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How to File Your Personal Tax Return
Using a Software Package to NetFile Your Return
If you are doing your own tax return, we strongly recommend using tax software rather than pre-printed forms to prepare your return, because this can help to avoid errors and missed tax credits. Many credits, such as the Canada Employment amount, are calculated automatically. However, if your return is complicated, it may be best to have your return professionally prepared, or at least reviewed.
You can use NetFile to submit your tax return from your home computer. You may either purchase tax calculation software at a retail store, download software over the internet, or file your tax using an online tax return. It is not always necessary to spend money to file your tax return using income tax software. Some of the software packages are free for everyone, and some are free if you have low net income and a simple return. Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) provides a list of tax software packages approved for NetFile, and the list indicates whether the package includes a free option.
Note that T3 slips will likely not be received until April, so if you have mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in a non-registered account, you won't be able to file your return until April.
Make sure you have all your tax slips before filing your tax return!
If a friend or relative files your return for you, make sure they give you a copy of your NetFile confirmation and your tax return!
Auto-Fill of Tax Return
A feature provided by Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), first available for the 2015 taxation year, is "Auto-fill my return". This allows individuals and authorized representatives who are using certified tax software that provides this service to automatically fill in parts of their current-year income tax return, based on information slips that have been filed with CRA. Most information slips will be received by CRA by early March. However, T3 slips, which are issued for mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, are often not available until the end of March.
If you use the Auto-fill feature, make sure you reconcile the amounts on your tax return to the T-slips you have received, as we have heard of some problems with this. For 2021 tax returns, there were reports of tax slips missing. See Better double-check your tax return if you've been using the CRA's Auto-fill, by Jamie Golombek, CPA, CA, CFP, CLU, TEP.
For more information, see the CRA information on auto-fill my return.
Restrictions on Using NetFile
There are certain types of tax returns that can't be sent by NetFile to the CRA. See their NetFile Eligibility page for more information.
Use a Software Package to Print and Mail Your Return
You can print your return from your home computer using income tax preparation software, and sending the printed return to CRA. See the CRA list of tax software packages approved for NetFile.
When mailing your tax return, you will have to also include many supporting documents.
Although our Tax Calculators are intended as planning tools, and do not include every available tax credit, they can be used to check most tax returns.
Professional Tax Preparation
You can have an accounting or tax preparation firm prepare and file your tax return. These firms usually file your return electronically, using EFILE, so your refund would probably arrive quite quickly, as it does with NetFile. See our Directory for links to accounting, bookkeeping and financial planning organizations in Canada. EFILE and ReFILE services are available from Monday February 20, 2023 until Friday January 26, 2024 for electronic filing of personal income tax returns for the 2017 to 2022 tax years and filing amended returns for the 2019 to 2022 tax years. Tax returns for earlier tax years cannot be submitted with EFILE. See EFILE for electronic filers, and EFile dates and hours of operation on the Canada.ca website.
If you wish to confirm that a business is registered for EFiling, or to find an EFiler in your area, you can use the CRA EFiler search, which allows you to search for an EFiler by postal code or by business name.
EFILE is available to any individual, firm, or organization wishing to electronically file personal or corporate tax returns for members of the public, clients, or employees. Those wishing to use E-file must register with CRA, and must use EFILE certified software. Before applicants are permitted to EFILE returns on behalf of their clients, they are screened for suitability. For details, see suitability screening on the CRA website.
Make sure that the person who prepares your tax return is trained in the preparation of tax returns. In the end, if they do something wrong and CRA determines that you have underpaid your taxes due to negligence, penalties will be payable. Even if someone else prepares your tax return, you are responsible for ensuring that the correct information is reported, so make sure you provide them with complete, organized information. A box full of unorganized receipts is not helpful! If a person charges you a fee for preparing your tax return, they must sign as the preparer on the last page of the return. If they are not prepared to sign as the preparer, do not use them! Use a reputable firm that will stand behind their work, and will also have errors and omissions insurance. After all, even professionals make mistakes sometimes.
Get your well-organized tax information to a tax professional long before the tax return due date!
Make sure you retain a copy of your tax return and the confirmation that it has been filed, as well as your Notice of Assessment once you receive it.
File my Return
CRA's File my Return service allows eligible individuals with low income or a fixed income that is unchanged year-to-year to file their tax returns by answering a series of short questions and giving some personal information. This is done through a dedicated, automated phone service. Personalized invitation letters are sent to eligible Canadians in mid-February. The File my Return service is available 21 hours per day, from 6 am to 3 am Easter time, 7 days a week, throughout the tax-filing season.
Note: See File my Return on the CRA website, and their article Filing an income tax and benefit return on paper.
Manual Tax Return Preparation
Although we recommend using tax software to file your return, you can file a return manually using forms from Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), which you print on your printer. If you live in Quebec, see Quebec personal income tax return forms. Tax filers who have filed paper tax forms in the past will receive a tax package by mail. These forms should arrive by the end of February. If you want to file on paper and have not received the tax package by mail by the end of February, you can call CRA at 1-855-330-3305 (English) or 1-855-330-3310 (French), or you can order them online from CRA.
Supporting Documents When Mailing Your Tax Return
Once you have prepared your return on paper, you can mail it (see the CRA web page where to mail your paper T1 return).
If you are mailing your return, you must include copies of many information slips and receipts. See Supporting documents in the CRA General Income Tax Guide.
Forms for prior years are also available on the CRA website.
Free Tax Return Preparation
Community Volunteer Income Tax Program - free tax preparation for certain individuals. For 2020, some clinics are only available until August 31st, some are available until September 30th, and some are available until the end of the year. Many are "virtual", no in-person appointment needed.
Filing an Adjustment / Amendment to Your Tax Return
Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Resources
Tax Tip: File your return well ahead of the due date!
Revised: March 12, 2023
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