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tax matters

Tim Cestnick is president of WaterStreet Family Offices, and author of several tax and personal finance books.

It can be tough being self-employed. Just ask my good friend, Claudio.

"Tim, I've learned that there are some drawbacks to self-employment," he explained. "First, when you work for yourself you can't get away with anything. I tried stealing office supplies once, then realized that they were already mine. Then I caught myself sleeping on the job, but couldn't fire myself," he said.

"How's business been?" I asked him. "Well, it can be tough to make ends meet when you're an entrepreneur," he said. "But when you're a broke entrepreneur," he continued, "your mother always knows you're broke because you're likely borrowing $20 now and again from her, and your friends know because you conveniently forget your wallet every time you go out."

"But Claudio," I said, "don't forget about all the tax benefits of being self-employed. When you file your tax return this year, remember the following things – these could save you tax."

Make sure taxman sees you as self-employed

There are times when the Canada Revenue Agency might consider you an employee rather than self-employed. The problem? Fewer deductions. If you're doing work for another business on a contract basis, the CRA might try to determine the intention of the two parties: Was the intention to enter an employee-employer relationship, or a business relationship? A written contract may speak to this intention. The CRA will also look at the following factors: Control (if you're self-employed you'll generally control many aspects of the services you provide, often including when, where and how you work), integration (a self-employed person can often be replaced and is not so integral to the business that his or her absence would jeopardize the success of the business), ownership of tools (a self-employed person generally provides his or her own tools), and financial risk (a self-employed person bears the risk of loss but also reaps the rewards of profit).

Split income with family

If your spouse, kids or other family members performed some tasks for your business you can justify paying them salary or wages. The amounts you pay must be reasonable for the work completed in order to be deductible against your business income. Take an example where your child worked part-time in your business to help pay for school. Assume you paid your child $5,000 over the course of the summer. If your child's total income is less than $11,038 for 2013 ($11,138 for 2014) – the amount of the basic personal credit – then he will pay no tax on the $5,000. As a family you'll save about $2,250 in taxes if your marginal tax rate is 45 per cent, and you will have effectively deducted part of the cost of your child's education.

Claim home office costs

If your home office is your principal place of business, or is used on a regular and continuous basis for meeting clients, then you'll be entitled to deduct a portion of many types of costs. These are things you're paying for anyway, such as mortgage interest, property taxes, home insurance, utilities, repairs and maintenance and landscaping, to name a few. You won't be able to create or increase a loss from your business activities when deducting home office expenses, but could bring your taxable income down to zero with these expenses. If your home office costs exceed your income then the excess can be carried forward to future years to offset income from the business in the future.

Deduct other expenses

When you're self-employed, you're generally entitled to deduct any reasonable costs that you incurred to earn income from your business. There are some restrictions on certain expenses, but the list of deductible expenses is long. Don't forget to deduct things such as advertising and promotion, meals and entertainment (generally 50 per cent of these costs are deductible), memberships, subscriptions, licences, office supplies, salaries and wages (including those paid to family members, as I mentioned), telephone, vehicle expenses (a portion of gas and oil, insurance, registration, repairs, loan interest, lease costs, automobile club dues, car washes), among other costs.

Consider incorporation

If your business has grown in size and profitability, you might want to consider carrying on business through a corporation. A small business corporation is entitled to a low rate of tax on its first $500,000 of active business income (about 15 per cent – but this varies by province). This can make sense particularly where you're able to leave some of your earnings in the corporation without paying it all out to yourself as salary or dividends.