Income Tax Debt – How It Occurs, How It’s Minimized, and What Happens When You Can’t Pay

Many Canadians are unable to pay their personal income taxes when they are due despite incentives to defer tax in a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). A primary reason for failing to pay tax, besides tax evasion, is failing to adequately plan for taxes owed, followed by a resultant inability to pay. 

It is easy for tax to surmount if you are self-employed and have no income tax deducted at source or have multiple jobs and insufficient tax deducted at source. Apparently, Canada lags behind other countries in terms of the breadth and depth of withholding tax. For example, withholding tax rates are low on RRSP and pension withdrawals and non-existent on certain income sources, such as the Universal Child Care Benefit.

CRA will, under specific circumstances, agree to settle a debt and write off the rest if they believe there is nothing to be gained by continuing to spend money on trying to collect an uncollectable debt. In 2014 and 2015 combined, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) wrote off a total of $4 billion in debt. According to the OECD Tax Administration report, Canada’s tax debts as a share of net revenue collections amounts to between 7.5 to 9.2 percent. This shortfall adds problems to government deficits and debts as the revenue is relied upon to fund public programs.

Collecting Tax through Deductions at Source and Instalments

CRA helps to avoid a high income tax balance due at the end of the year by requiring that taxes be deducted at source from employment or that tax instalments be paid by those who owe more than $3,000 on the annual payment date.

Collecting Tax Debts through a Requirement to Pay

CRA often uses a Requirement to Pay to collect a tax debt and interest owed that is not paid voluntarily. A Requirement to Pay (RTP) is a legal notice to a third party (e.g., employer, bank, tenant, client) to remit payments to CRA. In the RTP, CRA instructs the third party to send a fixed amount or percentage from each payment or a fixed amount from all amounts paid in a set time period (e.g., one month) to CRA instead of you. CRA will copy you on each new RTP. A RTP does not apply to your house or RRSPs unless you conduct a transaction which creates a debtor/creditor relationship (e.g., if you sell your home - after mortgage amounts have been paid, or change investments within your RRSP).  Once the tax debt is paid in full, then CRA will issue a cancellation notice to the third party and copy you.

Other Legal Actions to Collect Tax Debt

CRA may take other legal actions to collect tax debt, such as registering a lien on your home, seizing and selling your assets or using any other means under any applicable statutes or laws to collect the debt. CRA can also prosecute you for failing to file a return. Once they undertake legal proceedings, CRA will not usually stop until the tax account is paid in full or it can be shown that the action is causing undue hardship. You will be responsible to pay all reasonable costs and charges incurred to collect any amounts certified and will be still liable for any remaining balance you have the ability to pay.

Voluntary Disclosure Program

If you submit an overdue tax return (which is at least one year overdue) before CRA discovers it has not been filed, then penalties may be waived using Form RC 199. You would then be responsible for the taxes and interest alone without penalties.

Taxpayer Relief

If you are unable to pay your taxes and you submit Form RC4288, then CRA will review your record and determine whether you qualify for interest and penalties to be waived under taxpayer relief provisions. The form asks you to describe all the circumstances and facts supporting your request for tax relief and to provide a history of events, including any steps you took to correct or avoid the tax situation.

There are many types of situations where CRA has approved taxpayer relief. These situations include where CRA made an error or caused a delay, if you are in a position of financial hardship or have financial difficulty from a natural or human-made disaster (e.g., flood or fire), a death, accident, or serious illness or emotional or mental distress. CRA may also approve taxpayer relief if there is a civil disturbance (e.g., postal strike).

CRA Payment Arrangements

If you are unable to pay your taxes in full, then CRA can assess to determine if you qualify for a payment arrangement, which would allow you to make smaller payments over time until the debt has been paid.  However, if you fail to make the agreed payments or you fail to keep your account up to date, then CRA can cancel the arrangement and take legal action to recover any outstanding amounts owed.

How to Approach CRA

If you cannot pay your taxes, it is recommended that you still file your tax return and notify CRA about your financial difficulties right away. Failing to do so can lead to penalties and interest being retroactively applied when you do finally file. Failing to work with CRA by filing your tax return can also lead to collection activities from CRA.

By working collaboratively with CRA, you may find yourself resolving your debt easier, such as negotiating a payment plan. The success of a getting CRA to accept a proposal will depend on your approach, including your history with CRA, the amount of your debt, and your ability to pay. CRA will generally not approve a proposal unless the full amount of any source deductions owing is paid within six months.

How Faber Inc. Can Help

Your Faber Trustee can approach CRA for you to negotiate a consumer proposal in Edmonton, which would settle your tax debt at a reduction of principal balance and interest and stop all additional interest from incurring as of the proposal date. Or, if you ask your Faber Trustee to file on your behalf for personal bankruptcy in Edmonton, you can be relieved from all your Edmonton income tax debt until the date you are discharged. We can help you to determine which debt option is best for you, including help you may not be aware of, including bad credit loans in Edmonton or credit counselling in Edmonton. Contact us at Faber Inc. for your free consultation at 1-877-944-1177.

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