The Morneau Massacre of 2017

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If you’ve just returned from vacation and wondering what’s new in the tax world, you’d better sit down and take a pill. On July 18, finance minister Bill Morneau rolled out the federal government’s proposals designed to “close loopholes and deal with tax planning strategies that involve the use of private corporations”. In short, Finance is proposing to tax an axe to many of the tax strategies that have been available to small business owners and professionals up until now.

The proposals are complex, comprehensive and wide-ranging, covering the following main areas of tax planning:

  • Income sprinkling
  • Multiplication of the capital gains exemption
  • Converting a private corporation’s regular income into capital gains
  • Holding investments inside a private corporation

Income Sprinkling

This strategy involves the splitting of income to take advantage of lower marginal tax rates available to family members. Many rules have been put in place over the years to curtail this practice. Most notably, the tax on split income (TOSI), or “kiddie tax” applies the highest marginal tax rates to certain dividends paid to minor children.

With the new proposals, the TOSI will no longer be limited to minor children. Complex new rules will apply the TOSI to dividends paid to adult individuals unless such dividends are reasonable in light of that individual’s labour contributions and/or capital contributions to the corporation.

The TOSI will also be expanded to apply to capital gains on property, the income from which was subject to the TOSI. Further, it will also apply (for individuals under age 25) to “compound income” that was previously subject to attribution rules or the TOSI.

These proposals are scheduled to apply to for the 2018 and later years.

Multiplication of the capital gains exemption

A capital gains exemption (CGE) of up to $800,000 (indexed) is currently available to any individual on the sale of qualifying shares of a private company. Issuing shares to family members, either directly or through a trust, is a common way to multiply this tax benefit.

The finance minister has proposed a three-pronged approach that will eliminate the multiplication of the CGE:

Age limit: The CGE will no longer be available to individuals where the gain occurs in any year before the individual reaches the age of 18 years.

Reasonableness test: In essence, this rule will deny the CGE on any gain on the sale of shares if the gain from those shares is subject to the TOSI measures described above.

Trusts: With exceptions for spouse or alter ego trusts the GCE will no longer be available on any gain on a share that is held by a family trust.

These proposals will apply to dispositions after 2017. However, there will be transitional rules that will allow an elected deemed disposition at any time in 2018. The fair market value of the shares would have to be determined, and the qualification criteria for the CGE will be treated as being satisfied if they are met at any time in the preceding 12 months.

Converting a private corporation’s regular income into capital gains

Normally, a distribution of a corporation’s retained earnings is considered a dividend and taxed as such. The top rate on dividends is approximately 44%. Strategies have been used with varying degrees of success to arrange for dividends to be transmogrified into capital gains, which are taxed at 25%. This involves the utilization of the high cost base on shares that have been acquired through a non-arm’s length transaction that had previously triggered a capital gain. Current rules are in place to curtail such “surplus stripping” in limited circumstances. Section 84.1 effectively forces a return to dividend treatment where the capital gains exemption was claimed on the previous capital gain.

The government proposes to extend these rules to any situation where a non-arm’s length transaction involved even a fully taxable capital gain. This proposal is meant to address what has become known as the “pipeline” transaction.

The pipeline has been used extensively in recent years as a post-mortem planning tool to avoid double-taxation where the capital is deemed to occur on the death of a corporate shareholder. Unless the current proposals are altered, the pipeline strategy will no longer be available to an estate.

These proposals will take effect for all dispositions that occur after July 18, 2017. There will be no room for transitional planning.

Holding investments inside a private corporation

One of the long-standing advantages of incorporation is the tax deferral that comes with lower rates on business income. Once the retained income has accumulated over time, the company will have a larger amount available for investment. This has been a great contributor to the retirement of many small business owners. However, it is an advantage that salaried persons or those who don’t incorporate cannot access. Accordingly, the government proposes to eliminate it.

Of all the proposals announced, this is the only one that is not fully developed with draft legislation. The Minister has included some suggested strategies to deal with the issue, each one complex in its own right, and generally altering the system of integration currently in place by eliminating the effect of the corporate tax deferral for future passive investment.

