The Right and Wrong Way To Split Income

by Tax Guy - Burlington Accountant on July 27, 2009 Print This Post Print This Post

As an individuals income increases so does the rate of income tax charged. At the federal level, you will pay 15% on the first $40,726 of income, 22% on the next $40,726, 26% on the next $44,812 and 29% on any income over $126,264. Each province has similar graduated tax rates (except Alberta, which charges a flat 10% on all income).

What Does This Mean?

An individual taxpayer earning $80,000 per year will pay around $20,000 of combined federal and provincial taxes. If this individual could allocate $40,000 to his or her spouse, they would each pay around $7,000 each of tax. Splitting income would save this couple $6,000 a year and reduce their taxes by 30%!

The Wrong Way To Split Income

The Canadian Income Tax Act contains a set of rules that are specifically designed to prevent individuals from shifting income between family member. Some common misconceptions surrounding income splitting include:

  • Joint Accounts. Married couples often assume they can split their investment income in a joint account. In fact, the allocation of income between the joint owners is based on their proportional contributions to the account.
  • Gifting To A Spouse. If you gift assets (or cash) to your spouse, any investment income and capital gains will continue to be taxed in your hands unless your spouse pays for the assets with their own money.
  • Gifts To Minor Children. Setting up a trust, informal trust and investing for a child, grandchild, niece or nephew will not completely avoid income being taxed in your hands. You will be responsible for the tax on dividends and interest until the child turns 18 but the child will be taxed on capital gains.

While the Income Tax Act limits our ability to split income, there are perfectly legitimate ways for family members to split income.

Top 6 Ways To Split Income

  1. Lend Your Spouse Money – The higher income spouse lends the lower income spouse funds and takes back a note with an interest rate at the CRA’s prescribed rate. The lower income spouse invests the funds and will pay tax on the investment income as long as he or she actually pays the other spouse the interest within 30 days of the end of the tax year.
  2. Spousal RRSPs – The higher income spouse can contribute to the lower income spouse’s RRSP. The goal is to ensure both RRSPs are equal value and at retirement, the income streams will be the same.

Be aware that if the lower income spouse withdraws from the spousal RRSP contributions made by the other spouse will be taxed in the other spouses’ hands if made within the two prior years.

  1. Asset Shifting – This technique is simply swapping assets between spouses. If one spouse owns an asset that does not generate income (such as a cottage), that asset may be swapped for an income producing asset of equal value owned by the other spouse.
  2. Pay Household Expenses – In this scenario, the higher income spouse pays all of the household expenses, including the taxes of the lower income spouse. This technique frees up the lower income spouse’s income available for investmenting
  3. Gifting – As mentioned above, a gift to a spouse will mean that income will be taxed attributed back to the gifting spouse. However, when the initial income received is subsequently invested, there is no attribution on this secondary income.

Other income splitting strategies that utilize testamentary trusts or businesses may be also used. And if you are interested in these other methods, you should seek professional advice.

Your Thoughts Or Questions?

If you have something to contribute or have a comment on this article, please feel free to leave a comment below.

About The Tax Guy...

Dean Paley CGA CFP is a Burlington accountant and financial planner who services individuals and business owners locally, nationally and internationally. Dean has appeared in the National Post, Toronto Star and Metro News.

To find out more, visit Dean's website Dean Paley CGA CFP or connect via Twitter @DeanPaleyCGACFP.

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