Looking for a big tax refund?  Not ideal friends

Ever wondered why you may receive a tax refund?

Why would someone give you money back?

It is because you’ve been a good boy or girl over the last year?  No.  Santa takes care of that anyhow.

It is because our government is flush with cash?  No, hardly; we can barely afford to keep our education and healthcare system afloat.

To answer the question, it’s because you’ve overpaid on income taxes for that tax year.  The government is actually paying you back the extra money you’ve paid them through miscalculated payroll deductions over the last calendar/tax year.  In any given tax year (believe it or not) you only need to pay the amount of tax you owe for that tax year – no more, no less.

You’re getting money back since you’ve essentially given our government an interest-free loan.

Who loans money to the government interest-free?  Many of us do.

When it comes to tax planning my advice is:  don’t assume a big fat tax refund every year is good.   If you’re always looking forward to the juicy refund it simply means the government kept some of your money and you could have had it working for you instead throughout the year.

Now that tax season is on the horizon, I figured it was a good time to reach out to Robin Taub, tax expert, writer, speaker and personal finance consultant to get her professional take on big tax refunds.

Robin, are big tax refunds a good thing?

“If you get a refund every year from the CRA, it’s actually not a cause for celebration. It may mean that too much tax is being withheld at source by your employer. Make sure you complete the TD1 Personal Tax Credits Return properly. And if your personal circumstances change, like you get married or have a baby, tell your employer and complete a new TD1 form, as you may be entitled to some new tax credits.”

From my perspective here are two things to consider this year to change what your tax refund might look like.

  1. Consider optimizing Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) contributions

You already know when you contribute to an RRSP your taxable income gets reduced – the RRSP is a tax deferred plan.  So if you make $60,000 in income for that tax year and you contribute $5,000 to your RRSP during that year, you’re actually going to be taxed on only $55,000.

That’s great.

But just remember any RRSP-generated tax refund is really a government loan.  Effectively you’re deferring taxes at the present day value only to pay taxes back in a future tax value yet to be determined. Your government-loan doesn’t last forever.

This is not to suggest RRSP contributions are a bad idea – they are a great idea.  However, consider optimizing your RRSP contributions this year.  This means you’re contributing just enough whereby you won’t pay any income tax in any given year.  If that doesn’t jive with you and you’re determined to maximize contributions to your RRSP – by all means do that – just be sure you do not blow the juicy tax refund.  Doing that is destroying the value of this account.  It’s the linchpin in the RRSP vs. TFSA investing debate.  I recall David Chilton said it best:

If you’re going to put money in a registered retirement savings plan and “blow the refund on something stupid,” then a major advantage of the RRSP – the immediate tax benefit – is lost.

The takeaway – don’t spend your RRSP refund.  Consider reinvesting the money inside your RRSP, filling up your TFSA, putting money aside for your kid’s RESP, paying down debt or putting the money into an emergency fund (if you don’t already have one).

  1. Consider reducing your payroll taxes.

So you now know that huge tax refunds are not desirable and a tax expert said so – unless they relate to your RRSP contributions.  Should anything else be done?

In conjunction with your monthly RRSP contributions consider reducing your payroll taxes at the source.  Doing so will keep more money in your pocket throughout the year rather than waiting until spring the following year to get your money back via a tax refund.

How to do this?

  1. Complete CRA Form T1213, Request to Reduce Tax Deductions at Source.
  2. Make sure when you complete the form you indicate your annual RRSP contributions, and attach details about your preauthorized contributions.
  3. Sign and date the form and send it to your local tax centre as indicated on the form.
  4. Follow-up in about 2-3 weeks about the status of this form.
  5. Rinse and repeat each and every tax year.

You can also use this same form to highlight other tax deductions you expect to file in any given tax year but that might complicate matters – unless of course you know these deduction values and have intentions to accurately stick to them.  You should receive a letter from CRA highlighting the information is on file and you can take this letter to your employer, who can then adjust your income tax deductions.