The Minister acknowledges that there currently exists a significant amount of capital invested within private corporations, and it is not his intent to affect these holdings. Any new rules will have effect on a going-forward basis.

These proposals are subject to a consultation period which will end on October 2, 2017. Interested parties should write to the Minister of Finance with any concerns before that date. I suspect that it will be an interesting and eventful autumn for the tax community.

The End of the Tax Mulligan

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What happens when a transaction is undertaken that is planned to be tax-free, but due to an unforeseen error in the execution of the plan, it is subsequently discovered that tax is payable? Until recently, if all else failed, one option was to apply to the courts to allow for “rectification”. That is, since the parties to the transaction originally based their actions on the assumption that the plan was tax-effective, ask the courts to allow them to “redo” the deal correctly to restore its original tax-free intent.

Rectification is essentially not a tax concept. It generally applies where parties to a transaction discover that the legal documents that apply do not accurately represent the agreement or intent of the parties at the time. When both parties agree, the courts are inclined to grant relief and allow for a retroactive correction of the legal documents.

Back in 2000, in the case of Juliar, rectification was granted in a tax context to correct what was essentially an error on the part of the tax planners. Simply put, Mr. and Mrs. Juliar transferred shares to a holding company on the assumption that the shares had a high adjusted cost base (ACB) and no rollover provision was made. When it was subsequently discovered that the ACB was indeed low, they applied to the court for rectification, asking to convert a taxable sale to a rollover under section 85 of the Income Tax Act. The court agreed.

Since then, the case of Juliar has been cited often in cases where mistakes in legalities have created undesired tax results. However, in the recent decisions of Jean Coutu and Fairmont, the Supreme Court has overturned Juliar and has put an end to the idea that rectification can be used as a tool to correct errors in tax planning and its execution.

The court in Fairmont stated:

“…rectification is not equity’s version of a mulligan. Courts rectify instruments which do not correctly record agreements. Courts do not “rectify” agreements where their faithful recording in an instrument has led to an undesirable or otherwise unexpected outcome.”

Juliar was expressly overturned on the basis that the decision resulted in “impermissible retroactive tax planning”.

There is a famous decision (Shell Canada) that stands for the idea that a taxpayer is taxed on the way it arranges its affairs, rather than how it could have arranged its affairs. This concept is often referred to when a legal transaction is executed poorly, resulting in unintended tax consequences. These new decisions are in line with this concept, and they take away a weapon of last resort for taxpayers and their advisors.

Sold your House? Make Sure You Report It!

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If you have sold your home recently, you should take note of the new reporting rules announced by the CRA regarding the principal residence exemption (“PRE”).

The PRE applies on a pro-rata basis based on the number of years you are claiming the house as your principal residence. Form T2091 is technically required to report and claim the PRE on the sale. If you were claiming the exemption for the full period of ownership, then the gain on the sale is fully exempt from tax. The CRA’s policy until now has been that no reporting was required in such a case.

However, for 2016 and future years, this administrative policy has changed. Form T2091 is still not required if the full exemption is claimed, However, the sale must be reported on Schedule 3 of your tax return for the year. You will need to report a description of the property,  the year of acquisition and  the proceeds of disposition. Failure to report the sale will result in the denial of the PRE. However, you may go back and amend your return to report the sale and claim the exemption, subject to possible penalties of $100 per month to a maximum of $8,000.

For Quebec tax reporting, there has never been any administrative policy regarding a fully exempt sale of a principal residence and form TP-274 continues to be required.

Changes for Trusts

If your principal residence is owned by a trust, new rules will apply to you. I outlined the current rules in a previous post.

Under the new rules, only certain specialized trusts are now eligible to claim the PRE. They are alter-ego trusts, certain spousal or common law partner trusts, certain protective trusts or certain qualified disability trusts.

Starting in 2017, any trust that owns a home and does not fit within any of the categories above, will no longer be eligible for the PRE on the sale of the home. Therefore, if the house is sold before the end of 2016, the PRE can still be claimed.

For 2017 and later years, a home that was owned by a trust that no longer qualifies for the PRE will be allowed to calculate the exemption based on transitional rules that would require a valuation of the property as at the end of 2016. The PRE will be available for the “notional” gain up to the end of 2016, while the future growth in value will be subject to capital gains tax.

