Author Segal LLP

Owning Vacation Property in the U.S. Is a Complex Proposition

011317_Thinkstock_538452657_lores_KWIt’s about that time of year when Canada’s snowbirds are enjoying warmer weather in southern parts of the United States and may be thinking about whether to buy a permanent vacation home there. They may want to rent it out for part of the year or sell the U.S. property they own. Other Canadians like skiing and skating they can do here in the winter and prefer to vacation south of the border during the spring and summer where the warm weather may start earlier and last longer.

In any case, it’s important to understand the tax implications of owning or selling a home in the United States.

First off, if you plan to buy and want a mortgage, be prepared for a complicated process.

Typically, the process involves:

  • Completing a mortgage application,
  • Accessing your Canadian and/or U.S. credit history and having it reviewed,
  • Gathering income and asset documents,
  • Ordering and obtaining documentation for an appraisal and title search, and
  • Preparing closing documents.

It generally it takes as long as 45 days to get a home loan (it can last as long as 60 days if there are minor credit or income verification issues, and 75 days if there are difficulties with title transfers, missing documentation or insufficient appraisal values).

Typically, you’ll need to put down at least 20% of the value of the home. You’ll be asked to provide information and documentation about the source of the down payment. To avoid delays, it’s critical that once you’ve deposited your down payment into your banking account, it remains there.

Related Costs

The costs associated with obtaining a mortgage in the United States can be higher than in Canada, due largely to the third-party services needed to complete the process. There are standard application and transaction settlement fees for such services as property appraisal and title search. On average, expect to pay from 3% to 5% of the selling price in fees.

In addition, U.S. mortgage interest is compounded monthly, while in Canada it is compounded semi-annually. If you decide to become a permanent resident of the United States, interest payments may be tax deductible on the U.S. tax return you’ll be required to file.

And keep your eyes open for the foreign national premium. Many U.S. banks charge Canadians this premium, primarily due to a lack of information on the prospective mortgagee’s credit history. It can add 1% to 3% to your mortgage rate.

Rental Income

Many vacation property owners rent out vacation property when they aren’t occupying it. This rental income may be taxed in both countries. As a Canadian, you’ll have to comply with relatively complex U.S. income tax laws and reporting requirements. You may choose one of the following two options:

The United States tax rules that apply to ownership of U.S. real estate by foreign persons are different from the rules that apply to Americans. Canadian residents receiving rental income from U.S. real estate are usually subject to a U.S. withholding tax of 30% of the gross income. However, an alternative is to choose to pay tax on the rental income on a net basis. If you choose that option, you’ll have to file a tax return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reporting your net rental income. That’s done by making this election with the IRS and providing appropriate information to the tenant. This election is permanent and can only be revoked in limited circumstances.

Don’t assume that because expenses exceed rental income you won’t have to file a tax return or have tax withheld. The IRS requires that a withholding agent (such as a real property manager who collects the rent on your behalf) be personally and primarily liable for any tax that must be withheld from the rental income. If you fail to file a timely tax return, the agent will be liable for the amount due as well as interest and penalties. In addition, you’ll no longer be able to claim deductions against the rental income causing the gross rents (instead of net rents) to be subject to the 30% tax.

Mandatory Depreciation

In addition, unlike Canadian tax rules, depreciation is a mandatory deduction in the United States. If you don’t file a tax return, you’re still deemed to have claimed depreciation and could be subject to recapture. Failure to file a return also reduces your ability to carry forward passive activity losses. As a result, on a subsequent sale of the property, you’d have a taxable income inclusion in the form of recapture with no offsetting loss carry-forward.

In Canada, of course, you’ll pay graduated federal taxes on worldwide income, including revenue from your U.S. property after deducting applicable expenses. You can generally claim a foreign tax credit on your Canadian taxes for the U.S. taxes you pay.

Selling the Property

The general rule is that the agency closing the sale withholds 10% of the gross sales price and remits it to the IRS. This is simply a withholding that the IRS will apply against the tax payable on any capital gain. There are a couple of exceptions:

1. The withholding doesn’t apply if it is sold for less than US$300,000 (C$393,000) and the purchaser intends to use the property as a residence, and

2. You can apply to the IRS to have the withholding tax reduced if the expected tax on the transaction will be less than 10% of the sale price.

Any gain on the sale is taxable and you must file a tax return with the IRS. If the tax is less than the amount withheld, you’ll receive a refund for the difference. The U.S. tax you pay generates a foreign tax credit that can be used to reduce your Canadian tax liability. If you’ve owned the property continuously since before September 27, 1980, for personal use only, there’s a provision in the Canada-US tax treaty that can be used to reduce the gain. Consult with your tax advisor.

