A Lesson in Klingon – Explaining the Refundable Dividend Tax On Hand (RDTOH) & The New Passive Income Rules

We previously did a basic overview of the 2018 Federal Budget tax changes for professional corporations and other Canadian small businesses when it was released. The effect on income splitting was explained in Keeping the Sprinkler Running and a series of strategies to continue income splitting as part of your financial plan is in the Financial Physiology section with application details in The Sim Lab.

We did a more detailed review of the main aspect of the new rules – what constitutes passive investment income in my last post. Today, we will explore the second piece of the proposed passive income tax changes. The restriction of Refundable Dividend Tax On Hand (RDTOH when translated into accountant Klingon). We will explore how it works and the new changes. The new changes will result in yet another layer of complexity by creating an Eligible-RDTOH (eRDTOH) and a Non-Eligible-RDTOH (nRDTOH) account.

It’s like walking in on a Klingon mating ritual… Awkward. Possibly dangerous.

What Is a RDTOH Account & Why Do We Have It?

A RDTOH account is a notional account, which means it really only exists on paper, as part of tracking your business taxes. It is designed to preserve the concept of tax integration – meaning that if you get a dividend or income from an investment, it should be taxed the same by the time it is paid to you as an individual whether you were paid it directly or via your small business.

To deter using a Canadian Controlled Private Company (CCPC), like a professional corporation, as a tax saving vehicle for passive investment, the passive investment income in a CCPC is taxed at a very high rate. It is supposed to be approximately the average top marginal personal rate. As you can see below, it is an imperfect match up, but close overall.

While that high rate of tax is charged to a CCPC, part of that tax is put into the RDTOH account. The amount put into the RDTOH is 38.33% of eligible dividends and 30.67% of the other investment income types. When the CCPC eventually pays out a dividend to a shareholder, that triggers release of that refundable portion of the tax back to the CCPC. The idea behind this process is to charge tax up front, so that the CCPC isn’t resulting in a tax deferral.

The best way to understand it is to see it. It took me a while to wrap my head around this, so I have made diagrams tracing how investment income flows below to illustrate.

Let’s start with eligible dividends.

An eligible dividend is a dividend distributed by a Canadian company that earns more than the small business threshold and therefore pays taxes at the higher general corporate tax rate. That higher taxed portion of income over the threshold is noted as the company’s General Rate Income Pool (GRIP). A CCPC can give eligible dividends up to the amount of their GRIP while a publicly traded company can give eligible dividends at any time. The other way that a CCPC can give an eligible dividend, is by receiving an eligible dividend from a publicly traded or non-connected company.

Eligible dividends, when paid out to an individual, are taxed at a lower rate using the enhanced dividend tax credit. This is to recognize that the income earned by the company has already been taxed at a higher rate.

As seen above, using the top Ontario marginal tax rates, an eligible dividend from a passive investment paid to a CCPC puts 38.33% of the dividend into the eRDTOH. That rate is lower than the personal rate of 39.4%, so there is a small tax deferral advantage of 1.01%. When the CCPC pays out an eligible dividend, the final eRDTOH money is refunded and the after-tax value is the same whether the passive income was paid via the corp or directly to the individual. Tax integration works pretty well here.

Now, let’s look at other passive investment income.

Tax integration is less smooth for other investment income. This could be interest, rent, foreign dividends, or the taxable half of a realized capital gain. The non-taxable half of a capital gain in a CCPC can be paid out as a tax-free capital dividend. This type of income is normally paid out of the CCPC to the individual as a ineligible dividend which is taxed at a higher rate than eligible dividends.

Klingon Tax Collectors Discussing A Loophole in the Old RDTOH Rules.

Since the RDTOH refund is triggered by the CCPC giving any dividend, whether the money comes from active income or passive income, there was also an opportunity to game the system. This made the taxman very angry and is shown in red below. When a CCPC that earns active income over the $500K threshold, and therefore gets GRIP room, pays an eligible dividend (taxed at lower rate) yet also triggers a RDOTH refund – it results in lower taxes compared to an individual earning that income and much lower taxes compared to a business that does not have GRIP room. This is going to be shut down with the splitting of the RDTOH into an eRDTOH and nRDTOH because only a ineligible dividend from a CCPC can now trigger a refund from tax paid into the nRDTOH account.

As you can see above, integration is not perfect. Investment income paid via a CCPC is taxed at a 3.68% higher rate than if it were paid directly to the individual. It does, however, benefit from some tax deferral if the passive income is collected and no non-eligible dividends disbursed to the owner(s).

Time Sensitive Actionable Advice

Timing: The new splitting of RDTOH into eRDTOH and nRDTOH will apply to the fiscal year of a corporation that begins before 2019 and ends after 2018. For example, my CCPC fiscal year ends Aug 31, 2018. So, the rules will apply to my CCPC after Aug 31, 2018 for me. There will be general anti-avoidance rules to prevent people from manipulating their fiscal years.

