Some last-minute tax filing strategies – what to claim and what to defer

April 4, 2022by Akmin

Most Canadians don’t turn their attention to their taxes until sometime around the end of March or the beginning of April, in time to complete the return for 2021 ahead of the May 2, 2022 filing deadline.

While that approach leaves plenty of time to get the return prepared and filed, it also means that the most significant opportunities to reduce or minimize the tax bill for 2021 are no longer available. Almost all such tax planning or saving strategies, in order to be effective for 2021, must have been implemented by the end of that calendar year.

The fact that the clock has run out on most major tax planning opportunities for 2021 doesn’t, however, mean that there are no tax-saving strategies left. At this point, there are a couple of ways to minimize the tax hit for 2021 – by claiming all available deductions and credits on the return and also by making sure that those deductions and credits are structured and claimed in the way which will give the taxpayer the greatest tax benefit.

In some cases, a claim for a tax deduction or credit can only be made on the return for the year in which the expense is incurred, while in other cases claims can be made for expenses incurred in the previous tax year or even as far back as five years previously. Consequently, getting the best tax result on one’s return requires an assessment of which deductions and credits are available to claim in the current year, whether some or all of them can be carried forward and claimed in a future year, and whether it makes sense to do so. It may seem counterintuitive, or even illogical, to not claim every available deduction and credit in order to obtain the best possible tax result for the year. However, in some cases (albeit for different reasons) there are situations in which it makes sense to defer an available claim to a future year, or to transfer the claim to another family member.

Political contribution tax credit

The federal government provides a non-refundable tax credit for contributions made to registered political parties and to candidates in federal elections. As a federal election was held in 2021, many Canadians may have made contributions which are eligible for that political contribution tax credit.

The restriction, however, is that a claim for that political contribution tax credit can only be made on the return for the year in which the contribution was made. Consequently, taxpayers who made qualifying contributions in 2021 must claim the credit for those contributions on the return for 2021: if that is not done, no credit can be claimed for that contribution on any future return. There is some flexibility, however, in that where one spouse has made a contribution which qualifies for the federal political contribution tax credit, that contribution, and the resulting credit, can be claimed instead by the taxpayer’s spouse on his or her tax return for that year.

Charitable donations

Taxpayers are entitled to make a claim on the annual tax return for charitable donations made in the current (2021) year or any of the previous five years. The reason it can sometimes makes sense not to claim a charitable donation in the year it was made arises from the way in which the charitable donations tax credit is structured to encourage higher donations.

That credit, at both the federal and provincial/territorial levels, is a two-tier credit. Federally, the first $200 in donations receives a credit of 15% of the total donation, or $30. However, donations above the $200 level receive a credit equal to 29% of the donation amount over $200.

Take, for example, a taxpayer who makes a regular contribution to a favourite charity of $100 each month, or $1,200 per year. Where he or she claims that donation on the annual return each year, that claim will result in a federal credit of $320 ($200 times 15%, plus $1,000 times 29%). Where, however, the same taxpayer defers the claim to the following year and claims a total of $2,400 in donations on a single return, he or she will receive a federal credit of $668. ($200 times 15%, plus $2,200 times 29%). Where the donations are accumulated and claimed once every five years, the federal credit received will be $1,712 ($200 times 15%, plus $5,800 times 29%). Under each scenario, the total charitable donation made is the same, but the amount of credit received increases with each year that the claim is deferred. Since each of the provinces and territories provides a two-tier credit (at different rates, depending on the jurisdiction), the same result will be seen when calculating the provincial/territorial credit.

It’s important to note as well that charitable donations made by either spouse can be combined and claimed on the return for one of those spouses, thereby increasing the amount of charitable donations available to claim and possibly the amount of credit which can be received.

Medical expenses

Notwithstanding our publicly funded health care system, there are a great (and increasing) number of medical and para-medical expenses for which coverage is not provided and which must be paid on an out-of-pocket basis. In many instances, it’s possible to claim a medical expense tax credit for those out-of-pocket costs.

The federal credit for such expenses is 15% of allowable expenses. As is usually the case, the provinces and territories also provide a credit for the same expenses, albeit at different rates.

Many taxpayers, with some justification, find the rules on the calculation of a medical expense tax credit claim confusing. First, there is an income threshold imposed. Medical expenses eligible for the credit are qualifying expenses which exceed 3% of net income, or (for 2021) $2,421, whichever is less. Put more practically, for 2021 taxpayers who have net income of $80,700 or more can claim medical expenses incurred over $2,421. Those with lower incomes can claim medical expenses which exceed 3% of that lower net income. For instance, a taxpayer having $35,000 in net income could claim qualifying medical expenses incurred over $1,050 (3% of $35,000).

The other aspect of the medical expense tax credit which can be confusing is the calculation of the optimal time period. Unlike most credit claims, the medical expense tax credit can be claimed for qualifying expenses which were paid in any 12-month period ending during the tax year. While confusing, this rule is beneficial, in that it allows taxpayers to select the particular 12-month period during which medical expenses (and therefore the resulting credit claim) is highest. The only restrictions are that the selected 12-month period must end during the calendar year for which the return is being filed and, of course, any expenses which were claimed on a previous return cannot be claimed again.

While only expenses which exceed the $2,421/3% threshold may be claimed, it’s also possible to aggregate expenses incurred within a family and make a single claim for those expenses on the return of one spouse. Specifically, the rules allow families to aggregate medical expenses incurred for each spouse and for all children born in 2004 or later. While medical expenses incurred by a single family member might not be enough to allow him or her to make a claim, aggregating those expenses is very likely (especially for a family that does not have private medical insurance coverage) to mean that total expenses will exceed the applicable threshold.

In determining who will make the medical tax credit claim for a family, there are two points to remember. Since total medical expenses claimable are those which exceed the 3% of net income/$2,421 threshold, whichever is less, the greatest benefit will be obtained if the spouse with the lower net income makes the claim for total family medical expenses. However, the medical expense credit is a non-refundable one, meaning that it can reduce tax otherwise payable, but cannot create (or increase) a refund. Therefore, it’s necessary that the spouse making the claim have tax payable for the year of at least as much as the credit to be obtained, in order to make full use of that credit.

Finally, there are a huge number and variety of medical expenses which individuals and families may incur, and the rules governing which can be claimed and in what circumstances, are very specific. In some cases, for instance, a doctor’s prescription will be required, while in others it will not. The very long list of medical expenses eligible for the credit, and any ancillary requirements, such as a prescription, can be found on the Canada Revenue Agency website at

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.