Students: What you need to know about taxes

Filing your first tax return might seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! We’re here to help. Here’s a few things you need to know about filing taxes in Canada.

How does the Canadian tax system work?

Canadians need to prepare and file their personal tax returns for the previous year (from January 1 to December 31) by April 30 of the current year. In other words, you need to prepare and file your taxes for January to December 2018, by April 30, 2019.

Your taxes include all your income for the year and your claims for tax credits and deductions, to find out if you owe taxes to the government or if you’re getting a refund for some or all the tax that was deducted from your income.

Note: If you lived in Québec on December 31, you’ll need to file a federal return (that goes to the CRA) and a Québec return (that goes to Revenu Québec). 

Do I need to file a return?

Yes! If you made any money during the year, if you want to claim any tax credits or deductions, or if you want to apply for government benefits, you need to file a return.   Here’s some more detail.

  • If you made or received any money during the year

    If you received any of the following income during the year, you will need to file a return:

    • Employment income (including occasional work such as babysitting, and part-time and full-time jobs)
    • Tips and gratuities
    • Some scholarships, bursaries, study grants, and fellowships
    • Registered education savings plan (RESP) payments
    • Interest from investments (bank accounts, term deposits, GICs, Canada Savings Bonds, etc.)
    • Income from Airbnb or Uber

    These examples aren’t the only sources of income you need to report, click here for a complete list.

    Be sure to collect all your information slips (such as a T4 and T4A). Some of these slips will come from your employer, some might come from your bank, and some might come from the government.  And remember - even if you didn’t get a slip for your income (such as tips received or income earned from Uber), you still need to report how much you made.

  • If you want to claim tax credits and deductions, or apply for government benefits

    You need to file a tax return if you want to:

    • claim tax credits and deductions (like your tuition fees or the interest paid on your student loan) to reduce any taxes you might have to pay on the money you earned during the year
    • apply for government benefits (like the GST/HST credit and Canada child benefit)
  • If you want to carry forward your unused credit amounts

    You need to file a tax return if you want to carry forward certain unused credit amounts (like your tuition tax credit) if you didn't need to claim all of the credit amount on your return this year.

Click here for a full list of scenarios in which you will need to file a return.

If I don’t have any income, should I file a return?

You totally should! You might be able to get money from the government if you’re eligible to claim certain refundable tax credits even if you didn’t make any money during the year. Additionally, even if you didn’t work this year, filing a tax return does two things – it lets the CRA/ Revenu Québec:

  • Calculate the federal and provincial benefit amounts you’re eligible for (such as the GST/HST credit)
  • Keep a record of certain credits (like the tuition tax credit and interest paid on a student loan) that you didn’t claim during the year (in part or whole) so that you can carry forward these unused amounts to a future year to lower your taxes for that year. This is a huge benefit – especially once you graduate and make more money – claiming your unused tuition amounts will help lower your taxes then.

Example: George is a full-time student in Alberta. He didn’t have any income in 2018 but paid $10,000 in tuition fees. Since he didn’t have any income in the year (and doesn’t need to pay any income tax), he won’t be able to claim a credit for the tuition fees on his 2018 return. However, when he files his 2018 return, the CRA will be able to keep a record of the $10,000 he paid in tuition but didn’t claim on his return. This is his unused tuition amount. George can carry forward his unused tuition amount and claim it in a future year to lower his taxes for that year.

Note: You’ll be able to see all your unused amounts on the notice of assessment (NOA) that will be issued by the government once your return has been reviewed. 

I am an international student – do I need to file a return?

If you received Canadian-source income (such as employment income from a Canadian employer) and/or are considered a resident, you’ll need to file a tax return. You can also claim your tuition-related tax credits and federal and provincial benefits such as the GST/HST credit.

What do I need to file my return?

Make sure you have these handy before you start your return:

  • Your social insurance number (SIN)
  • Information slips (such as a T4 for employment or T4A for RESP payments etc.)
  • A record of income earned for which you didn’t get a slip (including tips or investment income)
  • Tax certificate from your school (T2202A, TL11A, TL11B, or TL11C)
  • Examination or licensing fees receipts
  • Statement(s) of interest paid on your government student loan(s)
  • Receipts for moving expenses
  • Child care expense receipt(s)
  • Donation receipt(s)
  • Previous year notice of assessment or reassessment (if you filed a return last year) for your carry forward amounts and RRSP contribution room

What can I claim on my return?

