Income Splitting With a One Percent Prescribed Rate

For every calendar quarter, the Canada Revenue Agency (the CRA) announces prescribed interest rates for different purposes under the Income Tax Act (Canada). The Income Tax Regulations state that the basic prescribed interest rate is calculated as the average of the yields on 90 day Government of Canada Treasury Bills auctioned in the first month of the preceding calendar quarter, rounded up to the nearest whole percentage. April was the first month of the second calendar quarter of 2020.  Not surprisingly (given the COVID-19 pandemic), the average yield in April on such treasury bills declined greatly, by more than one-half, so that it went down to 0.27 percent. By virtue of rounding upward, the basic prescribed interest rate for the third calendar quarter of 2020 (July 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020) is set at 1 percent. The basic prescribed interest rate plus 2 percent (for a total of 3 percent during the third calendar quarter of 2020) is the rate of interest paid by the CRA on tax refunds owed to individuals. The basic prescribed interest rate plus 4 percent (for a total of 5 percent during the third calendar quarter of 2020) is the rate of interest that accrues on income tax arears.

The basic prescribed interest rate is relevant to the concept of income splitting under the Income Tax Act. Each individual resident in Canada files a separate income tax return and is subject to tax on his or her income at increasing marginal federal and provincial tax rates as the individual’s income increases. An individual resident in Saskatchewan earning more than $214,368 must pay a combined tax rate of 47.50% on each dollar of additional interest, business or salary income. If that individual has a spouse or other family member with much lower income, that family member would pay a much lower combined tax rate (or even no tax) if he or she reported the same additional income. The most obvious way in which the lower income family member could earn additional investment income in place of the higher income family member would be for the higher income family member to make a gift or interest-free loan of the capital (that he or she would otherwise invest) to the lower income family member. However, the Income Tax Act has “attribution rules” which generally deem the investment income which the lower income family member earns from the capital that he or she received or borrowed from the higher income family member to be income of that higher income family member. There are a few exceptions to the attribution rules.  The most helpful exception to the attribution rules applies if the lower income family member borrows the capital pursuant to a loan agreement under which the borrower is required to pay interest on the borrowed capital at a rate not less than the basic prescribed rate in effect at the time that the capital is borrowed and the borrower pays such interest that accrues during each calendar not later than January 30th following each calendar year.

If a loan agreement is entered into specifying an interest rate of 1 percent, the loan is advanced during the third calendar quarter of 2020 and the borrower pays the resulting interest that accrues during 2020 not later than January 30, 2021, the borrower would report any income that he or she earned during 2020 from the investment of the borrowed funds. The lender would report the interest that he or she received from the borrower in January, 2021 on his or her 2021 income tax return (assuming that the lender follows the cash basis). The borrower is entitled to deduct the interest that he or she pays to the lender in the year in which the interest is paid (assuming that the borrower also follows the cash basis). The above income tax reporting can go on indefinitely, from year to year, even if the basic prescribed interest rate in effect in future calendar quarters increases from 1 percent.

A trust of which lower income family members are beneficiaries could be the borrower from the higher income family member.

There are subtle aspects of the Income Tax Act, the interpretation of which requires expert knowledge. Therefore, anyone that is considering implementing an income splitting strategy should seek advice from a tax accountant or a tax lawyer. Melvin Gerspacher is a tax lawyer.  You can contact him at m.gerspacher@rslaw or at 306-380-5753.

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Articles & Research Income Splitting With a One Percent Prescribed Rate