Guide To Tax Credits: How To Get A Bigger Tax Refund

It’s pretty hard to argue against trying to get the biggest tax refund possible. And after the year we’ve had, don’t we all want every last bit of refund we can possibly get?

As it turns out, it’s pretty simple to maximize your return. What you do with your tax refund is a whole other conversation — paying down debt or putting it into savings are commonly recommended actions. It mostly comes down to knowing the difference between tax credits and tax deductions. After that, it’s knowing which ones apply to you.

Guide to tax credits How to get a bigger tax refund

How to maximize your tax return

Just grabbing your box of slips, logging onto your tax return program, and getting your tax filing out of the way is easy. As a result, you could be leaving a wide variety of tax credits and tax deductions on the table that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has available to Canadians.

A quick word to the wise: the Canadian government does frequently make updates to these credits and deductions. By starting your taxes early, you’ll have enough time to thoroughly review any changes that might’ve been made.

Related Reading: Types of Tax Returns in Canada

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are a type of benefit that you apply for when compiling your taxes. The more credits that apply to you, the less you end up owing. More specifically, tax credits apply to your tax balance. In addition, you must meet certain criteria to be eligible for tax credits.

Both the federal and provincial governments have credits available, which we’ll look at further below. Taxes reduced by credits are calculated based on the lowest tax bracket (15%), regardless of your own bracket. As a result, many of these credits are designed to offer the most direct assistance to low-and-moderate-income Canadians. Another great thing about tax credits — especially the provincial and territorial ones — is that eligibility is often quite broad or straightforward.

Going further, tax credits can be further divided into refundable and non-refundable categories.

Refundable tax credits

Examples of refundable tax credits include the GST/HST (Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax) credit and the Canada Workers Benefit. This type of credit reduces or cancels your taxes payable. If you claim any of these credits, they can be paid to you even if you have no income tax payable. In other words, they can generate a tax return.

Non-refundable tax credits

Examples of non-refundable credits include the basic personal amount, charitable donations, and the First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit. Like the refundable credits, they help you reduce taxes payable, but won’t provide a tax refund if their total exceeds the amount you owe.

Related Reading: Tax Free First Home Savings Account

What are tax deductions?

Tax deductions reduce your overall taxable income before tax payable is calculated. They come into play after you’ve calculated your Total Income on line 15000 of your tax return. The most commonly cited example is the RRSP deduction: the more you contribute, the more your taxable income reduces.

Tax credits vs tax deductions

While both credits and deductions work toward giving you a bigger tax refund or smaller tax payable, there is a key distinction. Tax deductions reduce taxable income. This step comes before you calculate tax payable and apply tax credits. Whereas tax credits reduce your tax payable amount after your tax balance is calculated. The main difference is the timing of when each comes into play when calculating taxes.

Related Reading: Tax Credit vs Tax Deduction in Canada

What tax deductions and credits can you use?

There are tons of tax deductions and credits available to Canadians; too many to list in one article! Many of the deductions and credits are relatively common — think tuition credits or self-employment expenses. Others might be easy to overlook, like charity donations or even medical expenses. With these, people often end up just saying “it’s not worth it” and move on.

But just think, if you invest a bit of time to learn about the deductions and credits available, you’ll end up carrying that knowledge over year after year. Take the First-Time Home Buyers’ credit for example. Maybe you’re not close to buying your first home right now, but knowing the credit exists will help you both plan for your future and take action when the time comes. By educating yourself a little each tax season, you can manage your finances in a tax-efficient manner.

To make the process even easier, tax software will typically flag credits or deductions based on the information you provide. For example, province-specific tax credits. One of the biggest pieces of advice we can offer? Keep your receipts/slips/proof-of-payment! It doesn’t matter if you keep them in an accordion folder, organized in a shoebox, or in a folder on your computer. Hang on to them, keep them organized, and you’ll have fewer headaches come tax season. (And, sorry to say, you should hang on to your financial records for at least four years in case the CRA decides to review your returns.)

