Tricky tax season shaping up as Canadians weigh pandemic benefits and income loss

As millions of Canadians prepare to file their taxes this spring following unusual year, it’s proving to be a trickier tax season than normal.

“This is a more difficult year, in terms of tax filing,” Jamie Golombek, managing director of tax and estate planning at CIBC Wealth Advisory Service, told CTV News.

Tax experts H&R Block recently found one out of every three Canadians are dreading this tax season more than usual. A third of those surveyed reported not knowing how a reduction in income would affect their tax returns, and almost a fifth said they did not have the money to pay what they might owe in taxes this year.

This year, millions of Canadians will have to include emergency government benefits in their tax filings. For instance, if you received support from programs such as the $2,000 a month Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), those have to be reported.

“That is of course taxable, so you do have to report that on your tax return, and you may find that in fact you have some taxes owing,” Silvia Jacinto, tax partner at Crowe Soberman LLP, told CTV News.

There will be some flexibility for Canadians who took the biggest financial hit. Those who received COVID-19 benefits and earned less than $75,000 last year won’t pay interest on any taxes owed for another year.

Meanwhile, for those working from home during the pandemic, there are tax considerations for your work-related expenses, including an option to deduct two dollars for every day worked from home, up to a maximum of 200 days or $400.

If you think your expenses to work from home were higher than that, you’ll need to coordinate with your employer.

“If you’re a renter, adding up the rental expenses, utilities, and then prorating it by the workspace you use, the number of hours, if it’s a shared space, and then calculating that percentage,” Golombek explained. “You do need to get that signed form, that T2200 from your employer. That could be a better option.”

For those Canadians who jumped into the gig economy during the pandemic, there are tax ramifications as these people might be filing as self-employed for the first time.

While the deadline for most people to file taxes is April 30, self-employed Canadians have until mid-June.

Experts also say to keep an eye out for any tax credits you might qualify for, such as digital subscriptions for Canadian news.

Last year, roughly 90 per cent of tax returns were filed online and the CRA is encouraging Canadians to use those resources again, as filers receive refunds faster, while remaining physically distanced.