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Corporate Taxation: Terminating Your Tax-Free Capital Dividends

October 13, 2017 - 4 comments

Cue ominous action-adventure music: Bah-da-bum-ba-dum (Pause) Bah-da-bum-ba-dum (Pause) … Open to a darkened alley, just past midnight. Chain-linked, foggy, foreboding. You’re all alone. Bah-da-bum-ba-dum (Pause)

Just a fantasy scene from one of the Terminators? (Five so far, and counting.) Think again. Our own government may not be satisfied with just axing the refundable taxes in a corporation. They also have their sights set on mostly terminating your corporation’s tax-free capital dividends.

You may recall from my past blog that your company’s capital dividend account is where the non-taxable portion of your corporate capital gains are tracked. If there is a positive balance in the account, tax-free dividends can be paid to shareholders.

It’s tax-free now, anyway. Bah-da-bum-ba-dum (Pause) …

If the government’s current proposal is enacted, it will disallow the non-taxable portion of capital gains to be paid out as tax-free capital dividends. They’ll instead effectively tax the “non-taxable” portion of capital gains at the shareholder’s ineligible dividend tax rate when the funds are withdrawn from the corporation.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem fair at all, as individual investors are only taxed on half of their capital gains. Then again, just as in the Terminator series, the good guys and bad guys (and gals) aren’t always immediately obvious. Especially if they’re like Arnold Schwarzenegger and they get reprogrammed between movies.

So what gives? Is there some method to the seeming madness?

The government’s reasons for proposing a tax-free capital dividend ban are similar to why they have proposed eliminating corporate refundable taxes. Small business owners initially pay less tax on their active business income than individual taxpayers do on their regular salary income. It’s as if the government has loaned the small business owner extra cash at 0% interest for investment. So if both types of taxpayers invest their after-tax income in an investment portfolio, the small business owner will end up ahead (due to their initially higher investable income).

By taxing the non-taxable portion of a corporation’s capital gains once it’s distributed to shareholders, the government believes this will rectify the current corporate advantage. Is the new tax form equitable as proposed? Or is it like one of those shape-shifting cyborgs that aren’t what they seem to be? Let’s tear into the numbers and see for ourselves.

Rise of the corporations

In the example below, we’ll once again compare three Ontario taxpayers:

  1. An individual taxpayer
  2. A corporation taxed under the current (capital dividend / refund) system
  3. A corporation taxed under the proposed (no capital dividend / no refund) system

I’ve assumed that the individual earns an additional $100,000 of income. (That is, they are assumed to have already earned $220,000 of other income, so the additional $100,000 is taxed at Ontario’s top personal marginal tax rate of 53.53%.) The after-tax amount of $46,470 [$100,000 × (1 – 53.53%)] is then invested in a portfolio that yields 6% of unrealized capital gains each year. At the end of 10 years, the capital gains are realized, and the 50% taxable portion of capital gains is taxed at 53.53%.

In similar vein, both corporations are assumed to earn $100,000 of active business income, which is initially taxed at Ontario’s small business income tax rate of 15%. The corporate after-tax amount of $85,000 [$100,000 × (1 – 15%)] is then invested in the same sort of portfolio, yielding 6% in annual unrealized capital gains. At the end of 10 years, the capital gains are realized, and the 50% taxable portion of capital gains is taxed at 50.17% (which is the tax rate on passive investment income earned in an Ontario corporation). Any taxable dividends paid from the corporations to their shareholders are then taxed at 45.30% (Ontario’s top personal tax rate for ineligible dividends).

A final caveat: Like a Hollywood producer, I’ve rigged these assumptions a bit to make the calculations easier to follow. Your own, real-life returns probably wouldn’t end in such nice, round numbers.

Judgement day

After 10 years, the individual investor realizes capital gains of $36,751 and pays $9,836 in taxes ($36,751 × 50% × 53.53%), leaving $26,914 of after-tax investment income ($36,751 - $9,836).

Note: For all you investment-bots out there, you can quickly calculate the capital gains realized over the 10-year period by using your financial calculator:
Individual: N = 10, I/Y = 6, PV = - 46,470, PMT = 0. Solve for FV (answer should be $83,221), and then subtract the starting portfolio value of $46,470 from the answer, which should equal $36,751 of capital gains.
Corporations: N = 10, I/Y = 6, PV = - 85,000, PMT = 0. Solve for FV (answer should be $152,222), and then subtract the starting portfolio value of $85,000 from the answer, which should equal $67,222 of capital gains.


The corporation under the current system realizes capital gains of $67,222. Part I federal refundable taxes of $10,308 are paid ($67,222 × 50% × 30.67%) as well as $2,689 of non-refundable taxes ($67,222 × 50% × 8%). Ontario than snags an additional $3,865 of provincial taxes ($67,222 × 50% × 11.50%). This corporation ends the 10-year period with $50,359 of after-tax corporate investment income.