Action: If you have a CCPC that has a balance in its GRIP, meaning that you can pay out eligible dividends, then you may want to pay some out prior to the new rules if you can take advantage of the technique highlighted in red above. This would be high income businesses that haven’t paid out high salaries.

If you do not have investment income that has generated RDTOH to take advantage of that technique, then you may even want to consider if it is worthwhile to realize some capital gains to get it. That has the downside of paying some tax now, but the upside of paying less tax now. It also has the advantage of taking those gains off the table now rather than down the road where they will generate passive income that is counted towards your small business threshold reduction or may even be subjected to a higher tax inclusion rate (if government continues to aggressively seek revenue from those who are “rich” enough to invest).

If this sounds like it could be you, then you should talk to your accountant. You don’t want to be like these guys, who just realized that they missed that opportunity…

 

 

8 comments

  1. Great explanation and I like the flow charts. I never had a good grasp on this, even after my accountant explained it to me, but your post made it easier to understand. If you ever decide to become an accountant on the side, I’ll be your first client! 🙂 I will have to check with my accountant to see whether my CPCC has a balance in the GRIP or not.

    On the side topic of Star Trek, have you seen the episode “USS Callister” on Netflix’s “Black Mirror”? Pretty good episode.

    1. Thanks. It took me several attempts to get the flow chart right, but that is what finally helped me figure it out. I got the basic concept, but I needed actual numbers to see what the fuss was all about. I contacted my accountant about it after finishing the article. I for sure have had some GRIP balance and I don’t recall any eligible dividends, but he may have handled it all for me in the background (he is pretty on the ball). Good to pay attention anyway!

      That show was cool. Reminds me of the old Twilight Zone series.

    1. Not sure if it is worthwhile for everyone. Only a small proportion of docs likely make over 500K. It is 2-3% less absolute tax compared to taking the investment income directly as an individual, but more like 7% compared to taking as an ineligible dividend if the investment is already in a CCPC. I have some cap gains that I plan on realizing this year in my CCPC as part of rebalancing and would hate to pay extra tax by simply waiting past my fiscal year end. To realize cap gains explicitly to take advantage of the loophole before it closes is more of a gamble. You are paying tax now rather than deferring it on the bet that the tax will be much higher later. It will for sure be 6% higher, but could be more if the government raises inclusion rates. Could also be less if someone undoes the changes or otherwise lowers taxes in the future. May not be worthwhile for everyone, but the government sure thought it was worthwhile closing it off.

      1. Thanks for an excellent overview of this topic. The visuals were great.

        You statement that “Only a small proportion of docs likely make over 500K”, may be true, but a larger proportion of Med Prof Corps (MPC) make over $500k, because many dual-physician families operate as a single MPC, thus combining two physicians’ incomes into one MPC active business income.

        For those looking for their GRIP balance, it is available on the CRA “my business account” under the “corporation income tax / view return balances ” link.

        I realized some capital gains this year, paid the tax, and added to my personal taxable investment account. The changes to CCPC tax laws this year have made me realize that rules could change again in the future, and having multiple account types (taxable personal; RRSP; TFSA; corporate account; family trust; etc) will allow me to respond in a more flexible manner to any future tax law changes.

        1. Excellent point on the multi-doc families and the CRA link. We didn’t pay too much attention because we were going to use it strategically over time (now time is ticking!). I also totally agree with the point regarding multiple accounts to diversify against tax/political risk. We are in a similar position and started to ramp up our account diversity while watching Trudeau on the campaign trail hinting that he was “coming for us”. I am actually writing a post about the concept right now! I think of it like sparring with the taxman. If all you can do is punch, it won’t be long before your opponent starts blocking it. You want a variety of kicks, punches, elbows, and finger-pokes at your disposal to adapt and overcome. Thanks for the great addition to the conversation!

  2. Good point, LD.

    Wouldn’t it make sense to keep the capital gain in Corp? Then it can be sold with 50% directly to personal. I think this would effectively be income splitting before 65 if one retires earlier. The remaining capital can be taken out after 65.

    The message I get from the budget is to retire early and use the progressive nature of our tax codes to your advantage.

    1. Yep BC Doc – I also think that using capital gains focused investments in the corp will be the way to go. With the 50% inclusion rate, it is the most efficient way to get money out (as you point out) and in essence doubles the amount of allowable passive income. I am realizing some cap gains now to reposition more towards that strategy from some dividend payers to some swap-based ETFs, take advantage of the loophole before it closes, and to reset the cost basis for some capital gains for the future when the thresholds will matter for me. If I was already balanced/positioned that way, then I would just stay the course and defer the tax on realizing gains now. Everyone’s risk/benefit profile on that would be a bit different.

      It is scary for the productivity of our society, but I agree that the message from this budget and the preceding tax moves is to spend less and work less. If you spend too much and need to work to pay for it or just work and save too much, then you will be financially punished. That leaves the options of retire early or scale back to work just enough to support your financial needs and personal fulfillment. I think it is scary for our society because behaviour is influenced (like it or not) by incentive and this type of messaging kills ambition. If the aim is to pull everyone down to average, then you just lower what average is.

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