Tax season 2016: How the CRA deals with crowdfunding

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CBC News | By Sheena Goodyear | March 1, 2016

Crowdfunding CRA TaxCanadian tax law still catching up with quick pace of growth in sector

Canadian publisher and entrepreneur Hope Nicholson has one piece advice for anyone thinking of starting a crowdfunding campaign: "Get an accountant."

Through her publishing house, Winnipeg-based Bedside Press, Nicholson has used Kickstarter campaigns to fund two Canadian comics anthologies and a book of stories and essays.

"There's no way I would know how to do this on my own," Nicholson told CBC News. "It's something that you really do need to talk to an accountant about, and get one that knows your industry fairly well."​

'Case-by-case basis'

Crowdfunding is rapidly growing as way to fund everything from individual medical expenses to massive business ventures.

More than $16.2 billion US was raised globally via crowdfunding in 2014, according to research and advisory firm Massolution, a rise of 167 per cent from the previous year. Nearly $10 billion was raised in North America alone.

But even with all this money changing hands, the tax implications aren't always clear.

"It's still a relatively new concept," says Allan Madan, a Mississauga, Ont., tax expert and chartered accountant.

Canadian tax law is still evolving in this area, he says.

Canada Revenue Agency spokeswoman Neil Shalapata told CBC News the CRA evaluates crowdfunding initiatives "on a case-by-case basis."

"Depending on the facts and circumstances, monies received by a taxpayer under a crowdfunding arrangement could represent a loan, capital contribution, gift, income or a combination thereof," Shalapata said.

The rewards model

One of the most popular forms of crowdfunding involves raising small amounts of capital from a lot of people to fund a specific business or product and offering rewards as incentives.

Since 2013, the CRA has considered money raised this way to be taxable income. Bedside Press files its Kickstarter funding under "other income."

"It's not technically sales because people, often when they give you funding, sometimes they aren't even getting a physical item. Like, they might be getting a thank you," Nicholson said.

When crowdfunders do send physical rewards to contributors — for example, a T-shirt or an early copy of the product — those can be written off as business expenses.

The donation model

If you raise money for altruistic purposes — for example, starting a GoFundMe account to send a sick child to Disneyland or support a family in dire straits — the taxman probably won't bother you, Madan said.

Related:  Crowdfunding raises money … and tax questions

"There's no business intention there," he said. "I think you can make the argument that that is not a taxable income."

Nova Scotia's Euan MacDonald, 10, used GoFundMe to raise enough money to live his dream of riding a four-engine Avro Lancaster bomber. This kind of charitable crowdfunding is likely not subject to income tax, but it also doesn't net donors any charitable tax credits. (Anne-Marie McElrone)

Madan admits this is new territory and not 100 per cent clear, but he suspects funds raised from the donation model would probably fall under the category of "a gift," which the CRA defines as "voluntary transfer of property" wherein "the donee confers no right, privilege, material benefit or advantage on the donor."

But unless you're donating to a campaign set up by a registered Canadian charity, don't expect a tax credit for your contribution, he added.

The Patreon model

Things get tricky when you're raising funds vital to your career, but not to fund a specific project — for example, when artists create accounts on the Patreon crowdfunding website, which allows people to make monthly contributions to support their work.

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The National Crowdfunding Association of Canada (NCFA Canada) is a cross-Canada non-profit actively engaged with both social and investment crowdfunding stakeholders across the country. NCFA Canada provides education, research, leadership, support and networking opportunities to over 1300+ members and works closely with industry, government, academia, community and eco-system partners and affiliates to create a strong and vibrant crowdfunding industry in Canada. Learn more About Us or visit www.ncfacanada.org.

 

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