There are a few credits that are unique to students. These include:

  • Tuition tax credit - If you received a tax certificate from your school (T2202A, TL11A, TL11B, or TL11C), you can claim the tuition tax credit on the eligible fees you paid. You can also claim any examination or professional licensing fees you paid. If you don’t need all your tax credit to reduce your taxes to zero, you can transfer it to your parents, spouse, or grandparents to reduce their taxes, OR carry it forward to use in a future year.

  • Interest paid on your student loans - You can claim the interest you paid on your government student loans (such as the OSAP) to lower your income tax payable. If you don’t need to claim all your student loan interest amount to reduce your taxes, any unused amounts can be carried forward for 5 years.

  • Province-specific credits and deductions – All provinces have a corresponding provincial tuition tax credit that you can claim. However, some provinces have an additional education and/or textbook amount that can help in further reducing your taxes.

Additionally, some provinces have specific tax credits for recent graduates. For example, Québec has a credit for recent graduates working in a remote region, while Saskatchewan has a graduate retention program that gives a tax credit of up to $20,000 to students on their tax return.

Click here to see the credits and deductions available in your province.

You might also be eligible to claim the following: 

  • Moving expenses - If, in 2018, you moved at least 40 kilometres closer (by the shortest usual public route) to take courses as a full-time student in a post-secondary program, you might be able to claim the moving expenses deduction on your return.

  • Child care expenses – If, in order to go to school, you paid for someone look after your child, you might be able to claim your child care expenses.

  • Donations – You can claim a tax credit for donations if you donated to a qualified organization during the year, as long as you received an official receipt for it. If you donated through your school, your T2202A might include the donated amount (under your student number in the Student number box).

  • Canada employment amount – You can claim this amount if you were employed during the year.

  • Solidarity tax credit (Québec only) – This credit helps low-income earners who live in Québec and can be claimed on your tax return.

How do I prepare and file my taxes?

We know there are many options out there for filing taxes but we’ve made it easy for students to prepare and file their taxes. All you need to do is enter your income, claim your deductions, and optimize you return to get the maximum refund. Here’s how:

  1. If you’re new to H&R Block’s tax software, create an account. If you used the tax software last year, you can log into H&R Block’s 2018 tax software with the same username and password.

  2. If you’re filing a return for the first time, start a new return.

    • If you filed a return last year using a different software last year, you might be able import some of your information into your 2018 return.

    • If you filed with H&R Block’s tax software last year, click here for information on how to jump start your 2018 return by transferring some of your information from last year.

  3. On the GET STARTED tab, enter your personal information. If you have a spouse or a common-law partner and/or dependants, you’ll need to enter their information as well.

  4. When you get to the QUICK ENTRY tab, you can import your tax information (such as your slips) from the CRA/Revenu Québec into your 2018 return at no cost!

    If you don’t have any slips to import or are unsure about using this service, don’t worry – you can skip this step and enter your slips (such as a T4), tax certificates (such as the T2202A) and receipts manually on the QUICK SLIP page. If you don’t see a receipt or form here, you’ll be able to enter that on the PREPARE tab.

  5. On the PREPARE tab, select the topic you want to add to see the related tax credits (such as Unused tuition amounts and student loans). As you navigate through the tab, you’ll be able to select the tax credits and deductions you want to claim and respond to government-required questions.

  6. The WRAP-UP tab is where you optimize your return and can choose to split your credits with a spouse (if applicable) or transfer them to a spouse or another family member. You’ll be able to see any errors that are in your return and fix them before you file. You’ll also be able to see a summary of your tax calculations!

  7. You’ve now reached the FILE tab. You can either NETFILE your return (file it online) or print a mail-in version and send it to the CRA or Revenu Québec.

  8. Congratulations – the hard part is done! In the next few pages, you will be able to download a PDF copy of your return and request for an express NOA, see partner offers, and tell us how to improve our software.

What else do I need to know?

  • Be sure to keep all your documents for six years. The CRA and Revenu Québec can request to see these at any time if your return is selected for a detailed review.

  • Remember to keep your address up-to-date with the CRA and/or Revenu Québec. Refer to our help center article, Did your mailing address change during the year? on how to change your address with both agencies.

  • You might be eligible for child and family benefits – click here to see if you’re eligible for these.

  • Check out the CRA’s tax guide for Students and Revenu Québec’s website for more tax information.

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