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Tax time tips and tools

CRA introduces new services to make filing easier and sometimes free

This year, I’ve received one T4 tax form from my employer, another from our corporate benefits provider, and one from my bank.

As such, my tax situation isn’t very complex.

Yet, because I don’t have an intimate knowledge of how it works and because I want to ensure I receive the maximum benefits and credits that I’m owed, I won’t file my own taxes. I will end up paying a third party – whether that’s an accountant friend or a commercial enterprise – to file for me. It’s the same story for an untold number of people – young and old – in Atlantic Canada.

So, if most of us don’t have complicated returns, why are we paying for it?

Depending on your particular situation, you may be eligible to have your taxes prepared completely free of charge through the Canada Revenue Agency’s Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP).

Basically, community organizations – such as Murphy’s Community Centre in Charlottetown, P.E.I. or The Hub in St. John’s, NL – host free tax preparation clinics and arrange for volunteers to complete returns for individuals who meet the eligibility requirements of having a modest income and a simple tax solution.

Modest income, as per the CRA’s standards, is $30,000 for a single person and $40,000 for two people. It increased by $2,500 for every person beyond two.

That alone will eliminate a fair number of people, but for the thousands of people living at or just above the poverty line, it makes perfect sense.

Your tax situation is deemed simple if you have no income or your income comes from the following sources: employment, pension, Canada Pension Plan, disability, employment insurance, social assistance, registered retirement savings plans, support payments, scholarships, fellowships, bursaries or grants, or interest under $1,000.

The program is not open to those who are self-employed or have employment expenses; have business or rental income and expenses; have capital gains or losses; have filed for bankruptcy; or are completing a tax return for a deceased individual.

You can find a list of CVITP clinics at Canada.ca/taxes-help.

In another effort to assist individuals with low or fixed incomes whose situation remains unchanged from year to year, the CRA has introduced a free automated service called File my Return.

Under this new system, eligible individuals will be able to file their return over the phone by providing some personal information and answering a series of short questions. 

The service, however, is by invitation only, so if you didn’t get a letter from CRA last month, you’re out of luck.

For those in higher income brackets who elect to do it on their own through third-party CRA NETFILE-certified software or directly through the agency, there are some new tools introduced this year to make filing and maximizing your return easier.

Express Notice of Assessment (NOA) is available to those filing through certified software and provides a complete account summary – including whether you’re getting a refund or if you’ve got to pay in – immediately after the return is filed.

There’s also ReFILE, a service that lets you change or adjust information on your 2016 or 2017 return through your software rather than filling out stacks of paperwork. 

For those who have often wondered why we spend so much time punching in information and numbers that the CRA clearly already knows, 2018 marks the first year that the crown agency will offer auto-fill my return. Instead of punching in all those numbers from your T4 or a number of other tax information slips, empty fields are automatically filled with information already in CRA’s system at the time of the filing. 

This year marks the first time that individuals can register a personalized payment barcode and pay their tax bill in person using cash or debit at a Canada Post outlet.

Kenn Oliver is a business reporter for the Telegram in St. John’s, NL. He can be reached at kenn.oliver@thetelegram.com or via Twitter at kennoliver79.

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