Luisa Rollenhagen is a journalist and investor who writes about financial planning for Wealthsimple. She is a past winner of the David James Burrell Prize for journalistic achievement and her work has been published in GQ Magazine and BuzzFeed. Luisa earned her M.A. in Journalism at New York University and is now based in Berlin, Germany.
Doing your taxes is like going to the dentist: no one wants to do it, but putting it off will have some pretty unpleasant consequences later on. Fortunately, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) does have a system to make tax season a tiny bit less painful: the notice of assessment.
What is a notice of assessment (NOA)?
In plain terms, a notice of assessment (NOA) is an annual statement sent by the CRA that simply tells you how much income tax you owe and how much you can expect as a tax refund, what income tax you already paid, and any tax credits, among other things.
The NOA is calculated based off of the information you’ve submitted on your tax returns. You can expect your NOA to show up about two weeks after you filed your return, if you file electronically. If you paper-filed your return, expect your NOA in about about eight weeks. It may take up to 16 weeks if you live outside Canada and file a non-resident personal income tax return for your return to be assessed and your NOA sent to you. Keep in mind that no matter how you file your return, if you still receive a paper NOA, these estimates don't include the time it takes for the mail piece to go through the mail system.
But what happens if you see something egregious on your NOA that you know can’t be right? Then you have 90 days to formally object or make amendments to any of the information on the document. Another reason why NOAs are important to keep track of? They will tell you if you happen to be the subject of an audit from the CRA. If you don’t agree with the reasons for an audit, you have 90 days to make a formal objection.
Information on a notice of assessment
In addition to all that handy information on what you actually owe, as well as refund amounts, tax credits, and previously paid income tax, an NOA can also give you a lot of information that’ll be useful a bit down the line. The NOA is particularly helpful if you have a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), since it tells you the maximum contributions you can make toward your RRSP for the following year. And, as you might recall, one of the most important things to keep in mind when contributing to your RRSP is knowing how much contribution room you still have available so you don’t accidentally over-contribute and get hit with a penalty. And if you participated in the Home Buyer’s Plan or the Lifelong Learning Plan and withdrew from your RRSP for those purposes, then your NOA will also tell you when future repayments are due, and how much.
How to get your notice of assessment
After you’ve filed your tax return, your NOA can take between two and eight weeks before it’s sent to you (depending on whether you filed electronically or the old-fashioned way). You’ll either receive your NOA via snail mail or via the CRA’s Online Mail service, which you can register for when you file your tax return by saying yes and/or providing your email address in the section asking you if you want to sign up for email notifications.
If you’ve somehow misplaced your NOA or are suddenly panicking on whether you even received one to begin with, you can always easily access a copy of your NOA online In order to do that, you simply sign into your CRA account online.
Once you’re signed in, click on “Tax Returns” to see any NOAs issued to you after February 9, 2015. There you also have the option to download any NOA you want as a PDF. For any given tax year you had a reassessment, your NOA will also be listed here.
Getting your tax refund
Now that you’ve gotten your NOA and you (hopefully) haven’t received any information about any surprise payments that you owe, it’s time for the fun part of tax season: getting your refund. Unless you have signed up for direct deposit, the cheque containing your refund is sent with your NOA. If you have signed up for direct deposit, your refund will be automatically deposited to the account the CRA has on file for you and the paper NOA will be sent without a cheque. If you're signed up to receive email notifications, you won't receive either a cheque or a paper NOA. Everything will be received electronically and you'll have saved a tree! Keep in mind that this only goes for filing inside of Canada. Returns may take up to 16 weeks if you live outside Canada and file a non-resident personal income tax return. You can find more information on your tax refund here.
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