Most Canadians who participate in the paid work force do so as employees. Consequently, they receive a regular paycheque from their employer and they pay income taxes by means of amounts deducted from that paycheque and remitted to the federal government on their behalf.
There are, however, a significant number of Canadians who fall outside that group — like retirees, or the self-employed — who must pay their taxes by some other method. That method is the payment of income tax through the instalment payment system.
The rule is that an individual is subject to the instalment payment requirement where his or her tax owed on filing for the current year and either of the two previous years is more than $3,000. In other words, the amount of tax collected from that individual throughout the year was at least $3,000 less than the actual tax owed for that year.
Canadian taxpayers who thus fall into the tax instalment payment system remit an amount to the federal government four times a year, by the 15th of March, June, September, and December. Where the amount remitted ends up being more than their actual tax liability for the year, the excess is returned to them in the form of a tax refund when they file their income tax return for the year. Where instalment amounts remitted are less than the taxpayer’s tax liability for the year, the balance owing must be paid when the return is filed.
Where a taxpayer is subject to the instalment requirement, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) sends them two “Instalment Reminders” each year (one in February, the second in August), setting out the amounts to be paid on each upcoming due date. Regardless of the type or amount of his or her income for the year, or the amount of any instalment payments, the options available to the recipient of an Instalment Reminder are the same. On its website, the CRA describes the three different payment options open to taxpayers, and outlines the benefits and risks of each option in different circumstances, as follows:
This option is best for you if your income, deductions, and credits stay about the same from year to year.
We will give the no-calculation option amount on the instalment reminders that we will send you. We determine the amount of your instalment payments based on the information in your latest assessed tax return.
This option is best for you if your 2020 income, deductions, and credits will be similar to your 2019 amount but significantly different from those in 2018.
You determine the amount of your instalment payments based on the information from your tax return for the 2019 tax year. Use the calculation chart found at https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/cra-arc/migration/cra-arc/tx/ndvdls/tpcs/ncm-tx/pymnts/nstlmnts/Instalment-chart-fill-20e.pdf to help you calculate your total instalment amount due.
If you use the prior-year option and make the payments in full by their 2020 due dates, we will not charge instalment interest or a penalty unless the total instalment amount due you have calculated is too low. For more information, see Instalment interest and penalty charges.
This option is best for you if your 2020 income, deductions, and credits will be significantly different from those in 2019 and 2018.
You determine the amount of your instalment payments based on your estimated current-year (2020) net tax owing, any CPP contributions payable, and any voluntary EI premiums. Use the calculation chart (https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/cra-arc/migration/cra-arc/tx/ndvdls/tpcs/ncm-tx/pymnts/nstlmnts/Instalment-chart-fill-20e.pdf) to help you calculate your total instalment amount due.
If you use the current-year option and make the payments in full by their 2020 due dates, we will not charge instalment interest or a penalty unless the amounts you estimated when calculating your total instalment amount due were too low. For more information, see Instalment interest and penalty charges.”
The first option — paying the amounts identified on the Instalment Reminder by the identified deadlines — is the easiest and simplest choice. If the total instalment amounts paid during the year represent an overpayment of taxes for 2020, the taxpayer will receive a refund of that overpayment on filing in the spring of 2021. If the amounts identified turn out be an underpayment of tax (in that they are insufficient to cover total tax owed for the year), the taxpayer will have a balance owing on filing. In no case, however, will the taxpayer be charged any interest on insufficient instalment payments.
Taxpayers who don’t wish to pay the amounts specified in the Instalment Reminder (perhaps because they believe that such amounts don’t accurately reflect their tax payable for the year) can use options 2 or 3. The only risk to doing so is that, should the instalments paid be insufficient to cover tax liability for the year, interest will be levied on the underpayments.
While the instalment payment system works well in most instances, this year it has been altered by the circumstances of the pandemic. In many ways those changes have been beneficial for the taxpayer, since they push payment deadlines off to a later date. However, the changes can make it difficult to determine just what amount needs to be remitted, and when.
Initially, the usual June 15 due date for the June instalment remittance was deferred until September 1. More recently, the CRA announced that that deadline would be pushed back again, to September 30, 2020 and that the instalment remittance normally due on September 15 would also not be due until September 30.
Owing to the postponement of payment dates, the instalment payment amount for June 15 (found on the instalment reminder sent out in February) and the amount for September 15 (found on the second instalment reminder sent in August) are both due and payable by September 30, 2020.
The CRA recently posted a notice on its website alerting taxpayers to the fact that some second instalment reminder notices for 2020 (that is, those sent out in August) identify the September payment due date as September 15. That is now incorrect, and the actual deadline for payment is September 30.
While all of this can seem somewhat confusing, the steps to be taken by a taxpayer who receives an Instalment Reminder haven’t really changed. He or she must first determine whether to make an instalment payment, and in what amount, based on the considerations outlined above in the three available options. Second, he or she must pay the June and September instalment amounts on or before Wednesday, September 30. Barring any further announcements, the December instalment will be due on the usual instalment due date of December 15, 2020.
More detailed information on the instalment payment system, including the payment methods available to taxpayers who receive an Instalment Reminder, can be found on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/individuals/topics/about-your-tax-return/making-payments-individuals/paying-your-income-tax-instalments.html.