How does the CRA Select a Return for Review?

By Randall Orser | Business Income Taxes

Canada’s tax system is based on self-assessment, therefore, every once in a while the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) must conduct reviews or audits to ensure you’re filing correctly. Each year, the CRA conducts a number of review activities that promote awareness of and compliance with the laws it administers. These reviews are an important part of the compliance activities CRA undertakes in order to maintain the Canadian public's confidence in as well as the integrity of the Canadian tax system. 

There are a number of reasons why an income tax return may be selected in one of CRA’s review programs. These reasons include:

  • random selection;
  • comparison of information on returns to information received from third-party sources, such as T4 information slips;
  • types of deductions or credits claimed and an individual's review history.

The process of selecting returns for review is the same whether the return is filed on paper or electronically. Therefore, the chances of a return being selected for review are not impacted by the method used to file the return. We refine the focus of our reviews annually based on review results and problem areas identified.

Most income tax returns filed each year are processed within two to six weeks. The CRA processes most returns without conducting a manual review of the information reported so that a Notice of Assessment and/or refund can be issued as quickly as possible. However, all returns are screened by the CRA’s computer system and may be subject to review at a later date.

Even in this electronic age you should keep all receipts and documents to support your claims for at least six years in case you are selected for review. And, in a format that CRA can access, such as PDF or Word files. If you’re a small business, keep all your accounting data backed up and have one for each year.

I would say that 90% of tax returns slated for review are just random, however, there are some things that can trigger a review, or even an audit. 

  • You’ve had a major life change happen from the previous year, such as moving, or getting married or divorced.
  • There’s a major deduction that you’ve never claimed before, such as legal fees, employment expenses, support payments.
  • Higher than normal tuition/education credits. I found this with people who went to flight school which can cost upwards of $60,000.
  • It’s your first year filing as a proprietorship or partnership. Many times CRA does a review when you just start your business to get you off on the right foot; especially if you filed your own return.
  • Larger than normal medical expenses claim will definitely get you a review.
  • The public transit amount is another deduction that gets review frequently. Remember that daily passes or tickets are not eligible. 

If your return is selected for review, the first thing is don’t panic. The second is to read the letter carefully, determine exactly what it is they’re reviewing, and find the documents they’re seeking (only give them what they asked for, and nothing more). You have nothing to worry about as you’re organized and have all your documents in a safe place, and easily accessible for just such occasions. 



About the Author

President/CEO Number Crunchers® Accounting Inc. Learn how to just say stuff it to this bookkeeping thing with our 'Just Say: "Stuff It" To Bookkeeping program.