Top 5 year-end tax planning strategies for your business: 2020 edition

December 15, 2020

Amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, tax planning may not be top of mind for many business owners, but it is more important than ever to plan ahead for income taxes to avoid any unpleasant surprises later on. Here are five key strategies to consider when conducting year-end tax planning for your business in 2020.

The federal government has rolled out various financial assistance programs to help businesses during the COVID-19 crisis, including the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS), and Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA). Although it may feel overwhelming to navigate through all the new programs, it is important to make sure that your business is taking advantage of all available support programs to help you through these difficult times. We encourage you to read our Tax Alerts on these programs and contact a trusted BDO advisor, who has the expertise to assist with your claims.

From an income tax perspective, if your business participates in government relief programs, you should know that assistance received under the CEWS and CERS is taxable. Similarly, the forgivable portion of your CEBA loan also needs to be included in taxable income in the year the loan is received. Keeping these points in mind can help you manage your business's cash flow as you prepare to make final tax payments.

In addition, there is always the possibility that your claims may be audited by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)–in fact, post-payment audits of CEWS claims have already begun. As such, it is important to ensure documents supporting your claims are kept and readily available in the event they are requested by the CRA.

As 2020 has been anything but a typical year, it is not surprising that there are new reporting requirements that employers need to be aware of.

New T4 reporting requirements

The CRA has introduced a new reporting requirement on T4 slips that applies to all employers for 2020. This information will help the CRA validate payments under the CEWS, Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB). Employers should know that in addition to reporting all taxable employment income for the year in Box 14, employment income will also need to be reported for four separate pay periods, in four separate boxes on the T4.

The new reporting codes and corresponding qualifying periods under CEWS are as follows:

  • Code 57: Employment income – March 15 to May 9 (qualifying periods 1 and 2 of CEWS)
  • Code 58: Employment income – May 10 to July 4 (qualifying periods 3 and 4 of CEWS)
  • Code 59: Employment income – July 5 to August 29 (qualifying periods 5 and 6 of CEWS)
  • Code 60: Employment income – August 30 to September 26 (qualifying period 7 of CEWS)

As the eligibility criteria for the CEWS, CERB, and CESB are based on employment income for a defined period, these new requirements mean employers should report income and any retroactive payments made during these periods.

Bear in mind that these new T4 reporting requirements apply to all employers, even if your business did not make a CEWS claim.

10% Temporary Wage Subsidy and Form PD27

Earlier this year, the CRA released a new mandatory reporting form, “PD27, 10% Temporary Wage Subsidy Self-identification Form for Employers.”

All eligible employers who claimed the 10% Temporary Wage Subsidy (TWS) are required to complete the PD27. In addition, employers who qualified for both the TWS and CEWS but chose to apply only for the CEWS are also required to file this form with the CRA.

As benefits under the TWS program were claimed by a reduction in payroll withholding remittances, this form will be used by the CRA to reconcile the employer payroll program (RP) accounts. The CRA indicated that filing this form as soon as possible will ensure that the employer will not receive a discrepancy notice at the end of the year.

For more information on this new requirement, read our related Tax Alert, Employers Required to File New Form as Part of 10% Temporary Wage Subsidy Program.

Employee home office expense deductions–T2200 requirement

If your employees worked from home during the pandemic, they may be able to deduct home office expenses, provided they meet certain criteria. Normally, one such requirement is for the employer to provide Form T2200, Declaration of Conditions for Employment, to every employee.

To ease the administrative burden on employers during COVID-19, the CRA is expected to make an announcement on whether it will provide any administrative relief to employers on this matter. We will provide a Tax Alert to clarify the requirements when information becomes available, so that you can assist your employees with their claims.

As a private business owner, you likely know the value of revisiting your family business remuneration strategy at least annually. In determining the best mix of salaries and dividends for you and your family members, consider factors such as each individual's marginal tax rate and need for cash, as well as the corporation's tax rate and the benefits of deferral. For a summary of tax rates, refer to our Tax Facts 2020 publication.

Tax on split income rules

Since 2018, this process has become more complex due to the expansion of the tax on split income (TOSI) rules. These rules further restrict the use of a private corporation to split income with family members. They do this by applying a high rate of tax to certain types of income—in particular, dividends paid from private corporations. When these rules apply, they eliminate the benefit of income splitting. However, there are situations where you can still split income in a tax-efficient manner with family members. The TOSI rules are very complex. Therefore, it's important to work with your trusted BDO tax advisor to determine an optimal remuneration strategy.

