It’s the letter you never want to receive from the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA). You are subject to a CRA Audit.
The CRA sends thousands of letters every year to notify people that they’re being subjected to an audit. Of all the returns they receive, it’s usually business taxes that they take a fine-tooth comb to. This is unfortunate because business owners and entrepreneurs are often swamped with numbers, and the last thing they have time for is to parse through each one.
If you want the best chance of successfully getting through a CRA audit, we’ll look at how they decide who to investigate, what you can do to prepare, what’s going to happen, and what your accountant should be doing in the meantime.
Risks for a CRA Audit
The biggest risk for being selected for a CRA audit is the size of your business. The majority of the CRA audit program spending is devoted to small and medium-sized businesses. When they run through all of the numbers, here’s what they’re looking for:
- Discrepancies: Officials are looking for gaps and glaring margins between the reports. For instance, if your reported income is different than the average reported income in prior years, this could be a red flag for the CRA. Or if your income is far higher than the norm in your industry, this may trigger the next step.
- Deductions: Sometimes just claiming home office deductions, which can include utilities, insurance, and property taxes, can be enough to have the CRA send you a letter. Because many people will claim these expenses when they aren’t explicitly used for the business, many of the write-offs don’t qualify. You may also face an audit if you’re making a lot of charitable donations or medical expenses.
- Cash: Dealing with a lot of cash in a business opens the path to fraud because it’s notoriously difficult to track. This is doubly true if you’re reporting loss after loss in a cash-heavy business.
- Family: There are plenty of business owners out there who will take advantage of their familial connections to make it easier to pay their taxes. So while plenty of people will employ family members without breaking the rules, you may be flagged simply for having a child or spouse on the books.
How the CRA Audit Process Works
The first step is a CRA auditor contacting you (usually by mail or by phone). They’ll give you specifics of the auditing process and then conduct an on-site audit at the place of business. The auditor is generally looking at the following paperwork:
- Tax returns, perhaps and organizational chart or property details, depending on the nature of the audit.
- Ledgers, invoices, receipts, contracts, bank statements.
- Records of other individuals or entities not being audited (e.g., partnerships, corporations, spouses, common-law partners, etc.)
The records looked at will include those for your place of business but also your personal records as well. They’ll also look at any adjustments made by your bookkeeper or accountant to ensure that they were all completed according to tax law.
By the end of a CRA audit, the auditor will either declare your filing to be a correct assessment, which means that your case is complete and your audit will be closed. Or they may conclude that you either owe additional taxes or that you’re entitled to a refund.
What You Can Do to Prepare For A CRA Audit
The best way to prepare is by organizing all your records and ensuring that there’s concrete evidence to justify your numbers and answer any questions. This can include anything from invoicing history to physical receipts. The CRA requirement is to keep your records for at least seven years before shredding them, though CRA will generally audit within three years of your return being filed.
You can also consider gathering proof for regional shifts in supply and demand for your industry. For instance, if you’ve taken several losses over the course of your business, you may be able to point to general trends that have pushed down revenue among all of your competitors. However, these records are not to be shown to the auditor unless specifically asked for. Simply having them at the ready can help give you a sense of confidence as you move into the proceedings.
In addition, when you’re getting ready to speak to the auditor, make sure that you’ve given some thought about what you want to address with them. Generally, less is more and answer what is asked of you. You should be friendly but also thorough when asking about anything from due dates to expectations. It’s common for people to get flustered when they’re talking to an official from the CRA — even when they haven’t done anything to be nervous about. When the auditor is working with you, they should get the sense that you have nothing to hide.
The Role of Your Accountant During A CRA Audit
A CRA audit can be difficult for many reasons, particularly if you’re a busy business owner who doesn’t have a lot of bandwidth to organize, catalog, and verify every last record. When you have a good accountant on your side, they can help you manage the process from beginning to end. Accountants stand between you and the auditor, making it easier to handle the questions and produce the paperwork they need to close the case.
Disclaimer: Avisar Chartered Professional Accountant’s blog deals with a number of complex issues in a concise manner; it is recommended that accounting, legal or other appropriate professional advice should be sought before acting upon any of the information contained therein. Although every reasonable effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this post, no individual or organization involved in either the preparation or distribution of this post accepts any contractual, tortious, or any other form of liability for its contents or for any consequences arising from its use.