Here’s Robin’s professional take:

“If you know you’re going to have significant deductions in a given year, like RRSP contributions or child care expenses, complete and file Form T1213 Request to Reduce Tax Deductions at Source. Your employer will then make the appropriate adjustments to the tax withheld.”

If you’re considering this route Robin adds:

“Adjusting your tax withholdings could mean an increase in your net take-home pay all year-round, not just a lump sum at tax time. Try to make the most of that extra cash flow.”

What do I do?  Do I expect a refund and if so, what do I do with it?

I haven’t filed Form T1213 and I admit I still look forward to an RRSP-generated tax refund every year but we almost always use the money to reinvest inside our RRSPs or pay down debt. In recent years a main money goal of ours is to maximize all contributions to our TFSAs early in the new year, so these are really the best remaining options for us.

Takeaway

At the end of the day any tax refund should not be considered a financial windfall – it’s your fair share of money owed to you.  Either you decide to manage your taxes better throughout the year or manage it appropriately come tax filing time.  Either way – just don’t blow the tax refund.  Your future financial self will thank you.  Thanks again to Robin for her insights.  You can follow Robin on Twitter @robintaub.

What’s your take on tax refunds?  Something you manage?  Something you spend?

Mark Seed is the founder, editor and owner of My Own Advisor. As my own financial advisor, I've grown our portfolio from $100,000 to well over $500,000. Our next big goal is to own a $1 million investment portfolio for an early retirement. Come follow my saving and investing journey by subscribing to my site. Enter your email address: Delivered by Subscribe to My Own Advisor by Email

21 Responses to "Looking for a big tax refund?  Not ideal friends"

  1. Good post and it’s right in theory.
    Some considerations however..

    First – Children are expensive! However, they are also little walking tax deductions. You can write off child care and in years past, you could write off sporting & artistic activities.
    Second – The government changes it mind a lot. The aforementioned tax deductions are gone – I need to look it up, but I think the tax deductions for sporting & artistic activities are gone totally for 2016 tax year or they are gone as of half way through – turbo tax will know. In any case, if the parent filed the T1213 before this fix that could out them into a deficit situation with the CRA – a place you definitely don’t want to be.

    Thirdly – ‘Life is lumpy’
    I am looking forward to a large tax refund this year – but a large part of it is a one time thing, I moved a large TFSA to a spousal RSP. Another instance where a T1213 would not make sense as it’s a one time occurrence.

    Long story short, as your life gets more complicated (and lumpy), the less sense it may make to file a T1213.
    Being tax efficient is smart but a large refund is not always because you are overpaying taxes.

    Reply
    1. One Dad, you raise some good points with kids and other needs. Of course those are good and very important considerations. I liked your comment about lil’ tax deductions 🙂

      I suspect for Canadians not well versed with their tax situation, and many are not, it’s a complex code that keeps many government officials employed, the T1213 form can likely create more harm than good.

      Good to hear your perspective. Cheers.

      Reply
  2. Great article. The message can’t be repeated enough! I learn’t this lesson back in 1986 as part of a basic investing course. Since then I’ve been telling everyone that I’d rather owe the gov’t $200 at tax time than receive it. Every year in January, I’d send a letter to the gov’t informing them on how much I was going to put into my RRSPs for the year. The letter I received back from the government would state how much would not be withheld and I invested that amount monthly to get the maximum time possible in the markets. I didn’t want to wait until May of the next year to get a large amount to invest all at once. That is 16 months of not earning anything for your January overpayment of taxes (15 months for Feb, down to 4 months for Dec.) Interestingly, most people I speak with understand this concept but tell me they really enjoy the emotional high at receiving at large amount of money.

