How do I file a Canadian income tax return?

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Each year, before April 30, Canadians must file (submit) personal income tax returns and any tax owed to the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency).  For example, income tax returns for the 2017 tax year must be filed by April 30, 2018. It is important that you do this correctly, in order to ensure that benefit and credit payments are not interrupted.

The Government of Canada provides information about preparing your 2017 personal income tax return here.

Gathering Information

Sources of Information

If you work for one or more employer, it is quite easy for you to prepare your personal income tax returns, especially using software.  If you…

  • …have a single proprietorship business, then you may be able to prepare your personal income tax return, or request that another company do it.
  • own a company, your accounting department should prepare your company’s tax return. They might also be able to prepare your personal tax return.

By early March each year, institutions (employers, banks, trust companies, credit unions, charities, etc.) must mail you tax slips or receipts that have information needed for preparing your income tax return.  Depending on how you have setup your accounts, some institutions may require you to log in on-line, download, and print tax slips.  Some charities may e-mail you receipts.

Tax Slips and Receipts

Before preparing your income tax return, you must gather all tax slips and receipts, and group them by family member.

Common tax slips related to income include:

  • T4 for employment income
  • T5 for investment income
  • If you earn income for which you do not receive a T4 or T5 slip, you must keep a record of the amount of income earned

Common tax slips or receipts you can use for income tax deductions include:

  • Tuition fees paid (tax slip mailed by post-secondary institution, e.g. university, trade school, etc.)
  • RESP contributions (mailed by company to which you made RESP contribution)
  • RRSP contributions (mailed by company to which you made the RRSP contribution)
  • Professional dues (receipt mailed to you, may be on T4 slip if your employer paid)
  • Union dues (receipt mailed to you, may be on T4 slip if your employer paid)
  • Charitable contributions (receipts mailed by charity you made donation to)
  • Medical expenses (you keep receipts of medical expenses paid by you directly that were not covered by a medical plan)

Preparing Your Income Tax Return

You can prepare income tax returns by:

  1. Completing printed tax return forms
  2. Using tax software
  3. Getting a company to prepare your tax return

When preparing your tax return, you can enter banking information so that if there is a refund owed to you, the CRA will deposit it directly into your bank account instead of mailing you a cheque.

If you or a company are mailing your income tax return, you must include tax return forms, and all tax slips and receipts.   Keep a copy of these documents for at least 7 years.

Completing printed tax return forms

You can prepare income tax returns by writing information on printed forms that are available on the Government of Canada website, or by picking up a tax package at Canada Post offices.  See the link below for more information.

Using tax software

You can also prepare income tax returns using income tax preparation software.  Some software is free, some you must purchase for around $20.  The page below has general information and links to lists of free tax software, and paid tax software.

Getting a company to prepare your tax return

Another approach is to pay a company to prepare your income tax return.  These companies are often set up in shopping malls.  You would bring all your tax slips and receipts to the company who will complete your tax return.

Income tax preparation software has the following advantages over filling out printed forms:
  1. Easy to correct mistakes.
  2. Avoids having to do initial tax form calculations.
  3. Avoids having to re-do tax form calculations when some information or dollar value is added or changed.
  4. Most tax preparation software allows you to use CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) Autofill feature. This allows you to setup an account with the CRA, and from within your tax software, import information that companies (e.g. employers, banks, etc.)  have provided to the CRA to automatically enter the data in your tax return software.
  5. Most tax preparation software allows you to use CRA NetFile. This allows you to upload your income tax return (including forms) from your tax preparation software to the CRA electronically.  You must keep all you tax slips and receipts for at least 7 years.  Keep a printed copy of your income tax return forms, tax slips, and receipts.
  6. Most software guides you step by step through completing your tax return, and has help screens. Some software may offer phone support.
Government of Canada

If you have a modest income and a simple tax situation, a volunteer from the  Community Volunteer Income Tax Program may be able to complete your income tax and benefit return for you, for free. This service is offered all year around. From February to April, community organizations across Canada host free tax preparation clinics to help eligible individuals.

Click on links below.  Help is available in English and other languages.

Calgary Public Library

Depending on your family income, you may be eligible for free tax preparation assistance at various Calgary Public Library branches during March and April 2018.  See the links below.

About 6 to 8 weeks after you submit your tax return, the CRA will mail you a tax assessment statement, and cheque if a tax refund is due to you.  The tax assessment statement summarizes amounts from your tax return.   If the CRA found any errors on your submitted tax return, they will correct the errors, and some amounts on the assessment statement will be different than on the tax return you submitted.

CIES Guides are a volunteer-led project made possible through contributions from the community.

If you want to suggest a correction to this guide, or want to submit one of your own, please contact us.

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