What to look for on your 2013 income tax return
There aren’t too many personal tax changes on this year’s tax return, but make sure you maximize credits and deductions.
It’s another good year for do-it-yourself tax filers. Like last year, there aren’t too many personal tax changes – just one really lucrative new tax credit to encourage people to get into the habit of charitable giving.
First time donations: A big change this year encourages more people to donate to charity. First time donors are entitled to an additional 25 percent credit for cash donations up to $1,000 made in 2013 to their favorite charity. Here’s how it usually works: on the first $200 given, you’ll get a 15 per cent federal credit, for the balance, a credit of 29 per cent. In Ontario, when the 11 per cent provincial credit is factored in, close to 40 per cent of your $1,000 gift is refunded.
If you or your spouse gave for the first time (or neither of you have done so since 2007) an extra 25 per cent is added to the 15 per cent and 29 per cent respectively. You’ll get close to 60 per cent of your donation back; that’s right, tax savings of almost $600 of the $1000 you gave. But you can only make the claim once now until 2017. Donations from prior years will not qualify.
Super-size your credits : Maximizing your credits is another way to find more savings. A printed copy of the tax forms is a good guide for hunting down receipts like student loan interest, public transit amounts or children’s arts or sports classes. The federal tax brackets and most personal amounts have been indexed by 2 per cent. The pension income amount, First Time Home Buyer’s Tax Credit and the $5,000 tuition, education and textbook transfer maximum are notable exceptions.
Take special note of the Family Caregiver Amount (FCA), introduced last year to support families who give care to disabled dependants. It’s now $2,040. If you’re claiming an infirm spouse, dependent child, or other dependant who lives with you, add the FCA to your regular claim.
Related: 6 tips to avoid an income tax audit
Maximize medical expenses : Everyone seems to miss here, because there are so many opportunities. For example, claim unreimbursed medical costs for yourself, your spouse and dependent children. Also include costs for a grandchild, parents, grandparents and other extended family member who you supported if they lived in Canada during the year. Your claim is reduced by a percentage of your net income, so it’s usually better to claim costs on the lower earner’s return.
Don’t forget medical travel costs: If you have to travel to another community to receive cancer treatment or other medical services not available locally, claim costs of driving or taking public transportation fares if you travel at least 40 km. If it’s 80 km or more, you can claim meals and lodging. Keep receipts and a log of driving distances.
Even the dog may be claimable : Other important medical expenses include costs from a dentist, optometrist, speech-language pathologist, naturopath, acupuncturist, audiologist. Private health care premiums like Blue Cross count. Yes, even the costs of training and maintaining guide dogs to provide care for infirm dependants qualify. Starting in 2014, service animals used to help a taxpayer manage severe diabetes will qualify, too.
Out-of-country assets: Failure to file enhanced Form T1135 Foreign Income Verification Statement can bring unexpected and expensive penalties for investors this year. Report the cost (not market value) of offshore funds including foreign bank accounts, and the portion of foreign equity held in brokerage accounts. If you get a T-slip from your broker or a mutual fund company, no further reporting is required.
Real estate held in a foreign country is on the list. So, the big question is this: must your Florida or Arizona winter home be reported? Not unless it is used primarily (50 per cent of the time or more) for business or rental purposes.
Split pensions: You can elect to split private pension benefits from a Registered Pension Plan (at any age) and RRSP (at age 65 or later) with your spouse or common-law spouse. To do so, both spouses must file form T1032 Election to Split Pension Income with their returns. This is really lucrative for some couples when up to half the pension of the higher earner is taxed in the lower earner’s tax bracket and a second $2,000 pension income amount becomes available. If you missed, go back three years to minimize your tax on this income. For the 2010 tax year, file an adjustment by April 30, 2014.
Also read: How to get the biggest tax refund
File on time, if you owe: It always pays to file an audit-proof return: report all income, including barter and cash transactions, and all the deductions and credits you’re entitled to. Then file on time, especially if you owe money. You’ll save on late filing penalties and interest charges. But, if you can’t pay, arrange to pay the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) over time. Proactivity will save you money: make the call, or have a tax pro do it for you.
2013 Tax facts
- This year’s filing deadline is April 30.
- The average refund last year was $1,641
- 76 per cent of Canadians filed an electronic tax return last year.
- 6 million Canadians filed a paper return, a 30 per cent decline from 2012.
- The average paper return takes 4 to 6 weeks to process, online returns take about 8 days.
- The current interest rate charged on unpaid personal taxes is 5 per cent.
- The interest rate paid on over payments by individuals is 3 per
Source: Canada Revenue Agency
Evelyn Jacks is president of Knowledge Bureau , a national educational institute and author of Jacks on Tax, Your Do-it Yourself Guide for Online Filers.