Author Segal LLP

CRA Reminder: Tax Instalments Are Due September 15

081816_Canadian_dollar_lores_KKCanada Revenue Agency (CRA) is reminding people who pay their income tax by installments that their next payment is due on September 15.

In a message posted on its website, the CRA pointed out that taxpayers can go online to see what they owe and make payments. And if you pay in instalments, you can sign up for email reminders one month before your taxes are due.

But first, you must determine if you’re among those required to pay their tax obligations in intalments. If tax isn’t withheld from your earnings or not enough was withheld for more than one year, you may have to pay tax in instalments. This can happen if you earn rental, investment, or self-employment income, certain pension payments, or have income from more than one job.

The instalments are to cover tax you would normally have to pay in a lump sum on April 30 of the following year. Instalments aren’t paid in advance; they’re paid during the calendar year in which you’re earning the taxable income.

Factors to Consider

Take into account three factors when determining if you must pay instalments:

  1. Where you reside,
  2. How much tax you owe, and
  3. Whether you’re a farmer or fisher.

The province or territory where you live determines the threshold used to determine if you must pay instalments. If your total tax liability, minus any amount withheld at source, is more than $3,000 for both the current year and either of the two preceding years, you must make instalments for the current year. (In Québec where provincial tax is collected by the province, the threshold is $1,800 for both federal and provincial tax.)

If you farm or fish for a living and are self employed, the rules are slightly different. You’ll receive a reminder in November and must make a single payment on December 31, 2016, if in each of the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 your total tax obligation exceeded the thresholds.

Instalment payments are calculated using your total tax owed plus any Canada Pension Plan (CPP) contributions owed and voluntary Employment Insurance (EI) premiums payable on self-employment and other eligible earnings.

(In Québec, instalment payments cover income tax plus the health contribution, contributions to the Québec Pension Plan and the Health Services Fund as well as premiums to the Québec Prescription Drug Insurance Plan and the Québec Parental Insurance Plan.)

If you received an instalment reminder from the CRA that shows an amount to pay, you may have to pay by instalments, unless your total tax owed for 2016 will be at, or less than, the thresholds.

Instalment Reminders

The CRA determines who’s required to pay instalments from previous years’ tax returns and sends reminders. But keep these factors in mind and discuss with your advisor:

You need only make an instalment payment if the CRA sends you a reminder. If you don’t receive one, you don’t have to make instalments, even if your tax liability exceeds the thresholds.

If you do receive a reminder, it’s based on the past. If you and your advisor are certain your current tax liability won’t exceed the threshold, you aren’t required to make an instalment payment. (The rules are similar in Québec.)

Instalments are due quarterly, on the 15th day of March, June, September and December. Reminders are sent out twice a year — in February for March and June payments and in August for September and December instalments.

Your final tax obligation is known only when you file your annual income tax return. If you owe more than the instalments, the balance must be paid by April 30. So plan ahead.

There are three calculation options when it comes to instalment payments:

  1. No-calculation option. The CRA provides this amount on the reminder, calculated using information on your income tax and benefit return for the two previous years.
  2. Prior-year option. You use this option when your current year (2016) income, deductions, and credits will be similar to your previous year but significantly different from those two years ago (2014). Your accountant can calculate the amount based on the information from your income tax and benefit return for 2015.
  3. Current-year option. Generally, this option is preferred when current year income deductions and credits will be significantly different from those in the previous two years.

If you use the latter two options, and make the payments in full by their due dates, the CRA won’t charge instalment interest or a penalty unless the total instalment amount you use is too low.

Single August Reminder

If you receive a reminder only in August, your payment depends on your calculation option. If you opt for the CRA, no-calculation method, pay the amount in the reminder on the 15th day of September and December.

If you choose prior-year calculation, your accountant can determine your 2015 tax obligation and add any CPP contributions and voluntary EI premiums payable. You’ll pay 75% of the total on September 15 and 25% on December 15. The same holds for the current-year option except your accountant will estimate your 2016 tax obligation.

As with all tax payments, if the due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday the CRA recognizes, your payment is considered on time if it is received or postmarked on the next business day.

Bear in mind that the CRA’s method of calculating instalments may result in an overpayment. This may happen if your income has been decreasing over the past two years.

You may also receive a reminder if your income jumped in a year from a one-time event, such as a capital gain without tax being withheld or if your sources of income changed from employment to retirement fund withdrawals without arranging for tax withholdings.

