Limboing With The New Passive-Active Income Tax Rules for Private Corporations

It is clear to Canadians that our government leaders like to dance. The recent trip governmental trip to India also put this love of dance on display for the whole world to see. Some found it embarrassing whilst others found it entertaining. Personally, I am looking forward to seeing the Right Honourable Mr. Dress-Up on a German tour…

The entertainment value of that would almost make me smile as I do my “fair share”.

The New Passive and Active Income Dance

The new rules will come into effect in 2019. So, we do have some time to learn how to dance. It is kind of like a highschool dance was for me. I didn’t really want to dance, but I wanted to get close to girls even more, so I did it anyway. We may not have much choice other than to step out of our comfort zone and dance –  if we are one of the high income professionals potentially affected by the new CCPC passive income tax rule changes.

I did a recent simplified illustration of the potential impact on professionals at different income levels. That was a basic model that ignored some of the nuances of corporate tax, inflation, and non-CCPC investment accounts. The purpose was to show that some will be affected while others won’t and that basic investment income mix matters.

A more detailed analysis accounting for these factors with Dr. Sandra D, a 350K/yr income physician, found that she would be unaffected if she either kept her saving rate low and retired at a traditional age 65 or if she retired as soon as achieving fatFIRE (a portfolio large enough to fund a $100K/yr retirement lifestyle). That should take many potential dancers off the dance floor and make room for the rest to bust a move.

If she were to keep working after achieving fatFIRE, then she would face escalating taxes up to around 10% of her passive income growth, depending on her savings rate. The better at working/saving she is, the worse the tax bite.

More such analyses are in the pipeline for The Sim Lab, but [spoiler alert] the impact is about a 10-15% reduction in portfolio size over a 35 year career span for most docs in the 500K+ income range – if you use only dividends for pay and the CCPC as a monostrategy for retirement saving (as many people have up until this point).

The  proposed sliding Small Business Deduction Tax Threshold is like a game of limbo with active business and passive investment income. We are going to have learn the new dance sweeping the nation at high income professional weddings and parties everywhere.

How loooowwww can you gooooo?

Like all annoyingly catchy dances, the moves are relatively simple.

Dance Move 1: Pay Some Salary

Paying salary instead of dividends is one way to reduce your active business income to stay beneath the SBD threshold. There are pros and cons to taking a salary, including:

  • Potential loss of tax deferral in the CPCC if you take more individual income than you need
  • Contributing to the Canadian Pension Plan (both the employee and employer contributions!)
  • Creating RRSP room and/or opening the possibility for an Independent Pension Plan (IPP)
  • Paying enough dividends to trigger release of RDTOH to decrease tax drag on your CCPC portfolio returns

Whether these factors are pros or cons will depend on your overall financial situation, investment plan, and how tax integration works out for your province and tax bracket.

Dance Move 2: Restructure Your Portfolio To Minimize Annual Passive Income in the CCPC

Try to put investments that count as passive investment income in non-corporate accounts (RRSPs, TFSAs, taxable/cash accounts) while keeping those that generate no or minimal passive income in the CCPC. You should do this in a way that still keeps your overall goal asset mix. Don’t let the tax tail wag the investment dog.

For example, a simple portfolio restructure aiming for a $1M Corporate Portfolio with a 60:40 stocks:bonds mix could look like this:

It seems simple conceptually, but there are several practical problems to this approach, depending on where on your career path you are, how much you are planning to save, and what asset mix you are going for. Those with rental or real estate income need to factor that in. Some equities pay higher dividends than bonds. It is also possible to hold a bond ETF that doesn’t spit taxable income.

Potential Problems Restructuring:

  • Insufficient RRSP room: You are limited to a maximum of $26K/yr indexed to inflation and you need to pay a salary of $145K/yr to get that. It is also not retroactive – so, if you have paid only dividends and are mid-career, then you will have even less space.
  • Insufficient TFSA room: You are limited to about $5500/yr going forward. The good news is that you may have unused room accumulated depending on when you turned 18. Still, in 2018 it is limited to a max of $57500 (double if you are married to a spouse of similar vintage) plus whatever growth you have had. If you have kidadults, you could even shelter some money in their TFSAs and help them start growing their TFSA room – just don’t count on getting it back.
  • Suboptimal TFSA Usage: When you are young, there is an argument to put growth oriented assets in your TFSA. The reason is that it will increase the contribution room of your TFSA more. You could then have more fixed income in there when you are older and want more.
  • Equities can produce incomeMost stocks and products built from stocks, such as exchange traded funds (ETFs) or mutual funds, will pay dividends. Dividends count as passive income. If you have high dividend paying products or a large portfolio, then this income could blow you off course into pirate infested waters.
  • Realizing Capital GainsWhen restructuring, like when rebalancing, you would want to minimize realizing capital gains and triggering tax on them now. If possible, it is often better to build up other accounts or asset classes to bring them up to size instead. This is difficult if you are dealing with a massive imbalance. Update: Realizing capital gains in a corporation may not be bad.

