I'll admit it: I don't give much thought to my income taxes until the deadline is looming. Each year, I end up madly going through piles of papers and old mail, seeking out the appropriate documents and attempting to get them to my accountant before the deadline. And what I'm generally hoping for is a big fat refund.
But according to a new study by Scotia Private Client Group, Canadians like myself could learn from the more affluent citizens of our country when it comes to planning ahead for income tax time.
The study found that affluent Canadians (making more than $500,000 per year) are more than twice as likely as other Canadians to have a tax plan or strategy in place to help minimize the taxes they pay (89 per cent versus 59 per cent). As well, while affluent Canadians are split between being focused on short, medium and long-term goals (38, 33 and 29 per cent respectively), average Canadians focus primarily on short-term goals (62 per cent). And for most Canadians, those goals include maximizing a refund, while affluent Canadians are hoping to minimize the taxes they pay year to year.
Adam Salahudeen, director of taxation advisory services and wealth management at Scotiabank, points out that a large tax refund might not actually be what's best for your financial future.
"Understand what a refund is -- it's an interest-free loan you're giving to the government, because the refund represents money that they shouldn't have taken in the first place," said Mr. Salahudeen. Though psychologically we feel more comfortable getting money back at tax time, we'd be better off figuring out the tax strategy that will most benefit us from a long-term perspective.
"When you have a dollar in your pocket, you want to spend it," he said. "But if you have a million dollars, you're thinking how can I keep this as long as I can? How can I grow this? It's not about what you get, but what you do with it."
Here are Scotiabank's tips on how to act like the rich when it comes to income-tax planning:
1. Look to the long-term. Don't just think about your taxes in the weeks leading up to the deadline, which is May 2 this year. Start planning at the beginning of the year. Take time to consider the tax opportunities that accompany significant life events, such as having children, paying for their education, buying a house or caring for elderly parents.
"Especially if you're starting a business this year, or even if you're a T4 person but you get bonus income, you may want to think, how can I plan this more appropriately," Mr. Salahudeen said.
2. Invest in a tax-wise way. Be sure to look at your short-, medium- and long-term goals when it comes to your investment portfolio.
3. Work with an adviser or specialist. You may not be aware of all the tax credits and deductions that are available to you, so have your financial adviser consider your investments, taxes and insurance together to build a cohesive strategy.
4. Make planning your taxes a "family affair." Make sure you're including your entire family in your tax plan. You may be able to take advantage of leverage opportunities like income or pension splitting, family credits or school credits to maximize your tax benefits.
5. Be creative, but prudent. The affluent tend to be more creative when it comes to tax planning, says Mr. Salahudeen, something all Canadians could benefit from. But he emphasizes being prudent, and if you plan on formulating a plan on your own, be sure you know what you're doing.
"You don't want your plan to be too aggressive that it could be denied by CRA at some point," he said.
When it comes to 2010, the ship has pretty much already sailed when it comes to tax pre-planning. But there's always next year. If you haven't started your tax planning yet for 2011, there's no time like the present.