Substantial Penalties

If you fail to pay the required amounts on time, you could be charged substantial interest and penalties. First, there’s instalment interest calculated at the CRA’s prescribed rate. For overdue taxes that amounts to 5% in the current quarter.

Second, instalment interest charges are compounded daily, so the 5% interest rate is effectively an annual rate of 5.13%.

Third, there is a steep penalty for making late instalments or paying less than the required amount if instalment interest for 2016 is more than $1,000. To calculate the penalty, your accountant will determine which of the following amounts is higher:

  • $1,000, or
  • 25% of the instalment interest that would be payable if you hadn’t made any instalment payments for 2016

Then he or she will subtract the higher amount from the actual instalment interest charges for 2016. Dividing the difference by two is the penalty amount.

(In Québec, additional interest of 10% a year compounded daily is applied when the amount of the payment is less than 75% of the amount you’re required to pay. This brings the effective annual interest rate to approximately 17%. The current interest rate charged in Québec is 6%).

Clearly it’s advisable to pay instalments on time, even if you must borrow to do so. Because the CRA rates currently are higher than short-term borrowing rates, you should be able to get a better rate at a financial institution.

You can reduce or eliminate the interest charges and penalties on late instalments by overpaying subsequent instalments or paying them before their due dates. Interest earned on early or excess payments will be offset against any interest charges on late payments. Since instalment penalties are charged on the net interest, they’ll also be reduced.

Avoid the Lump Sum

Receiving an instalment payment reminder lets you know taxes aren’t being withheld from income at source. It may be necessary to make provisions for those taxes if you want to avoid having to come up with the entire amount when you file your income tax return in the spring. Consult your accountant to come up with the best way you can stay on top of your tax obligations.

How Corporations Pay Tax

Generally, corporations have to pay their taxes in instalments.

Instalment payments are due on the last day of every complete month of your tax year or of every complete quarter if you’re an eligible small CCPC.

The first payment is due one month or one quarter less a day from the starting day of your tax year. The rest of the payments are due on the same day of each month or of each quarter that follows.

The balance of tax is paid two or three months after the end of the tax year — depending on your corporation’s balance due day — after making deductions for instalments paid during the year.

After all monthly or quarterly interim payments are made for the current year, you’ll receive the first Form RC160, Interim Payment Remittance Voucher, for the next year, along with another Form RC160. This additional form will show the tax year-end of the current year. Use this form to remit your balance-due-day payment, if applicable.

Tap into the Pokémon Craze to Augment Revenue

072816_Thinkstock_187957940_lores_KKWhat do U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Alberta Travel, city libraries and bars, restaurants and tee shirt boutiques have in common?

That would be Pokémon Go, a smartphone video game that uses Google Maps technology. The augmented reality game pinpoints locations in the real world on a map shown on a player’s phone. The app marks different Pokémon that can be captured, “PokéStops,” where users can score in-game items, and gyms where players’ Pokémon can duke it out for control. Across Canada, some businesses are getting in on the fun.

The game is so popular that roughly 3 in 10 Canadian players, called “trainers,” say it’s taking over their lives, according to a recent Global News Ipsos poll. The poll found that the same number of players admitted to skipping day-to-day activities, such as working out, in order to hunt Pokémon.

On the other hand, they are getting exercise. The poll showed that the average player has walked about 13 kilometres. It isn’t unusual to walk 5 kilometres to hatch one egg. (Trainers place Eggs in an incubator and walk a specific distance in order for them to hatch into a Pokémon.)

Luring Them In

People aged 18 to 34 years are by far the most likely to have downloaded the app, followed by those aged 13 to 17. So it seems a good idea for businesses to target Pokémon-related marketing at Millennials, whose spending power continues to grow (by 2017, they are expected to spend more than $200 million a year.)

If you run a business, this newest global craze can work to your advantage. Some businesses, as well as government agencies and libraries, are using the smart phone game as an inexpensive marketing tool. Pokémon puts its critters in the real world and you may be able to use this to attract customers.

Here are a few examples of how the game has worked its magic for various entities:

  • An Alberta travel agency offered a free Pokémon tour of Calgary. The guided trip let players explore the city using Pokémon Go, taking them to six pieces of public art and a stop at an ice cream shop.
  • A Saskatchewan restaurant hosted a lure party with Pokémon themed drinks, another offered discounted drinks if trainers placed lures at its location for the night and a Toronto apparel boutique uses Pokémon Go signs to direct customers into its store.
  • City libraries around the country are PokéStops, where trainers collect essential Pokémon Go items such as Pokéballs and Eggs. The Ottawa Public library notes that not only is the library a one-stop shop for your information needs, it has free Wi-Fi to save your phone’s data plan, charging stations to save its battery (the game is a big drain) and air conditioning to escape the heat.

