The Canadian Income Tax Act contains numerous provisions relating to the tax treatment of shareholder loans, many of which are designed to prevent their abuse by shareholders. But, what is a shareholder’s loan, how are they used and what are their tax implications?
What is a shareholder’s loan?
Your shareholder loan account is made up of all capital that you contribute to the corporation and all purchases made on behalf of the corporation (using personal funds or personal credit cards) netted against cash withdrawals and personal expenses paid by the company on your behalf.
- Owner cash withdrawal: An owner withdrawing money from a corporation is the most basic shareholder loan. If the withdrawal is not designated as a dividend or a salary, it creates a loan from the corporation to the shareholder. Accountants call this a “due from shareholder” transaction because the loan amount is due from the shareholder to the company.
- Purchase of a personal item with company funds: Another version of an owner withdrawal is when a shareholder purchases a personal (non-business) item using company funds. The purchase would be recorded as a loan from the company to the shareholder and the funds need to be repaid.
- Owner cash contribution: Sometimes a shareholder of a company deposits personal funds into the company to cover expenses. Essentially the shareholder has loaned the company cash and the company needs to pay it back. An accountant would call this a “due to shareholder” transaction because the amount loaned to the company is now due back to the shareholder.
- Pay for business expenses with personal funds: Another common version of an owner contribution is when company expenses are paid with personal funds (usually a credit card) of the shareholder. The purchase is recorded as a loan to the company. The shareholder expects to be reimbursed for this legitimate expense.
What are the benefits of a shareholder loan?
One of the benefits of a shareholder loan is the ability to withdraw funds from the corporation without triggering a tax liability. If a shareholder loan is repaid within one year from the end of the taxation year of the corporation (the taxation year in which the loan was made) it will not be included in the income of the borrower. This creates planning opportunities but it also creates opportunities and incentives for shareholders to abuse the rules. Therefore, the Income Tax Act will, by default, include the principal loan amount of any shareholder loan into the taxpayer’s income. It’s imperative that your loan meets certain conditions to avoid costly or unintended tax consequences.
Understanding shareholder loan conditions:
The following are common scenarios regarding shareholder loans and the conditions required:
- The shareholder loan was made to you or your spouse to buy a home to inhabit, you received the loan in your capacity as an employee of the corporation and bona fide arrangements are met. As an employee of the corporation, you must be actively involved in the operations and not merely a passive shareholder. A bona fide arrangement requires that the loan repayment terms and the interest rate charged is reasonable and would reflect terms similar to a contract entered into between two parties in normal business practice.
- The shareholder loan was made to you to acquire a motor vehicle to be used for the business’s operations. You received the loan in your capacity as an employee of the corporation and bona fide arrangements are met. The loan cannot be part of a series of loans and repayments and the loan must include interest charged at the prescribed rate.
- The shareholder loan was repaid within one year after the taxation year-end in which the loan was made. For instance, assuming the corporation has a calendar year-end, a loan issued February 28, 2020, would have to be repaid by December 31, 2021. There are no tax liability issues under these circumstances.
Shareholder loan tax implications:
Ensuring that you are not penalized by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for improperly withdrawing a Shareholder Loan is critical within your personal and corporate income tax planning. Understanding the tax planning opportunities is also important.
- Any loan to a shareholder that does not meet the conditions is included in the shareholder’s income and no expense is allowed to be deducted by the corporation, resulting in double taxation.
- Any subsequent repayment of the loan may be deducted from income in the year it is repaid.
- In certain circumstances, this rule creates tax planning opportunities. For instance, if a $10,000 shareholder loan was made to your adult child studying full-time there would be no tax liability as the $10,000 income inclusion would be sheltered by the basic personal tax credit. Upon commencing work and repaying the loan, your child would deduct $10,000 from income in a higher tax bracket. If their marginal tax rate at that time is 30% that would create a tax savings of $3,000. Ultimately, the corporation is in the same cash position after the loan is repaid but your child is $3,000 richer.
In the worst-case scenario, the CRA can have the full amount of the loan plus interest added to the shareholders’ income for the year of the loan and not allow a deduction at the corporate level. Planning for repayment within two corporate fiscal year ends is a reliable course of action to mitigate any worry of penalization from the CRA. Having an experienced accounting team in place to not only plan but to monitor and execute is pivotal when a corporation has transactional deposits and withdrawals out of the corporation.
How to avoid shareholder loan tax problems:
There are a few straightforward ways to avoid taxation problems. These include:
- Repaying the loan: If the shareholder repays the loan permanently within one year, he won’t have to pay tax personally on those funds.
- Taking the cash as a salary or wage: If the owner wants to earn money from his company and avoid double taxation, he could take the funds as a salary or wage. The salary would act as a tax deduction for the company and the owner would include it in his employment income. This avoids double taxation.
- Taking the cash as a dividend: Avoid double taxation by taking the money as a dividend. A dividend would be declared and the owner would transfer the cash into his personal account. Dividends are taxed at lower rates than employment income so double taxation is avoided. If you issue dividends, you will need to issue T5 and prepare corporate documents called dividend resolutions.
Shareholder loans are a useful way to manage short-term personal cash needs. They allow shareholders flexibility in how and when cash is withdrawn from a company. If you need a short-term loan for less than a year, a shareholder loan could be an easy way to obtain the funds. The loan needs to be repaid within the year to avoid having to include the amount in your personal income. If repayment isn’t possible, a dividend could be issued and you would pay personal tax on the amount at a reduced rate. The rules relating to shareholder loans can be very complex. To successfully navigate subsection 15(2) of the Income Tax Act and its many exceptions, proper planning is essential. Talk to a Chartered Professional Accountant. They can help you successfully navigate the intricacies of shareholder loans.