Shareholder Loans and the CRA
Many independent business owners dedicate a significant part of their time and effort into managing the operations of their business. Naturally, it is difficult for business owners to separate their personal life and the time spent managing their business. A common consequence from these set of circumstances is that owners start using their corporate account or credit cards to fund personal purchases and vice versa. This may be better known as “shareholder loans” and “shareholder benefits”.
The Government of Canada recognizes that this is relatively a common phenomenon and has provisions in the Income Tax Act to ensure that they are dealt with effectively and fairly. This post will briefly highlight the main tax consequences of shareholder benefits/loans and what business owners should be aware of. For a previous blog post overview of shareholder loans in general, please see here.
Shareholder Loans and Benefits
A shareholder benefit is money given by a corporation to one of its shareholder, or to a person or partnership who does not deal at arm’s length with the shareholder. It is intended to capture economic advantages a shareholder may receive which are derived from the corporation. More specifically, s.15(1) of the Income Tax Act ensures that the value of any such “benefits” conferred on a shareholder of a corporation are included in income of the shareholder, and taxed.
The term “benefit” however is not explicitly defined in the Income Tax Act and can compass several meanings. As a result, some benefits are easier to recognize than others. For example, a business owner withdrawing cash from their corporate account would be considered a benefit conferred. A more subtle yet just as equally a benefit conferred would be purchasing an item for personal use such as a MacBook with corporate funds. In this case, the value of the MacBook would be attributed as income to the shareholder.
How do I Manage Shareholder Loans?
Typically, the balance sheets of corporate accounts have an account called “shareholder loans” to oversee what is owed and paid to the business. For example, if the shareholder deposited excess personal funds to the business, the shareholder loan account would be in the liability section as the business owes the shareholder.
Alternatively, if the shareholder withdrew excess funds from the business, the shareholder loan account would appear on the asset section as the shareholder owes the business money.
Shareholder Benefits – Are there any Workarounds?
It is important to note that dividends or capital distributions are not included as shareholder benefits. This is because when income is extracted from the corporation in the form of a taxable dividend, the amount of the taxable dividend is already fully included in the income of a taxpayer.
Furthermore, s.15(2) of the Income Tax Act allows loans paid to the shareholder not to be deemed a benefit conferred as long as the loan amount is repaid within one taxation year after the end of the taxation year in which the loan was given. The purpose of this rule is to prevent business owners from unfairly providing themselves or other shareholders long term loans that effectively allow them to use corporate funds for personal purchases while deferring their tax obligations.
The Courts have also grappled with the issue of whether or not a benefit is actually conferred when there is an accounting oversight. For example, what happens when an accountant erroneously posts a personal home purchase as a corporate expense rather than debiting the shareholder loan account. In this situation, the Courts determined that an erroneous failure to adjust a loan account does not create tax liability.
If used properly, shareholder loans can be an extremely powerful tool for business owners to leverage their corporate accounts. However, improper use of shareholder loans can result in double taxation and audits from the CRA. If your business is being audit or have further questions regarding shareholder loans and benefits, contact a professional at R&A Tax Law today! We’re here to help!
This article provides information of a general nature only. It does not provide legal advice nor can it or should it be relied upon. All tax situations are specific to their facts and will differ from the situations in the articles. If you have specific legal questions you should consult a lawyer.