What happens if you mistakenly get a larger tax refund?
Was your 2022 tax refund larger than you expected it to be?
For many, this likely comes as a pleasant surprise. However, overpayments are likely the result of a mistake on your part or the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). If you don’t amend your returns and the overpayment isn’t returned, you could end up in hot water with the CRA.
Below, I’ll explain what you should do if you mistakenly get a larger tax refund, outline some of the most common reasons why this could happen, and explain how to amend your returns to fix the error.
What should you do if you get a larger tax refund than you expected?
Mistaken overpayments of tax refunds may be caused by a number of things, such as:
- Clerical errors with the CRA (which aren’t your fault)
- Improperly claimed tax deductions and credits
- Recent changes made to tax laws
Small overpayments are relatively common when it comes to tax refunds. When you file your taxes, your accountant or tax software can only provide you with an estimate of what your refund will be. This number can change after closer review by the CRA, which can put some extra money in your pocket.
In this case, the overpayment is legitimate, meaning you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
However, if your tax refund was significantly larger than you expected, then it’s your responsibility to figure out what happened, amend any errors on your part, and settle the overpayment with the CRA.
Can the CRA find out if you’ve been overpaid?
It may be tempting to keep the overpayment and hope that the matter goes unnoticed by the CRA. While this is a possibility, you shouldn’t count on it. At any time, the CRA could realize the error, perform a tax audit, and force you to repay the amount.
If the CRA has reason to suspect that the overpayment resulted from outright deception, you could face additional penalties on top of repaying the overpayment. Penalties can include:
- Repayment of civil fees
- A 200 per cent fine on the amount of taxes avoided
- Up to five years in prison
The CRA imposes these somewhat harsh penalties to keep everyone honest, and you really don’t want to be on the receiving end.
How to amend your tax returns
Thankfully, the CRA makes it incredibly easy to amend your tax returns, especially if you file online or use NETFILE-approved tax software. Your options include the following:
- Change your return through your CRA My Account (ReFILE)
- Sending a letter to your local tax centre, including copies of the amended documents and a detailed list of changes to be made to each return
- Filing a T1-ADJ adjustment request form through your local tax office
Within a few weeks after amending your tax returns, the CRA should send you a notice detailing how the changes may have affected the refund you received. In most cases, you’ll be asked to repay the amount to the CRA as a lump sum payment or be required to arrange a payment plan.
Common mistakes that could lead to overpayment on your tax refund
Now that you know what to do if you’ve received an overpayment from the CRA, let’s take a quick look at some of the most common mistakes that could lead to an overpayment.
1. Ineligible expenses
This is one of the most common reasons you may receive an overpayment. If you’re filing your taxes by yourself and you don’t fully understand the tax laws and eligible deductions, you may claim expenses and tax deductions that you aren’t legally entitled to.
2. Clerical errors
Just as human error is possible on your part, clerical errors may also result from mistakes made by the CRA or their accounting systems. While it’s not as common, mistakes do happen.
If you believe that the CRA made an error and underpaid/overpaid your tax refund, you’ll need to contact the CRA and discuss your case. If it appears that the error may be the CRA’s fault, then you can request a formal review.
3. Changes to tax laws
Tax laws and tax rates change periodically. If you haven’t stayed updated with the latest changes, you may not file your tax returns accordingly, which can result in underpayment or overpayment.
Don’t be afraid to get professional help
Navigating the complexities of tax returns and amendments, plus dealing with the CRA can be difficult, to say the least. Even though tax software can make things easier, you may still benefit from working with a professional tax preparer or accountant, especially for complicated cases.
Christopher Liew is a CFA Charterholder and former financial advisor. He writes personal finance tips for thousands of daily Canadian readers on his Wealth Awesome website.
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