There was even a small international incident when U.S. Border Patrol Agents apprehended two juveniles crossing the border illegally while playing the game. The agents found them wandering into the state of Montana, apparently unaware of where they were. The kids were later reunited with their mother at a nearby Border Patrol Station.

How the Game Works

So how can your business take advantage of this inexpensive marketing powerhouse? Here’s a primer to help you get your feet wet:

  1. Pokémon Go players take on the role of a trainer who travels about searching for little critters, called Pokémon, and capturing them with the Pokéballs (trainers are the people you see walking around town, staring at their mobile phones and tapping the screens).
  2. The captured Pokémon can battle with each other.
  3. Digital lures are dropped to attract Pokémon to a specific location.
  4. PokéStops generate PokéBalls and Eggs and are typically located at select places near your business, such as historical markers, monuments and art installations.
  5. PokéGyms are the battleground of Pokémon and are usually at places where people generally congregate, such as churches, parks and monuments.

Some Business-Generating Ideas

As an owner, you’ll want to find out if your business is at, or near, a PokéStop. To do this, download the free app, open it at your business and look for a big blue circle in your immediate vicinity.

If you have the good fortune of being situated in or around a PokéStop or Gym, you have a major marketing tool at your fingertips. Take advantage of it and drop a lure. These increase both the rate of Pokémon generation and foot traffic around your establishment.

The lures last for half an hour and cost around $1.39. You also can let trainers know on your social media outlets that your business is near a PokéStop and lure them with discounts if they drop a lure at your business.

Trainers rush to active lures and while they’re waiting for Pokémon to show up they may become bored, tired, hungry or thirsty. You can see the advantage there.

Lures may currently be one of your most important purchases. Coffee shops, ice cream parlours, restaurants with patios, pizza places and other places catering to impulse buyers have been successful with this strategy.

But these aren’t the only businesses that can benefit. In New York City, for example, a realty group has started listing properties with the power of Pokémon. One ad reads, in part: $9,500/5br – 1500ft2 – near major pokestop**.

Word of advice: As the radius of a lure is extensive, players can catch Pokémon without entering your business. Consider putting up some signage, such as, “Catch a Pokémon inside and get a 10% discount.”

Gyms can become particularly busy spots, and owners may need to be creative. Trainers often join others to form teams to battle other teams for control of the gym. Battling teams stick around for a while as they win, lose or win the site multiple times. But they tend to be very preoccupied with the game.

Consider a sandwich board to keep score and announce that members of the team currently controlling the gym get discounts. You can also take screenshots of the game and post them on your social media with hashtags, such as #pokemongo and #pokemon to attract trainers who might not otherwise know about your business.

If you aren’t at either a stop or gym, set up an event, such as a barbecue or a sidewalk sale, and advertise it, noting that there are Pokémon nearby. Both the Edmonton Eskimos and the Toronto Argonauts hosted pregame events and set off lures to attract fans and Pokémons.

Be aware that not all businesses, homeowners and others are happy with the foot traffic the game creates. The game’s creator did remove at least one PokéStop from a socially sensitive monument and one medical facility reportedly has asked that it be removed from the app and is attempting to ban players.

Can You Attract New Customers?

With this popular augmented reality game, people are getting out of their houses, walking around and socializing. At some point, they’re going to want to make a purchase, get a bite to eat or grab a drink — and they’re going to want to talk about how they’ve been playing. If you’re a business owner, consider taking advantage of this craze.

College and then a Job at a Coffee House? Not Necessarily

080416_Thinkstock_468195645_lores_KKAre you worried that after years of college or university, your kids will wind up as a barista?

That idea has been challenged by recent research showing that those who graduate from post-secondary education tend to land jobs with good salaries that continue to grow significantly over time.

Researchers at the Education Policy Research Initiative at the University of Ottawa looked at income data linked to tax records for 620,000 Canadian college (diploma) and university (bachelor’s) graduates from four provinces. The data studied covered the years 2005 through 2013.

The goal: Gauge the affect of higher education on future employment income. According to the researchers, spending years in post-secondary education is a valuable effort in terms of earning bigger bucks, almost regardless what you study.

