Eva van Emden, Freelance Editor

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eva@vancouvereditor.com

October 27, 2011

Income tax for Canadian freelancers: Track your deductions

Updated for the 2014 tax year
Maybe you started a full-fledged business, maybe you just did your first freelance assignment; either way you need to know how to declare your self-employment income. Even if you plan to get an accountant to do your taxes, knowing what you can deduct and keeping your information organized will make the process faster and easier. In part 2, I talk about filling out your Form T2125: Statement of Business or Professional Activities.

Preparing for tax time

Even if you plan to dump the whole job on an accountant, keeping organized records throughout the year will make a huge difference at tax (or audit) time. From the simplest to the most sophisticated, here are four methods you can use:
  1. Get an accordion file. File expenses according to category (not date).
  2. Buy a notebook or accounts book and write down expenses and income according to category.
  3. Set up a spreadsheet to track income and expenditures.
  4. Use accounting software.

What records should you keep?

  • CRA suggests that in addition to tracking your income and expenditures you back up your records with source documents: sales invoices, receipts, contracts, bank deposit slips, etc.
  • Make a note on your bank statement to explain any large deposits that are not business income. Seven years later you may be asked why you didn’t declare that money as income.
  • If your bank doesn’t guarantee it will maintain your electronic records for six years from the end of the last tax year to which they relate, then you need to keep paper records.
  • Credit card bills aren’t considered equivalent to receipts (but by all means, save them as extra documentation).
  • Print your e-receipts.
  • Consider photocopying paper receipts, because some of them are printed with ink that fades quickly.

Allowable deductions

Business use of home

  • Proportion of home used for business: This can be calculated as either the number of rooms used for business out of the total number of rooms in the house, or as a percentage of the floor space. If you use a room for both business and personal use, estimate the percentage of the time that the room is used for business purposes, but if it’s used for business only, you can consider it to be used for business 24 hours a day.
  • Allowable expenses: Rent, insurance, utilities, strata fees, maintenance, interest on the mortgage.
I can’t cover corporate taxes in this article, but one quick warning: if you are incorporated and you rent part of your house to the corporation, the capital gains on your house become taxable.

Phone

  • Cell phone fees are deductible, but you are required to calculate the percentage of phone use for business.
  • I’m told (but haven’t checked with the CRA) that with land lines, the monthly fee is only deductible if you have a separate line registered under the name of the business. If the phone is registered to you personally, you can only deduct long-distance business calls. (I imagine this is because local calls are not itemized on the bill, so there is no record of personal versus business use.)
  • Phone hardware is deductible.

Internet

You can claim a portion of your internet expenses. Again, calculate what proportion of your internet use is for work. If you claim internet or a computer as business expenses, your internet traffic and computer contents become examinable in an audit.

Business use of car

  • Tracking: Keep a mileage log. The easiest thing to do is to take an odometer reading at the beginning and end of the year and record either all business trips or all pleasure trips (whichever you do fewer of).
  • Allowable expenses: gas, repairs, maintenance, depreciation, interest on a loan, lease payments.
  • Note that the car has to be insuranced for business use.

Other transportation

  • Taxi
  • Public transit passes: monthly transit passes are deductible for everyone; it’s not a business expense. I think single passes are not deductible if you’re travelling within the city, but if you’re travelling outside the city, I would claim them under travel expenses (see below).
  • Bicycles? Maybe. The regulations say that deductions apply to motorized vehicles, but some auditors are said to be allowing deductions for bicycle use.

Entertainment

This is one is tricky and often disallowed. Here’s what I’ve been told.
  • The expense has to be for the purpose of getting or keeping business.
  • The expense is generally incurred by taking a client out for entertainment.
  • Only clients are eligible, not partners.
  • Only 50% of the expense is deductible.
  • Keep a record of the names of the clients and why you took them out.
Staff meals are a different situation. If you hire someone and part of the contract is that you will provide food, that expense is 100% deductible.

Travel

You can claim travel you need to do for work, or to get to professional development events. Your travel expenses will be deducted all together, but keep detailed records of how the expenses break down.
  • Allowable: getting there, travel while there, accommodation, meals.
  • If the trip is part pleasure and part business, prorate the claim accordingly.
  • Travel meals probably have to be outside the city and are only 50% deductible.

Research and professional development

  • Professional development covers things like courses, books, and magazines.
  • For research, make sure you show a clear connection between what you bought and how it contributed to your business.

Capital cost allowance

This applies to anything that you buy—used or new—that has a useful life at the end of the year. Usually this will apply to items that you spend more than about $300–$400 on.
  • For capital costs, you don’t deduct what you paid for the item; you deduct the amount that it depreciated during the year. Look up the percentage to write off in the classes of depreciable property list.
  • If the business buys something that gains value (antique furniture or real estate, for instance) you will have to declare a capital gain when you sell it.

Bad debt

Since you are using the accrual method of accounting, you report your income in the year you earned it, regardless of when you actually get paid. So it might happen that you report income that you never actually receive. Say you did a contract in late 2013, reported the income in that year, and never got paid. You can deduct that income the next year as a bad debt.

Back expenses

If you forget to claim an expense, you can amend your tax return for that year to include the expense, and you will be credited with the corresponding saved tax (without interest). You can do this going back a maximum of six years.

Deductions not related to your business

CRA links

The CRA help number for businesses and self-employed people is 1-800-959-5525. See the CRA phone numbers page for their hours.

Other tax information

See also:

4 comments:

  1. Hi Eva, if I live at home with my parents, but worked a bit as a freelance writer, can I claim anything under "Business use of home"?

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    Replies
    1. I think it might depend on whether you can show that you were paying part of the household expenses. If so, I imagine that you could claim some amount depending on what proportion of the expenses you paid, how much of the house you used, and so on.

      I would definitely give the business help line at CRA a call at 1-800-959-5525. I've called them about a few things (like can I claim capital cost allowance on a gift?) and they've been very helpful.

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  2. Hi Eva, is it true that freelancers can claim the entire fees associated with preparing income tax returns, including hiring a professional accountant? By the same token, if I also work elsewhere under an employer, that means I can get both sets of taxes completed and reimbursed by the same accountant!

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  3. I've only just found your blog, and while I'm not an editor the articles on tax are very useful and well written. Thank you :)

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