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Holiday season’s halls are decked with tax deadlines

With 2012 drawing to a close, people's thoughts naturally turn to the holidays, family and last-minute gift buying.

Taxes, perhaps not surprisingly, don't rank high up on the list of Yuletide priorities, even though several important tax deadlines fall at the end of December.

According to a survey to be released Friday by BMO Nesbitt Burns, 93 per cent of Canadians said they are familiar with income tax deadlines. But when asked about the specifics, most weren't able to provide the correct dates.

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For example, 61 per cent did not know the deadline to make a charitable donation that will qualify for a tax credit in the current year; 85 per cent were not aware of the deadline for tax-loss selling; and 73 per cent did not know the deadline for payment of quarterly tax instalments.

"It's important for Canadians to educate themselves on the various end-of-year deadlines to help ensure there are no missed opportunities to reduce their tax bill," said John Waters, head of tax and estate planning with the BMO Nesbitt Burns Wealth Group. Most people are familiar with the deadline for registered retirement savings plan contributions – it's March 1, 2013 – but "tax planning should be a year-round activity," he said.

Here's a look at some important tax deadlines this month:

Tax-loss selling

If you want to trigger a capital loss to offset capital gains on your 2012 tax return, the deadline for selling your securities is Dec. 24. Why so early? Well, it takes three business days for a trade to settle, and Canadian stock exchanges are closed on Dec. 25 and Dec. 26. If you wait until Dec. 27 to sell, the trade won't settle until Jan. 2 – too late to claim the loss on your 2012 return. Even though capital losses can be carried back up to three years and carried forward indefinitely, if you miss the deadline you'll have to wait until you file your 2013 tax return to claim the loss retroactively.

Also note that in order to claim a loss for tax purposes, you must wait at least 30 days before you or your spouse repurchase the shares, even if you do so in another account. Otherwise it's considered a "superficial loss" and can't be used to offset capital gains.

TFSA withdrawals

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Some investors make the mistake of treating their tax-free savings account (TFSA) like a bank account, assuming incorrectly that they can make a withdrawal and recontribute the funds whenever they like. Not true. When you make a TFSA withdrawal, the contribution room is not restored until the following year. So if you're planning to take cash out of your TFSA soon, consider doing so before Dec. 31. That way, you'll get the contribution room back on Jan. 1. If you wait until the new year to make a withdrawal, the contribution room won't be restored until January, 2014.

Also keep in mind that if you inadvertently contribute more than the maximum to your TFSA, you'll face a tax of 1 per cent a month on the excess amount.

Quarterly tax instalments

Self-employed individuals and people with large investment incomes are often required to pay their income tax in quarterly instalments. If that's you, the final instalment for 2012 is due on Dec. 15.

Charitable donations

Amid the commotion of the holidays, it's easy to forget that charitable donations must be made by Dec. 31 in order to qualify for a tax credit in the current year. Investors with unrealized capital gains can take advantage of rules that encourage donations of securities, Mr. Waters said. "Consider donating appreciated publicly traded securities. This strategy can provide a charitable tax receipt based on the value of the securities donated, while also potentially eliminating the capital gains tax otherwise payable on the gain," he said.

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Other tax deductions or credits

Many expenses – including those for childcare, health and tuition – must be incurred by Dec. 31 in order to qualify for tax deductions or credits in 2012. The same goes for expenses that qualify for children's fitness and arts credits.

RRSP contributions for those turning 71

Individuals who turned 71 in 2012 have until the end of the year to collapse their registered retirement savings plan or convert it to a registered retirement income fund. If they have unused RRSP contribution room, they should consider making a final contribution before Dec. 31, Mr. Waters said. Because they won't have an RRSP after that date, they don't have the luxury of waiting until March 1 to make their last contribution.

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About the Author
Investment Reporter and Columnist

John Heinzl has been writing about business and investing since 1990. A native of Hamilton, he earned a master's degree from the University of Western Ontario's Graduate School of Journalism and completed the Canadian Securities Course with honours. More

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