Here’s what I learned from filing my own taxes for the first time

By: Nicole Ballantyne-Choo on March 27, 2018
Article image

Every year I survive tax season by taking the easy way out — I hand over my T4 slips, T5 slips and my donation receipts to my accountant and wipe my hands clean. Not this year, though. Since one of my new year resolutions was to care more about my finances, I decided to take a stab at filing my taxes by myself for the first time ever.

As someone who has never done my taxes without an accountant, I was nervous. I kept wondering: What happens if I mess up? Am I going to tax jail?

But I knew I had to try.

2017 was a weird year for me when it came to my career — I switched jobs a few times and I continued to offer fitness training, which I still do, leaving me with a lot of T4s to collect. Also, one of my jobs was a self-employed contract position, which made things trickier.

Luckily for me, I’m pretty organized. My desktop is neatly laid out with folders so I know exactly where everything is when I need to find it. For example, as soon as I made a donation and received my e-receipt, I immediately put that receipt in a folder so I wouldn’t have to scramble through my inbox to find it during tax season.

That organization extended to my freelance work — I knew I had to keep track of everything I spent money on that was related to my job. And I did, storing it in my own folder.

For 2017, I had to collect:

  • My T4 from the job I left after 2.5 years (I was there until July 2017)
  • My self-employed expenses (I wanted to try the freelancer life, but realized after 3 months I missed working full-time)
  • My T4 from (I started in October 2017)
  • My T4 from my fitness side gig (I’ve had this job for 3.5 years)
  • My donation receipts
  • My T5 slips (for those not familiar, this is for any interest or capital gains made on investments and savings accounts)


How I filed my taxes

Once I had everything collected, the fun began and it was time to file. I decided to create an account with TurboTax, which is an income tax software in Canada, and I’m relieved to say, the process was easy and user-friendly. Once I created my account, the software guided me step-by-step to make sure I didn’t miss anything. TurboTax is set up similar to a flow chart, and after you complete each section, there are clickable ‘continue’ buttons to walk you through each section.

The beginning of your journey starts with your income, and it lists out the various options you can choose from. In my case, I had to include T4s, T5s and self-employment expenses. The T4 form was really easy to fill out, and since I had three T4s to submit, after each one I was given the option to add another. Once I was done, I was brought to a summary page that neatly listed all my T4 information.

Next was my self-employed expenses. Since I was only self-employed for three months, the information was painless to submit and all I had to include was my income and my expenses, which only included my phone bill and my transportation. Lastly, I had two T5 forms to submit.

The next step is RRSPs and since I don’t have any RRSPs, I quickly skipped through the section to get to the deductions. For me, I had charitable donations and medical expenses (I think it’s really important to give to charities, and I try to pick at least five to donate to each year. I’m proud to say I hit that goal in 2017). As for my medical expenses, I didn’t have enough to be eligible for a deduction.

And that was it. I survived.

This year, I owe $804.17. What I did gain? The ability to say I officially did my taxes by myself for the first time. If you’ve never done your taxes before, I highly recommend trying it out, at least once. While I may go back to my lazy ways and hand over my slips and receipts to my accountant next year, I’m happy to say that I at least know how to do them on my own, and it wasn’t as overwhelming or scary as I initially thought it would be.