Thousands of Canadians owe money to the Canada Revenue Agency. Thousands more will fall behind filing their tax returns, hoping that by not filing their returns they can buy time to come up with a way to pay the tax that they know they will owe.
What many people don’t realize is that whether you file or not, the Canada Revenue Agency can still take collection action against you if they believe you owe them money. Whether you file or not, the CRA could have tax slips on file, filed by others who have paid you and based on that can notionally assess you, make their own determination as far as how much income they believe that you earned and then take enforcement action accordingly. In fact, the Canada Revenue Agency can even proceed with enforcement action against you without notionally assessing you. The Canada Revenue Agency collections agents will often leverage enforcement actions to force you to file or comply with whatever information they are requesting from you.
The size of an individual’s tax debt will in many cases be the result of his or her conduct. An individual who files his or her returns late, fails to declare income and has his or her returns re-assessed or audited will be subject to Canada Revenue Agency interest and penalties. This can, in many cases, double and even triple the size of the tax debt depending on the individual’s record with the Canada Revenue Agency. Each time a taxpayer is not compliant the Canada Revenue Agency records the non-compliance and the next time there is an infraction, the penalties are increased. Interest charged on Canada Revenue Agency debt is high and compounds daily.
Once the Canada Revenue Agency collections department has decided to target you, they are able to deploy enforcement measures that can cause personal embarrassment and financial hardship. The most common enforcement measures deployed against individuals by Canada Revenue Agency collections agents are wage garnishments (50% of gross employment income and up to 100% of secondary income), property liens and using a document called a “Requirement to Pay” to freeze bank and investment accounts. Where businesses are concerned, the Canada Revenue Agency collections agents will commonly freeze bank accounts but also send notices to the businesses' clients directing them to forward payment of all invoices to the Canada Revenue Agency. This is very similar to a wage garnishment, only instead of the Canada Revenue Agency collecting 50% of your income in this case, they can collect 100%. This measure forces many businesses out of business.
If you owe money to the Canada Revenue Agency and can pay, great! But, what happens if you owe money to the Canada Revenue Agency and can’t pay?
Consumers and businesses also have avenues that they can take to potentially reduce the amount of money that they owe to the Canada Revenue Agency. Programs like the Voluntary Disclosure Program enable Canadians to voluntarily declare income with the potential to avoid interest and penalties. Relief provisions enable clients who have a medical problem, financial hardship or have faced some other extraordinary circumstances to file an application to have some or all of the interest and penalties associated with a tax debt cancelled.
The Canada Revenue Agency will not allow a consumer to directly propose a settlement on a tax debt. With that said, a consumer or business can stop Canada Revenue Agency collections action through Federal Government programs. When a consumer participates in a Federal Government program, the CRA in most cases will immediately cease collection action. Federal Government programs under the BIA are the only way that a consumer can reduce a principal tax debt and get a fresh start.
Whether you owe a tax debt, think you will in the future or if you think that you cannot pay, you are best advised to seek professional help before the Canada Revenue Agency collections department begins to take action on your file.