Related Reading: Is CPP Taxable Income?

Common Tax Credits

Let’s explore some of the most common tax credits and deductions available to Canadians.

Basic Personal Amount

All taxpayers are able to claim this basic non-refundable credit. Adjusted annually for inflation, the amount for the 2023 tax year will be $15,000. In 2022, the basic personal amount was $14,398. Each province and territory also set a personal amount for their taxes. The basic personal amount allows Canadians to earn a chunk of income tax-free. This is meant to protect individuals below the poverty line, but all Canadians are eligible as long as they earned income.

Age Amount

This tax credit is available to individuals aged 65 or older. The amount is $8,396 for 2023 and is subject to the 15% tax rate.

Disability Tax Credit (DTC)

The costs associated with disability are unavoidable expenses. This non-refundable tax credit is about greater tax equity. The Disability Tax Credit helps those with disabilities or their supporting persons reduce their taxes payable.

To be eligible for the DTC, a medical practitioner needs to fill out Form T2201, Disability Tax Credit Certificate, and have it approved by the CRA. It should be noted that approval for the DTC can open doors to additional credits and deductions — for example, the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP). Once the CRA gives their sign-off, you may be able to claim $9,428 (head to line 31600 of your tax return), plus an additional supplement of up to $5,500 for those under 18 years old.

More on the DTC, including a link to Form T2201, can be found here. You can also find a very comprehensive guide to the DTC at Disability Credit Canada.

Medical Expenses

The Canadian government has a fairly extensive list of qualifying medical expenses you can claim on your return as non-refundable tax credits. Common examples include ambulance services, CPAP machines, IVF programs, medical cannabis, and prescription insulin. Keep in mind that most of the expenses on this list require a prescription.

Of course, the most important thing to remember is to keep all of your receipts, prescriptions, and other supporting documentation.

Canada Caregiver Credit (CCC)

This non-refundable tax credit is for those who support a spouse or common-law partner, or a dependent with a physical or mental impairment. The amount you can claim, however, is tied to your relationship:

  • If you’re supporting your spouse or common-law partner, you might be able to claim up to $2,499 per person. You may be able to claim an additional $7,999.
  • Supporting eligible dependents 18 years of age or older, takes that amount to $2,499. You may be able to claim an additional $7,999.
  • For dependents under 18, the amount is up to $2,499 per person. You may be able to claim an additional $7,999.

For more details, head to the CRA.

Adoption expenses

Fees paid to a licensed adoption agency, court and administrative costs, travel expenses, and mandatory immigration expenses are all eligible expenses for a non-refundable tax credit when adopting a child under 18. (More expenses listed here)

The maximum claim for each child is $18,210. What’s important to flag here is the adoption period. According to the CRA, you need to claim these expenses in the tax year that includes the end of the adoption period.

For more details, head to the CRA.

Tuition Tax Credit

College or university is getting more expensive by the year. While pursuing education comes with related expenses like transportation, housing, and textbooks, the biggest one is tuition. Luckily, the Canadian government has this non-refundable tax credit to help offset the costs.

To claim this credit, students must be over 16 and enrolled in post-secondary level courses at a Designated Educational Institution. Trade schools can also qualify. If the student is attending a school outside of Canada, they need to have been studying full-time for at least three weeks. If a student’s employer or their parent’s employer covers or reimburses costs, then tuition can only be claimed if the employer includes the amount in their earnings. To claim this credit, you’ll need a T2202 – Education & Textbook Amounts Certificate, issued by the school

Given that this credit is non-refundable, it can help reduce or eliminate taxes owing but won’t generate a refund. As a result, any leftover amounts can be transferred to a parent, grandparent, spouse, or common-law partner.

Related Reading: How to Make Money in Canada as a Student

Canada Training Credit (CTC)

Upskilling is a big part of today’s fast-moving, ever-changing economy. As part of the broader (and still rolling-out) Canada Training Benefit, the CTC gives eligible workers 25-64 years old a credit of $250 per year, up to a lifetime limit of $5,000. The credit could be used to refund up to half the costs of a course or training program.

