Canadian income tax form

Canadians who expect to owe tax for 2020 and are eligible for Ottawa’s recently announced one-year interestfree tax payment deferral should nevertheless file their returns by the April 30 deadline, tax practitioners say. 

That’s because the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has not extended relief to late-filing penalties where there’s an unpaid tax liability. Taxpayers who file after April 30 face a penalty of 5% of the balance owing, plus 1% for each full month return was filed after the deadline, to a maximum of 12 months. 

“I’m concerned that people are going to take advantage of interest relief and not bother to file their return,” said Rebecca Hett, vice-president of tax, retirement and estate planning at CI Investments Inc. in Calgary.  

Taxpayers who mistakenly believe they don’t have to file a return on time because of the tax interest relief may not expect this penalty will apply to them, Hett said. 

On Feb. 9, the CRA said taxpayers who received Covid-19-related income benefits would not be required to pay interest on any outstanding income tax debt for the 2020 tax year until April 30, 2022. To qualify, taxpayers must have had $75,000 or less of total taxable income in 2020 and have received some form of Covid-19 income support last year (including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit [CERB], the Canada Recovery Benefit, employment insurance payments or any provincial emergency income benefits). 

In addition, the CRA said it would not apply any CRA-administered credits and benefits, such as the Canada Child Benefit, against an individual’s tax debt owing for 2020. 

However, those taxpayers still need to file their returns on time.

The CRA’s decision to provide tax interest relief is meant to give people time to manage their tax liability related to Covid-19 income supports, said Jamie Golombek, managing director of tax and estate planning with CIBC Private Wealth Management in Toronto: “You might have received $14,000 in CERB, have to pay tax on that and don’t have the money.”  

Canadians can begin to file their 2020 income tax and benefit returns starting Monday. The filing deadline for individuals is April 30; for self-employed individuals it’s June 15.

Golombek suggested the CRA is unlikely to extend the tax filing deadline this year, as it did for the 2019 tax year, when the filing deadline was extended to June 1, 2020. The deadline for paying a liability without interest or penalty was Sept. 1, 2020.

In the release this month announcing the tax interest relief measure, the CRA expressly noted that it “has not extended the tax filing deadline.” 

Golombek said that while he would welcome an extension, the CRA “really wants to make sure that people are getting their regular benefits,” such as old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, which are tied to filing an income tax return. 

Delaying the return really complicates the whole system in terms of people not getting the right benefits or [the CRA] having to claw back benefits later on,” Golombek said. “So at the end of the day, they really want people to file on time.