Top-10 year-end tax tips

National Post


With barely a month to go before the end of the year, it is time to get your house in order.

Herewith, your top 10 end-of-year tax tips:

1. Tax-loss selling

This is the practice of selling investments that are in a loss position at year-end in order to offset capital gains elsewhere in your portfolio. To guarantee that a trade of public securities is settled in 2009, the trade date must be Dec. 24, 2009, or earlier. This will make sure that the settlement takes place in 2009 and that any losses realized are available to the taxpayer this year. Any trade made after Dec. 24, 2009 will not settle until 2010, so those losses would not be available until next year.

2. Fix your house

The deadline is fast approaching to qualify for the home renovation tax credit (HRTC). The HRTC is a 15% tax credit for eligible renovation expenditures made to your home or vacation property. The credit applies to any amounts spent over $1,000, up to a maximum of $10,000, producing a maximum credit of $1,350.

Although the deadline for the credit is Jan. 31, 2010, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has stated that as long as any materials you purchase to be used in a renovation are acquired by this deadline, they will qualify for the credit, even if they are installed after January 2010. The same, however, does not hold true for labour expenses, as only work completed before February 2010 will qualify for the credit, even if the amount is prepaid.

3. Turning 71 in 2009?

If so, you must convert your RRSP into either a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) or a registered annuity by Dec. 31. In addition, you only have until Dec. 31 to make your last RRSP contribution -- if you plan to do so. You don't have the advantage of delaying until March 1, 2010. If, however, you have a spouse or partner who is under 72, you can continue contributing to a spousal RRSP in his or her name, provided you still have contribution room.

4. Contribute to your children's future

If you have a child or grandchild who has never participated as a beneficiary in a Registered Education Savings Plan and who turned 15 sometime in 2009, Dec. 31 is the last chance to contribute at least $2,000 to his or her RESP to be allowed to collect the 20% Canada Education Savings Grant for 2009 and create eligibility for the grant in 2010 and 2011. If you miss the deadline, the child or grandchild will not be eligible for any grants in the future.

5. Give big

Dec. 31 is also the last day to make a donation and get a tax receipt for 2009. Keep in mind that gifting publicly-traded securities with accrued capital gains to a registered charity or a private foundation not only entitles you to a tax receipt for the fair market value of the security being donated, but eliminates any capital gains tax as well.

6. Contribute to a registered disability savings plan (RDSP)

The RDSP is a tax-deferred registered savings plan open to Canadian residents eligible for the Disability Tax Credit, as well as their parents and other eligible contributors. Up to $200,000 can be invested within the plan with no annual contribution limits. While contributions are not tax deductible, all earnings and growth accrue on a tax-deferred basis. Contribute before the Dec. 31 deadline to qualify for the 2009 matching Canada Disability Savings Grant and potentially, the Canada Disability Savings Bond.

7. Splurge on office furniture

If you are self-employed or a small-business owner, consider accelerating the purchase of new business equipment or office furniture that you may have been planning to do in 2010. You are permitted to deduct under the "half-year rule," one-half of a full year's tax depreciation in 2009, even if you bought it on Dec. 31. For 2010, you can then proceed to claim a full year's depreciation. For computer equipment purchased after Jan. 27, 2009 and before February 2011, you can write off 100% of the cost in the year of acquisition -- with no half-year rule.

8. Consider a low, low loan

The government's prescribed interest rate is set at the all-time low of 1% until at least Dec. 31, 2009, providing couples with a significant income- splitting opportunity. Under this strategy, the higher-income spouse loans funds to the lower-income spouse at 1%, with interest paid annually by Jan. 30 of the following year.

If the loan is made before Dec. 31 while the prescribed rate is 1%, any investment returns above the 1% rate can be taxed in the hands of the lower- income spouse. Note that even though the prescribed rate varies quarterly, you need only use the rate in effect at the time the loan was originally extended.

9. Pay investment expenses

To deduct any investment-related expenses on your 2009 tax return, the amounts must be actually paid by year-end. Such expenses include interest you paid on money borrowed for investing, investment counselling fees for non-RRSP accounts, professional accounting services for tracking rental or business income and safety deposit box rental fees.

10. Get a head start for 2010

If you routinely get a large tax refund each spring due to RRSP contributions or child-care deductions, the CRA can authorize your employer to reduce the amount of income tax withheld on your employment income. Send a completed CRA Form T1213 "Request to Reduce Tax Deductions at Source," with all supporting documents to the Client Services Division of your local tax services office.