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As you might have surmised by the fact that you are wearing the same pyjama bottoms you put on 30 days ago, we are living in strange times. And maybe you’re thinking this could be the perfect year to try using tax software instead of paying someone to do your taxes for you. Because you can’t leave your house. Because sitting in a windowless office with a stranger doesn’t sound so great. Because you’re sick enough of making banana bread, sewing face masks, and yelling at your kids for bothering you during a conference call (and then apologizing and then yelling at them again) that you’re actually up for a challenge. And maybe your income took a hit and this doesn’t feel like the moment to pay someone a few hundred dollars to do something that you could do at home for a fraction of the cost.
(The official price of using SimpleTax is: pay whatever you want.)
It’s also possible you want your money before the quarantine is over — 75% of Canadians get a refund.
And yet, here you are reading an article about doing your taxes with super easy software instead of just doing it. Why? Because doing your own taxes seems daunting if you’ve never done it before. Because there have to be some tricks your tax preparer knows that some piece of almost free software doesn’t know (there aren’t).
So here’s what we’re going to do: Even though SimpleTax is built to be so intuitive you don’t need any help at all, we’re going to take you through the process so you can decide if doing your own taxes is a good choice. (For almost everyone, it is.)
Step One: Take a look at yourself and ask, “Do I look like a corporation in these pants?”
All you need is a computer, a smartphone, or a tablet and you’ve got what you need to use SimpleTax. It works whether you’re single or married (or have a common law partner), filing jointly or separately (SimpleTax will automatically sniff out ways for couples to save on taxes, like recommending the best way to split pension income). It works for pretty much any Canadian who pays taxes, whether you’re a full time employee or member of the gig economy or a small business or rental property owner or a Canadian who works or invests outside the country.
Except non-Canadian residents. And corporations. If you’re a corporation, you can’t use SimpleTax.
Step Two: Make sure you have about an hour.
What’s SimpleTax? It’s is an interactive website where you fill in some blanks and answer a series of questions. Think of it like filling out a personality quiz on BuzzFeed except at the end you’ve done your taxes and the government usually sends you some money. If you have a simple return, the whole a process takes, on average, about 30 minutes; just about everyone finishes in about an hour.
So on average plan on spending between 1/8 of a sourdough-bread-making-time, 2/3 of an episode of Ozark season three, or 2.5 check-to-see-if-they-have-toilet-paper-on-Instacarts depending on what time zone you’re in.
Step Three: Get all those documents you’d normally bring to your tax guy's office.
This includes your T4s, T4As, T5s, RRSP receipts, etc. Also, having last year’s Notice of Assessment might come in handy.
Step Four: Log onto SimpleTax.
This one’s easy. Go to SimpleTax.ca. You start by creating an account (this will make filing your taxes next year far easier, because your past returns will be on file. It’ll also let you log out and return to a partially completed return if you have to go feed your sourdough starter). Next, you’ll be invited to fill in your basics — name, address, social insurance number, marital status, and whether you have any dependents.
Step Five: Decide if you want to do a quick interview or if you want to be your own guide.
If you have a CRA My Account you can have SimpleTax autofill most of your slips (it’s a free country, so you can fill in all those little boxes yourself if you really want to). That’ll instantly take you a great distance toward being done. From there you have a choice: you can guide yourself or have SimpleTax guide you. If you want the extra guidance, you click “Answer a few questions“ and you’ll be taken through quick battery of questions (like ”What slips did you receive?" and "Did you receive income from a rental property?"). SimpleTax will use your answers to fill in the rest of your forms. Most folks use what’s known as the “Search Bar Method” (at least that’s what they tend to call it). That means they use the search bar to find the part of the tax forms they’re looking for (the most commonly searched terms are “charitable donation,” “RRSP", and "T4," if that helps you understand how people use the search function).
Step Six: If you get confused at any point you can ask for help.
We know the whole point of using this software, besides saving a few hundred bucks, is that you don’t have to interact with anyone. But if you need some guidance, you can search SimpleTax’s FAQs. Still not sure what to do? Email SimpleTax’s team of actual humans located right here in Canada and they’ll respond ASAP.
Step Seven: Let the computer brain tell you if you’ve made a mistake.
When you’re all done with your return (or think you’re done), click the “check & optimize” button. SimpleTax will scan your return and suggest possible ways to save money — for instance, if you don't need all of your RRSPs this year, it'll carry them forward for you instead of using them. It’s up to you whether you want to adopt or dismiss any of these suggestions.
Step Eight: File instantly and get your money sooner.
When you click Submit, your return will instantly hurtle through the internet tubes straight to the CRA. Which usually means a week or two later your (hopefully) sweet refund will land in your bank account (if you’ve set up direct deposit with the CRA, you can expect your refund in about two weeks. If you haven't, it'll take four to six weeks to get your cheque). You’ll also have the option of downloading a PDF of your return for your files.
Step Nine: Decide how much to pay simpletax.ca.
Once you’re finished, SimpleTax will ask you how much you want to pay them for doing such a bang up job on your tax return. Unlike an accountant, the fee isn’t fixed and it isn’t based on how much time it took. Even though it’s an honour system, most users end up paying for it, so they must be happy.
Illustration by Sammy Yi.
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