Year-end tax tips
While your 2011 taxes aren't due for another four months, there are only a few days left for you to save on taxes before year-end.
Unlike RRSPs, which allow you to make up for missed contributions, taxes don't offer many catch-up opportunities.
But all is not lost: You still have a few opportunities to save some tax dollars, providing you act before the end of the month. As always, check with an experienced tax professional about your own personal situation.
Sell your losers. Unless you've made some really astute decisions this year, chances are you're underwater on any number of stocks. If so, you may want to trigger some of your paper losses through a process known as tax loss harvesting.
By selling losing stocks over the next couple of weeks, you can shelter tax that might otherwise be payable on capital gains you've already realized this year. Or, if you haven't got much to work with, you can trigger a refund of any 2008, 2009 or 2010 capital gains taxes you've already paid.
Make sure, though, to factor in transaction costs, whether you'd still like to hold the stock longer-term and the "superficial loss" rules.
If you sell a stock to trigger a loss, and anyone in your family — including any trusts or companies you control — purchases it shortly thereafter, you'll end up in trouble. You're not allowed to use the loss if you or your family member buys an identical property within the subsequent 30 days, warns Jamie Golombek, managing director, tax and estate planning, CIBC Private Wealth Management in Toronto.
Tally those tax credits. Any money you plan on spending on items like charitable donations or political contributions must actually be paid in 201l if you hope to take advantage of the accompanying tax credits on your next return.
Items that should be paid before the year-end in order to get the tax deduction or credit include interest expenses, safety deposit box fees, investment management fees, medical expenses, tuition fees, donations, child fitness programmes and transit passes, explains Perm Persaud, who heads up Ark Accounting in Kitchener-Waterloo.
You're also entitled to a tax credit for your first $2,000 of pension income once you hit 65. Even if don't wish to mature your RRSP at this point, consider transferring $2,000 from your RRSP to a RRIF and then immediately withdrawing it. This way, the tax credit will offset any tax on the withdrawal.
Top up your spousal RRSP. If you're using a spousal RRSP, make sure you contribute before the end of the year, not next February. This will effectively reduce the waiting period before your spouse can make withdrawals, without that money creating a tax bite in your hands.
Down the road your spouse might, for instance, find himself unemployed, on disability leave, or on a paternity break — all of which would provide the family with an opportunity to withdraw the money when he's in a lower tax bracket than when you first contributed.
If you contribute now, he can dip into the RRSP on January 1, 2014 at the earliest without the money being taxed in your hands. If you wait until January to contribute, he'll have to postpone any withdrawals for another year.
Reconsider fund purchases. If you buy a mutual fund outside an RRSP over the next few days, you could still get stung with an unexpected tax bill.
The fund company is required to distribute income and capital gains in late December, which means that you have to report them as income and pay taxes on them. And it doesn't matter whether or not you've owned your units for just a few days — you're still looking at the same tax burden.
As the year-end approaches, check with the fund company in question as many will disclose the amount of the expected distributions, explains Dave Paterson, an independent fund analyst at Toronto-based Paterson & Associates.
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