In general, those starting out fresh with modest savings rates can build a portfolio over time with some minimally embarrassing dance moves like salary, TFSAs, and RRSPs.

If they are earning and/or saving huge amounts, then they will need some extra strategies to deal with potential difficulties in restructuring their portfolios.

This could easily have been me at a highschool dance.

They will need the self-confidence to dance like no one is watching. Nowadays, that shouldn’t be too hard. No one is watching… they are all checking their cell phones 😉

It will be important to have a basic understanding of these more daring dance moves for all high income professionals because they all come with different risks and costs. These will need to be weighed by those using them. Further, some of them come with commissions and fees that could influence what is offered or promoted. For professionals that do not benefit, it will important to be able to identify that if they encounter pressure to buy unhelpful products.

We will explore some of those more advanced tools and strategies to repel the tax pirates if you wander into unfriendly tax waters in my next post.


  1. Hello LD,

    Absolutely use salaries, RRSP and TFSA! Those are a given.

    I do not know many physicians who could survive on simply taking out dividends. Their homes are usually too expensive.

    All this info is so incredibly helpful.

    1. I agree completely. However I do actually know many physicians who pay themselves via dividends only. Big house just means alot of them. I have heard conflicting opinions from accountants too for a number of reasons. Things have changed with the tax changes and some will need to re-look at salary.

  2. I am glad our accountants always FORCED me to take out salaries to max the CPP. I often fought them but they always won.

    I am afraid to see what you come out with for your next post. GULP.

    Have a wonderful weekend LD!!!

  3. I think that with these new tax changes, some accountants may have a bit of explaining to do with their physician clients (i.e. all dividends, no salary, thus no RRSP room). Hopefully, they informed their clients of the pros and cons prior to making a decision years ago, but I know that my accountant thought some of his colleagues were too overconfident/nonchalant in the past about possible future tax changes.

    For high-paying specialists ($750k+), they would’ve had to take out a salary to get them down to the $500k SBD limit, therefore, they should’ve been contributing to their RRSPs. If not, then at least they have built up the contribution room over the years.

    Nice pie chart!

    1. Yes, I having talked to a number of colleagues & have been wondering the same thing. I think there are many parallels between medicine and finance with multiple options and different risks/benefits to them. Even though we need experts, being an educated patient is critical.

  4. Great to see another post! The more look closely at income sources 20 and 30 years down the road it seems that the focus should be on capital gains. Rrsps really have their limits. I’ve left two holdings in ours VTI and VXUS as there is no US withholding taxes. Not a large balance 200k but in 25, 35 years left untouched it will force higher taxation upon us. Back to the non reg cap gains and tfsa.

    I have been thinking about the using the Swap based EFTS by horizons for the CCPC. Does anyone here use these? Seems that they’re useful until the govt changes the rules?

    1. Hi Phil! I just finished writing two articles on the swap-based ETFs. They will come out over the next week or so – after editing to ensure they are safe for human consumption without generated adverse neurological reactions. Those will be followed by some case studies – I do think they will have a role for some people. I do personally use HXT and HXX. I purposefully decided against some of the other ones. There are situation specific considerations for some of them depending on your asset and account type mix. I believe strongly in asset and tax diversification. Capital gains are going to be key, but on the note of tax risk, there has been rumbling about increasing the capital gains inclusion rate for the last couple of budgets. I think that much will change over the next decades.

  5. Hey Looniedoctor,
    Just discovered your site and love it, mainly for the simple fact that it exists. It is difficult sometimes to take available financial advice and apply it as a Canadian doc.
    I eagerly await the articles on swap based ETF’s. I’m having a difficult time finding a clear answer on the tax rate for dividends paid on investments held by professional corps.
    Look forward to it. Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi Luke and welcome to the site! I started the site for exactly the reason you mention! Regarding dividends and corps, the problem is it is Klingon. Here is a Lesson in Klingon that I did about corp dividend taxation recently. I actually only really “got it” myself after drawing the flowcharts for the article – hopefully it helps.

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