Personal Finance » Tax

Common misconceptions about taxes

Canadians may be leaving money on the table at tax time because they do not have a good understanding of what can be claimed on their tax returns. Less than 25 percent of Canadians provided the right answers when asked questions about their tax returns, according to a survey by Leger Marketing for H&R Block Canada.

Tax Quiz failings include:

  • 82% of Canadians do not know how much a $1,000 RRSP contribution would save them in federal tax, assuming a taxable income of $50,000.
  • Six out of 10 Canadians with children in the household are unaware that the lower-income spouse claims the childcare expenses.
  • 40% of married or common-law Canadians do not realize that they each need to file their own return, with the other spouse’s information included.
  • Only a quarter of Canadians answered correctly that they should file an Alberta return if they moved from Ontario to Alberta before December 31 to take a new job.
  • Three in four Canadians with children in the household do not realize that they are not entitled to claim any tuition or education credits unless their child transfers them.
  • Only 27% of Canadians correctly said that healthcare premiums paid to the group plan at work are a medical expense.

Despite the fact that Canadians failed this quiz, tax is the one thing we all have in common … we have to pay it. From my personal experience, I see the same thing.  I think taxes are really misunderstood so I thought I would share some of the common misconceptions I hear over and over again.

“I lose 50% or more to taxes.”

It’s very difficult for the average Canadian to really figure out how much tax they pay especially when you include all forms of tax from all three levels of government like sales taxes, import duties, excise taxes, gas tax, payroll tax, etc. The Fraser Institute in Canada tries to estimate this through their calculation of tax freedom day. This is a theoretical date when the average Canadian family is released of its tax obligation for the year. Tax freedom day has lead many people to believe 50% of their money goes to tax in some way shape or form. In 2020, Tax Freedom day was June 14th. In theory this means we pay 46% in tax, not 50%.

But for most people, when it comes to income tax, we pay less tax than we think. It’s critically important to understand the difference between marginal tax and average tax.

Related article:  Marginal Tax vs Average Tax

“I should have never taken that raise, I lost it all and more to taxes.”

This is a simple misunderstanding of Canada’s progressive tax system (marginal tax) where the more you earn the more opportunity you have to pay tax. The misconception is that moving into a higher marginal tax bracket will subject all your income to a higher tax rate – this is not the case. The truth is, only the income that is in the higher tax bracket is taxed at the higher rate. All of the money you earned below the new tax bracket remains taxed at the lower rates. It’s so important to have an understanding of basic tax planning tidbits.

The bottom line is you should never, ever, ever turn down money! Enjoy every pay increase you receive without tax worries and remember that those higher paycheques means more money in your pocket.

“My goal is to pay no tax!”

There is a simple solution to this goal. Simply make no money and you will pay no tax. The irony is that you should try to pay as much tax as possible because it means you are also keeping more money in your pocket. Our progressive tax system still encourages people to make as much money as you can. Generally you are not ‘penalized’ for making more money. Sure you will pay more tax when you make more money but as I mentioned earlier “Never, ever, ever turn down money” because paying more tax also means more money in your pocket.

Related article:  A list of things that are not taxed in Canada

“I should have never bought RRSPs because they tax me when I take it out anyway.”

Quite often, this statement comes from those that are already retired who want or need to withdraw some money from their RRSPs. When you take money, you have to pay tax at your marginal tax rate, which means that if you want to spend a dollar, you need to take out at least a $1.33 to net a dollar. What retirees often forget is they got a tax deduction a long time ago when the money went into the RRSP. In other words, the government lent them money when they made the contribution. Although they have to pay that money back when the money is withdrawn, in most cases, they got a bigger deduction when they put the money in than the amount of tax they are paying when they take it out. For example if you put the money in while you were working an in a 36% marginal tax bracket and you take it out when you are in a 25% marginal tax bracket, you just made 11% in a return based on tax. This 11% is on top of any investment your return through investing. Sure, you might dislike the thought about paying 25% when you take it out but don’t lose sight of the benefit you got when the money went in.

Related article: Proper use of RRSPs

If you understand the proper use of RRSPs, you will know that even though you pay tax when the money comes out, the RRSPs can still very much work in your advantage.

Do you know any other misconceptions about taxes?


  1. MaryT.

    Thanks for explaining the that all I earned below the new tax bracket remains taxed at the lower rates. That is really good to know.

