This is one question I get asked a lot by new businesses, whether or not they should register for the GST/HST. I usually say ‘Yes’ so you get used to charging it and your customers get used to paying it. We’ll talk about what is the GST/HST and when do I register for it. If you’re incorporated then it’s a definite ‘yes’ to registering as you went to the bother of incorporating, you may as well collect GST/HST.
What is GST/HST?
GST stands for Goods and Services Tax and HST stands for Harmonized Sales Tax. The HST is where a province has merged its provincial sales tax (PST) with the GST. In Ontario, that province merged it’s 8% PST with the GST and made an HST of 13% (the provincial portion was lowered by 2% points). Note, the GST and HST are the same tax, just different percentages, and you remit them at the same time on the same form.
The GST is a tax that applies to the supply of most property and services in Canada. Generally, the HST applies to the same base of property and services as the GST. In some participating provinces, there are point-of-sale rebates equivalent to the provincial part of the HST on certain items.
Although the consumer pays the tax, businesses are generally responsible for collecting and remitting it to the government (Quebec administers its GST/HST). Businesses that are required to have a GST/HST registration number are called registrants. Registrants collect the GST/HST on most of their sales and pay the GST/HST on most purchases they make to operate their business. They can claim an input tax credit, to recover the GST/HST paid or payable on the purchases they use in their commercial activities.
When do I register for GST/HST?
Generally, you don’t have to register if you’re worldwide sales are less than $30,000, unless you want to be able claim for any GST/HST you paid out to suppliers. You should be looking at the past 4 quarters of sales and if at any time it’s coming close to $30,000 then you should register. For example, if you find that your sales are at $30,000 by the end of June, then you need to register; however, if it’s December 28th, then you probably won’t have to register.
If you’re starting a business and expect to make a lot of supply or equipment purchases then you need to register for GST/HST as soon as your business name is approved and registered, and, definitely, before you buy anything for the business. I have seen so many people get excited about their new enterprise that they go crazy buying stuff and then realize they should register for the GST/HST. Of course, once you’ve bought stuff it’s too late, and CRA won’t backdate your GST/HST registration unless you’ve been invoicing customers (you’ll have to prove that you’ve invoiced customers).
There are situations where you don’t register as you’re selling an exempt product/service, such as insurance or a financial planner. In this case, you can’t register, would not charge GST/HST, and cannot claim any input tax credits either.
Another situation when it’s best to register from the start is when you buy an existing business, or part of a business. When a business sells to another business then the businesses can opt to elect that the GST/HST does not apply to the supply of the business. You would file form GST44 - Election Concerning the Acquisition of a Business or Part of a Business and send that in with your first GST/HST return after acquiring the business. If you’re GST/HST return is filed electronically then just send the GST44 into your tax centre.
If you’re mostly business-to-business sales then definitely register as businesses are used to paying GST/HST, and they know that if you’re not charging GST/HST then you’re making less than $30,000 and that you’re a new business. For business to consumer, it’s a bit more difficult as consumers’ hate paying tax and will sometimes go to great lengths not to pay it. In the end, I still think it’s best to register for GST/HST as your goal is to have a business and this makes you look more professional.