that a similar, story-based read. Thanks for being on the show.
Neal: Thank you so much.
Thanks, Neal, for pointing out some of the problems with the income tax system and for showing us ways it can work better for us. You find the show notes for this episode at maplemoney.com/116. The Canadian Financial Summit is happening in mid-October. This is a virtual summit and features many of Canada’s top experts in the personal finance and investment communities. Closer to the date I will be giving away free tickets for the entire summit. Be sure to get your free ticket. Sign up for my newsletter at maplemoney.com/newsletter and wait for the e-mail next month. Thanks, as always, for listening. I look forward to seeing you back here next week.