“Very few graduates had truly barista-level earnings even to start, and they increasingly moved even further from that level as they gained labour market experience,” the report said. In fact the study, called Barista or Better? New Evidence on the Earnings of Post-Secondary Education Graduates shows that:

  • College diploma graduates who finished their studies in 2005 had mean annual earnings of $33,900 (in 2014 dollars) in the first year following graduation, growing by 59% to $54,000 eight years after graduation.
  • Engineering, Mathematics & Computer Science, and Business graduates generally had higher incomes and greater earnings growth than others, but graduates of almost all other fields of study, including the often-maligned Humanities and Social Sciences bachelor’s graduates, also performed well.
  • Graduates in later years generally had similar earnings patterns and the ranking of fields of study remained consistent as well, although some fields of study did have greater differences in earnings across cohorts than others.

Income Potential

“This study provides much-needed data on graduates’ income potential, and demonstrates the significant value of post-secondary education – including liberal arts degrees – with respect to long-term earnings and career success,” said Paul Davidson, President of Universities Canada, a group that represents the interests of 97 Canadian public and private not-for-profit universities.

Students who graduated from university in 2005 earned $45,200 in inflation-adjusted terms – on average – in their first year after school. Every subsequent year, the figure rose for a total of 66% to $74,900 in 2013, the final year studied.

Students who graduated from college earned a bit lower in the first years, starting at $33,900 in inflation-adjusted terms in 2005, but by 2013, the amount had grown 59% to $54,000.

The study speculates that the reason for this discrepancy could be that Canadian colleges are generally mandated with developing occupation-specific, practical job skills in their students, often catering to local labour market needs. This means that the graduates of some institutions may do considerably better or worse than the graduates of others, depending on local labour market conditions for their graduates in different fields of study.

(Colleges of applied arts and technology have full-time and part-time diploma and certificate programs. Many also offer bachelor degrees in applied areas of study. Universities are institutions that can grant degrees. All universities have undergraduate (bachelor’s) degrees, and many have graduate (Master’s and doctoral) programs. Many universities also offer professional programs, such as medicine, dentistry and law. In some cases, you can begin these programs after 2 or 3 years of undergraduate study.)

Ranking of Earnings

The earnings for different courses of study were ranked in this order:

  • Engineering and Health graduates (excluding doctors, dentists, and pharmacists), consistently had the highest average earnings to start, generally in the $60,000 range.
  • Math & Computer Science and Business Graduates (in that order) started between the low $40,000s and as high as $52,700 for the 2007 graduates.
  • Science & Agriculture, the Social Sciences, and the Humanities came in third, earning between the low $30,000s and $40,000 in their first year.
  • Fine Arts came in last, with earnings ranging from around $25,000 to just under $32,000 in their best year (the 2007 graduates, as for most fields of study).

Attaching specific numbers to these patterns, earnings in the first year after leaving school for the 2005 cohort were:

  • Health: $58,800,
  • Engineering: $56,400,
  • Math & Computer Science: $48,500,
  • Business: $43,700,
  • Science & Agriculture: $38,500,
  • Social Sciences: $36,300,
  • Humanities: $32,800, and
  • Fine Arts: $28,800.

Graduates from bachelor’s programs saw their salaries grow by about $4,200 a year, and each new wave of graduates earned about $2,400 more than the grads the year before.

Trends were similar across community colleges, where engineering and health graduates started off making about $40,000 a year and rose as high as $72,000 for engineer grads after eight years.

Gender Gap

The numbers also show a wage gap between the genders that widens over time. The average male university graduate in 2005 earned $46,800 in the first year, while female classmates made $44,000. Eight years later, the gap spread widely. The typical male university student was earning $89,800 in 2013, a 91% surge. His female counterpart, on the other hand, saw earnings rise 42% to $62,500.

So the gender wage gap spread over those eight years from about 6% to almost 30%.

The results were similar for college grads: first-year male grads earned $36,700 on average in 2005 and $65,600 by 2013, while female grads earned $31,200 and $42,000 respectively.

Lead researcher Ross Finnie, in an interview with CBC, said: “To some extent these gaps are because men and women study different things,” noting that, for example, there are few women in engineering. He also suggested that women’s salaries often are reduced over time because they take time off to raise families. The study didn’t go into the discrepancies.

Financial Crisis

A post-secondary education even served as a buffer to the financial crisis of 2008. The popular story has been that regardless of how life was going before 2008, post-secondary education graduates’ employment rates and earnings levels dropped sharply in that year and haven’t recovered.

The data tells a different story. Immediately following 2008, first year earnings of all graduates dipped, after having risen the two preceding years. But earnings stabilized in 2010.