Pay reasonable salaries to family members

Keep in mind that the TOSI rules don't apply to wages paid for actual work performed. If your spouse or children work for your business, consider paying them salaries for their work in 2020. You should always remember that salaries must be reasonable and commensurate with the services performed. A good rule of thumb is to pay them what you would have paid a third party and to maintain adequate documentation to support such payments.

Also, remember that payment of salaries and bonuses accrued in your 2020 fiscal year must be made within 179 days of your business's year end for the amounts to be deductible in the current fiscal year. For fiscal year ends between July 6, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020, a bonus for the 2020 fiscal year can be paid in 2021 (but within 179 days of the 2020 fiscal year end). This means that your business will get a deduction in the 2020 fiscal year, but your family members won't be taxed on it until 2021.

Withholdings on family salaries

Whenever you pay salaries to your spouse or children, ensure that withholdings for income tax, Canada/Quebec Pension Plan, employment insurance/Quebec Parental Insurance Rates (where an exemption is not available), and any applicable provincial payroll taxes are remitted as required.

Where the remuneration is paid in 2020, the remuneration and related withholdings must be reported on T4 slips for 2020, which are due on or before March 1, 2021 (since Feb. 28 falls on a Sunday). Note that the equivalent form to the T4 slip in Quebec is the RL-1 slip, which is due on or before Feb. 28, 2021. Quebec does not generally follow the same conventions for an extended due date when the deadline falls on a Sunday. However, the province may extend the deadline by making a special announcement close to the time of the statutory due date.

The small business deduction (SBD) reduces the corporate tax rate for qualifying businesses and therefore creates a greater deferral of tax than for business income taxed at the general corporate rate. As such, the SBD is one of the most common tax advantages available to Canadian-controlled private corporations (CCPCs).

The small business limit is currently $500,000 federally and in all provinces and territories except for Saskatchewan (where the limit it $600,000). In 2020, the combined corporate tax rate on income up to the small business limit is 14% or less in all jurisdictions—at least 12.5 percentage points lower than the general corporate tax rates, and as much as 19 percentage points lower in some jurisdictions. This allows for a significant tax deferral where active business income is retained in the company.

How passive investment income rules restrict small business deduction

The passive investment income rules limit access to the SBD, and apply to taxation years that begin after 2018. Specifically, CCPCs that earned investment income over a $50,000 threshold in the previous year are generally subject to a reduction in the amount of SBD that can be claimed for the current year.

Under the rules, the small business limit is reduced by $5 for every $1 of adjusted aggregate investment income (AAII) above the $50,000 threshold. Under this formula, the SBD will be eliminated when AAII reaches $150,000 in a given taxation year. Note that investment income is aggregated for all associated corporations for purposes of this threshold.

Generally, AAII includes investment income, such as interest, rent, royalties, portfolio dividends, dividends from foreign corporations that are not foreign affiliates, and taxable capital gains in excess of current-year allowable capital losses from the disposition of passive investments. Since AAII includes income net of expenses, it might make sense to consider the related expenses that were incurred to earn investment income. For example, interest expense, investment counsel fees, and a salary paid to the owner-manager incurred to earn investment income could reduce AAII, as long as the amounts are reasonable.

Ways to preserve access to the small business deduction

Because the SBD restriction is based on AAII earned in the previous year, annual planning may make sense in situations where the amount of AAII changes from year to year so that the following year's SBD can be managed. There are strategies to reduce investment income within your corporation while retaining investment funds within the company (as withdrawing the funds from the company will be taxable to you). Keep in mind that any such action to reduce investment income must make sense from an overall investment perspective and not just with a view to tax minimization.

Adjust your investment mix

For example, you could adjust the investment portfolio in your company to be more tax-efficient. One way to achieve this might be to hold more equity investments within your corporation rather than fixed income investments. This would be helpful because only 50% of the gains realized on the sale of shares would be taxable, whereas investment income earned on bonds is fully taxable. This means that only 50% of the gain on the sale of equities is included in AAII compared to 100% of the income earned on fixed income investments.

