How To Avoid Serious Penalties, Even If You Are Late Filing Or Have Back Taxes Owing

Do you owe money to the CRA? It’s more common than you may think. Tens of thousands of Canadians, especially entrepreneurs and those who are self-employed, owe money to the CRA from past years that were never filed. The good news is – if you are currently behind with your taxes, you’re not alone. The bad news is – the situation isn’t going to go away, the CRA isn’t going to forget about it and the penalties for being late can be quite severe.

If you owe back taxes to the CRA, the time to spring into action is right now, even if you can’t afford to pay the complete sum that you owe.

File Your Taxes On Time, Even If You Owe And Can’t Afford To Pay Yet

It can happen so easily – tax time rolls around, you’re incredibly busy running your business and you forget to do your taxes before the deadline. Another year passes and once again the deadline slips by without your taxes being filed. To make matters worse, although you were planning to set aside a portion of your revenues to cover taxes, you funds were needed to keep the company moving forward and now you find yourself in a tight financial situation.

Life must go on, so you convince yourself there’s no point doing the paperwork if you don’t have the money to cover the back taxes, and you make a commitment to set aside money each month until you do. Another year goes by and suddenly you are contacted by the CRA; they have a lien on your house which means you can’t even sell it or take out a second mortgage to pay off your debts. To make matters worse, because they contacted you before you contacted them, you’re facing additional penalties.

What Interest Charges And Penalties May Be Incurred?

How bad can the penalties be? Well, it depends on how much you owe.

If you owe tax for 2017 and you file your return for 2017 after the due date, the CRA will charge you a late-filing penalty. The penalty will be 5% of your 2017 balance owing, plus 1% of your balance owing for each full month that your return is late up to a maximum of 12 months.

If you were also charged a late-filing penalty on your return for 2014, 2015 or 2016, your late-filing penalty for 2017 may be as high as 10% of your 2017 balance owing, plus 2% of your 2017 balance owing for each full month your return is late, to a maximum of 20 months. You can read more about interest penalties on the CRA’s website here.

How To File Without Penalty

The last thing you want is for the CRA to contact you. Think back to when you were a kid; do you remember how happy mom would be when you’d clean your room before she could ask you to do it? Well, it’s not exactly the same thing with the CRA, but contacting them first is much better than waiting until they contact you.

The CRA is tough, but they’re not unreasonable. Filing your taxes, even without a payment, shows them that you are not trying to avoid your responsibilities. While you are preparing your tax returns, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from late penalties.

Voluntary Disclosure Program

The CRA has a Voluntary Disclosure Program. If you contact them and you qualify, they’ll issue you a number, so even if you are contacted by the CRA a month later, your VDP number ensures you won’t be paying additional penalties. However, only certain circumstances qualify for this program so it’s better to have a well-informed third party contact the CRA on your behalf, typically a tax expert who is well versed on what qualifies and what doesn’t.

Another reason for having a third party contact the CRA on your behalf is because when you contact the CRA, they will do what they are expected to do – ask a lot of questions. If you misunderstand a question or answer incorrectly, it may raise a red flag unnecessarily. A tax expert will know how to provide correct information and the appropriate amount of information. You wouldn’t go into court without a lawyer; same thing here.

Payment Plans

A payment agreement is exactly what you’d expect. It’s an arrangement that allows you to make smaller payments over time until you have paid your full debt, including interest.

The CRA may ask if you have tried to borrow the money to pay your debt in full, or if you have reduced your expenses. To determine your ability to pay, you may be asked to provide proof of income, expenses, assets and liabilities.

In some cases, you can set up a payment schedule with pre-authorized charges through My Account without even speaking to a CRA agent.

Notional Tax Assessment

Some things in life are impossible to avoid. Back taxes fall into that category. Should you decide not to file your income tax because you don’t have the money to pay, it is only a matter of time until your name comes up with the CRA. They may spot you while doing an audit on someone who has paid you for a job, or someone may submit your name to the Leads Program, also known as the CRA ‘Snitch Line’. Yep, that’s a thing. The official name is the Leads Program, and if someone reports you, you’re on the CRA’s radar.

Once they know you are there, and you haven’t filed your taxes, they have the ability to change that situation. If you believe, “The CRA won’t spend time chasing a little guy like me”, you’re right. They don’t have to chase you when they can simply complete a Notional Tax Assessment on individuals who have not filed returns. With a notional assessment, also known as an Involuntary CRA Tax Assessment, the CRA files a tax assessment on your behalf based on a ‘best guess’ of your income. As you may suspect, the CRA is not obligated or motivated to prepare the return with your best interests in mind. Chances are, you’ll be assessed as owing them money; that debt, as well as interest and penalties, will be applied retroactively, and the CRA will use every tool at their disposal to collect the money from you. Plus, you’ll now have to re-file your taxes with the correct information in the hope that you’ll owe less money that what they’ve assessed. This is another reason why it’s beneficial to file your taxes before they contact you.

Taxpayer Relief

The CRA understands that taxpayers occasionally find themselves in a dire financial situation through no fault of their own. For that reason, they have identified taxpayer relief provisions that could benefit you. Under extraordinary circumstances, the government can cancel or waive penalties or interest. Some of the reasons could include: inability to pay or financial hardship, extraordinary circumstances beyond your control, actions of the CRA or other circumstances. If you believe your situation could qualify for relief provisions, fill out the RC4288 form. If you are uncertain how to answer any of these questions, it is always wise to get the advice of a debt restructuring professional who understands what the CRA requires.

Need Advice?

Nobody wants to fall behind in his or her taxes, so file your taxes even if you owe and are unable to pay. Making contact with the CRA before they contact you will be your first advantage. There are other options that can help you, but navigating the CRA requirements can be tricky. Ideally, you want to work with someone who understands the intricacies of business, debt and the CRA. At Faber, our Licensed Insolvency Trustees and Chartered Insolvency & Restructuring Professionals have the training and expertise to help you or your business get back on track. When it comes to the CRA, the worst thing you can do it not take action. Contact us today. We can help.