While those who finished their studies in 2005 earned an average $45,200 in their first full year after graduating, earnings rose somewhat for the next two sets of graduates, to $47,100 and $47,600 in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

Earnings turned down for the 2008 through 2010 graduates, to a low of $43,800 for the latter. But this cohort’s earnings were only $1,400 (or about 3%) below the level of the 2005 cohort, while those who finished in 2012 enjoyed a small uptick.

A fair conclusion, the study says, might be that although earnings did decline after 2008, the change was relatively moderate, especially if a longer-run perspective across all cohorts is taken rather than comparing the later cohorts to the peak earnings enjoyed by the 2007 graduates.

Ultimately, the study says, the skills “individuals develop play a pivotal role in determining their labour-market opportunities and life chances in general, and are of vital importance to a country’s economic performance and many social outcomes. Post-secondary education is a primary means by which Canadians obtain the skills that they need.

Informed Decisions

It’s essential to have accurate information so that students, institutions and the general public can make informed decisions. This is especially relevant, the study asserts, when “we are often confronted with the now familiar barista trope – the suggestion (even assumption) that going to university, or college, particularly in a non-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field of study, is a waste of time and will leave graduates stuck in a job with low earnings and little opportunity for career advancement.”

 

TFSA or RRSP? Your Financial Goals Will Decide

lores_TFSA_canadian_flagWhile you consider how much you will contribute to your Registered Retirement Savings Plan each year, also think about how you could split your savings between your RRSP and a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA).

You will want to consult with your accountant on the best way to apportion your money, but meantime here is a refresher on how both accounts can work to your advantage.

Every Canadian age who reaches the legal age of majority, which depends on the province, and holds a valid Social Insurance Number accumulates TFSA contribution room each year, indexed to inflation. In the year you reach majority you can deposit the full contribution amount for that year regardless of the month of your birthday. The accounts can be opened through banks, credit unions, insurance companies or trust companies.

Canadians living abroad may contribute to a TFSA provided that they still have residential ties in Canada. If your status changes to a non-resident with no residential ties you are still allowed to keep your current TFSA, but no further contribution room will accumulate while you remain a non-resident.

RRSP vs. TFSA

Deciding whether to contribute to an RRSP or a TFSA is a question that you may face every year. The answer depends on the specifics of your financial circumstances.

If you are a lower-income earner such as a student or starting level employee, a TFSA can be a good choice. Your RRSP deduction will not save you as much tax today as it could in the future when you are in a higher marginal tax rate bracket and it will help lower your taxes.

If you are a senior, a TFSA offers you ability to reduce taxable income. You can contribute to an RRSP only until the year you turn 71. Before the end of that year you must convert the plan to a Registered Retirement Income Fund RRIF) or an annuity. A TFSA withdrawal will not impact benefits such as Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, child tax benefits, or GST credits. An RRSP withdrawal could generate a clawback of these benefits.

As a senior, you may not need the funds in the future and you may not want to withdraw the money immediately. This is possible with a TFSA whereas a RRSP requires you to start withdrawals at the end of the year that you turn 71.

Generally, you should contribute to your RRSP during your working years because it provides you with a deduction to income at your highest earning years. It is also a good tool to help you save, as there are the tax consequences if you decide to withdraw the funds.

Other TFSA Advantages

The savings accounts can provide a major boost toward reachingotherfinancial goals without being locked into tax consequences for early withdrawals. Non-retirement financial goals such as saving for a vacation, car, or home are all reasons to contribute to a TFSA.

Among the advantages of TFSAs is that any income, interest, dividends, and/or capital gains in the account are earned tax-free. Unused TFSA contribution room is carried over to the next year. The accounts provide many investment options to choose from, including mutual funds; Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs); stocks; certain mortgages and bonds.

Prohibited Investments and Penalties

You may also open a self-directed TFSA that lets you manage your own portfolio. If you opt to take this route, you must be aware of non-qualified or prohibited investments in order to avoid unexpected taxes. A prohibited investment is an investment in debt of the TFSA holder or an investment in which the TFSA holder has a significant interest. In other words you cannot include shares of your own company, a company in which you have a significant interest, or any investment where the TFSA does not deal at arm’s length.

Where a trust that is governed by a TFSA holds a prohibited investment during the calendar year, the holder of the TFSA is liable to pay two taxes:

1. A one-time tax when a prohibited investment is acquired or when a previously acquired property becomes a prohibited investment. The tax is equal to 50 per cent of the fair market value of the property when it was acquired or became prohibited. If the prohibited investment ceases to be a prohibited investment while it is held by the trust, the trust is considered to have disposed of and immediately re-acquired the property at its fair market value.