Canadian Taxation

As a Canadian resident, you must report and pay tax on your worldwide income. This includes capital gains realized on the sale of U.S. real estate, which are taxed at 50%. You can reduce your gross sales price with deductions for broker commissions, closing costs and attorney’s fees. After those deductions, you’re left with the capital gain. The gain will be calculated in Canadian dollars so the actual capital gain or loss reported would include a foreign exchange component in addition to any change in the U.S dollar value of the property.

Again, you can claim a foreign tax credit for the U.S. income tax paid on the sale.

Any home you own, including in the U.S., can be designated as your principal residence for each year in which you, your spouse or common-law partner, or your children were residents in Canada and ordinarily lived in it for some time during the particular year. That allows you to claim the principal home exemption.

Capital Gain

If you’re unable to designate your home as your principal residence for all the years you owned it, a portion of any gain on sale may be subject to tax as a capital gain. The portion is calculated using a formula that takes into account the number of years you owned the home and the number of years it was designated as your principal residence.

The principal residence exemption formula is:

Number of years the home is the principal residence, plus one, times the capital gain divided by the number of years the home is owned.

The extra year in the top of the equation (the “one-plus rule”) means that when you move, the old home and new home will be treated as a principal residence in the year of the move, even though only one of them can actually be designated as such for that year (for sales after October 3, 2016, the “one-plus” factor applies only when you reside in Canada during the year you buy the property).

So, say the following holds true:

  • You own the home for 20 years,
  • It has been your principal residence for 14 years,
  • The capital gain on the sale is $100,000, and
  • You lived in Canada when you bought the property.

The exemption amount = ([14 + 1) = 15 times $100,000] / 20 = $75,000, leaving a capital gain of $25,000, and a taxable capital gain (50%) of $12,500.

This article only covers some of the complex rules that come into play when you own real property outside Canada. Consult with your advisors so you comply with all the laws and requirements.

Get Healthier Kids and a Tax Break

Fitness in Canada has both health and tax benefits, so while your children are skipping, biking or swimming in a fitness program, you can take a non-refundable tax credit of as much as $500.

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Club Memberships

If your child joins a club or other organization for two months or more you can claim the fitness tax credit on your tax return if:

  • More than 50 per cent of the programs available to a qualifying child as a result of membership are eligible programs, or
  • More than 50 per cent of available time is devoted to eligible programs for qualifying children.

For example, membership in a local boys and girls club entitles each child to participate in a wide range of programs, some of which are eligible, such as a biking club, weekend hip hop dances, open swim or gym or a ski club. Other programs not eligible for the credit would include career planning, board games or a reading club.

A receipt for the full amount of the annual membership cost can be issued if more than 50 per cent of the programs qualify. A receipt for the full annual membership fee paid can also be issued if more than half of the club’s scheduled program hours is devoted to eligible programs.

If neither of the 50 per cent tests are met, a receipt can be issued for a pro-rated amount.

Cost of Uniforms

Often a portion of the registration or membership fee is attributable to the cost of equipment or uniforms that are provided for use during the program.

At the end of the program, the equipment or the uniforms normally have little or no resale value, in which case the portion of the registration or membership fee attributable to their cost will be included in the eligible fitness expense.

In other situations, in addition to paying registration or membership fees, you may purchase uniforms or equipment from third-party suppliers or through the organization offering the program.

In these situations, the purchase price for the uniforms or equipment will not form part of the eligible fitness expense.

To claim the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit your child must be under the age of 16 at anytime during the year and be involved in a program that provides a “considerable amount of cardiorespiratory activity”, as well as training in muscular strength, balance, or flexibility. The credit is being eliminated for taxation years after 2016.

Calculating the Credit

You calculate the non-refundable credit by multiplying the eligible amount in fees by the lowest marginal tax rate. (A non-refundable tax credit means you must have income which you can apply the credit against.)

The fees must be paid in the year of the tax return.

If you paid a family membership to a qualifying program, the amount of the fee that is attributable to eligible children will qualify.

Program Eligibility Requirements

There are a variety of fitness programs eligible for the credit, including hockey and soccer, karate, football, basketball, folk dancing, swimming, hiking, horseback riding and many sailing activities. For other programs, the CRA may determine their eligibility on a case-by-case basis, but generally a physical activity program must:

  • Be supervised.
  • Be suitable for children.
  • Last a minimum of eight weeks, with at least one session a week (children’s camps must last five consecutive days and devote more than 50 per cent of program time to physical activity). For children 10 and younger, activities must last for at least 30 minutes; those for older children must last at least an hour.