The corporation under the proposed system also realizes capital gains of $67,222 and ends the measurement period with $50,359 of after-tax corporate investment income. Same math then … BUT, under the proposed system, that $10,308 of refundable taxes becomes non-refundable.

Return on investments in year 10 Individual Corporation: Current System Corporation: Proposed System
Starting portfolio $46,470 $85,000 $85,000
Earn: 6% capital gains each year $36,751 $67,222 $67,222
Deduct: Federal/provincial personal tax ($9,836) - -
Deduct: Part I federal tax – refundable - ($10,308) NA
Deduct: Part I federal tax – non-refundable - ($2,689) ($12,997)
Deduct: Provincial taxes – non-refundable - ($3,865) ($3,865)
Equals after-tax investment income $26,914 $50,359 $50,359


Hasta la vista, baby

After paying all tax liabilities, the individual investor is left with $73,384 ($46,470 + $26,914).

The current-system corporation is left with a portfolio value of $135,359 at the end of the 10-year period. Once we exclude the non-taxable portion of the $33,611 in capital gains ($67,222 × 50%), and we add back the refundable taxes of $10,308, we end up with $112,057 in taxable dividends available to distribute to shareholders. The shareholders will then pay $50,767 in taxes on these ineligible dividends ($112,057 × 45.30%). They can also receive a tax-free dividend of $33,611, which is the non-taxable portion of the capital gain from the capital dividend account balance.

Once the car-chase scene has ended and the explosions are in a slow burn, corporate shareholders are left with a net worth of $94,901 ($112,057 - $50,767 + $33,611). That’s $21,517 more than the individual taxpayer’s $73,384.

Now let’s look at a corporation under the proposed system. Here too, we’re left with a portfolio value of $135,359 at the end of the 10-year period. But with the termination of refundable taxes and tax-free capital dividend distributions, the entire $135,359 is taxable when it’s distributed as a dividend to shareholders. The shareholders then pay taxes of $61,324 on the ineligible dividends ($135,359 × 45.30%), leaving them with a portfolio value of $74,035 at the end of the 10-year period.

If you’re watching all the action, that’s only $651 more than the individual taxpayer. As you can see, the government’s proposals would get us awfully close to perfect tax integration.

The results are included in the table below (along with an accompanying chart showing the differences over 10, 20 and 30 years).

  Individual Corporation: Current System Corporation: Proposed System
Portfolio value after 10 years $73,384 $135,359 $135,359
Deduct: Non-taxable portion of capital gains   ($33,611) NA
Add: Refundable taxes - $10,308 NA
Equals: Taxable dividends available to distribute - $112,057 $135,359
Deduct: Personal tax on dividends - ($50,767) ($61,324)
Add-back: Non-taxable portion of capital gains - $33,611 NA
Equals: Net Worth $73,384 $94,901 $74,035


I’ll be back

So, yes, the government has issued a couple of Terminators tasked with killing off two favorable corporate tax breaks. But not unexpectedly, there are those out there staging a Resistance as we speak. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how any unfolding changes may impact you, your tax planning and your investments.

Bah-da-bum-ba-dum (Pause) …

By: Justin Bender with 4 comments.
  10/11/2017 11:04:30 AM
Justin bender
@Andrew Liaw: You’re very welcome! I would tend to agree with your accountant. There will likely be filing costs for the tax-free election, so the $3,000 amount just doesn’t seem worth it to me. The government has also made it clear that current investments within existing corporations will not be subject to the new rules, so it should be fine to wait until you’ve built up a larger CDA balance (perhaps at around $20,000 or more).
  05/11/2017 10:05:40 AM
Andrew Liaw
Thank you Justin for an extremely useful article .
I have a few thousand positive balance in my Professional Corporation CDA acct. from realized capital gains , but have not yet filed an election to make that amount officially a "due to shareholders" amount that I can later withdraw with no tax consequences.

So , Justin, with the new proposal now on the table , would you say I better file that election now before 2018 ?
I asked my CA the same question in Sept /17 and he seems to think it won't affect me, stating : "...proposed tax legislations would not have an impact on the corporation’s current CDA balance as this would be “grandfathered”. As such, there is no urgency to declare the capital dividend immediately. However, if you still prefer to file the capital dividend election, we can do so...."

I'm just wondering if you have any thoughts on what you would do if you were me ?

Any insight from you would be greatly appreciated ! Thanks for all your great articles !
  01/11/2017 9:23:18 AM
Justin bender
@BobbyJoe: Thanks for reading! (I’m glad you found the article to be of some use). There’s plenty more corporate taxation articles in the pipeline, so stay tuned.
  25/10/2017 6:30:11 PM
Another great article on corporate taxation. Now if only the CBC could explain these concepts to the general public... But I digress. It is interesting the see the gap expand dramatically over time. Combine the CDA and RDTOH and no wonder there are close to 2,000,000 CCPCs registered in Canada...

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