In tandem with the CTC, the benefit also includes the EI Training Support Benefit (for income support during training) and leave provisions.

Digital News Subscription Tax Credit

Let’s face facts: The last few years have been for the history books. You probably listened, watched, or read more news than ever. Basically, high-quality Canadian journalism is more important than ever.

This new non-refundable tax credit allows you to claim up to $500 for digital news subscription expenses to a qualified Canadian journalism organization (QCJO). These organizations must not be licensed to broadcast, and content needs to be primarily original news. If you’re claiming the same qualifying subscription expenses with someone, you can split the claim but the total amount of both can’t exceed $500.

First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit (HBTC)

Buy your first home? First off, congratulations! Now, make sure you apply for the HBTC — introduced in 2009, and designed to reimburse closing costs like legal expenses, inspections, and land transfer taxes.

The HBTC — also called The Home Buyers’ Amount — is a non-refundable tax credit. You can claim up to $10,000 on your taxes.

To qualify, per the CRA, both of these need to apply:

  • you or your spouse or common-law partner acquired a qualifying home.
  • you did not live in another home owned by you or your spouse or common-law partner in the year of the acquisition or in any of the four preceding years.

Not yet a homeowner but want to be in the future? Check out our article on the financial considerations of buying a home in Canada.

Related Reading: Types of Investment Accounts in Canada

Province and Territory Specific Credits

Here’s some province or territory specific tax credits that may be available to you. To learn more about tax credits available in your province or territory, reach out to your local government.

Ontario Energy and Property Tax Credit

This tax-free payment is part of the Ontario Trillium Benefit, designed to help low-to-moderate-income Ontarians pay for energy costs, plus sales and property tax. The other two parts of this benefit are the Northern Ontario Energy Credit (because of higher home energy costs in the region) and the Ontario Sales Tax Credit. To receive the Trillium Benefit, you need to be eligible for at least one of the three.

For the Energy and Property Tax Credit specifically (for the 2022 benefit year) you must be an Ontario resident on December 31, plus one of the following at some point before June 1, 2023:

  • 18 or older
  • currently or previously married or in a common-law relationship,
  • a parent who lives or previously lived with your child

In addition, you need to have:

  • rented or paid property tax for your main residence
  • lived on a reserve and paid for your home energy costs, or
  • lived in a public long-term care home and paid an amount for your accommodation

Learn more about the Ontario Trillium Benefit.

Quebec Solidarity Tax Credit

The refundable Quebec Solidarity credit is geared towards low- and middle-income families, like many of the provincial tax credits. Eligible recipients are those who, on December 31, are residents of Quebec and:

  • Were 18 or older or, if younger than 18:
    • had a spouse; 
    • were the mother or father of a child they lived with, or 
    • were a court-recognized emancipated minor

In addition, the recipient or their spouse must be:

  • A Canadian citizen; 
  • A permanent resident or a protected person under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act; or
  • A temporary resident or have a temporary resident permit under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and living in Canada for the last 18 months.

BC Climate Action Tax Credit

This non-taxable credit helps offset the impact of the carbon taxes paid by individuals or families. It’s combined with the GST/HST credit into one quarterly payment. Only one person can receive this credit on behalf of a family. Eligible recipients are BC residents who are:

  • 19 years-old or older
  • Have a spouse or common-law partner, or
  • Are a parent who resides with your child.

Alberta Child and Family Benefit (ACFB)

This benefit actually consolidates the former Alberta Child Benefit (ACB) and the Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit (AFETC). Eligible recipients need to:

  • Be a parent of one or more children under 18
  • Be an Alberta resident
  • Meet the income criteria

When you file your tax return and qualify for the Canada Child Benefit under the federal government, your application is automatically considered. The amount of the tax credit is based on the family income level and how many children under 18 are part of the family. 

More information on taxes and credits for each province and territory can be found via the CRA.

