First-time tax filers, it's easier than you think

Tax season can be a headache for first-time tax filers if they don't know where to look for help. Instead of stressing about doing your taxes, read this.

Tax season can be a headache for anyone, but for first-time tax filers or those who are looking to do it on their own, it can be particularly stressful. There are so many pieces to keep track of: "What form am I supposed to fill out? What if I worked in multiple jobs? If I make a mistake, will the government come after me?"

Well, we've got answers to those questions and others. Keep reading, because we're about to take figuring out how to file taxes yourself from scary to totally doable.

When should I file my tax return?

You can start filing taxes in mid-February, and the deadline is typically the end of April. If you're self-employed, the deadline to file your taxes is typically mid-June. 

Of course, the dates change each year. Visit the Canada Revenue Agency's site for specific dates.

What does filing taxes entail?

Filing your income taxes is essentially an exercise in your administrative skills. It involves gathering the appropriate tax documents, relaying that information to a tax preparer (usually either a professional, software, or paper forms), and then submitting your income tax return to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

You can submit either online or through the mail. Once the CRA reviews your return, you'll receive a notice of assessment (NOA). This document is packed with important information, including whether you owe the government money or can expect to get a refund back. Your NOA will also tell you your tax-advantaged account contribution limits — think (RRSPs) and tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs) — for the tax year.

Where do I file my taxes?

There are three primary ways that Canadians choose to file their income tax returns. The first is through a tax preparation professional like H&R Block. If you go this route, you'll hand over your documents, and they'll take it from there. After preparing your income tax return, they can even submit it on your behalf.

Other Canadians prefer digital help. Online software, such as TurboTax, is fast, easy, and inexpensive, but don't put your wallet away just yet. You'll still pay around $20 to $50 for a standard income tax return.

Your third option is to go solo. This is the most affordable route. You could use a free income tax software program like SimpleTax or take the old-school path and fill out paper forms by hand. If paper feels like your best bet, don't hesitate to look for resources when questions and obstacles make an appearance. The best source on filing income taxes is the Canada Revenue Agency website, which has helpful information on deadlines, deductions, how to file, and which tax forms you'll need. Most public libraries in Canada offer free tax clinics in partnership with the CRA. These clinics may have a maximum income cutoff, but they're a trustworthy source for tax help.

What documents or information will I need from employer or other sources?

The actual act of filing your taxes is fairly easy, even if you're doing it on your own. Simply enter the numbers on your forms into the correct boxes, and you're done. The hard part (and the part most people dread) is getting your hands on the documents you need to file your taxes. There are a few common forms to look out for:

  • T4: Employment income (issued by your employer)
  • T5: Investment income (issued by your bank, even for savings accounts)
  • T2202A: Tuition, education, and textbook fees paid by students (issued by your university or college)

If you don't receive these by the time you're ready to file your taxes, reach out to ask for them. In addition, you'll need to get information on any RRSP contributions you made (also from your bank), medical expense receipts, charitable donation receipts, and moving expense receipts.

How can I correct a mistake I made when filing?

One of the biggest fears first-time tax filers is that they'll make a mistake. Fortunately, you can forget your plans to adopt a new identity and live out the rest of your life under the radar: the consequences really aren't that dire. If you catch a mistake on your taxes after you've already filed, request a change to your tax return by filing a T1 amendment through the "my account" feature of the CRA, by mail, or through EFILE or NETFILE if you use online software.

No matter which way you file your taxes, it's not going to be as hard as you think. Just follow the instructions, fill out the boxes carefully, and know where to go for help. You'll be a successful first-time tax filer in no time.

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This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to provide specific tax or other advice and should not be relied upon in that regard. Individuals should seek the advice of qualified professionals to ensure that any action taken with respect to this information is appropriate to their specific situation.