Income Tax Time – Medical Expense Tax Credit

This is another area where I too often see mistakes that have been made in the past. For some reason, many people and tax preparers only pay attention to the current tax year date – but this can be a costly error. You are allowed to use any 12 month period that ends in the current taxation year and this can be important if you have some big-ticket items in the early part of one year that you can couple with some other significant costs from the latter part of the previous year.

As most people know, there is a threshold below which, no tax-credit is created. That threshold is 3% of line 236 of your tax return. For those who choose not to memorise lines on your return, that is your NET INCOME and it can be found about half-way down page 3 of a regular T1 Tax Return. Once allowable expenses exceed the 3% of line 236, a credit is automatically created.

So what can you do besides check for straddling of expenses across two calendar years? Look for DEDUCTIONS – and maximise them to the greatest extent possible on your cash flow. Items such as RRSP or SPOUSAL RRSP contributions reduce your NET INCOME. So do Business investment Losses and allowable moving expenses.

It can be handy to track your expenses on a computer spreadsheet that includes the date and then you have the necessary information at your fingertips when it comes time to prepare your own return or pass the spreadsheet to the firm who does it on your behalf. CRA won’t check if a straddle works in your favour – since you have the information.

Don’t let $$ slide through your fingers.

Disability Income Insurance – two myths debunked

Most people know at least something about this product – usually called DI – however there are a lot of misconceptions and I am going to try and sort out a couple of the main ones here.

Myth – none of the policies ever pay and if they do pay, you have to be nearly dead!
While it is true that there tends to be some litigation or mediation involved for many claims, most situations where payment is contested by an insurance company involve either a lack of full disclosure of pre-existing conditions or issues arising from the claim itself concerning the true extent of disability. When answering the medical, personal habits and activities question, make sure you disclose everything, regardless of how trivial it might seem. Ensure your advisor is accurately recording your responses because you are responsible for what is on the application even though someone else wrote the information. All insurance contracts are defined as contracts of the “utmost good faith” and the insurance companies have a legal right – and responsibility – to hold to that definition. Trying to hide or not disclosue information such as recreational drug use or even something such as mountain biking, can result in the claim being denied.

As for the second part of this Myth, it is unfortunate that news reports only focus on cases where benefits are being denied, not the hundreds of millions of dollars that are being paid. Cases that involve obvious physical or medical injuries or damage are very rarely questioned – it is the potentially ambiguous cases that get challenged. Many such cases involve soft-tissue injuries which don’t appear on traditional X-rays, MRIs or CT-scans – it is the client’s word and most medical practitioners will err, as they should, on the side of caution and support claims for disability when requested. Believe it or not, the insurance company does want to pay the claim – but only the legitimate claim. Soft-tissue cases are very hard to evaluate but there is new technology that is now being used – IR scans – Infra-Red scans of the human body. Quite interesting to see actually – the scan measures heat being radiated and displays this on screen or printed hardcopy in living colour! Our bodies are miraculous compensators and the body does its best to heal itself. It does this by sending more blood to injured parts of the body – and concentrations of blood are WARMER than the surrounding tissue. Guess what, the higher temperature areas appear in RED on the IR scan and it is very easy to see if there is indeed an injury to soft tissue, because the affected area now appears bright red!

Guess what – no concentrated area of heat, no soft-tissue injury and therefore no valid claim!

If a claim is denied, there is always a sound reason for that decision – insurance companies don’t take those decisions lightly; they know it will end up in the media somewhere. When you do see such stories, don’t judge by the headlines; read the facts. Headlines are written to get your attention and mine – they do not tell the entire story.

Year-end tax planning – not too early!

Yes, I know it is just October 1st – 3 months to go but now is the right time to begin your year-end tax planning. Why? Avoid the rush and decisions made in haste tend to be either wrong or not sufficient.

I will start with RRSP and Spousal RRSP plans – start adding up any contributions you have already made in 2012 – going right back to January 2012 (yes, I know you probably claimed some or all of the January, February and March 1st contributions on your 2011 tax return), but get the detailed list anyway and then get your copy of your 2011 Tax Return and Notice of Assessment (NOA) and cross off contributions that were deducted and then compare your remaining deposits to your maximum Allowable RRSP Contribution Limit from the bottom of page 2 of your NOA. Plan now to make as many deposits as you can before year-end so your top-up cheque in early 2013 doesn’t put your bank account into over-draft.

Generally, deposits to RRSPs and Spousal RRSPs should be made into accounts for the spouse with the lowest potential post-retirement income (from all sources) so you can take maximum advantage of income-splitting opportunities.

TFSAs – Tax Free Savings Accounts – these operate on a CALENDAR-year basis – there is no 60-day grace period into the next tax year – so decide on what you can comfortably afford, and get it in now and where possible, ensure contributions end up in the hands of the spouse with the lowest potential income at retirement even though withdrawals from TFSAs are tax-free.

Charitable donations may or may not be part of your life, but if you are going to make them, now is the time to get them in so you can check to make sure you get your deductible receipts – sometimes they tend to get lost in the year-end crush – no receipt, no claim. So take the time check. Tax receipts can be claimed by either spouse so it doesn’t matter in whose name the receipt is issued.

Investment income can be planned and controlled within certain limits. Check with your financial advisor or planner to determine if you are going to have reportable losses that can be used to offset some or all of your gains. No-one can estimate year-end results – particularly in the current market conditions, but you can start to get a handle on where you currently sit and then arrange to meet with your advisor no later than the first week of December to make your final decisions about triggering losses or gains!

Medical and dental expenses are another important consideration as these also operate effectively on a calendar-year basis. If you know that you are going to need prescriptions re-filled or dental work completed, make sure you get them done before year-end so that you will have the maximum allowable claim – subject to the usual threshold of 3% of earnings.

We will look at other year-end issues and opportunities over the next few weeks. Cheers!