Preparing and filing your tax return

Plan ahead in 5 steps

1. Start your tax planning early

At the beginning of the taxTax A fee the government charges on income, property, and sales. The money goes to finance government programs and other costs.+ read full definition year, plan how you’re going to arrange your financial affairs to lower your tax bill. To help you get started, check out these tax tips from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

If your financial affairs are more complicated

You may need expert advice. For example, if you are self-employed or earn investment income, you may want to hire a tax professional to recommend strategies for minimizing and deferring your taxes. Their fees may pay for themselves in terms of tax savings. Speak with a chartered professional accountant who specializes in income tax. Depending on your needs, you may also need to hire a lawyer to set up a corporation or draft documents.

2. Keep good records and receipts throughout the year

Organize and file your receipts as they come in. This will make it easier at tax time. This includes tax information slips, as well as supporting documents, such as bills, credit card statements, receipts for car, home office and other business expenses, stock transactions, and housing, business and rental property records.

3. Make sure you receive all tax information slips

This includes receipts for RRSP contributions and charitable donations. It also includes:

  • T4 slip – if you are an employee,
  • T4A – if you have received pension income, lump-sum payments, self-employed commissions or annuity income,
  • T3 – if you have earned income from a trust, and
  • T5 – if you have received investment income.

All slips must be issued by February 28, except for the T3, which is issued 90 days after a trust’s tax year-end.

4. Decide if you need tax preparation help

If your tax return is fairly simple (for example, you only have employment income and an RRSPRRSP See Registered Retirement Savings Plan.+ read full definition deduction), you can prepare it yourself using one of the many software programs available. The ones on this list are compatible with the CRA’s NETFILE Program.

Free tax clinics for low-income earners

Free CPA Tax Clinics are held each year in Ontario for low-income residents with very simple tax situations (no rental or business income, no returns for deceased taxpayers).

If your affairs are more complicated (for example, you have business, rental or investmentInvestment An item of value you buy to get income or to grow in value.+ read full definition income), you will likely need professional help. Your optionsOptions An investment that gives you the right to buy or sell it at a set price by a set date. The buy right is termed a “call” option, and the sell right is termed a “put” option. You buy options on a stock exchange.+ read full definition include:

  • hiring a chartered professional accountant to prepare and file your return. Fees are often calculated on an hourly basis.
  • using a tax preparation service. Ask for a fee estimate when you go in for your consultation.

5. Prepare summaries and organize your receipts

Before going to a tax professional, summarize your different sources of income, and your deductions and tax credits. This will save you money in tax preparation fees.

Keep your tax records for 6 years

Organize and file your tax returns, receipts and supporting documents by tax year so you can retrieve them easily in case you are ever reviewed.

Filing your tax return

In most cases, you have to file your personal tax return — the T1 Income TaxIncome tax A charge you pay based on your total income from all sources. The Canadian government and your province set the rate.+ read full definition and BenefitBenefit Money, goods, or services that you get from your workplace or from a government program such as the Canada Pension Plan.+ read full definition Return — by April 30 of the year following the tax year. You can send your return by mail or file it online. Learn more about sending your return to the CRA.

If you’re self-employed:

  • The filing deadline is June 15.
  • You must pay any amounts owing by April 30.

When a return due date falls on a Saturday, a Sunday or a public holiday, your payment is considered to be made on time and your return is filed on time if it is received by the CRA or postmarked on the next business day.

Auto-fill my return

CRA is offering a new secure service called Auto-fill my return that lets you automatically request and receive tax information that the CRA has available at the time you’re filing, in order to fill in certain parts of your tax return. CRA will have most tax information slips and other tax-related information like T4, T5, RRSP information and carry forward amounts (find a complete list here).

To take advantage of Auto-fill my return, you must be registered with CRA’s My Account, and be using a certified software product that offers this service. Before you file using the information delivered by Auto-fill my return, you have to make sure that all the proper fields on the return are filled in and that the information provided is true and accurate.

If you file your tax return too early – before you have all your documents and tax slips – it could trigger a review of your return by the CRA.

Take action

Register with the CRA’s My Account to view or change your return, track your refund, and check your benefit and credit payments and your RRSP deduction limitDeduction limit The most you can deduct for your RRSP contribution on your income tax return. Any money that you put into a pension plan at work counts as part of your RRSP contribution.+ read full definition.

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