Tips and tricks for doing your taxes on time
// Leah Scheitel

Ah, Spring. Flowers are about to bloom, the snow is about to melt, and taxes are just about due. Tax season can add extra stress to an already intense semester for students, but can cause a bigger headache if they are neglected. Although taxes are intimidating, especially for students doing them for the first time, here are some resources and tips to help people file successful tax claims.


Simply put, taxes are paid to the government so they can provide public services. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion and jargon surrounding taxes, which is what can make them such a daunting task.

“Students get assistance in the income tax area by being allowed to claim some tax credits and deductions,” says John Wilson, an accounting professor at Capilano University. “A deduction means that you actually take the amount off of your income before you determine how much tax you have to pay. A tax credit is where you are not adjusting your income. In the end, you say, ‘Of that amount of tax that I owe, here is a credit that goes towards paying them.’ They both end up lowering the amount that you have to pay, but they do it in different ways. One takes it off the tax, and the other takes it off the income.”

Many people use outside resources, like H&R Block, Liberty Tax Service, or personal accountants to help them file their taxes, to avoid missing any benefits. Although these places advertise cheap rates for tax assistance, most companies are just advertising their base rates. The rate increases based on how complicated the return is and how many T4’s and other tax slips are needed to complete it.

“For a student, it would be closer to $100 for all the slips that they have to use,” says Wilson, “And you can buy computer software that will cost about a third of that. You have an ability on the website to file over the telephone, where you phone someone from Revenue Canada, and they assist you over the phone.”

As opposed to the traditional method of filing taxes on paper and sending it to the government, more and more Canadians are filing online. According to Statistics Canada, 3.7 million people filed their 2009 claim online, which was up from 3.1 million in 2007.

If filing online, there are a variety of software programs that can help you with your claim. This is usually a less expensive option than companies that process your taxes for you, but they can be confusing to navigate, and are not as personal as one-on-one help.

Although outsourcing help for taxes can be useful, it is still important to be wary of the price you are paying for the services received. Amy Paulston, a student at Langara College, had to do four different drafts of her income tax in 2010 because the quote H&R Block gave her was completely different from the quote she completed and the one her mother drafted for her.

“It was very confusing,” she says. “The claim was much lower than the two that I already had, and basically just made me have to re-do my taxes by hand.”

H&R Block still charged for the services even though the quote was inaccurate, causing more headaches than it solved. “It’s just frustrating as a student to get my taxes done professionally and get so much conflicting information from different sources,” says Paulston.

“What often happens with students is that the students will do the work, and have their tuition credits and everything, and want to get their refund as quickly as possible,” says Wilson. “So, they’ll go to a prepare H&R Block-type business, or something similar. The student gives them a slice of their refund. The business prepares a return as part of the service there are offering, and they keep a percentage of whatever their rate is – usually around 15 per cent, which is a good chunk of the return, considering it is free to do on your own. With a little bit of time and energy, you can do it yourself and save yourself some money. “

The government does provide some tax help as well: “There are organizations around that are helping people who don’t have much income, and giving them help to file their tax returns,” Wilson explains. “If you phone Canada Revenue Agency they will know where to find the where the programs are. These programs are to help seniors, students, and homeless fill in their tax returns because there are many benefits in our society, subsidy and that, that depend on filing tax returns.”

The Canadian government offers assistance over the phone with Tax Information Phone Serves (TIPS), an automated phone service for general tax information, Canada Revenue Agency offices – where publications are available – and Volunteer Income Tax Clinics. These clinics are free help for simple income tax returns, focused to aid low-income citizens.


The deadline for filing taxes is Apr. 30, and although this doesn’t mean that everyone pays them on time, there are benefits to making a claim by this date.

“If there is any free money associated with filing your tax return, if you don’t file on time you lose the chance to get that money,” Wilson says. “Some of the tax credits are time sensitive. If you don’t file on time, there are some credits that might expire.”

These time-sensitive credits include ones like the B.C. Provincial tax credits, like the PST and GST.

To file an accurate claim, students need T4 tax slips from all of their employers. These slips are records of the income made while being employed by that specific company. They also show how much tax has already been paid by being directly taken off the income. By law, employers have to send these to employees by the end of February, giving people enough time to do taxes before the deadline.

Students also need to collect a T2200 tax slip, which shows how much money they paid in tuition and for how many months there were considered a student. Capilano students can access this through their myCap account.


There are some tax credits that are specifically for students, but sometimes deductions and credit can be easily missed. Some of the commonly overlooked credits include a textbook credit, moving expense deductions, scholarship and bursary credit, tuition credit, and transportation (U-Pass) credit.

“Some of the tax credits give you some money based on how many months you were full-time or part-time student,” explains Wilson. “There is a basic education tax credit, and if you’re a full-time student, it ends up being $60 a month. If you’re a part time student, it ends up being $18 per month. There is no particular reason of what it’s for; it’s just there to help you because they know that you are a student. A textbook tax credit adds another $10 a month during the period that you are getting an educational tax credit.”

Students don’t have to keep receipts for textbooks to send into the government, because you’re not claiming what you actually spend, just the tax credit. This makes administration easier for the government and easier for the students, as they don’t have to keep the receipts and the government doesn’t have to receive them.

“If you have a student loan debt, then the interest that you’ve paid on your student loan becomes deductible,” Wilson continues. “There is a credit for that. Most students won’t be having any interest while they’re going to school because you don’t start paying the loans until you’ve finished and [are] working full-time.”

Scholarships and bursaries are considered part of income, but there are also certain amounts of them that are tax-free. In effect, students claim the whole amount, but get a deduction for the majority of it.

There is also the ability to transfer the education tax credits to a parent or spouse: “Often students are going to school and won’t have enough income to be able to use up any of these credits. And yet, other people are helping them by providing money for tuition or whatever, and so they can transfer up to $750 worth of these credits to someone else – parent, or grandparent, or whatever,” says Wilson.

If a student moves a significant distance to be able to go to school, then they can also write off some of their expenses. There is a formula for calculating the distance the student has to move to determine how many expenses they can write off.

“It might not be a lot,” says Wilson. “It might just be gas and travel from here to back home, but at least there is some ability to deduct some of those costs. Moving expenses are ones that often get misplaced.”

There is also a tax credit for transit passes, but because the cost of the U-Pass is included in tuition, it is often forgotten. There are two types of slips that you have to print off from the University; one related to the U-Pass and one related to the general tuition, both of which are available for download on Capilano’s website, with a student account.

Taxes can be intimidating, but with the right knowledge and tools, students can receive a welcome refund to cushion their bank account.

The Canada Revenue Agency has a website and a pamphlet that provides specific information about taxes, that can be found at

//Leah Scheitel, writer
//Graphics by Jillian Aquino

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