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Tax time: 9 most overlooked credits and deductions

Pay Day
The Canada Revenue Agency headquarters in Ottawa is shown on Friday, November 4, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Caroline Battista has a positively upbeat view of tax season, and not just because it’s the senior tax analyst’s busiest time of year. She sees filing your taxes not as something to dread but rather a moment of opportunity.

“You don’t get anything back the rest of the year,” says Battista, who works for H&R Block in Vancouver. “When you fill up on gas while you’re driving your daughter to ballet, you can’t ask the attendant if you can get a little bit of money back from your gas taxes. This is the one time of year you have some control. If you miss out on credits and deductions, you’re just leaving money behind.”

Some of the most commonly overlooked credits and deductions include:

Medical expenses

“Quite often things get missed because this is a rather large umbrella and people don’t know what they’re allowed to claim,” Battista says.

Some of the often-missed items that can be claimed under this umbrella, Battista says, are travel medical insurance, extended health-care premiums, and certain alternative health-care services, such as traditional Chinese medicine if you live in B.C., where the profession is regulated. (Allowable medical expenses vary from province to province.)

Kids’ creative, outdoors, and development programs

It’s not just painting classes or piano lessons that are eligible for the 15 per cent nonrefundable Children’s Arts Tax Credit on an amount up to $500 per child but also programs such as Brownies and Girl Guides.

Other eligible programs, according to the Canada Revenue Agency (http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/gncy/bdgt/2011/qa01-eng.html#Toc288625238), include an activity that “contributes to the development of creative skills or expertise in artistic or cultural activities; provides a substantial focus on wilderness and the natural environment; helps children develop and use particular intellectual skills; includes structured interaction among children where supervisors teach or help children develop interpersonal skills; or provides enrichment or tutoring in academic subjects”.

Kids’ physical activities

Take note, parents: the 15 per cent nonrefundable Children’s Fitness Tax credit has gone up.

“The children’s fitness amount used to be $500 but now people can claim a maximum of $1,000 per child for fees for membership or registration in a physical activity program,” says Jamie Golombek, managing director of tax and estate planning with CIBC Private Wealth Management . Eligible activities include sports like hockey, soccer, and gymnastics as well as less obvious ones such as horseback riding, sailing, and bowling.

doubled, from $500 to $1,000. An oportunty to pool receipts spouse or partner charitable donations pooling medicatal expenses more bang for your buck.

Public transit passes

The Public Transit amount allows you to claim the cost of passes for allow unlimited travel within Canada on local buses, streetcars, subways, commuter trains, and local ferries.

“If you pay for a monthly transit pass for your child, you can claim that on your taxes too,” Battista says.

Disability

“A lot of people don’t realize they might qualify,” Battista says. “There is this notion that you have to be in a wheelchair. It’s important to look at all the different qualifying factors.”

According to Disability Tax Service, which charges 20 per cent of a refund received for its services, the list of potentially eligible conditions is long, ranging from anxiety and ADHD to irritable bowel syndrome and personality disorders.

Family Tax Cut

“This one may get missed because it’s brand new,” says Golombek. “It applies if you have a spouse or [common law] partner and kids under 18, you’re able to notionally transfer up to $50,000 of taxable income from the higher- to the lower-income spouse.”

The maximum benefit for the non-refundable credit is $2,000.

Student loan interest

“If you’re repaying student loans, the interest is eligible for tax credit, but only on federal and provincial student loans, not loans from a financial  institution,” Golombek says. “If you have a student line of credit at your bank, you’re out of luck.”

Certain home purchases

With the Home Buyers amount, you can claim up to $5,000 if you or your spouse or common-law partner buy a qualifying home assuming you or your spouse or partner haven’t owned a home in the preceding four years.

Kids’ summer camps

“The cost of summer camps qualifies as child-care costs,” Golombek says. These include day camps and day sport schools as well as overnight sports schools or camps where lodging is involved.