    Reply
    1. I have no problem with folks spending their refund, or some of it, as long as they know it’s an informed decision. You’re right about the timing Denise, some folks may not be aware of their “overpayment” as you put it; an interest-free loan for over a year in some cases. This makes any RRSP-generated tax refund VERY important use wisely because as you well know, the RRSP is a tax deferred account and the government will want their money back – eventually 🙂

      Reply
      1. Food for thought about taxes. For the non-refundable tax credits in 2016, line 300 (basic personal amount for residing in Canada) allocates $11474, line 301 (age amount) allocates $7125 and line 314 (pension income amount) allocates $2000. So as a healthy senior, you can receive $20599 before paying any federal tax. If you were also eligible for the disability credit, the federal tax-free amount would increase to $28600. Using current statistics which states that the average Canadian receives about $1000/month in CPP and OAS payments, that leaves over $8000 which can be withdrawn from an RRIF without a tax liability. nb: Every person is unique so the “tax-free” RRIF withdrawal amount would differ depending on your own circumstances.

        Reply
        1. Good food for though Denise. You are correct seniors can receive a modest income without incurring federal tax but as you point out, there are various circumstances that affect tax – regardless of age.

          What are your thoughts on the upcoming federal budget? Anything you’re hoping for or fearing?

          Reply
  3. In general, when is the best time to file a T1213? I have been holding off until I file my 2016 taxes before sending the form into the CRA.
    This will be the first year filing a T1213, I started a new job in January and my new employer doesn’t have an RRSP plan to contribute to.

    Reply
    1. I would file it when you know your tax plan for the upcoming tax year. Ideally the sooner the better. It takes a few weeks to process things with CRA and your employer.

      Reply
  4. I always get a tax refund and there’s not much I can do about it.

    When I get my notice of assessment I immediately put the full allowable RRSP amount in. I’ve considered the reduce tax at source strategy but I think my way is better (or at least not much worse).

    Reply
    1. Agreed. I’ve toyed with the idea of completing the T1213 form but I prefer to contribute to the RRSP, get the refund, then use the RRSP-generated refund to pay down debt or simply reinvest every penny back into the RRSP. It’s a simple plan but like you, I like simple.

      Reply
  5. I typically get a decent refund because of my RRSP contributions. While I have considered completing form T1213, I haven’t ever pulled the trigger. While I realize it is my own money, there is something so rewarding about getting that chunk of money all at once. Each year I enjoy the process of choosing where to allocate the funds. Sometimes it’s been the mortgage, other years its RRSP or TFSA. For a few years (quite a while ago now, it went to pay down education debt. It has become a bit of a ritual that I am having a hard time letting go, apparently!

    Reply
    1. Same, we get refunds to the RRSP contributions – otherwise, we’d get little to nothing back. I suspect we’re not that different from many Canadians, they get a refund back because of RRSP contributions – maybe a sizeable one because of that depending upon how much they contribute to the account in any given year.

      If that’s the case, best to manage the refund very wisely since it’s really a tax-deferred government loan.

      Choosing between the mortgage, RRSP and TFSA for your refund is a very good problem to have.

      Reply
  6. I’ve tried completing the T1213 a few times but according to them, I don’t contribute high amounts to my RRSP to justify it. Perhaps now I will be able to do it now that I’m contributing more to my RRSP. I’m going to give it a shot this year.

    In the meantime, I’ve always put my refund into my RRSP, enough to get the matching for the year with the remainder into my TFSA. In the past, I’ve used it towards my education (a good investment, IMO) as well as towards my credit card debt (that was a bad year).

    My husband using uses his refund towards major expenditures that always seem to pop up around tax time (such as new winter tires as someone slashed ours) or fixing the foundation of the house due to major flooding. We did have an emergency fund but not enough for that bad foundation.

    Reply
  7. I’m more likely to spend a one time lump sum responsibly than regular income. I am aware I’m giving the government a loan, but if I’m going to get a tax return and dump it into an RRSP or TFSA vs buy some consumer good every month, I’m ok with the loan.

    I actually increased the amount off my paycheck to make sure I get a refund. For me it comes down to the lack of discipline on an ongoing basis. So I work around it and make it so I only have to have discipline for a few seconds a year 🙂

    Reply
    1. I’m with you Dein re: discipline. Sounds like you have it. We’ll likely reinvest every penny (of our tax refund) this year back into our RRSPs. Boring and lazy works when it comes to investing.

      Thanks for checking in.

      Reply

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