Money & Career

Ask Bruce: Will his late tax filings hurt me?

What happens if your spouse hasn't filed his income tax return in years? Personal-finance pro Bruce Sellery has the answers.

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Bruce Sellery

My partner hasn’t filed his income tax for several years. Next year, I will have to declare him as my common-law spouse. He doesn’t owe any money, but I want to know how it will affect me personally if he isn’t up to date with his filings. – T.V., Vancouver

Dear T.V.,

As a common-law couple, you are “married” in many ways. But unless you went retro and added “obey” to your vows, you can’t make your spouse file his taxes, even though it is for his own good. In this case, however, your partner’s failure to file his returns can affect you too.

When you file your own taxes, you will need to report his name, social insurance number and net income. If your partner’s income is very low ($11,038 for the 2013 tax year), you may be able to claim the spousal credit on line 303 of your return. “If you claim that credit, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) will eventually want to verify that spouse’s income,” says Rosa Maria Iuliano, a partner at Collins Barrow in Ottawa. “If your partner doesn’t file, they may reject your deduction.” What’s more, if you are receiving benefits based on family income, like the Canada Child Tax Benefit, the CRA may not pay you until your tax filings are up to date. You may also miss out on tax savings like GST credits or property tax benefits. Medical expenses are usually claimed by the lower-income spouse, and donations are usually claimed by the higher-income spouse. If one spouse doesn’t file, you can’t take advantage of these opportunities, and you could be paying more tax than you need to.

But the big risk to you personally is getting reassessed. Say your spouse finally gets around to filing because he’s expecting a refund, and it turns out he owes money. If this happens, you may be reassessed because you filed on the basis of numbers that turned out to be wrong. You may then be forced to repay the tax refund or credits claimed, plus interest, which is not deductible, explains Iuliano. I think you need to ask your partner again that he file, for your sake.

Bruce Sellery is a personal-finance expert and author of the bestselling book The Moolala Guide to Rockin’ Your RRSP. He’s a columnist for MoneySense magazine and a regular guest on Cityline and the Lang & O’Leary Exchange. His website is moolala.ca.

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