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Hey, forget to do your taxes?

It’s not too late to get that sweet, sweet refund

Hey, forget to do your taxes?

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The tax deadline was April 30. Y’all get your taxes in?

Listen, I get it. Researching tax credits, rounding up receipts, and figuring out your T4 situation when you get paid by an app is never going to be high on your weekend to-do list. Factor in a deadline that hits right in the middle of exams (and prime early patio season), and before you know it, you’ve got a drawer crammed full of papers that you never open and a nagging feeling that the feds will break down your door any minute.

Jane Okun is a 26-year-old retail worker in Etobicoke who went six years without filing a return. “I avoided it because honestly, I didn’t think they were that important, and I seemed to always have something or other going on that took priority,” explains Jane. “I never learned about taxes in school, and my parents didn’t provide much education on them either. Mix in sporadic family deaths, work and school commitments, and my father and uncle both having terminal cancer, you have the perfect recipe for disaster.” Once Jane decided to go back to school, and realized she needed her tax information for her student loan application, she knew it was time to bite the bullet.

A two-step action primer, for all the Janes of the world:

#1 Why you should bother

Besides the government consequences, “a big reason to do your taxes is that it prevents stress,” explained Grant T. Smith, a Vancouver-based CPA with Clearline Certified Professional Accountants. “When I was 25, I missed two years. At one point, I was actually in a garnished position by the government. All of that was just silliness, because I didn’t owe any money. Plus, taxes work to make sure that our country keeps running.”

If you know the government owes you a refund, filing your taxes after the official deadline won’t cause you major problems. But, they also won’t go out of their way to pay you what you deserve: the only way to get your money is to ask for it. Doing your taxes will also kickstart all the benefits you might be eligible to, like receiving GST/HST reimbursement cheques throughout the year.

How about fear for a motivator? If you owe the government money, starting May 1 they’ll charge you an immediate penalty for missing the tax deadline and you’ll be racking up daily compound interest on the unpaid amount. The penalties start at five percent of the amount you owe, plus one percent of the balance owing for each full month that the return is late. Next, you’ll get a barrage of reminder letters and phone calls from the Canada Revenue Agency. And if you still don’t cough up, they can freeze your bank account, garnish your wages, and put a lien on your house. If you want to keep all your fingers, you’re going to have to move on this.

#2 What to do

First off, the easy one: if the government owes you money, you can get this sorted out pretty quickly. Learn the lingo, call the CRA to get all the documents you need, and depending on how much energy you want to put into all this, DIY your return or go see a professional. “I often wonder why people want to do taxes themselves,” says Smith. “People don’t want to fix their own cars. Using someone else is the easiest way to avoid the stress. Granted, you do spend a little money”

Now the tricky one: if you owe money, call the CRA immediately. Through something called the “Voluntary Disclosures Program,” the CRA allows people like you the chance to pay just the tax without any penalties. Sometimes even your interest can be forgiven if you fess up early enough.

Worried that you won’t be able to afford your taxes once you admit to them? Clares Esteves, a Brazilian citizen living in Toronto as a permanent resident, knows this feeling firsthand. “I filed my taxes one year to find that I owed the government over $2K. There’s no way I could have afforded paying it, so I just stopped filing.” In cases like this, the CRA can set you up on a payment plan where they stretch out your payments over a year, though you will still be charged interest until they receive the full payment.

Once Clara realized that she’d need to get her taxes together in order to travel outside the country, she gave it a try. “I called the CRA, they were fairly nice to me considering everything,” said Clara. “They sent me all the little papers from previous jobs, even jobs I didn’t remember I had. But it’s skateboarding season, so I think I won’t tackle this until next year now.”

Baby steps, I suppose.

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