Common tax deductions

Here’s some common tax deductions available to Canadians.

Charity donations

We’re quite generous, us Canadians. We donated $17 billion to charity in 2019. The pandemic, however, has meant that fewer Canadians were able to give. At the same time, there were plenty of requests for donations in 2021 — largely because of the resulting economic crisis.

Cash, goods, land, and even listed securities donated to a registered charity are all eligible for this tax credit. What’s not included? Volunteer hours, payment for a lottery ticket (eg. home lotteries), event admission, and more. The exact tax credit amount varies, based on how much you donated during the tax year and your province. Broadly speaking, though, you can claim all or part of the eligible amount (in most cases shown on your receipt), up to the limit of 75% of your net income. According to CanadaHelps, you can receive as much as 49% of your donation back.

Donations are a great way to grab easy extra tax credits. Most donations are made online these days, so a folder in your email would be the best way to stay organized. Make your contribution, get your receipt, file it away — 1, 2, 3!

Work from home

Are you one of the thousands of Canadians who have made their pandemic-related work-from-home arrangement permanent? Thanks to the pandemic, this tax deduction is still under a big spotlight. Although, the CRA eliminated the temporary flat rate method for the 2023 year which was originally introduced in 2020. For your 2023 taxes, everyone who worked from home much use the detailed method.

The original deduction available from before the pandemic is called the detailed method which is the only credit available this year. Taxpayers using this method can deduct the actual amount spent and does not have a maximum like the temporary flat rate method. However, more documentation is required, including obtaining a signed T777 from your employer. Despite the extra work, you might obtain a larger tax deduction under this method.

Unlike other credits or deductions where claims can be split, more than one eligible person working from the same home can each make a claim.

Learn more about home office deductions.

RRSP contributions

This is one of the most popular tax deductions. Canadians can contribute up to 18% of their net income each year to their RRSP, up to the maximum limit designated for the tax year. And, in short, every dollar contributed is deducted from your taxable income. Make this deduction on line 20800 of your tax return.

For a detailed look at RRSPs, our blog features a whole section covering the most common questions and topics.

Child care expenses

Kids. Are. Expensive.

Daycare, summer camp, overnight boarding school, nannies — childcare costs add up! Luckily, the CRA allows working parents to claim child care costs to reduce taxable income. Note that there are specific situations that dictate whether the lower or higher-income parent can claim childcare expenses.

Related Reading: How to Save Money on Childcare

Disability supports

For those with an impairment in physical or mental functions, supports such as Braille note-taking devices, page-turner devices, and reading services are incredibly important. Anyone who relies on these for work or school can deduct related expenses from their taxes. The CRA has the full list of eligible expenses and specific details.

Self-employment expenses

Working for yourself is essentially like operating a business. For this reason, the CRA allows you to deduct expenses incurred to earn self-employment income. Some of the most common expenses are:

  • Operating expenses (business rental space, office supplies, payroll, etc)
  • A home office, calculated by dividing the total square footage of your apartment or home by the square footage of your office space
  • Meals and entertainment, but only 50% of the total cost
  • Travel, such as speaking at a conference or picking up inventory
  • Websites and software (hosting services, payroll software, etc)

In plain terms, any cost you incur to earn employment income is deductible. As with all tax credits and deductions, making sure you keep receipts/documentation/invoices related to your self-employment expenses is critical.

Related Reading: How To File Self-Employed Taxes In Canada

Union dues

Part of a union or even a professional association? Related fees can help reduce your taxable income. Some examples include trade union membership fees, legally required professional board dues, and insurance premiums (eg. malpractice liability) related to your profession. According to the CRA, initiation fees, licenses, special assessments, or charges for anything other than the organization’s ordinary operating costs are not included.

Find this amount in box 44 of your T4 slip, and enter it on line 21200 of your tax return.

Want a complete list of deductions, credits, and expenses Canadians can claim on their personal income taxes? Click here.

Read More: How Long Does it Take to Receive a Tax Refund in Canada?

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