Invest in exempt life insurance policy

As an alternative, you could also consider investing excess funds in an exempt life insurance policy, because investment income earned within an exempt life insurance policy is not included in AAII. To learn more, read our article, Tax Q&A: Using Corporate-Owned Life Insurance to Accumulate Wealth.

Set up individual pension plan

Finally, you may also consider setting up an individual pension plan (IPP). The passive investment rules don't apply to these plans, which makes them an attractive retirement savings option for business owners.

An IPP is a defined benefit pension plan available to owners of incorporated businesses. Under an IPP, the benefits are set by reference to your salary, and contributions are made to build sufficient capital to fund a defined pension benefit. The contributions made by your company are tax deductible, and the investments inside the plan grow on a tax-deferred basis.

For eligible individuals, the use of an IPP can allow for greater contributions (which generally grow with age) when compared to a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP). Over time, the use of an IPP can produce substantial tax advantages over an RRSP. Additional benefits of an IPP may include the ability to make up for poor investment performance and higher retirement benefits.

Purchase depreciable assets before year end

If you're planning to purchase depreciable assets for use in your business in the near future, you should consider doing so before the end of your fiscal year. If such assets are acquired and in use before your fiscal year end, you can claim tax depreciation, or capital cost allowance (CCA), to reduce your business's income in this fiscal year. Bear in mind that title to the asset must be acquired and the asset must be available for use in the current fiscal year in order to claim CCA this year.

Accelerated investment incentive property rules

The tax benefit of making depreciable asset purchases before year end is magnified with the accelerated investment incentive property (AIIP) rules. For eligible property acquired after November 20, 2018 and available for use before 2028, the AIIP rules provide for enhanced first-year CCA, with the highest rate of CCA available to property that is available for use before 2024.

For 2020, eligible manufacturing and processing machinery and equipment, as well as clean-energy equipment, can be fully written off in the first year under these rules. Other classes of eligible depreciable property can benefit from an enhanced first-year CCA claim equal to three times the first-year CCA that could be claimed prior to the introduction of the AIIP rules.

Zero-emission vehicles

Purchases of certain zero-emission vehicles on or after March 19, 2019 that become available for use before 2028 are also eligible for enhanced first-year CCA.

Generally, these vehicles must be new vehicles that are fully electric, fully powered by hydrogen, fully powered by a combination of electricity and hydrogen, or plug-in hybrids with a battery capacity of at least 7 kWh. For eligible vehicles that are available for use before 2024, the new rules allow for full write-off in the year of acquisition.

Note that there will be a limit of $55,000 (plus sales taxes) on the amount of CCA deductible in respect of each zero-emission passenger vehicle. Keep in mind, however, that if you took advantage of the federal point-of-sale incentive for zero-emission vehicles administered by Transport Canada, your new vehicle would not be eligible for full CCA write-off.

In addition, earlier this year, the government expanded on these rules so that certain off-road zero-emission vehicles and equipment that were previously excluded can now benefit from the enhanced first-year CCA. These off-road vehicles and equipment must generally be automotive (i.e., self-propelled), fully electric or powered by hydrogen, acquired on or after March 2, 2020 and become available for use before 2028. For eligible off-road vehicles and equipment that are available for use before 2024, the new rules provide for full write-off in the first year.

Accelerating the purchase of capital assets before the end of your fiscal year and claiming the enhanced first-year CCA on eligible property will allow for faster tax write-off of these investments, provided that the assets will also be available for use prior to your fiscal year end.

Delay the sale of assets with accrued gains until after year end

If you plan to sell capital assets with accrued gains, you should consider delaying the sale until 2021 (or the start of your business's next fiscal year). This will allow your business to claim one additional year of CCA and will also postpone the inclusion of any recaptured CCA and capital gains in taxable income by one year. Note that this planning applies to depreciable property, real property that is capital property, and investments.


If you think that you could benefit from any of these strategies, contact your local BDO office today. A trusted BDO advisor would be happy to assist you with your business's year-end planning.

Dave Walsh, Tax Service Line Leader
Bruce Sprague, Western Canada Tax Leader
Greg London, Eastern Canada Tax Leader
Peter Routly, Southern Ontario Tax Leader
Rachel Gervais, GTA Tax Leader

The information in this publication is current as of December 15, 2020.

This publication has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The publication cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information in this publication or for any decision based on it.

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