Exceptions to the credit include:

1. Fees charged for regular school physical education programs, although fees charged for extracurricular programs at a school are eligible.

2. Recreational activities involving motorized vehicles (such as automobiles, motorcycles, power boats, airplanes and snowmobiles).

3. If your child registers for a golf club or organization that sponsors more than just physical activities, only the portion of the membership fee that is activities-based is eligible.

4. If fees include accommodation, travel, food, or beverages, that portion must be deducted when calculating the tax credit.

So let’s say you send your child to a hockey camp and pay a $700 registration fee for the one-week program. The camp provides hockey pucks, jerseys and goalie nets that are retained by the organization at the end of the program. The $700 fee you paid includes $200 for accommodation and $150 for meals.

The portion of the fee that is eligible for the credit is $350 ($700 minus $200 minus $150).

Unlike other tax credits, to claim the fitness credit you must have a receipt that includes:

  • Name and address of the organization
  • Name of the program
  • Total amount paid and the eligible amount
  • Date paid
  • Your name as payer
  • Your child’s name and date of birth
  • An authorized signature if the receipt is not produced electronically
  • The statement “This program qualifies for the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit.”

While it is not necessary to submit this receipt with your tax return, you should keep it for six years in the event that Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) wants to verify your claim.

Children With Disabilities

The age limit is higher for children with disabilities. You can claim the credit for a child with a disability who is under the age of 18 and eligible for the Disability Tax Credit. And there is a separate $500 non-refundable credit for eligible children with a disability subject to spending a minimum of $100 on registration fees for an eligible program.

This additional amount, according to the Department of Finance, “provides general recognition of the extra costs that children with disabilities encounter in becoming involved in programs of physical activity, notably with regard to specialized equipment, transportation and attendant care.”

While fitness programs can be costly, they are usually beneficial for your children. Talk to your financial advisor about how you can offset some of the expense by taking advantage of this credit.

Checklist for a Successful Sales Flight

thmb_transportation_jet_airplane__bzSuccessful sales transactions don’t happen by accident and they aren’t based on luck.

Top sales people are prepared for the expected and the unexpected, which means knowing what prospects are looking for and exceeding their expectations. Accomplishing that takes proper planning and a final examination of the factors involved in the sale.

So take a tip from pilots. Have a “pre-flight” checklist. Before every sales call, go though it completely. This proactive step reduces the chance of failure and increases the chance you’ll come back with a deal.

Take a look at our checklist to get started. You might want to add factors that specifically suit your product or service, industry, or your sales prospect.

Yes No  Checklist for a Successful Sales Call
Is the prospect qualified?

Notes:

Have you confirmed the appointment?

Notes:

If you are driving to meet the prospect, do you have the correct directions? Do you know how long it will take to arrive on time – or preferably, 10 or 15 minutes early?

Notes:

Have you organized the necessary materials, including brochures, business cards, sales aids and other information?

Notes:

Do you know the prospect’s culture and environment?

Notes:

Do you understand the prospect’s business structure and industry?

Notes:

Do you understand what drives the prospect’s business and competitive environment?

Notes:

Do you understand the dynamics behind the prospect’s buying decisions? Are you aware of economic and other factors that could create resistance to the sale?

Notes:

Are you aware of the internal and external factors that could affect the timing of the sale?

Notes:

Have you double-checked to see if any factors have changed since your initial contact, including final checks of the prospect’s website; news, business and economic reports, and internal sources at the prospect’s company who may have information about recent developments?

Notes:

Do you have a list of questions to ask the prospect that can help gauge how you can help the company with problems, challenges and growth opportunities?

Notes:

Have you taken a few moments to visualize your success? If the goal is to make the sale, that’s the image you want to see. Of course, not every sales call is aimed at completing a sale. If the goal is to make some headway toward clinching a sale, visualize yourself and your prospect coming to an understanding. Remember, mental preparation can be half the battle.

Notes:

Take a Stand and Get Valuable Publicity

thmb_tuxedo_suit_fashion_formal_clothes_MB“If You Want an Audience, Start a Fight.” Irish Proverb

The saying goes there’s no such thing as bad publicity. And one of the ways you can keep your company’s name in view is to take a controversial stand on a controversial topic and stick to it. The public will remember you and the best part is it’s free.

But controversy is just one form of publicity and cost is just one of its advantages. Public relations also:

How Not to Win Over an Editor

Here are five ways to likely be ignored:

1. Send an e-mail press release with a subject line that simply says “News Release.” Instead, use that line to explain what the release is about.

