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For some Canadians, filing a tax return is not a problem. In fact, they may gleefully look forward to the April 30th tax deadline, as they expect a hefty refund. For others, however, April 30th is a dreaded date. That’s because instead of being the recipient of a tax refund, they discover that they owe money to the CRA.

While the impact of an extra tax bill may be negligible for some taxpayers, it can be a great burden for those who are struggling financially and have limited funds. The added weight of another bill may be more than they can handle – and the prospect of being indebted to the CRA can be distressing. Maybe you find yourself in such a predicament?

Luckily, there’s no need to worry, as you have many options available to deal with your tax debt.

Find out what’s the maximum tax refund you can get in Canada.

What Happens if I Can’t Pay My Taxes in Canada?

The penalty for filing a tax return late is 5% of the balance owing, plus 1% for every month the balance is outstanding, up to a maximum of 12 months. Interest accrues daily on the owed balance at the CRA’s prescribed rate, which changes every quarter. 

Even if you’re unable to pay your taxes by the deadline, you should at least file your current year’s return and previous years’ returns if you haven’t done so already. You can’t fully explore your options until you know exactly how much you owe – and the CRA will refuse to work with you to find a solution until your filings are up to date.


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What Can You do if You Can’t Pay Your Taxes? 

If sending a lump-sum payment to settle your tax liability is not possible, there are other options you can explore, which are detailed below.

Request Taxpayer Relief 

If you’re in a dire situation financially, you can make a formal request to the CRA to have your interest charges and late-filing penalties waived. You can also ask the CRA to accept a late-filed tax return or request a tax reassessment to claim refunds beyond the allowable 3-year period (under ordinary circumstances, the CRA disallows taxpayers from claiming a refund on a return filed three years after its due date). 

Check out if you should file your taxes if you have no income.

To be eligible for these tax relief provisions, you must prove that you’re unable to fulfill your payment obligations due to:

  • Extraordinary circumstances
  • Specific actions of the CRA
  • Exceptional financial hardship resulting in an inability to pay
  • Other circumstances 

You can apply to have your case considered by completing form RC4288 – Request for Taxpayer Relief and submitting it to your local tax office. Be sure to provide as many details as possible and include all the necessary documentation. The time limit to file your application is ten years from the tax year in which you’re asking for leniency.

Check out these 17 ways you can reduce your tax debt.

Payment Arrangements With The CRA

The CRA offers support and guidance for taxpayers who are dealing with tax payment issues. The agency understands that taxpayers routinely experience challenges with their finances and, as a result, offers flexible payment plans. 

You can contact the CRA to work out a payment arrangement that works for you. To initiate a payment arrangement, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the CRA website and use the payment arrangement calculator to determine your optimal payment schedule. 
  1. Contact the CRA to arrange your payment schedule. The CRA typically allows you to pay your tax debt over five years, including all applicable interest and fees. They may ask you to provide your financial details, such as proof of income, expenses, assets, and liabilities, to support your case. Be honest about your present circumstances and negotiate a fair and reasonable payment plan. 
  1. Once a payment plan has been established, ensure you commit to it by making timely payments. You can make payments by setting up pre-authorized debits or by using the CRA’s automated TeleArrangement service.

Check out if you have any unclaimed cheques with the CRA.

Use a Personal Loan

Sometimes the only way to pay off your tax debt is to borrow money. If you’re unable to negotiate a payment plan with the CRA, obtaining a personal loan is a great alternative. 

Interest rates on personal loans are typically lower than those on credit cards. And if you possess a high credit score, you’ll have an abundance of loan products to choose from. A loan allows you to extinguish your tax debt in one easy payment, freeing you from CRA collection letters and rapidly accumulating interest charges.

Each financial institution has its own eligibility requirements that dictate who can qualify for a loan and at which rate. Some of the criteria lenders assess when they review your loan application include your:

Suppose you rank high in many of these financial metrics. In that case, you’ll likely qualify for a loan with an affordable interest rate. Conversely, suppose your finances are in poor shape. In that case, lenders will be hesitant to extend credit to you, as they perceive you to be a high-risk borrower.

