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2018 Personal Tax Return Checklist


Keep up to date with the latest new information and tips


The Old Age Security program is the only aspect of Canada’s retirement income system which does not require a direct contribution from recipients of program benefits. Rather, the OAS program is funded through general tax revenues, and eligibility to receive OAS is based solely on Canadian residency. Anyone who is 65 years of age or older and has lived in Canada for at least 40 years after the age of 18 is eligible to receive the maximum benefit. For the first quarter of 2019 (January to March 2019), that maximum monthly benefit is $601.45. 


Each year, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) publishes a statistical summary of the tax filing patterns of Canadians during the previous filing season. Those statistics for the 2018 show that the vast majority of Canadian individual income tax returns — nearly 87%, or almost 26 million returns — were filed online, using one or the other of the CRA’s web-based filing methods. The remaining 13% of returns were, for the most part, paper-filed, and a very small percentage (0.1%) were filed using the File My Return service, in which returns are filed by telephone.


For many years now, there has been a persistent tax scam operating in Canada in which Canadians are contacted, usually by phone, by someone who falsely identifies himself or herself as being a representative of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The taxpayer is told that money — sometimes a substantial amount of money — is owed to the government. The identifier for this particular scam is that the caller insists that the money owed must be paid immediately (usually by wire transfer or pre-paid credit card) and, if payment is not made right away, significant negative consequences will follow, including immediate arrest or seizure of assets, confiscation of the taxpayer’s Canadian passport, or deportation.


While Canadian taxpayers must prepare and file the same form – the T1 Income Tax and Benefit Return – every spring, that return form is never the same from one year to the next. The one constant in tax is change, and every year taxpayers sit down to face a different tax return form than they dealt with the previous year.


Two quarterly newsletters have been added—one dealing with personal issues, and one dealing with corporate issues.


The fact that debt levels of Canadian households have been increasing over the past decade and a half can’t really be called news anymore. In particular, the ratio of debt-to-household-income, which stood at 93% in 2005, has risen steadily since then and, as of the third quarter of 2018, reached (another) new record of 177.5%. In other words, the average Canadian household owed $1.78 for every dollar of disposable (after-tax) income. (The Statistics Canada publication reporting those findings can be found on the StatsCan website at https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/181214/dq181214a-eng.htm.)


Sometime during the month of February, millions of Canadians will receive mail from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). That mail, a “Tax Instalment Reminder”, will set out the amount of instalment payments of income tax to be paid by the recipient taxpayer by March 15 and June 17 of this year.


For most taxpayers, the annual deadline for making an RRSP contribution comes at a very inconvenient time. At the end of February, many Canadians are still trying to pay off the bills from holiday spending, the first income tax instalment payment is due two weeks later on March 15 and the need to pay any tax balance for the year just ended comes just 6 weeks after that, on April 30. And, while the best advice on how to avoid such a cash flow crunch is to make RRSP contributions on a regular basis throughout the year, that’s more of a goal than a reality for the majority of Canadians.


Income tax is a big-ticket item for most retired Canadians. Especially for those who are no longer paying a mortgage, the annual tax bill may be the single biggest expenditure they are required to make each year. Fortunately, the Canadian tax system provides a number of tax deductions and credits available only to those over the age of 65 (like the age credit) or only to those receiving the kinds of income usually received by retirees (like the pension income credit), in order to help minimize that tax burden. And, in most cases, the availability of those credits is flagged, either on the income tax form which must be completed each spring or on the accompanying income tax guide.


Each new tax year brings with it a listing of tax payment and filing deadlines, as well as some changes with respect to tax planning strategies. Some of the more significant dates and changes for individual taxpayers for 2019 are listed below.


The following tax changes are in effect January 1, 2019.


Getting a post-secondary education – or professional training – isn’t inexpensive. Tuition costs can range from as little as $5,000 per year for undergraduate studies to as much as $40,000 in tuition for a year of professional education. And those costs don’t factor in necessary expenditures on textbooks and other ancillary costs, to say nothing of general living expenses, like rent, transportation and food.


When the Canada Pension Plan was launched in the mid-1960s, both the working lives and the retirements of Canadians looked a lot different than they do in 2018. Fifty years ago, most Canadians were able to work at a single full-time job, often held that job for most or all of their working lives and, in many cases, benefitted from an employer sponsored defined benefit pension plan which guaranteed a certain level of income in retirement.


Most Canadians deal with our tax system only once a year, when preparing the annual tax return. And, while that return – the T1 Individual Income Tax Return – may be only four pages long, the information on those four pages is supported by 13 supplementary federal schedules, dealing with everything from the calculation of the tax-free gain on the sale of a principal residence to the determination of required Canada Pension Plan contributions by self-employed taxpayers.


As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, many Canadians start thinking about spending a few days or weeks (or even longer) of the upcoming winter somewhere warmer. For some, that means going south for the holidays, while for others a January or February escape from winter has more appeal. And some Canadians, generally “snowbird” seniors who have retired, will spend most of the winter in a warmer climate.


Tax scams have been around, probably, for about as long as Canada has had a tax system. They also have a tendency to proliferate at certain times of the year — often during tax return filing and assessment season, when it wouldn’t necessarily strike taxpayers as unusual to receive a communication purporting to be from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), with a message regarding that person’s taxes — whether in relation to a tax refund or an amount of tax owing.