  2. Doable Finance

    I don’t know about Canada but here in the U.S., two things one must understand:

    1. The more you make, the less you pay – ever heard of loopholes?
    2. The less you make, the more you pay – never heard of loopholes?

    “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” – Albert Einstein, physicist.

    Well! It may be connected to his theory of relativity but, being a physicist that he was, he didn’t think of the U.S. tax system in reverse.

    It would have been a lot easier for him if he understood the two things I mentioned above.

  3. Jim Yih

    Thanks for stopping by Alex and all your nice comments!

  4. Dale

    I would disagree, our system is not very progressive at all. consider that our top income tax rate is near 50%, then add 13% hst if you choose to spend that money. then gas and alcohol are 40-50% tax, or propterty taxes if you buy a bigger property, one could lose 70% of extra income. certainly not an incentive. many go the other way to consulting to reduce or eliminate income taxes.

  5. Dale

    high taxes are a disincentive to work.

  6. E*

    Thank you for this great site and your well-reasoned advice. I hear people talking about “avoiding a higher tax bracket” all the time, and it makes me want to bang my head against a wall. I think you’ve explained it very well here, and I will start referring people to this page. (I am in the U.S., but it’s the same thing here.)

  7. maurice rousseau

    I’m one of the 27% who didn’t know that I could claim my wife’s portion of her employer medical premiums which is 50/50. I had thought it was so unfair but now I’m on top of everything else and will send an amendment if it makes a reasonable difference in my refund since I’m over 3 percent in medical expenses. On a happy ending, I did claim my Canadian magazine news subscription up to 250 dollars this year nearly having missed to do so.

  8. Paul

    You could retitle the article “Most people like to complain, especially about things they know very little about.”
    I am not surprised an H&R Block survey shows most people don’t understand taxes. Number one it is in Block’s interest to have the survey come out that way. Number two I once worked for Block and I can tell you most of the clients have no idea how taxes work which is why they waste their money at H&R Block instead of doing it themselves.

    • D

      After a couple of years at H&R I noticed that I was not given time to show (or rather I was discouraged from showing) clients tax savings and how they basically work. I always hating saying “If you would have kept that receipt, we could have got you more money”. Yes, it shows the client that we have more tax training but I was not there for my ego. Upon commenting to ‘management’, I was told to not educate them or they might not return next year. I not longer am associated with them and have made it my person mission to educate as many people as who want to learn.

  9. Catherine

    Thanks for the simple and clear explanation about the higher tax brackets. For those who find paying income taxes to be a deterrent to working, they are probably in a high enough tax bracket that they have enough. For the rest of us, never say no to the $. (I’m not meaning to imply that I actually ENJOY paying the taxes Lol).

  10. Bill G

    I suggest people look at their total tax percentage before claiming they are overtaxed. Most tax software does this for you. Given how little people understand about taxes in general and marginal rates in particular, it doesn’t surprise me that misinformation is so easy to accept. The Fraser Institute and their “tax free day” is propaganda. “Tax free day” for me would be about April 8th.

    For the last two years my total tax rate has been 27%. At its peak it was about 36% when I was making about double what I am now. My wife has a stable salary and her overall rate is about the same – 26%.

    • Savonius

      The Fraser Institute Tax Freedom Day calculation includes income taxes, payroll taxes, health taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, fuel taxes, carbon taxes, and import duties.

    • KEITH

      Your Tax Free Day is based on your INCOME TAX only. Do you pay property taxes? Sales taxes?, Gasoline taxes?, buy Liquor and pay TAXES?, buy a new home and pay Land Transfer TAX, and when you pass you shall pay a death tax on your assets. Now do you still feel you are TAX FREE on April 8th?

  11. albe rtplumer

    It seems unclear to me from CRA if donating to an applicable nonprofit (with the tax number) if the quantity of donation is capped , and if I gift funds to a friend does that friend count it as income?

  12. Alex

    « Only a quarter of Canadians answered correctly that they should file an Alberta return if they moved from Ontario to Alberta in June 2010 to take a new job. ». In June 2010? Or is that a typo?

  13. Valerie

    What you did Not touch on was growth in the RSP. When you withdraw from an RSP you may be charged a lower percentage than the percentage of your original Tax Refund…. but ALL of your growth is taxed on withdrawal as well. Meaning you pay way more on the way out assuming you got decent returns. We should only be charged tax on the original contributions, not the market value. Canadians are over taxed.

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