Should you fail to secure a personal loan from a traditional lender, such as a bank, you can seek financing from various alternative lenders. Alternative lenders specialize in lending to individuals with low credit scores and unstable incomes. However, any loan you qualify for will come with a higher interest rate. 

The most efficient way to find a loan is to utilize an online loan comparison platform. By providing just a few details, you can access a wide range of lenders and select the loan most suitable for you.

Check out these tax loans in Canada.

Use the Equity in Your Home

If you own a home, consider using your property’s equity to pay off your tax debt. This strategy is advantageous when interest rates are low. 

There are three ways to access your home equity:

  • Refinance your mortgage: When you refinance your mortgage, you can use a portion of the funds to pay off your tax debt. Keep in mind that refinancing involves breaking your mortgage contract, which may trigger expensive prepayment penalties. 
  • Obtain a home equity loan: This is a loan backed by the equity in your home. Because your home acts as collateral for the loan, you should strive to pay it back sooner rather than later once you use the funds to settle your tax debt.
  • Home equity line of credit (HELOC): Much like a home equity loan, a HELOC is backed by the equity in your home. You can borrow as much as you like, up to a prescribed maximum.

Find out if you can consolidate your tax debt

Use a Credit Card

Using a credit card to pay off your tax debt is not optimal due to the high-interest rates. However, it’s preferable to having your wages garnished or liens placed on your assets, so it’s worth considering.

Examine what rate you’ll be paying on your current card. The typical credit card rate in Canada is 19.99%. Some cards charge rates higher than 30%. Interest charges can accumulate quickly, especially if you anticipate carrying a balance for many years. Your best bet is to apply for a low-interest credit card. Some cards also offer the ability to collect points or receive cashback, which is a nice bonus to look for as well. 

The CRA doesn’t accept credit cards as a payment method; you must use a third-party service provider to process your payment, which will cost you a small fee.

Find out if owing money to the CRA affects your credit score.

File a Consumer Proposal

What can you do if you’ve exhausted all options to secure the funds required to pay off your tax debt? If the situation escalates to this point, you can file a consumer proposal to negotiate a reduction in your tax debt with the CRA. 

A growing and popular bankruptcy alternative, a consumer proposal is a legally binding debt settlement contract filed with a Licensed Insolvency Trustee. The trustee will administer the proposal on your behalf and help you determine what you should offer to pay the CRA and other creditors if needed. For the proposal to be valid, it must be accepted by more than half of your creditors, based on the total amount owing.

Taxpayer FAQs

What if you refuse to pay your taxes?

The CRA can exercise considerable power to collect unpaid taxes. Should you fail to pay what you owe, they can freeze your bank account and garnish your wages to settle the balance. If you have limited or no income, they can also seize your assets, such as your home, and place liens on them.

Can I get rid of my tax debt through bankruptcy?

Yes, like many other kinds of debt, your taxes can be discharged through bankruptcy. However, bankruptcy will seriously impair your credit score and remain on your credit report for six to seven years. It will take a considerable amount of time and effort to rebuild your credit score. For this reason, bankruptcy should be considered only as a last resort.

How do I know how much tax I owe?

Once your tax filings are up to date, the CRA will issue a Notice of Assessment (NOA), which is a document that summarizes your filed returns. The NOA will also state any taxes, penalties and interest you owe. Another way to check how much tax you owe is through the CRA’s website. Log into your CRA My Account and click on the Accounts and Payments tab. Next, click on Account Balance and Statement of Account – your balance owing should be displayed here. 

Bottom Line

If you owe a significant amount of taxes to the CRA, there are various routes you can take to pay off the debt.

Assuming your tax filing is up to date, you should first explore the cheapest and least demanding options. These include arranging a fair and affordable payment plan with the CRA and asking for financial relief, resulting in you better managing the debt. Should those methods fail, you can try to secure a loan, use a credit card, or file a consumer proposal.

Mark Gregorski avatar on Loans Canada
Mark Gregorski

Mark is a writer who specializes in writing content for companies in the financial services industry. He has written articles about personal finance, mortgages, and real estate and is passionate about educating people on how to make smart financial decisions. Mark graduated from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology with a degree in finance and has more than ten years' experience as an accountant. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing poker, going to the gym, composing music, and learning about digital marketing.

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