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Filing Your Return -> Income Tax Software and Forms

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.

bullet When you use NetFile to file your return, you do not mail a printed return or information slips, and if you are expecting a refund it usually arrives within 2 weeks.
bullet Not all tax returns qualify for NetFile - see the CRA web page on NetFile Restrictions.
bullet Your NetFile Access Code can be found on last year's Notice of Assessment (NOA), near the top right.  The Access Code is not mandatory, but if it is not entered, you won't be able to use information from your 2020 tax return when confirming your identity with CRA. This code does not apply for first-time filers.
bulletAvailability: The NetFile system is available from Monday, February 22, 2021 until Friday, January 21, 2022 for filing personal tax returns for the 2020 tax year and previous tax years back to 2017 (returns for 2016 and earlier tax years must be done on paper).  This means that returns can be NetFiled even after the tax return due date, but late filing penalties may be applicable.  NetFile is normally available 21 hours a day, 7 days per week, from 6 am to 3 am eastern time.
bullet For more information, visit the Canada Revenue Agency web page for NetFile.

Tax Tips:

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 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.

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 starting Monday February 22, 2021 until Friday, January 21, 2022 for electronic filing of personal income tax returns for the 2020 tax year and previous tax years starting with 2017. Tax returns for 2016 and 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 in box 490 on page 4 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.

Tax Tips:

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.  Preprinted T1 personal income tax forms are available at the post office (2017 tax year is the last year these will be available), or using forms from Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).  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 at the above link to forms - scroll down the page for the buttons to order the Forms Book or the General Guide.

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 all information slips, and most receipts, such as medical and donations.  The explanations in the CRA General Income Tax Guide (included in tax forms packages for each year) and the return, schedules, or forms will tell you when to attach other supporting documents, such as certificates, forms, schedules, or official receipts.

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.

TaxTips.ca Resources

Filing an Adjustment / Amendment to Your Tax Return

Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Resources

Completing a tax return

Tax Tip:  File your return well ahead of the due date!

Revised: April 21, 2021

 

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