Preparing for tax season: Bruce Ball, vice president of Taxation at CPA Canada
The cardboard tax package stands in post offices and drugstores have been replaced with QR codes this year telling them how to order forms from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), or jump into the 21st century and do their taxes online.
It’s a Heritage Moment lamenting the passing of a time when you could file returns for the cost of a postage stamp. Online tax software can top $100 depending on your tax situation, but there are ways for thrifty Canadians to do it for free.
CRA CERTIFIED TAX SOFTWARE
The choice is limited to third-party providers with software that is approved by the CRA to work with its NETFILE filing system. NETFILE is the final step to ensure the CRA has received your return securely.
The CRA website provides lists of “paid tax software” and “free or pay-what-you-want tax software”. (https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/e-services/e-services-individuals/netfile-overview/certified-software-netfile-program.html#). The drop down in each category provides information on the products and services available.
Most services offer software versions compatible with Windows and MacBook operating systems, and mobile apps. They also have the ability to import T4 and registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) contribution slips from employers and financial institutions.
In addition, the CRA provides an “auto-fill my return” service that can automatically fill in parts of an income tax and benefit return with information that it has available at the time of the request. To use it, you must be registered with CRA’s “my account,” which comes in handy for keeping tabs on your tax status, past returns, and RRSP contribution limits.
DID SOMEONE SAY 'FREE'?
Some of the more popular tax software providers including TurboTax and H&R Block provide free services for basic tax situations but anything too far beyond a standard T1 return often has a cost.
Wealthsimple Tax, for example, remains free for special situations including T2125 for self-employment business and professional income, T5 for interest and dividends, rental income, capital gains or losses, or crypto trading.
Wealthsimple’s free software does not include T3 statements, which reports income from non-registered investment accounts (outside RRSPs or tax-free savings accounts).
The free tax service from Wealthsimple has an automated guide and email support for questions, but offers an upgrade to a paid service if required.
The pay-what-you-want model is a bit of a mystery for those who have been taught that nothing is free. Some of the free platforms direct donations to the software designers. Wealthsimple treats the free tax-filing service as a compliment to its other financial and investing platforms.
“When you think of it from a client’s perspective, it makes a lot of sense to offer tax filing alongside saving and investing,” it stated in an email.
As the tax years pass returns can be stored on the platform, in addition to CRA’s my account.
Returns can also be downloaded in PDF format and stored in personal files.
Old-school filers who like the feel of paper returns can even print them out.