Anyone who currently lives in a home owned by a personal trust should consult their tax advisor.

Changes for Non-Residents

New rules will also apply to anyone who was a non-resident at the time they purchased a residential property in Canada. Under the current rules, the pro-rata formula that is used to calculate the PRE allows for an extra year (the plus 1 rule) in calculating the exemption. This generally allows for the fact that in a year where someone sells their home, they may own two properties, both of which should qualify for the exemption.

For a non-resident, the plus 1 rule allowed them to claim a portion of their gain as exempt, even though they never qualified since they were non-residents of Canada. Accordingly, for all sales on or after October 3, 2016, the Plus 1 rule will no longer be available to any taxpayer who was a non-resident of Canada in during the year in which he or she acquired the property. There are no transitional rules to this provision.

Death of Testamentary Trust Rules

Turkey-Estate-Plan

The favourable tax rules enjoyed by estates and testamentary trusts until now are almost dead.  Major changes that were introduced in the 2014 federal budget are about to come into effect on January 1, 2016. Don’t be caught off guard.

Estate vs. Testamentary Trust

Until now, most of us have viewed a testamentary trust in basically the same way we would an estate. They both essentially were included in the definition of a “Testamentary Trust”, meaning a trust arising as a consequence of the death of an individual. As such, they were treated in similar fashion under the law, both benefiting from graduated tax rates and both able to have an off-calendar fiscal period for tax purposes.

But now, we must make a distinction between an estate and a testamentary trust.

A testamentary trust is generally a trust that is created by the will of the deceased person. Assets from the deceased’s estate are transferred to the trust for the benefit of named beneficiaries. These assets are then administered by designated trustees. Such a trust could go on for an indefinite period of time, depending on the terms of the trust.

On the other hand an estate is essentially the bundle of assets owned by an individual at the time of death, which is to be distributed by the liquidator to the beneficiaries pursuant to the will within a relatively short period of time. The CRA likes to refer to the “executor’s year”, implying that it should take a year or so to clear the estate and distribute the assets. In many cases it may take longer.

Elimination of Benefits to Testamentary Trusts

Now that we have our terms of reference, the first thing to note is that beginning in 2016, most testamentary trusts will no longer benefit from graduated tax rates, and they will have to switch to calendar taxation years. The only exception will be for “Qualified Disability Trusts”, which essentially is a testamentary trust with a beneficiary that qualifies for the disability tax credit.

There are no grandfathering rules. All existing testamentary trusts will have to cut off their taxation years on December 31, 2015. This could result in many trusts having two tax years in 2015. You should note that the due date for the first of these calendar taxation years will be March 30, 2016.

Furthermore, beginning in 2016, these trusts will:

  • be subject to the highest marginal tax rates
  • will have to make quarterly tax instalments
  • will lose the $40,000 alternative minimum tax exemption
  • will lose the ability to object to an assessment within one year (i.e. the 90 day deadline will apply)
  • will lose the ability to transfer investment tax credits to its beneficiaries
  • will lose the right to apply for a refund after the normal reassessment period
  • may become subject to part XII.2 tax on certain types of income where non-resident beneficiaries exist

Graduated Rate Estates

On the other hand, estates may continue to benefit from graduated rates and off-calendar fiscal years, under certain conditions. Estates that meet the requirements will be known as “Graduated Rate Estates” (“GRE”).

A GRE will qualify only under the following conditions:

  • no more than 36 months have passed since the death of the individual
  • the estate otherwise meets the definition of a “Testamentary Trust” under the law
  • the estate designates itself as a GRE in its tax return for the first taxation year ending after 2015
  • the deceased individual’s social insurance number is provided in the tax return
  • no other estate is designated as the GRE with respect to that individual.

Once 36 months has expired, the estate will no longer be a GRE and will become subject to the less favourable rules described above.

Charitable Donations by a GRE

Currently, a charitable gift made by an estate that was designated by the will of an individual is deemed to have been made by the deceased, and is not deductible within the estate.

