Tax time! A little help, please?
Tomorrow's going to be a long day, and I'm looking forward to it.
It's going to be my first time since I got my Chartered Accountant designation that I'll be working at an ICAO low income tax clinic.
The way it works, the ICAO allows CA students to volunteer their time, as long as a "full" CA is there to oversee them and provide assistance if needed.
For the past three years every time I went, there was always a CA present to oversee the clinic, since I was still a CA student. Though I had technically fully qualified by March last year, the paperwork to recognize the fact that you've completed your 30 month 'apprenticeship' takes a couple of months to get processed, so I was not able to serve as an official clinic supervisor.
In terms of preparing the returns, it doesn't make much difference whether you're a full CA or a CA student: if you know how to fill out your own tax return, you'll know what to do.
It's both much easier and faster because when you do returns at the ICAO clinics because they restrict themselves to those earning under $17,000, or under $25,000 if they have kids or other dependents. And if you're earning that little, your return is generally easier to complete than those of high flying executives.
And this year is special because...
The trick is that when you're the supervisor, you're the person the less experienced volunteers turn to if they get stuck.
This simple point was reinforced during the volunteer training session where the new volunteers were reassured, "don't worry, if you're stuck, just ask the CA on site for help."
A couple of my friends are 'first-time supervisors' having gotten their CAs in 2008 as well, so we chuckled, "that's great, but what if we need help?"
Well we know each other cell phone numbers, and the CRA (Canada's "IRS") is surprisingly helpful - in a pinch you could even call them.
But in reality, the returns are pretty straightforward.
A few low income tax return reminders
The key things to remember are that social assistance payments are added early on in the return, and then taken out at the end. If you forget to this you may find that taxes are owed, which is not supposed to be the case with most of these returns!
Checking "yes" for the "claim a GST refund" box is another important thing to keep in mind. And volunteers aren't supposed to sign off on the returns - so the "tax preparer" fields should be left blank.
The only thing that Ontario clinics offer in the way of interesting challenges is the ON479 credit form, simply because you may not have had a chance to use it. Anyone fortunate enough to be earning over roughly $30,000 a year is
not eligible for the credits - they get 'erased' as your income climbs.
The cool part about the "479" credits is that even if you didn't pay any income taxes due to your low income, this'll be a source of refunds - most other credits, such as the public transit credit only work if you have taxes to apply them against. Click the link above to review the form. It's actually quite straightforward.
And if you're new to this, and you're devoted enough to read all the way down to here (thank you for reading), then once you're done going over the paperwork you may very well say to yourself "gee, that's not so hard."
And, no, it's not. Most taxpayers can do this themselves.
But you have to remember that many people either
- Don't have time, because they're busy working multiple jobs or taking care of their children
- May have physical or mental ailment which makes it harder for them to read and write on these forms
- May speak and read poor English or French, and as such would have trouble understanding the instructions.
That's where the super-rockstar CAs come in, to help those in need. When your income is already this low, the $20 or $100 that a tax preparation or website will charge can be the difference between eating or going hungry for a week or more, or other hardships that you will hopefully never have to face in your own life.
If you want to do some good this tax season the ICAO's website includes contact info to sign up for clinics. I don't know if clinics in your area still need people, but click here to get Paula Duncan's contact info to find out if you can be of help!
As with all posts here, this is not tax advice, it is not accounting advice either, it should not be construed as such and if you're crazy if you think it is. But if you have comments feel free to leave them here.