2. Complain that your competitors have been written about but you haven’t.

3. Insist the media outlet owes you coverage because your company spends a lot on advertising.

4. Send a press release without a contact name and telephone number.

5. Demand to read an article before it’s printed.

Helps overcome ad fatigue. Face it, consumers are becoming more cynical and don’t put a lot of faith in advertisements. They tend to tune out when they see hype.

Bolsters your credibility by getting a positive article written by an objective, third party observer. In other words, a publication is giving space to your story — you aren’t paying for it.

Places you in a public forum where people pay attention rather than trying to tune out, and

Provides opportunities to explain your side of the story in the event of a crisis, such as a product recall or a financial setback.

In a nutshell, publicity gets your company noticed and, by finding something newsworthy, helps you stand out from the crowd.

With that in mind, sit down with your managers and brainstorm ways you can generate newsworthy publicity. Here are ten suggestions to get you started:

1. How has your company handled a crisis, such as the threat of terrorism, the plight of the homeless, mad-cow disease or a sluggish economy?

2. What are your opinions on issues in the latest local or federal election? How do you feel about a tax proposal or proposed budget cuts? Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper or trade journal elaborating on your opinions and work in some aspects of your company. Tell the reader, or the interviewer, why a candidate’s position on issues is important to your business or industry.

3. Make yourself an expert by contacting television and radio stations, as well as magazines, newspapers and trade journals, to let them know you are available to be interviewed on particular topics.

4. Take a poll or a survey of your industry and publish the results.

5. Write about a unique marketing approach your company successfully used.

6. Sponsor a local sports team, or offer your services to help raise money for a worthy cause you are interested in.

7. Give speeches on issues related to your business or industry, on a particular topic that is making headlines, or on an issue you feel strongly about.

8. Stage events such as seminars for the media or sponsor awards for media coverage of an industry or an issue, or offer your facilities as a site for TV programs, movies or commercials.

9. Describe a customer’s success story and your role in helping the person achieve goals. Just be sure you don’t sound too self-serving.

10. Create a list of tips related to accomplishing goals in your business.

The control issue: The one thing about publicity, however, is that you can’t really control it the way you can an advertisement and its placement and timing. What happens to your message once you’ve put it out depends a great deal on whether the media finds it newsworthy or whether war breaks out and your story is put on semi-permanent hold.

It is, however, free. And for both large and small companies, publicity is a solid way to communicate directly to a target audience and to complement your advertising efforts.

An Annual Conundrum: RRSP or TFSA

022616_Thinkstock_137234817_lores_KKAs the clocks stroked midnight on January 1, Canada ushered in a new year, got the ball rolling for its 150th anniversary and kicked off the 60-day RRSP season.

Until March 1, 2017, you can continue to contribute to your Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSP) and deduct the money on your 2016 tax return. The current annual contribution limit is the lesser of 18% of your 2015 earned income, or $25,370.

Keep in mind that contributions to your employer’s pension plan reduce the amount you can invest in your RRSPs and unused contribution room (annual contribution limit minus contributions paid) can be carried forward. The exact amount of your contribution limit will be included in the “RRSP Deduction Limit Statement” section of the Notice of Assessment you’ll receive from Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

Qualified Investments

Of course, RRSPs aren’t the only vehicle where you can stash your retirement dollars. Every year during RRSP season, many Canadians wrestle with whether to add savings to their RRSPs or to Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs).

For the most part, whatever investments are allowed in an RRSP can go into a TFSA. That includes cash, mutual funds, securities listed on a designated stock exchange, guaranteed investment certificates and bonds. You can contribute foreign funds, but they’ll be converted to Canadian dollars, which can’t exceed your contribution room.

The lifetime contribution limit for a TFSA is $52,000 in 2017. That amount reflects an annual limit of $5,000 for each calendar year from 2009 through 2012 and $5,500 for 2013 and 2014. For 2015, the annual limit was raised to $10,000 and then trimmed back to $5,500 for 2016, where it remains for 2017. The limit is indexed to inflation. There is no deadline for TFSA contributions.

Carry-Forwards

Unused contribution room in your TFSA can be carried forward indefinitely while unused RRSP contribution room can be carried forward until you’re 71 years of age.

You can open accounts at a bank or credit union, investment dealer, discount broker, mutual fund company or life insurance company. While you can own more than one account, the overall limits still apply.

If you live abroad, you can contribute to either plan provided you have primary residential ties to Canada. If you become a nonresident, you can keep your current account, but contribution room will no longer accumulate. This is a complex issue; discuss it with your tax advisor.

