Does the looming tax deadline have you gritting your teeth? We all have to pay our taxes. And nobody wants to pay too much.
“Unfortunately, people tend to pay more tax than they need to because they do tend to overlook some of the savings they can take advantage of,” said Carol Bezaire, vice-president, tax and estate planning, at Mackenzie Financial.
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A deduction is valuable because it reduces your income for tax purposes.
Rack up enough of deductions and you’ll pull yourself down into a lower tax bracket and end up with a big refund, if you’re lucky.
These are worth more to those in higher tax brackets. By contrast, a non-refundable tax credit reduces the amount of taxes owed. The value is the same for everyone. The term “non-refundable” refers to the fact that if the tax credit exceeds the amount of tax payable, you won’t get a refund for the difference. [More: 7 mistakes that could trigger an audit]
The Toronto Star asked Bezaire to shine a light on deductions and tax credits that Canadians tend to overlook or misunderstand:
RRSPs: Contributions to Registered Retirement Savings Plans are the mother of all tax deductions. Roughly speaking, you are allowed to contribute up to 18 per cent of your earned income from the previous year, and deduct that amount from your income at tax time.
The government even gives you an extra two months past the end of the previous calendar year to sock that money away. (That’s why January and February are known as RRSP season.) The trick here is that you can carry forward contribution room indefinitely.
You can also carry the deduction forward to use in a year when your income is higher. Check your Notice of Assessment from the Canada Revenue Agency for more details about how much you are allowed to contribute and deduct.
If you carry forward those RRSP contributions to deduct in a future year, keep track of them carefully, Bezaire advises. This amount will determine how much you can put into your account in the current year.
Capital losses: Losses from buying and selling shares in an unregistered account (not your RRSP or your TFSA) can be carried back to any of the previous three years or carried forward indefinitely. These can be applied against capital gains to reduce your total income from investments.
“For someone who was fortunate enough to have made money on their investments in 2011, see you if you’re carrying forward any capital losses and use them,” Bezaire said. Your Notice of Assessment will also remind you of the losses you haven’t used yet. [More: 11 easy ways to get money from the tax man]
An equivalent-to-spouse-tax-credit: Taxpayers who are single, divorced or separated with children, can be claimed for a child. This non-refundable tax credit is worth $10,527 this year federally. (That’s multiplied by 15 per cent when calculating the final credit, but it’s still far higher than the $4,282 tax credit for a dependent child.)
In the case of a child, the dependent has to be a Canadian, resident, under 18, and financially dependent on you.
Child care expenses: These expenses, whether for a nanny or day-care centre, must be claimed by the parent with lower net income in most cases. Allowable expenses are those paid for the care of a child age 6 or under, to enable the parent to work, carry on a business, or go to school.
“A lot of people forget to deduct their child-care expenses,” Bezaire said. In many cases a nanny or care-giver may not report the income, in which case you will not be eligible for a deduction.
Medical expenses: Claim non-refundable tax credits for medical expenses paid by either you or your spouse or common-law partner.
“People forget to take a look or they assume it’s not eligible,” Bezaire said. But, in fact, any non-reimbursed medical expense can be claimed, including prescription medication, dental surgery that’s not covered by insurance, or laser eye surgery.
Expenses that total more than $2,052 or 3 per cent of net income can be claimed. To make the most of the tax credit, the expenses should be claimed by the person with the lower net income, Bezaire said.
Moving expenses: If you moved at least 40 km to be closer to a new job, run a business, or go to school, you may deduct the moving expenses. Eligible expenses include transportation and storage costs, reasonable costs for meals and accommodations, real estate commission, legal fees, and costs related to changing your address, such as replacing your driver’s licence and connecting or disconnecting utilities.
“What many people overlook is that you can claim the cost of moving your children to university or college,” Bezaire said. [More: 10 tax tips to save you money]
Carrying charges: This refers to costs incurred in order to earn income on your investments. Fees paid for the management of your investments, other than commissions, are eligible. If you use a safety deposit box for safekeeping your investments, you can claim the cost as a carrying charge.
Physical fitness and arts activities for children: Eligible programs must be supervised, appropriate for children and must be at least eight consecutive weeks or five consecutive days long, with at least half of the activities involving a significant amount of physical or artistic activity.
Additional tax credits are available for a child with a disability. The sports programs must build muscular strength, endurance, flexibility and balance. On the arts side, eligible programs can focus on literary, visual or performing arts, music or language.
Charitable donations: keep in mind that these donations can be carried forward.
“If you’re doing your housekeeping and find a charity receipt and you say, ‘rats, I didn’t use it’, hang on to it. You can still use it,” Bezaire said.
If you have a spouse, pool them and include them on the return of the person who pays the most tax, she added.
For more information, you can consult Canada Revenue Agency either by phone or online.
Bezaire also has tips for getting organized: Keep all your receipts in one drawer, folder or box so you’re not running around to try to find them every April. And file on time, she added.