Monday, 17 December 2012

Late Filing of Income Tax Returns – How Late is Too Late?

With tax time right around the corner, some folks are already getting their receipts in order. Others however are not so concerned with filing their taxes on time because they are already late filing for previous years. If you find yourself in the latter group, you may want to think about changing your tax filing strategy.  

Latefiling of income tax returns is a slippery slope, often with a snow ball effect. Unfortunately, those hardest hit with income tax problems are small business owners. This is for a few primary reasons:

1.       The owner doesn’t have the “know how” when starting out to keep solid records and when tax time comes he is lost.

2.       The owner doesn’t have the money when starting out to hire an accountant and instead tries to do the taxes himself and makes mistakes or gives up because he finds it too challenging.

3.       The owner spends trust monies, such as H.S.T., and doesn’t want to file because they will have to repay the money.

4.       The owner knows that there will be money owed but has no way to pay it. 

Here is the problem. It is not against the law to owe money to the Canada Revenue Agency. It is illegal to not file your tax returns. Like most problems, a tax problem with not go away by itself and will continue to grow over time. 

You see, the most common penalty that the Canada Revenue Agency uses to penalize a later filer is a financial penalty. First, when you file your tax returns late you will be subject to a penalty. This penalty will grow each time you repeat the offence. For example, if the first year you filed late was in 2009, the second year you filed late was 2010 and the third year you filed late was 2011 you would be assessed a late filing penalty in 2009, it would then be greater in 2010 and greater again in 2011. In addition, interest will continue to accumulate on the debt. 

Many individuals think that if they don’t file it will buy them more time to come up with a plan to pay the tax debt. This doesn’t work. Eventually, over time, employers file tax slips, your clients will file T4A income slips or declare the income paid to you as expenses and the CRA will be in a position to estimate your income. It is very common for the CRA to perform what’s called a “notional assessment,” which is essentially an estimate of what they believe you earned and the corresponding tax debt, interest and penalties that you should owe. 

Once this occurs the CRA will proceed with collection action against you, which could include a wage garnishment, freezing your bank account, contacting your clients, and more… 

If you have a tax problem, what you need is a financial plan. Your first step is to work with a financial consultant who specializes in tax debt to help you determine if in fact there is any way that you can reasonably pay your tax debt once your returns are filed. If the answer is one of the following: a) yes, in instalments; b) yes, if the interest was frozen; c) yes, if the amount of the debt was reduced; or c) no, I simply can’t, then believe it or not there are financial solutions to help you deal with your tax problem, avoiding the stress and embarrassment of having the CRA come after you. You have to make the decision to take the first step towards facing your past due returns and the tax debt you will owe if you want to have an opportunity to put your past due taxes behind you. 

For more information about what to do if your tax returns are past due or how to deal with a tax debt please contact DebtCare at 416-907-2582 or visit

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