What’s Your Tax Issue? Using RRSP Funds for Private Company Investment

The Tax Issue:

Can I use the funds in my RRSP to invest in shares of a private company?

The Answer:

Let’s get one thing out of the way from the top: you cannot use your RRSP funds to invest in a corporation which you control. Now, for those of you that are still with us, the following explains the rules involved.

Small Business Corporation (“SBC”) Test

Generally, an SBC is a corporation that meets the following conditions:

(a)    the corporation must use all or substantially all (i.e. 90%) of its assets principally in an active business carried on primarily in Canada. Shares or debt of connected qualifying corporations are also eligible assets.

(b)    The corporation must be a Canadian corporation that is not controlled any manner by non-residents. This control test includes control in fact, as well as legal voting control.

Any investment in an SBC will qualify as long as investor is not connected with the corporation

A shareholder is considered connected if he or any related person owns, directly or indirectly, at least 10% of the shares of any class of the corporation or a related corporation.

A connected shareholder could still invest in a SBC as long as the total investment (including investments by related persons) is less than $25,000, and the investor deals at arm’s length with the corporation.

Eligible Corporation (“EC”) Test

Most RRSP investments in private companies will fall within the rules described in the SBC test above. The EC test is an older rule that still applies. It is similar to the SBC test, but more restrictive, so let’s not bore you with the details.

Suffice to say that anyone contemplating an investment in a private company with RRSP funds should not do so without first consulting a tax professional.

Death of a Non-Resident RRSP Annuitant

OK everyone, this post gets a little technical, so I’m adding footnotes for the first time ever. If the Income Tax Act (ITA) frightens you, don’t read on.

My good friend and colleague (let’s call him “Shya”) came to me recently with an interesting problem. In 2007, his client, a former resident of Canada, died with a balance remaining in his Canadian RRSP account. At the time, the RRSP funds were transferred to the RRSP of his wife, also a non-resident of Canada. Under the normal rules for Canadian residents, the surviving spouse would simply report the “refund of premiums” on her 2007 tax return, and claim a corresponding deduction[1] for amounts deposited into her RRSP. No tax would have applied.

Unfortunately, the administrator of the RRSP was not on top of the situation. Had they realized that the taxpayers were non-residents of Canada, they would have known that a 25% withholding tax[2] applies to an RRSP that is paid to any non-resident. Further, since the amount was transferred directly to the spouse’s RRSP, filing a prescribed form upon the transfer of funds would have exempted the non-resident spouse from the withholding tax[3].

Unfortunately, the proper form was not filed, and no tax was withheld at the time of death.

Along comes the CRA two years later. Realizing what has happened, the CRA assessed the surviving spouse for the 25% withholding tax. Since the transfer to her RRSP was not done “pursuant to an authorization in prescribed form” as the law states, no exemption from this tax can apply.

Is the taxpayer out of luck? Perhaps.

Let’s go back in time once more. Had the taxpayer discovered this oversight in time, she still could have filed a special Canadian tax return under section 217 of the ITA[4]. The section 217 return is designed to give non-resident taxpayers the option of paying tax at the normal Canadian tax rates as opposed to the flat 25%. For many taxpayers the 217 election is not advantageous, because the Canadian tax rate that applies is based on a complex calculation that takes world income into account. For a non-resident with any substantial amount of total income, the rate usually will exceed 25%.

For our surviving spouse, however, the section 217 election would have resulted in no tax, since she would be allowed to take a deduction under the normal Canadian rules for the amount transferred to her RRSP. This would bring her net Canadian taxable income down to zero, and she could claim a refund of the 25% withholding tax.

There’s just one problem left for Shya’s client. The section 217 return must be filed within six months from the end of the taxation year that income was received. In this case, that would have been June 30, 2008. Since the problem didn’t come to light until the CRA’s assessment in 2009, the taxpayer is not entitled to file the election.

Now, the taxpayer’s only hope is to request that the CRA extend the time and allow her to file a late section 217 return. The CRA has the power at any time to extend the time for filing any return[5]. However, this administrative concession is not given lightly.

The issue has been dealt with in the past with respect to returns under section 216 of the ITA. The CRA has a published policy to give taxpayers “one opportunity” to file a late return where they have neglected to do so through ignorance or inadvertence. Perhaps this concession could be extended to section 217 returns.

If not, the CRA has issued guidelines[6] which presumably could apply in this scenario. In essence, the taxpayer would have to convince the CRA that there were extraordinary circumstances beyond her control (other than ignorance of the law) that prevented her from filing the return on time.

The moral of the story? Always consult a tax professional when dealing with unusual transactions involving non-resident taxpayers.

[1] ITA 60(1)(l)

[2] ITA 212(1)(l)

[3] ITA 212(1)(l)(i)

[4] ITA 217

[5] ITA 220(3)

Rollover of RRSP’s and RRIF’s on Death – Don’t Take It For Granted

If you are the executor of an estate, or you are perhaps advising your client on his will, you should be aware of the rules regarding RRSP’s and RRIF’s on death.

I’m surprised at the number of people, executors and plan administrators alike, who work on the often erroneous assumption that these plans simply roll over tax-free when the surviving spouse is named as the beneficiary.

In fact, the opposite is true. While capital property automatically rolls over tax-free to a spouse on death, a RRSP/RRIF does not. The general rule is that it is taxable in the hands of the deceased annuitant. From there, a number of possibilities can occur.

If the spouse is named as the “successor annuitant”, then the capital in the plan is not paid out. The plan simply continues and the spouse replaces the deceased as the annuitant. There is no tax to the estate and no reporting is required. The successor annuitant can be named in the plan itself or in the will. The successor annuitant can also be established in other cases if the executor and the plan administrator agree.

If there is no successor annuitant, then the proceeds of the plan are realized and they are taxed either in the hands of the surviving spouse or the estate, depending on the circumstances. If the spouse is designated as the plan beneficiary in the contract, the payment of funds is made to the spouse upon death of the annuitant, and the spouse adds the amount to income. The spouse then has until 60 days after the end of the year to transfer the funds to his or her own RRSP/RRIF to obtain an offsetting deduction.

If the spouse is named as a beneficiary in the will alone (which will likely be the case in Quebec), then the payment of funds is made to the estate. The executor and the spouse must then agree and file an election (form T2019 for RRSP’s  or T1090 for RRIF’s) to have the proceeds added to the spouse’s income, and be eligible for rollover into his or her plan.

What if the spouse refuses to sign the election?

Take the case where a deceased man is survived by his second wife, has children from a former marriage and the leaves a RRIF to the spouse in the will, with no clear instructions regarding the taxes. The residue from the estate goes to the children. The executor must receive the funds from the RRIF and pay them to the spouse under the terms of the will. No taxes are deducted from this amount. The spouse can then choose not to make the election. She will receive the entire amount of untaxed capital from the RRIF and she will not have to roll it into her own plan, thus avoiding future taxes on withdrawal. The taxes will be borne by the deceased, and be taken from the residue of the estate, thus providing a possible unintended benefit to the spouse, and most likely some very disgruntled children.