DAVID WILKENFELD, CPA, CA, canadian tax CONSULTANT

What’s Your Tax Issue? Credit Card Rewards

In Business Expenses, Canadian Income Tax, Employment benefits, Employment Income, Personal Tax on February 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm

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.

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