Lots of people view filing their taxes as a mundane but necessary chore. In 2017, less than two weeks before the cut-off date, H&R Block reported that 2 in 5 Canadians had yet to file their taxes. We can all relate to why it’s easy to put off, like being short on time or the inevitable hassle of getting all the paperwork organized. What might not be so clear is why tax time is an important but often overlooked way for people living on a low income to improve their financial well-being.
1 in 10 people in Calgary currently live in poverty; according to research from the City of Calgary, 1 in 3 worry about money for housing, 1 in 5 worry about money for food, and 1 in 2 worry about saving for the future. Unfortunately, anyone can be vulnerable—one unexpected cost can be enough to push someone living paycheque-to-paycheque into poverty. As the cost of living increases and the economic downturn continues, this paints a sobering picture of people across local communities—our families, friends, and neighbours—who are not only struggling to meet their most basic, everyday needs, but also unable to plan for long-term goals. Saving up for a down payment on a home, being able to go on a much-needed vacation with one’s family, or establishing RESPs can seem like pipe dreams: unfathomable and unattainable. It’s hard for people to be optimistic about the future when they’re living in a constant cycle of worry and stress.
Filing taxes especially important for individuals living on a low income
This reality might seem daunting, but there’s an important strategy that can make a difference. One way for people living on a low income to start increasing their financial stability—right now—is to file their taxes. Many people are unaware they could be getting money back from their taxes, or unaware of the valuable benefits and credits they can access. People may be concerned that they owe the government money in back taxes, and filing would initiate an unaffordable cost. In addition, there could be confusion and barriers around the process; where do you start with your taxes, especially if you haven’t been filing them for many years? What are the complexities involved?
Let’s address one of the biggest qualms upfront: for most people living on a low income, filing taxes doesn’t mean a bill to pay, but extra benefits that can significantly impact their financial situation. Every year, up to $1 billion of income benefits and tax credits for vulnerable Canadians goes unused, according to Prosper Canada. Taking the tax plunge can be very advantageous, as the monetary return can significantly help people and families make ends meet in the short term, help them budget for a big-ticket purchase, or establish an emergency savings fund. Calgarians living on a low income are often eligible for tax rebates and, through filing, become eligible for a wide range of other government benefits, supports, and subsidies, on a municipal, provincial, and federal level. Here are just a few examples:
- Calgary Transit’s low-income pass for youth, adults, and seniors
- The City’s Property Tax Assistance Program
- The City’s No Cost Spay/Neuter Program
- Canada’s Employment Insurance
- The GST Credit
- The Canada Child Benefit
- The Alberta Child Benefit
- Alberta Scholarship Programs
All these benefits, in combination, help put money back in people’s pockets and enable opportunities to reduce debt, grow savings, and build assets—increasing overall financial health and opening more doors for the future.
Get some help with your taxes today
United Way of Calgary and Area believes that all people should have the income and assets needed to thrive. That’s why we’ve invested in poverty reduction efforts that are meant to empower people financially, and make a real difference in their financial well-being. One example is tax clinics: we’ve partnered with 18 organizations that each offer a number of tax clinics, which are 100 per cent free for individuals living on a low income.
“[It’s an] awesome program,” says one participant. “I found an angel to help me get my taxes all caught up. Thanks!”
At a tax clinic, trained volunteers will assist individuals with preparing their tax return and accessing supports they would otherwise not receive.
People who are eligible for this service include:
- Individuals with no dependents who earned less than $30,000 in 2018
- Individuals or couples with dependents who earned less than $50,000 in 2018
- Couples with no dependents who earned less than $50,000 in 2018
To find a tax clinic in your area, please contact 211, a free information and referral service. Simply dial 2-1-1 on the phone to connect with a trained specialist 24/7, or start a confidential chat on the 211 website between the hours of 12:00-8:00 p.m. every day.