The time is fast approaching when the annual chore of gathering together the various pieces of information needed to complete one’s annual tax return, and getting that return completed and filed can’t be delayed any longer. For those wishing to put that chore off as long as possible, there is one (very small) bit of good news. Individual Canadians (other than the self-employed and their spouses) are required to file the annual return by April 30 of the following year, and to pay any tax amount owed by the same deadline. This year, since April 30 falls on a Sunday, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has extended that filing and payment deadline to the following day, Monday May 1, 2017. Self-employed taxpayers have until Thursday June 15, 2017 to file their returns for 2016, but they too must pay any outstanding tax amounts owed for that year by Monday May 1, 2017.
Aside from that administrative concession, there aren’t a lot of changes this year to the process of completing and filing the annual return. If the trend of the past several years continues, as it likely will, the vast majority of taxpayers will file their returns electronically, either by paying someone else to prepare and file the return, or by doing it themselves through the CRA website.
The CRA has for several years been encouraging taxpayers to move away from paper-filing of returns to online filing, and those efforts have been overwhelmingly successful. Last year, 84% of returns filed were filed online, while only 16% of taxpayers continued to paper-file.
Taxpayers who want to paper-file their returns have found it more difficult in recent years, as the CRA has discontinued its practice of mailing personalized returns to Canadians who had used the paper-filing option in the past. However, it is still possible to obtain and use a paper return. Tax return forms and guides (including a return envelope for mailing) are available from Service Canada offices and post offices across the country. If those sources run out of return packages (as has happened in previous years), taxpayers can have a return package mailed to them, by calling the CRA’s Individual Income Tax Enquiries line at 1-800-959-8281 and making a request. As well, a printable version of the return can be found on the CRA’s website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/formspubs/t1gnrl/menu-eng.html.
The majority of taxpayers who choose to file online have two options – NETFILE and E-FILE. The first of those – NETFILE – involves preparing one’s return using software approved by the CRA and filing that return on the Agency’s website, using the NETFILE service. The second method – E-FILE – involves having a third party file one’s return online, and the group of service providers which are authorized by the CRA to E-FILE individual income tax returns include both tax return preparation services and tax discounters.
It seems that most Canadians prefer to have someone else prepare and file their tax returns. Last year, 56% of individual income tax returns filed came in by E-FILE, while exactly half that number, or 28% of returns were filed using NETFILE, and the balance of 16% were paper-filed. (A fourth option – TELEFILE – which allowed Canadians to file using a touch-tone phone was discontinued by the CRA several years ago and is no longer available.)
The majority of Canadians who would rather have someone else deal with the intricacies of the Canadian tax system on their behalf can find information about E-FILE on the CRA website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/esrvc-srvce/tx/ndvdls/fl-nd/menu-eng.html. That site will also provide a listing (searchable by postal code) of authorized E-FILE service providers across Canada.
Those who are more comfortable preparing their own tax returns and filing online can use the CRA’s NETFILE service, and information on that service can be found at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/esrvc-srvce/tx/ndvdls/netfile-impotnet/menu-eng.html. While there are some kinds of returns which cannot be NETFILED (for instance, a return for a taxpayer who died in 2016), the vast majority of Canadians who wish to do so will be able to NETFILE their return. As well, while it was once necessary to obtain an access code in order to NETFILE, that is no longer the case. The CRA’s NETFILE security procedures can be satisfied by providing specific personal identifying information, including social insurance number and date of birth.
NETFILE can only be used where a return is prepared using tax return preparation software which has been approved by the CRA. While such software can be found for sale just about everywhere this time of year, approved software which can be used free of charge is also available. A listing of both free and commercial software approved for use in preparing individual returns for 2016 can be found on the CRA website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/esrvc-srvce/tx/ndvdls/netfile-impotnet/crtfdsftwr/menu-eng.html.
Finally, taxpayers who are not comfortable preparing their own returns, but for whom the cost of engaging a third party to do so is a financial hardship have another option. During tax filing season, the CRA runs a number of Community Volunteer Tax Preparation Clinics where taxpayers can have their returns prepared free of charge by volunteers. A listing of such clinics (which is regularly updated during tax filing season) can be found on the CRA website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/ndvdls/vlntr/clncs/menu-eng.html.