It’s tax season – that terrible time of year where you have to be responsible or something. Maybe you have parents who will do your taxes for you. Lucky you! But I strongly advise you to learn to do your taxes for yourself because a) you’re going to have to do them anyway and b) it’s empowering to know what is going on with your money.</p>
If you do not understand taxes, it’s easy to pick up the basics: ask questions! You can always go to the great and powerful Google of course. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website is also a decent resource. In fact it even offers a free course called Learning About Taxes, which will teach you how to file your own tax return. The fact of the matter is if you do not know how to do something, half the battle is going out and finding the information you need. May I also add that the Accounting & Finance Student Association (AFSA) offers an annual free student tax clinic? It’s on March 21 to 24 this year. Go and ask a bunch of questions while you’re there! Whichever student ends up helping you could use the practice anyway. Really, you’re the one doing a favour.
Quite possibly the idea of filing taxes freaks you out. That’s perfectly okay. It can be overwhelming at first when you have no idea where to start. Looking over your finances can be stressful, and of course there’s the likelihood that someone with more skill could “find you more money.” I won’t deny any of that. Especially the last case, but usually people who can pull that off aren’t going to offer that service for free. One easy way to get yourself prepared to file your taxes (and to put off actually filing them for a little while longer) is to create a checklist of everything you need and then assemble it. Here’s some quick ideas based on what I usually end up filing:
· T4(s) – Your statements from any jobs you worked that year*
· T5 – A fancy statement of income you may get in the mail for your investments
· T2202A – Tax receipt for your tuition from that year* (it will be on Quest!)
· Endowment Fund Contributions (or other charities!) – Also on Quest, you can claim your contributions to your faculty Endowment Fund as a charitable donation
· Transit Usage Report – A statement of all the money spent on transit using your PRESTO card. It’s provided by PRESTO for free online and you can use it to claim Public Transit Tax Credits. (This credit also applies to monthly public transit passes so save your receipts!)
I like to collect these documents as they either show up in my mailbox or become available online and then save them in a folder until April. The other thing I like to do to warm up to doing my taxes is download free tax software to use NETFILE. A few years ago the CRA started accepting electronic submissions of tax returns. The process and the security is all explained on their website, but one of the conditions is you need to use a NETFILE compatible software (again, a list is on their site). The last two years I’ve used StudioTax which is like an open-source TurboTax, but as of this year the actual TurboTax is offering free forms for 2014! Yes, even choosing tax software can be cool and fun and worthy of exclamation points!
While you’re online you can also set up direct deposit for your tax return so you don’t have to worry about losing an important cheque in the mail. Welcome to the future of taxes—unless you’ve never filed it the paper-way, in which case: welcome to taxes!
*Remember: You’re always filing for last year. You need to think in terms of a time machine. If you didn’t work at all since January but you had a job last summer then you’re filing your income from the summer.