If Flexibility Is Your Goal

Generally speaking, TFSAs are more flexible than the average RRSP. A TFSA is more accessible if ever money is needed. If you run into an emergency of some sort, you can withdraw money without any tax consequence, because contributions are made with after-tax money. Be wary of this advantage however. It may tempt you to raid your plan and fall behind in your savings strategy.

RRSP contributions, on the other hand, are made with pre-tax dollars. The savings are tax-deferred until you start making withdrawals. That money is then taxed. Early withdrawals are subject to withholding tax. Your financial institution will hold back the tax on the amount you take out and pay it directly to the government. The withholding tax rate is between 10% and 30%, depending on how much you take out of your RRSP. (In Quebec, the rate is between 5% and 15% and provincial tax is also withheld.)

The investment income — including capital gains — earned in a TFSA isn’t taxed, even when you withdraw it. And the full amount of your withdrawals can be redeposited in future years. If you decide to re-contribute all or some of the money you withdraw in the same year, you can do this only if you have available contribution room. Otherwise, you must wait until January 1 of the next year.

Overcontribution Penalties

If you overcontribute, the penalty is 1% of the highest excess in the month, for each month your account has an excess. It’s a good idea to make a TFSA withdrawal before the end of a year. That way you can pay it back the following year. Note that depositing large amounts in the same year that you make a withdrawal from your TFSA could mean that you’ll exceed your current year’s contribution limit and you’ll be subject to penalties.

There’s a special provision for RRSPs that allows an over-contribution of as much as $2,000 before penalties accrue. The penalties generally are 1% a month on the amount over $2,000.

TFSAs allow you additional room to invest if you’ve maxed out your RRSP contributions for the year. And unlike RRSPs, if you dip into your TFSA, the withdrawn amount is added back into your contribution room in the following year.

Financial Circumstances

Among the considerations when choosing between an RRSP and a TFSA are the specifics of your financial circumstances.

For example, TFSA payouts aren’t considered income by the federal government, so they don’t:

  • Trigger the Old Age Security (OAS) or Guaranteed Income Supplement claw-backs,
  • Reduce bonus payments for children of low-income families, or
  • Affect income-tested student aid, pharmacare or other subsidies.

Another consideration is age. December 31 of the year you turn 71 years old is the last day that you can contribute to your RRSP. After that, you must convert the plan to a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) or an annuity. If you convert to an RRIF, you must withdraw a minimum amount each year. In contrast, you can own a TFSA for the rest of your life.

Two Special Plans

RRSPs offer two plans that don’t come with TFSAs:

  1. The Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP) that lets you make withdrawals to finance full-time training or education for you, your spouse or your common-law partner. You must repay 1/10 of the total amount you withdrew until the full amount is repaid.
  2. The Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP) that allows you to withdraw as much as $25,000 in a calendar year to buy or build a qualifying home for yourself or a related person with a disability. Generally, you have up to 15 years to repay the money.

You can make “in-kind” transfers to both RRSPs and TFSAs from a non-registered account. But if you’re contributing a security with an accrued capital gain, a disposition is triggered and you’ll pay a capital gains tax in the year of the transfer. If you contribute an asset with an accrued loss, the CRA will deny the loss.

Investment Decisions

Both RRSPs and TFSAs can hold a variety of investments, but you’ll want to discuss the possibilities with your advisor. For example, you may want to avoid speculative investments. You won’t get any benefit from a loss if the investment’s value drops. Also, be cautious when contributing GICs. If you make less than 1% on a GIC, there isn’t much benefit from the tax sheltering aspect of the account.

If a stock pays foreign dividends, you could find yourself subject to a withholding tax. In a non-registered account you get a foreign tax credit for the amount of foreign taxes withheld, but if the dividends are paid to your TFSA, that credit isn’t available. (There’s an exemption from withholding tax under Canada’s tax treaty with the United States, but it doesn’t apply to dividends paid to a TFSA.)

When You Might Avoid TFSA Contributions

If you are considering putting money into a TFSA, there are four situations where you might want to consult your advisor with the idea of placing your money elsewhere:

  1. You’re in a high tax bracket and have RRSP room available. Contributing to the RRSP will help you lower your tax bill.
  2. You’re in a group savings plan at work and want to take full advantage of a company matching contribution.
  3. You have high-interest consumer debt such as credit cards or unsecured lines of credit. If you pay down the debt, you’ll have more to save in the long run.
  4. You plan to finance your children’s education but haven’t maxed out all the available contribution room for their Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) contributions ($50,000 max for each account).

Consult with your accountant for guidance on which account best suits your situation.