Free and Low Cost Income Tax Filing Options
By Anita Jean
The deadline to file income taxes in Canada is April 30, although this year procrastinators have until midnight since the 30th is a Sunday. Most income tax returns can be filled online, though some are required to be completed on paper. According to recent data, approximately a third of Canadians prepare their own taxes, and about half of these still use paper forms, which may be complex to navigate.
You can have someone prepare your taxes. This cost can be a flat fee or a percentage of your refund. Obviously, the best option is the one that will let you keep as much of your refund as possible, if you expect to get a refund.
If you need help, you may be able to go to a free income tax clinic, such as the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program. Volunteers trained by the Canadian Revenue Agency prepare return for individuals with an income less than $30,000 and $40,000 for couples. Many community organizations recruit volunteers and host these clinics, typically during tax season.
If you choose to file your own return, the Canada Revenue Agency website provides a list of free online products to assist you with income tax filing. There is a list of approximately eleven free products and twenty two products with a free component. Eligibility for the free filing option is typically based on the individual’s tax situation and their income.
The software used by the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program is Ufile. If you choose to file your return, Ufile is available free of charge for individuals and families with an income of $20,000 or less, for the first filing of new Canadians, or if you receive guaranteed income supplements.
If you have a low income, you may wonder if it is worth going through the hassle of filing your income tax return. Individuals and families with low income should still file their taxes since most income benefit programs are available by tax filing. Some online tax filing software packages are great at identifying which benefits you may be eligible for.
Between Federal and Provincial benefits, there are up to 41 programs that could provide additional income for individuals and families with low income in Ontario. Some of these benefits are significant. For example, benefits can account for up to 40, even 50 percent of the total income for a family on social assistance. However, a separate application is needed for each program. At “Ontario Tax Credits and Benefits” (https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontario-tax-credits-and-benefits), you can learn about the various tax credits and benefits available. A calculator will estimate how much you may be eligible for when you complete the online quiz.
Since the applications for tax filing are online, this requires access to a computer and some computer literacy skills. Not everyone is in this situation, which eliminates all but the option to pay to get their returns filed unless they have access to a Community Volunteer Income Tax Clinics. If you are computer literate and interested in helping individuals most disadvantaged at tax time, the NorWest Community Health Centres is looking for individuals who are interested in volunteering for year round clinics. If interested, see our opportunities listed at the Volunteer Thunder Bay website.
Anita Jean is Manager of Health and Social Program at NorWest Community Health Centres.
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