2. Income (including capital gains) on prohibited investments – 100% tax under the “advantage” rules.

All TFSA withdrawals are tax free and the full amount of withdrawals can be re-deposited in future years. Withdrawing funds from your TFSA increases your contribution room for future years but not for the year of the withdrawal.

If you plan to make a withdrawal, it might be best to do it before December 31. That way you could pay it back into the plan in the next year. providing even more contribution room for next year. If you wait until January or later to make the withdrawal, you must wait a full year before re-depositing the money.

Other Benefits

It is crucial to note that depositing large amounts in the same year that you withdraw from your TFSA may exceed your current year’s contribution limit and subject you to penalties. The penalty is one per cent of the highest amount of over-contribution in the month and will repeat each month you exceed the limit.

Income generated and withdrawals taken from a TFSA do not affect the income requirements to be eligible for benefits of Old Age Security, Child Tax Benefits, relief from medical premiums, and other federal benefits determined by income. This provides an opportunity for seniors and Canadians with low to moderate income to earn investment income while still retaining their benefits.

You may transfer funds to a spouse with no tax consequences if the funds are invested into a TFSA. In case of the death of a TFSA holder, the account generally can be transferred to a spouse or common-law partner who is appointed successor holder without tax consequences or impact on the successor’s existing contribution room. There may be some tax consequences incurred on income earned within a TFSA after the date of death of an account holder.

If you are looking for a way to save money, invest for the short term or long term and not be subject to the high restrictions of an RRSP, a TFSA may be your best choice. Consult with your accountant for guidance on which account best suits your situation.

Latch on to a Major Consumption Trend

MB115_Computer_Keyboard_desvription size_BizActionsCanadian media consumption habits are changing and the shift suggests you might want to review your company’s marketing strategy.

Reasons to Add Internet Marketing

The Canadian arm of the Interactive Advertising Bureau conducted studies with Molson, RBC Insurance, General Motors, Canadian Tire, Unilever Canada and AIM Trimark.

Data from the trade group’s studies point to some key conclusions about adding the Internet to your marketing efforts:

Increased coverage – Your company can more efficiently reach hard-to-get consumers who are increasingly surfing for information and entertainment.

More effective campaigns –Online advertising reinforces traditional media messages and boosts brand awareness.

Online advertising has value and can be cost-effective.

Canadians in the 18-to-34 age bracket who go online.actually spend more time on the Internet than they do watching television. It is not so surprising that young people are so enthusiastic about the Internet. Most of them grew up with computers and find the Internet to be second nature.

So, whether or not you already have an online advertising strategy, it’s a good time to step back and reassess. You may want to start taking or bolstering a cross-media marketing approach that includes the Internet to help capture this group of technologically astute, affluent and trend-conscious consumers.

Many experts see the Internet, at least in combination with traditional media, as the advertising wave of the future. If your company hasn’t yet tapped into the online ad universe, here are five steps to help set up and maintain an Internet presence.

1. Determine what percentage of your target consumers has access to the Internet. You want to reach consumers where they are and the same principles apply to the Internet as to buying a page in a magazine. Where do your company’s profits come from? If more than a third are from people with Net access, you’re likely missing out on a big opportunity without a strong online strategy.

2. Spend a small amount on Internet marketing and compare the results with other media outlets. Then, experiment with the mix. A rule of thumb: Generally, online advertising should take up 10 per cent to 15 per cent of your total ad spending.

3. Integrate the online element. To be most effective, you need a strategy that integrates the online and offline elements of a campaign from the day of its launch.

4. Take sound, accurate metrics. The widely accepted critical measurements of Internet advertising are ad impressions, clicks, visits, unique measurements and page impressions. Be cautious with click-throughs. This percentage of people exposed to an ad that actually click through to your company’s Web site is a key metric, but its importance fades if your company isn’t actually selling anything online. Consumer perceptions may be a more important metric. And even if you do sell online, one in ten may not click through but those other nine may come back later. Studies consistently show that many of those who don’t click through will likely come back to your site to make a purchase.

5. Focus on building brand awareness or perception, not on unique online factors such as interactivity. Online, print and television advertising each has specific elements you can exploit, but they should not be the point of your campaign.

When it comes to buying, today’s consumers think the way they did a decade ago. So offline and online advertising is subject to the same principles. Target consumers by deciding whether an online, newspaper or television ad will do the trick. The major point is to allocate your media mix and spend accordingly.