It’s not unusual for people to have TFSAs (or RRSPs) at more than one bank, trust company or financial institution. I strongly recommend that if you do, you should keep careful track yourself of your contributions and withdrawals from your TFSA. And just like checking your credit rating once in a while, it doesn’t hurt to check what the government thinks you’ve contributed to and withdrawn from your TFSAs; here’s how.
Why Should You Care What the Government Thinks You’ve Done With Your TFSA?
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t need to care what the tax department thinks you’ve done with your TFSA. Life isn’t always perfect though.
Here’s an example: A couple of year’s ago, a major discount brokerage had a computer glitch that sent incorrect TFSA info to the CRA. Basically, it reported people as having made contributions twice the size of their actual contribution because it reported each contribution twice. When the CRA computer ran some routine looking for over-contributions, it found these accounts and mailed out letters to the owners telling them they owed whopping fines for their over-contributions. It all got settled without anyone having to pay a fine on money they didn’t contribute but it was still a hassle.
Here’s a possible scenario: Say you have a TFSA at one bank or brokerage but after a few years you withdraw the money December 31 and deposit it elsewhere January 1 and life goes on. Almost two years pass and the CRA sends you a letter saying you have over-contributed which you know is wrong. You decide to print out your TFSA statements to prove it and then realize with a sinking feeling that you can’t get access to those e-Statements anymore since you don’t bank with that institution anymore. And your hard drive crashed with your only e-copies. Now you have to contact a bank you don’t have a “relationship” with any more to ask them to try to get you those archived e-Statements. Sound fun? Not to me. If you’d checked your government TFSA report you might have been able to correct the mistake more quickly or with less hassle.
What Penalties Does the CRA Inflict for TFSA Mis-Management?
Have you ever wondered who invented nitroglycerine or who discovered rhubarb leaves and roots are poisonous but the stems are edible? Those people are cousins to the ones who experiment with every new type of government tax-minimizing-deferring-and-deleting policy. As a result of people stretching TFSAs way beyond how they were intended to be used, the government has instituted some fairly nasty penalties for mis-using them.
If you over-contribute, deliberately or not, to your TFSA, the government can charge you a fine of 1% per month on the over-contributed amount.
For example, if you over-contributed $2000, they can charge you $20 per month for each month the money stays in there. So if you put it in April 30 and withdraw it May 1, they could charge you $40 unless you could prove it was not intentional and they decided to be nice and waive the fine.
If you leave $2000 in for 12 months, they can charge you $240.
Some people were quite willing to pay $240 a year if they could invest $2000 and not pay any taxes on the profits. So the government tightened its grasp again and passed a rule permitting a fine equal to the amount of the ENTIRE profit generated by the over-contribution.
That’s right, you could get billed the $240 fine PLUS they could take every cent of profit made on that $2000 investment. So by over-contributing you would pay more in tax than if you just invested in a non-registered account, and in fact you would lose money not make money.
If you do find you’ve accidentally over-contributed
- withdraw the extra money immediately
- write a letter to the CRA immediately explaining what happened and requesting forgiveness for this one-time mistake
How Up to Date is the Government’s Info on TFSA Contributions and Withdrawals?
The government data is updated when the banks, credit unions and other financial institutions send in their reports about TFSA contributions and withdrawals.
So generally the government information is only up to date as of December 31 of the previous year by about April of the current year. In other words, in May 2014, my data is only up to date as of December 31 2013. My contribution made on January 1 2014 is not reported in my CRA My Account yet.
According to the CRA website: “By the last day of February of the following year, all issuers are required to electronically submit a TFSA record to CRA for each individual who has a TFSA.”
This record includes the dates and amounts of all TFSA contributions or withdrawals for the previous year. For example according to the CRA website, the record could include
- a transaction date and the TFSA contribution amount
- a transaction date and the TFSA withdrawal amount
- a transaction date and the marriage breakdown transfer out amount
- a transaction date and the marriage breakdown transfer in amount
- a transaction date and the fair market value of an acquisition of a non-qualified investment
- a transaction date and the fair market value of a withdrawal of a non-qualified investment
- the date of death of fair market value of the assets at death
How to Check the Government’s Record of Your TFSA Contributions and Withdrawals
The easiest way to get this information is to join the CRA My Account service. It takes a bit of time to get access (about 3-5 mail delivery days) but it works.
If necessary apply for a CRA Security Code online.
When you receive your code in the mail, three to five mailing days later, sign in to your personalized CRA My Account.
Once signed in, here’s how to check your TFSA transactions.
- Click on the tab entitled RRSP and savings plans.
- Click on the link: Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA)
- Click on the link: Transaction Summary
- Read the information, then click on the Continue button.
The TFSA Transaction Summary Search Screen
To see all of your transactions (withdrawals and contributions) at all banks and institutions since the plan began, leave the drop-down lists at their default settings of
- all financial institutions
- January 2009
- December 2013
And click on the Continue button.
The TFSA Transaction Summary Screen
A neat table will be displayed listing your contributions and withdrawals first by financial institution and then by date.
I’d forgotten I withdrew $205 accidentally in 2009 till I looked at this table. (I waited till January 1 2010 to put it back in so it never caused any problems with the CRA.)
- If desired, highlight and copy the information and paste it into a document for your files.
- When you are finished reviewing your information, click on the Logout button.
Click on the Exit button.
- For improved security, clear your cache and close your browser session.
How Can I Get my Government TFSA Transaction History Corrected?
As the people whose brokerage mis-reported their TFSA contributions found out, to get the government records corrected, they had to get the brokerage to submit the correction to the CRA.
If you find an error in your TFSA contributions or withdrawals, you must get your TFSA “issuer” to send an “amended record” to the CRA to update their records.
You can certainly contact the CRA and tell them what’s wrong and what you’re doing to get it fixed. They may or may not add a note to your file. But, unfortunately, you must get the bank or financial institution to send in the correction; you can’t just get it corrected by writing the CRA yourself.
What Will the Government Do If I Over-Contributed?
Generally, the CRA will send you a letter and a TFSA return and payment package if you over-contribute to your TFSA. The fine starts the day you over-contributed, though, not the day they advise you of the problem. So if you know you have over-contributed, get the money out immediately!
- How Much Can I Contribute to My TFSA? I Turned 18 or Arrived in Canada after 2009
- How to Choose a Self-Directed TFSA Brokerage Account to Minimize Fees and Costs
- How to Choose a Standard Bank Tax Free Savings Account, TFSA, with Minimal or No Fees
Have you ever reviewed your TFSA transaction history on the CRA My Account website? Did you spot any strange information? Please share your experiences with a comment.