Beginning in 2016, a GRE will benefit from new and more flexible rules regarding the claiming of charitable donations. If the estate is a GRE, then such donations may be claimed by:

  • the deceased in the year of death or the preceding year
  • the estate in the year in which the donation is made, or
  • the estate in an earlier taxation year or subsequent 5 years.

Other Changes

Other more complex changes regarding testamentary trusts are coming into effect as well, but a detailed description of these is beyond the scope of this short summary. Briefly, the election to pay tax within a trust, notwithstanding that income is paid to beneficiaries, will be virtually eliminated, unless certain conditions apply.

Finally, for testamentary life interest trusts, such as spousal trusts, upon the death of the beneficiary, a year-end will occur, and any gains or income triggered upon death will be deemed to have been paid to the beneficiary’s estate, making it liable for the taxes on death. This may create a mismatch between the liability for taxes and the ownership of the assets in cases where trust capital is to be paid out to persons who are not beneficiaries of the deceased beneficiary’s estate. A common circumstance where this issue could become a problem is in a case such as a second marriage where children from the first marriage are to receive the capital of a spousal trust upon the death of the beneficiary spouse.

 

2015 Federal Budget Summary

Under the Auspices of the Order of Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, I am pleased to provide a summary of 2015 Federal budget summary  / 2015 Résumé du budget fédéral. I will also place a link on the Tax Links Page, and it will remain there, along with future federal and Quebec budget summaries for future reference.

What’s Your Tax Issue? Mortgage Refinancing

The Tax Issue:

Our rental property is coming up for mortgage renewal.  Can we take equity out of the rental to pay down on our principal residence?  Obviously then, the mortgage on the rental has increased and the interest is being written off.  Can we do this?

The Answer:

Well, since this is the second time this week I’ve been asked the same question, here’s the answer: NO!

Perhaps I should elaborate.

Under Canadian tax law, interest on borrowed money is deductible only under certain specific conditions. For the sake of bandwidth, I will only mention the most important:

The borrowed money must be used for the purpose of earning income from a business or property.

The emphasis on the word used is intentional. The Supreme Court of Canada, many years ago, laid down the rule that it is the use of the borrowed funds that we look to to determine whether this condition is met. To be more specific, it the direct use made of the borrowed funds. This is a technicality that has both helped and hindered the CRA over the years.

In your case, for example, even though you have dutifully paid down the mortgage on the rental property and now own equity in it, refinancing it is simply borrowing money, using your equity in the rental property as collateral. It is not the collateral that is important, but the direct use of the borrowed funds. Therefore, if you use the borrowed money, as you intend, to pay down you personal mortgage, this will be viewed as money borrowed for personal use, and the interest would not be deductible.

One often recommended strategy, taking advantage of the “direct use” rule, would be to use funds that you currently have invested in savings, such as stocks and bonds to pay down your personal mortgage. Then, refinance the rental property, and use the borrowed funds to repurchase your income-earning investments.

Alternatively, if you remortgaged your rental property and purchased a second rental property, or invested in some other income-earning vehicle, then the interest would be deductible.

Quebec Budget Summary

Under the Auspices of the Quebec Order of Chartered Professional Accountants, I am pleased to provide a copy of the  Québec Budget Summary 2014-2015    /   Résumé du budget du Québec 2014-2015.  I will also place a link on the Tax Links Page, and they will remain there, along with future federal and Quebec budget summaries for future reference.

 

Internet Business Beware

If you make use of the internet to earn income, the CRA would like to know about it.

Changes to the Form T2125 (statement of self-employment earnings for individuals), and a new Schedule 88 for corporations will now require any business with an internet connection (double meaning intended) to provide information to the CRA.  Schedule 88 is not yet provided in most corporate tax preparation software, but it can be found on the CRA’s website.

