There’s a reason most farms pay accountants to provide tax planning advice. Taxes are complicated. Add multiple pages of new information, unclear definitions, ‘tax cheat’ accusations, some emotional rhetoric, and it’s a challenge, even for accountants, to assess what Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s proposed tax changes could mean for an individual farm business.

We’re going to try to cut through the politics and noise in a podcast series looking at the three main areas the Liberals are trying to change when it comes to taxing businesses that operate as private corporations (and partnerships, in some cases): income splitting, passive income, and restrictions on capital gains.

“We’re going to see a lot of family farm businesses pay more tax under the new rules than they did before,” states Jesse Moore, senior manager, tax, with BDO, leading off part one.

“I don’t really have anything good to say about these changes. At the end of the day, I think this is just going to have a negative impact.”

Income splitting or sprinkling is the practice of sharing income within a family so the family as a whole pays less tax. To prevent having business owners ‘sprinkle’ income to family members who aren’t involved in the business, the federal proposal would introduce a ‘reasonability test’ on dividends paid and capital gains realized by family members. Income beyond this ‘reasonable’ return would be taxed at the highest rate for the province.

How much compensation is allowed without triggering the higher tax rate will be based on labour and capital contributions, risks family members have assumed, and previous remuneration, notes Moore. Family members under the age of 25 will face tighter restrictions.

“The way I read the legislation is they’ll have to demonstrate they’re basically working in the business on a full-time basis,” he says.

By making it more difficult to split income with off-farm family members, there’s uncertainty about how a non-active family member who has built equity in the business will be able to extract that value and how retiring farmers will transfer estate wealth to children who aren’t active in the family business.

Adding more uncertainty — the definition of “reasonable.” “It’s going to mean something different to the farming business, to the tax advisor, and my biggest concern — how’s CRA going to view what’s reasonable?” notes Moore.

“I think we’re going to have a lot of issues with CRA. There’s so much uncertainty there. I can see a lot of our clients battling this out with CRA, possibly having to go to tax court. And I can see a lot of family businesses having to rearrange their structures based on the current proposal.”

Moore also points out the changes to income splitting apply to partnerships in addition to incorporated businesses.

Stay tuned for part two, where we’ll take a look at the proposed changes to how passive income held within a private corporation is taxed.

One thought on “Tax change answers — Part 1: Income splitting

  1. Mr Morneau should be charged with theft. As a private business owner I have no pension , can’t afford Heath benefits or able to enjoy Unemployment insurance . My family and I work countless hours making our business a success and go without to grow and reinvest in our structure , which often isn’t to increase wealth, it’s just to upgrade to continue on, not become wealthier! As an agricultural producer we cannot pass on these extra costs! You already have hurt my ability to do business with the recent bank rate increase. You IMPOSE carbon tax (cause tax will always eliminate carbon)and now you’re stealing dollars from my retirement plan and making transition of a business to our children (who have worked just as hard and done without many necessities) impossible. FYI we never take vacations or sick leave! Leave CRA rules as they are ! Instead curb your spending and freebies . You have a leader that does nothing to attract investors (has never lived on $20 bucks for three wks-wondering how to buy groceries)and these new rules will only deter small business and entrepreneurs from investing and help grow this country . Small business owners employ people . These new rules will kill rural Canada . I see that’s what your mandate must be letting huge rich multi nationals continue to grow at our expense. You claim to tax the rich in reality your stealing from the common middle class working person whom in lots of situations live below the poverty line!

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