Involved in a CRA Net Worth Audit?
Without a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) on side who is a tax expert, it can be very difficult to counter the assumptions and interpretation that the CRA takes.
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What is a Net Worth Audit?
Almost all Canadian resident taxpayers and, in some circumstances, non-resident taxpayers, have to file various returns with the Canada Revenue Agency. If a taxpayer fails to file a tax return when and as required, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) can either make a demand of that taxpayer to file missing returns or, in most cases, will use an arbitrary assessment method to determine that taxpayer’s tax liability. Arbitrary assessments often result in an unusually large amount of tax owing, leaving the taxpayer with the heavy burden of proving the CRA wrong. One particularly problematic arbitrary assessment method that the CRA uses is called the Net Worth Assessment that results from a Net Worth Audit.
The Net Worth Audit is empowered by the Income Tax Act and permits the CRA to review the various components of a taxpayer’s lifestyle and assets and compare this against the reported income of that same taxpayer. This review can include where the taxpayer lives, how nice the home is, what cars the taxpayer drives, what clothing and jewellery the taxpayer wears, and the entertainment and trips that the taxpayer engages in. Where there is a discrepancy between the apparent wealth circumstance of a taxpayer and their reported income, the CRA will issue a reassessment.
A Net Worth Audit is premised on the apparently simple principle that the increase or decrease of a taxpayer’s net worth, year over year, tied to the taxpayer’s income or loss for that year. The CRA starts by comparing the year over year changes of a taxpayer’s assets and liabilities. Then, the CRA calculates that taxpayer’s income or loss, taking into consideration personal expenditures and non-taxable sources of income. Personal expenditures can sometimes be assumed and include categories that the taxpayer, personally, does not spend their money on (for example, tobacco, alcohol, gambling – all determined through the use of statistics). The sum total of these arithmetic process is the change in a taxpayer’s net worth. The value obtained from the net worth method is then compared to the reported income of the taxpayer to see the taxpayer has been truthful in their reporting.
Despite the apparent simplicity of this method, there are practical complications that often work against the taxpayer. One particular problem is that the CRA is entitled to assume facts that are often to the taxpayer’s disadvantage. Once these facts are assumed, the taxpayer has to prove the CRA wrong in order to get a correct assessment. Another problem is that the CRA lacks the information to know what amounts are from non-taxable sources, such as inheritances or lottery winnings. What the CRA generally assumes is that any deposit in an account is income and any withdrawal is a personal expenditure. This is often not accurate as a deposit can represent an inter-account transfer, a loan, a gift, an inheritance, or some other amount that is not taxable. The method itself is at best inaccurate and contains inherent, systemic errors.
When are you at Risk of an Audit?
Any taxpayer is at risk of a Net Worth Assessment. However, those most susceptible are taxpayers who have not properly reported their income or those who fail to keep proper books and records of their financial affairs. Also, at risk are taxpayers whose apparent lifestyle doesn’t match their reported income. The most obvious way to not get trapped into a net worth assessment is to make sure that the CRA has no reason or basis to use this method. This means filing all your returns on time, using complete and accurate information, and keeping complete books and records.
Challenging a Net Worth Audit
Challenging a net worth assessment is no easy task and often takes up a large amount of time. The person being audited will need to go through every deposit and withdrawal in their bank accounts, credit cards, and investment accounts, as well as the assets they own or have owned, and then reconcile these amounts with their tax filings. Where the audit spans a number of years or goes back a few years, this can be extremely difficult for a taxpayer. How does one remember what each deposit and withdrawal in an account was and what it was for? Even if one can remember, there is the difficulty of proving what one remembers. This is why the assistance of a diligent and experienced tax accountant is a must. The best time to get a tax accountant involved is when the auditor contacts you and before any documents are handed over. The earlier one gets a tax accountant on board, the greater the chances of a favourable outcome are.
Without a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) on side who is a tax expert, it can be very difficult to counter the assumptions and interpretation that the CRA takes. Once an audit is complete and the auditor has made a decision in designating amounts as income or personal expenditures, as part of a tax audit, they have internally supported their conclusions and used the documents and arguments advanced by the person being audited. This decision makes it practically unlikely that an objection at the CRA level will result in any changes. If one is not able to get the CRA auditor to see things the taxpayer’s way, the matter will likely end up in tax court. This is a lengthy and expensive road to travel and one that is best avoided through detailed submissions prepared by an experienced tax accountant.
Our firm was selected to help him address these issues with the CRA.
Our firm performed an intensive review of the net worth audit from the CRA. It was discovered that the auditor had made many mistakes. Sam Faris met with the auditor, team leader and director from the CRA.
Based on the findings of our firm, the auditor adjusted the net worth audit to reflect our analysis and calculations.
“My life was collapsing. Involving Sam was the best decision I made. He is a life Saver. 10 stars.”