Filing your first tax return in 5 steps

T1 form for tax return in Canada

Tax Form in Canada  by zwola fasola.  © Used by permission

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Filing for the first time? Here is a quick guide for you in 5 easy steps:

  1. Do you really need to file a return?

    If you are new resident and have been here only for the last few months of the year, you may not need to file a return. But in order to avail of permanent resident benefits such as the Canada Child Benefit and the GST/HST Credit (Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax), you have to fill-out Form RC66 (and RC66SCH) and RC151 and mail them to the CRA. You will need to provide an estimate of your earnings from your home country (or other countries) in the year/s covered.

    When the next tax cycle comes, you will need to file a return even if you were unemployed. In Canada, filing a tax return is done not only for purposes of declaring income, but for applying to receive basic government benefits or claiming a refund. Here is a complete list of those who need to file a return from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) site: Do you have to file a return?

    If you are a newcomer student who needs to file a tax return, watch this video series: Canadian students and income tax.

  2. Get your SIN

    You will need a Social Insurance Number (SIN). This is a nine-digit identification number used by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and other authorized government agencies to identify individuals for income and tax purposes. The SIN is unique, personal and confidential. It holds vital information about you so keep your information secure. Disclose it only when necessary (read Who can ask for my SIN).

    If you don’t have a SIN yet, get it at your nearest Service Canada office (or read the article Essential documents for newcomers to know where, how to apply and what to bring).

  3. Gather documents

    You would need to present supporting documents when filing your tax return. These include information slips from your employer (if you’re already working), receipts, passes, and other income statements (from Canada and abroad).

    Keep good records of the income you earned outside of Canada (world income); the fair market value of any property, stocks or art which you own; and any other documents relating to income and acquisitions. You will need these for computations of tax, or for benefits such as GST/HST.

  4. Paper or electronic?

    The CRA has an electronic tax-filing service called NETFILE which uses the Internet and certified software to enable individuals to send returns online. However, since the CRA does not have your records yet, specifically your birth date (see NETFILE eligibility and restrictions), so you can’t use this facility as a first time filer. You will need to fill out, print and mail your tax return to the CRA. Get the General Income Tax Benefit package by:

    You can also use a free NETFILE certified software. You would have to print the forms and send it to CRA. There are specially-designed brown envelopes available for free at postal outlets when you send your tax return by mail.

  5. If you need help

    Filing a tax return can be complicated depending on your financial situation. If you need help, you can approach your nearest Settlement Service Provider for assistance. You can also go to tax preparation clinics. Their services are free. Learn more about the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP) and check your eligibility. You can also search for tax clinics at 211 Manitoba (click on Financial) or from the Manitoba Housing site.

    You may also see advertisements that offer immediate tax refunds. Tax Discounters are tax preparers that calculate your tax refund before you file with the CRA. They can pay you the refund, usually on the same day. However, they charge a percentage from the refund depending on the amount calculated. If you decide to go to a tax discounter, make sure that you understand all the forms and documents they give you before you sign.

    Hiring an accountant is always an option if you feel that it is more than you can handle. Ask your nearest Neighbourhood Immigrant Settlement Worker or Settlement Provider Organization for recommendations. The CRA site has a search portal to help you find tax preparers (EFILE) nearest you. You can also inquire from reputable companies like H&R Block, or search in the Yellow Pages.

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Community Resources

Community Financial Counselling Services in Winnipeg can help you prepare you tax returns as well as provide financial counselling. Meanwhile, tax preparation is part of SEED Winnipeg’s Access to Benefits program. Low-income individuals and families can book an appointment with them and get free services.

For more information about the Canadian tax system, go to the Canada Revenue Agency site. You can also watch the video series: Newcomers to Canada and the Canadian Tax System.

Also read: Tax basics for newcomers on this site.

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