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How to File Your Taxes Without a T4 or When You're Self-Employed

March 30, 2021
5 mins
A woman tracks her finances with a notebook and phone

For some Canadians, tax season is a breeze, especially for those that only have one T4 slip to submit. For others, tax season can be an added stress to an already busy schedule.

Here is some information to help you with common tax-time problems that will (hopefully) make this year easier.

What to do if you’re missing information

No one is perfect, and losing a piece of paper, such as a T4 slip, can happen. Rest assured, all hope is not lost, and there is a way to recover your information.

A T4 slip indicates how much you were paid before deductions by an employer, in addition to your Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Québec Pension Plan (QPP), Employment Insurance (EI) contributions, and other amounts deducted from your paycheque during the tax year.

Each employer should give you a T4 slip if you worked for them within the last tax year — no matter if you’re a salaried or hourly-paid employee. Depending on how many companies you worked for, you may have multiple T4s that you’ll need to submit as part of your tax return.

Employers are required to send out T4s to all employees by a deadline each year (February 28, 2021). Even if you’re not with the same employer, they are still obligated to send you a T4 slip. But sometimes addresses and contact information change, things slip through the cracks, and you’re stuck without a T4 as the tax deadline looms.

Luckily, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) features My Account, an online portal for individuals and businesses. This service allows you to access slips that have been processed. You can also check any balances and forward unused credits from the year before, such as tuition credits and your registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) contribution limits.

Only some of your slips may be available online, but you can also contact the CRA for more information. When you call, make sure you have last year’s return and personal information on hand because they’ll need that to verify your account. You’ll also need these details when you set up your online profile.

When you know you’re going to be filing expenses on your return, track them throughout the year and keep all receipts. If you can’t find all your information, you can always file an adjustment later or claim it next year.

If worse comes to worst and you can’t find your T4, and the CRA has not processed it, you can also use old paystubs to figure out prorated figures for the year. The CRA will review your return, so it’s essential to file on time and adjust later.

Filing taxes if you’re self-employed

The best advice you can follow if you’re self-employed is to keep track of everything, including income and expenses, throughout the year. Log all your business receipts with accounting software and keep them for at least six years in case the CRA audits you.

It’s best to keep your personal and business affairs separate. Experts recommend keeping two different banking accounts, so you can easily follow your cash flow. Using an Excel sheet can simplify the calculations for how much you owe in income taxes and HST each month.

When it comes to filing business expenses, be reasonable. The CRA will consider items that are essential to your company as reasonable expenses, including business meeting lunches and company car use. If you are uncertain, check with CRA or an accountant.

If you’re self-employed, you’re responsible for deducting your income tax. It’s easiest to pay every month to avoid a massive bill at the end of the year. The same goes for HST if you’re collecting it. You are not required to pay HST if you make $30,000 or less in gross revenue annually. You only have to file an HST and income tax return once a year (unless you’re making $1.5 million or more per year).

When to call in extra help

Some people are simply old pros when it comes to filing their taxes. But, if you just don’t have the time to figure everything out, there’s no harm in calling in reinforcements.

Online NETFILE-certified programs can make filing your return quick and easy. Or, if your taxes are complicated, you can hire an accountant. An accountant may be able to suggest other expenses you can claim on your return, which is why it’s crucial to save all your receipts.

If an accountant isn’t in your budget and you don’t want to file online, many communities offer no-charge tax return consulting sessions. Some schools and community centres may even offer simple tax help.

If you make a modest income, you may be eligible for one of the CRA’s free tax clinics — they’re virtual this year.

Although tax filing was extended last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the deadline remains on schedule this tax season. Still, the CRA understands the extraordinary circumstance stemming from 2020, including emergency and recovery benefits, work from home credits, and other financial challenges that will make filing a return difficult this year. Visit the CRA website to learn more about the tax accommodations and assistance available.

Don’t forget, the deadline to file your taxes is April 30, 2021!

This post was updated on March 30, 2021.

Patrick Faller

Patrick is a writer, creative media producer, and award-winning journalist with a love of technology, the arts, and design. He’s passionate about consumer affairs and helping Canadians make the best possible choices when it comes to their finances. You can find him on social media @patfaller.

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