Many shoppers in Canada quickly decline the offer of a receipt when a store clerk asks them. You won’t ever catch a small business owner doing this. It’s not that they like drowning in thousands of little slips of paper; instead, they just know that without every receipt they can get their hands on, their tax return could get out of hand. What businesses need, then, is a way of cataloging and organizing receipts to present to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
The CRA has very strict rules about businesses providing proof of their expenses. They also offer lenient treatment in these matters sometimes. For instance, CRA may let businesses get away by merely showing detailed accounting and other records as proof that they have spent the money they claim and may only look at certain items. In an audit, the auditor usually has a dollar figure he wants to look at and skips over anything under that amount. Sometimes, the CRA will accept these defenses for a lack of receipts. At other times, they will have none of it. It is safest to keep receipts for everything. Two items where this is never the case is automobile and meals.
There are two parts to providing the CRA with the proof required – getting all the receipts from all the vendors you deal with and then organizing them to present to the CRA as proof. Getting the receipts is easy enough – you only have to resolve to ask for them. Organizing receipts in a manageable and presentable way, though, is the other. These tips below help you keep your records well-sorted.
To organize receipts in proper form, you need to first know what each receipt is for. When you have a load of receipts at the end of the year, it can be hard to know which proves what. Each time you get a receipt, then, you need to make notes on it for what it is for. You may not be able to use the receipt otherwise.
It can be difficult to keep hundreds of little slips of paper organized for years. The CRA can come back long after a tax year is done and ask for additional proof for something. This is what receipt scanners are there for. The CRA accepts scans in place of original receipts. Make sure that you keep a couple of backups of your scans, though. If you don’t, you could be sunk if you lose your hard drive for some reason. Taking pictures on your smartphone camera could be a great alternative, too. There are dozens of apps that help you organize your receipts.
It is hard to overestimate how confusing hundreds of receipts can be when you need to find a specific one for a specific expense. If you have the misfortune to be in a tax audit, you can find that merely having an organized set of receipts is not enough. The CRA auditor may ask for additional corroboration – in the form of a business calendar. If you are deducting travel expenses, for instance, the auditor may want to look at your business calendar to see if you actually have travel plans jotted down in there. Maintaining a detailed Outlook calendar could be a great idea.
It is important to keep all your bank and credit card statements. These aren’t good enough to take the place of actual receipts, though. These statements typically use short descriptions for each expense. An expense line may say that you’ve spent $700 at Amazon – it won’t say that you bought business software with that money. As far as the CRA is concerned, you could have bought $700 worth of Silly String cans. You need to keep your receipts as well as your credit card statements.
Finally, whatever happens, always pay with checks or plastic. Cash expenses do come with receipts; they don’t have additional corroboration in the form of bank or credit card statements, though. As far as the CRA is concerned, there is no such thing as too much proof.
You’re much better off trying to ensure you have all your receipts for your business expense, and for those personal expenses you can deduct such as donations and medical expenses, now rather than waiting until April (June for small business); in which case, you may end up filing late.
The CRA is happy to give you thousands of dollars off your tax bill. The only thing they ask in return is solid corroboration for each expense you deduct. Collecting and organizing receipts, though, proves to be a tall order for many small businesses. These tips that follow show you where many businesses make mistakes and what you can do to keep your tax return safe. Or better yet, hire Number Crunchers® and get this headache off your shoulders.
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