What do therapy pets, gluten-free food, volunteer firefighting hours, and weed all have in common? They’re all things that you can write off at tax time.
If you’re like the majority of Canadians who file their income taxes, you’ll be getting a return, because the government owes you money. About two-thirds of filers get something back and the average refund is $1,702—that’s money that you’ve paid to the feds that actually belongs to you. (The deadline for filing this year is April 30, but you get more time if you, your spouse or common-law partner are self-employed—your deadline is June 15.)
There are some new things this year, like the carbon tax rebate in some provinces, and some confusion around what the federal legalization of recreational weed means at tax time (hint: you can write off medical cannabis the same way you could in years past—but not the stuff you vape for fun). Plus, there’s a bunch of deductibles and credits that you might not even be aware of. With all that in mind, here are some of the most interesting new things, or unusual items to think about when you file.
In the case of medical cannabis, you can write off fresh or dried cannabis, oils, seeds, and plants—as long as you have a prescription from an authorized medical practitioner and they were purchased from a licensed producer. Hang on to those receipts too, because the CRA recommends you keep them handy (regardless of whether they’re paper or digital) for at least six years in case you get audited.
You can only claim cannabis product, which doesn’t include other things like your bong, vaporizer, pipe, rolling papers, containers, capsules, etc. The maximum that you can claim or write off depends on your net income, which is your income after taxes. You can read about that formula here.
Writing off gluten-free food is complicated, and can only be done if you have a letter from a medical practitioner certifying that you have celiac disease. You also have to have all your receipts, which you summarize (but don’t need to hand in when you file although you should keep for a few years). The catch is that you can’t write off your total food costs, only the price difference between the gluten-free item and the regular item.
Suppose you buy a $5 loaf of gluten-free bread and a regular loaf costs $3—you can write off that $2 difference as a medical expense on your income tax return. Another thing: you can only claim your own food costs. So if your roommate, significant other or family member had any of that loaf, it doesn’t qualify for the deduction. It seems like a lot of work for little payoff.
Carbon tax rebate
A brand-new line item this year is the carbon tax rebate, which only applies to residents of Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Saskatchewan. How much you get back depends on where you live. A single person in Ontario will get $154 ($128 in New Brunswick, $170 in Manitoba, $305 in Saskatchewan). This money is supposed to make up for the fact that you’ll be paying more for polluting products things like gasoline, natural gas and propane because of the federal carbon tax which kicks in on April 1st.
Certain moving costs can be claimed. If you packed up and settled somewhere new to work, run a business, or study full-time then you’re eligible if that move brought you at least 40 kilometres closer to your new work, university or college.
There’s a list of things that are included like legal expenses, meals, getting a vehicle, breaking a lease, etc. There’s a lengthy list of stuff that’s not covered too, and some of them are pretty funny. You can’t write off the value of transporting things that your movers were too annoyed, or scared to take, like plants, frozen food, ammunition, paint and cleaning products. Also, if any moving costs that were covered by your employer aren’t eligible—you can’t double-dip.
If you have a severe chronic ailment or disease and a prescription to prove it, you can claim an air conditioner as a medical expense, for a maximum amount of $1,000 or half of what you paid for it (whichever is less).
Even though you might feel like your dog or cat is your best bud, a true therapy animal has to meet specific criteria to be tax deductible. The animal has to be specially trained to help someone who is blind, profoundly deaf, severely autistic or has diabetes or epilepsy that affects the use of their arms or legs. Also, the animal has to be provided by a person or a group that specializes in training therapy pets. The cost of the animal and its services aren’t the only things that are covered—food, care and even travel expenses can be claimed as a medical expense.
Volunteer firefighter hours
If you happen to be one of the 126,650 volunteer firefighters in Canada, you could be eligible for a $450 credit. You have to prove that you gave at least 200 hours of eligible service in 2018—as a member of a fire department or a government-recognized search and rescue group (Coast Guard, Civil Air Search, etc). Firefighters in Quebec and Nova Scotia can also claim a provincial credit, in addition to this federal credit, when they file with the province.
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