The CRA is asking for the URL of up to five web sites through which you carry on any business. In this regard carrying on business through a web site includes pretty much any connection your business has to the internet. It includes:

  • the sale of goods or services directly from your web page (with payments made online through a shopping cart)
  • the sale of goods or services through orders taken by email or forms on the web page, even if payment and delivery are made offline
  • the sale of goods or services through an auction, marketplace or similar website, including Ebay, Kijiji or Craigslist
  • earning advertising revenues online, for example, through static ads placed on the company’s website, or through advertising traffic programs such as Google AdSense or Microsoft AdCentre

Even if you do not have your own website you must file the form if you have a profile or other page describing your business on blogs, auction, marketplace or any other portal or directory website from which it earns income. For example, if your business can be found through a listing in the online Yellow Pages, this must be reported as a web site through which you carrying on business.

The CRA official I spoke with regarding this new requirement stated that this is essentially a research project designed to gather information on internet business. The non-reporting of revenue from online sales is an ongoing concern to the CRA and these new requirements are the start of a project designed to “level the playing field” between traditional business and internet sales.

The reporting requirements are for 2013 and future years. For corporations who have early 2013 year-ends and may have already filed their tax returns, the CRA official stated the form will not be requested.

Interestingly, there is no specific legislation sanctioning the requirement to file these forms as there is, for example, for the reporting of income from foreign sources. However, the CRA does have the legal authority to demand any information from taxpayers that would have any bearing on their tax liability. Furthermore, non-compliance could result in penalties for failure to file information returns, which could add up to as much as $2,500.

These requirements are so new, and have been introduced with so little publicity (Schedule 88 is not even available in French as of this date), it will be interesting to see, at least in the short run, what the level of compliance will be. But be warned. If you are generating any type of business revenue through the internet, the CRA will be trying to track you down.

2014 Federal Budget Summary

Under the Auspices of the Order of Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, I am pleased to provide a summary of  Federal Budget 2014. I will also place a link on the Tax Links Page, and it will remain there, along with future federal and Quebec budget summaries for future reference.

 

 

What’s Your Tax Issue? Credit Card Rewards

Questions3The Tax Issue

What is the policy for using a personal rewards credit card to pay business expenses? Do I get taxed if I use the points I earned for business only. Will this raise red flags with CRA if I start spending 50k/month on this personal card?

The Answer

Believe it or not, the CRA has put so much thought to this question and changed their policy so often, I don’t blame anyone, including me for needing a quick refresher, so I’m glad you brought this up.

Basically, the CRA’s position is rooted in section 6 of the Income Tax Act, which essentially taxes an employee on the value of any employment-related benefit received in any manner whatever.

Regarding your question, the CRA’s general position has historically been as follows:

Where an employee accumulates points while incurring employment-related expenses which are reimbursed or paid for by the employer, the employee will be in receipt of a taxable benefit if the points are redeemed by the employee for personal travel or to obtain other personal benefits.

It is the employer’s responsibility to quantify the value of the benefits received by the employee, and include that amount on the employee’s T4 slip each year.

However, in 2009, the CRA modified its position, recognizing that it would be difficult for employers to quantify the benefit where the credit card was a personal one controlled by the employee. So, unless it’s a company credit card, the employer is off the hook. But the employee is not.

Well, not entirely. The CRA does acknowledge that it would be difficult for an employee to track personal expenses vs. business expenses on his personal credit card, so their position is that no taxable benefit will arise on points earned on a personal credit card. However, there are conditions.

No taxable benefit will arise on points redeemed from the use of a personal credit card, as long as:

  • the points are not converted to cash
  • the plan or arrangement is not indicative of an alternate form of remuneration, or
  • the plan or arrangement is not for tax avoidance purposes

The CRA provides an example of an employee who is allowed by her employer to pay for business expenses whenever possible through her personal credit card, for which she is reimbursed. In order to maximize her points, she uses her personal credit card to pay for various employer business expenses, including travel expenses of other employees.

The CRA would view this arrangement as being indicative of an alternate form of remuneration and would therefore not allow their administrative concession. The employee would have to calculate the value of the benefit and add that amount to her taxable employment income.

So, to finally answer your question, if you use your personal credit card mostly for normal personal use, and for your own normal business expenses for which you are reimbursed, the CRA would likely not charge you with a taxable benefit; however, if you suddenly start putting $50K/month of your employer’s business expenses on your personal credit card, I would say that it appears this might be a plan to increase your remuneration as outlined in the above example. And yes, the CRA might come knocking on your door.