Tax tips for students

A chartered accountant and the Canadian Revenue Agency offer tips for students on how to tackle their taxes this season.

Tax season is upon us, and for many this is a stressful time of year. Students are finishing up classes for the semester and are getting ready to take exams. Unfortunately for students, tax season waits for no one. The deadline for individuals filing a tax return this year is April 30.

Many students don’t file their own tax return, with some handing things over to their parents and others to the professionals. But for the eager and strong-hearted who want to tackle this alone, here are a few tips.

What you need

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) As a student filing a tax return, you will need to provide certain documents, such as a T4 slip. These slips show employment income and payroll deductions.

It is important to keep all documentation when filing for a tax return for at least six years. Your return may be selected for review, therefore you should keep an organized file of all of your documents.

You will need to have information on all of your income.

According to CRA the most common types of student income are:

  • Employment income
  • Tips and occasional earnings
  • Scholarships, fellowships, bursaries, and study grants (some of these may be excluded)

Michael Casey, a chartered accountant and chartered business valuator in Halifax, says “students should make sure they check carefully to see if scholarships are tax exempt because most are.”

Casey says students need to claim their tuition and book expenses. In order to claim your tuition, education and textbook amounts, you need to receive your T2202A form. This is usually available online. If you have not received this you will need to contact your school.

For textbooks, full-time students can claim $65 a month and part-time students can claim $20 a month.

Some things eligible tuition fees do not include are:

  • Social activities
  • Medical expenses
  • Transportation and parking

As stated by CRA, one important thing to remember is courses taken as academic upgrading in order to attend certain university or college programs, may not be claimed towards the tuition tax credit because they are not considered a part of post-secondary education.

Once you have calculated the amount you will need to reduce your own tax owing, if there is any remaining amount, you may choose to transfer it to a parent of grandparent.  You can transfer an amount equal to $5,000 minus the amount you used to reduce your own tax payable. All the student needs to do is sign the tax certificate and provide a copy to the recipient.

Casey says you can earn up to about $10,000 tax free, but you should still file.

“The T4 income, such as wages, earns you the potential for a future RRSP deduction when you begin to work and earn the big bucks,” he says.

“If you are 19, you will get the HST rebate which is received 4 times a year tax free. If you don’t file, you are out of luck.”

Drop in volunteers causes Meals on Wheels to revamp

Halifax Meals on Wheels is trying to improve its brand, in order to spread word about the organization and attract younger volunteers.

Since January, Halifax Meals on Wheels, an organization that delivers nutritious meals to those who cannot make their own, has been figuring out what they can do to attract more volunteers.

In February there were 101 clients who needed meals delivered to them. Meals on Wheels has an “active list” of 58 volunteers. Only 45 of those volunteers actually took part in the deliveries last month.

Geri Kearns, president of the Meals on Wheels board, said that she strongly believes they would need 100 volunteers to run the program smoothly. When Kearns began volunteering eight years ago, there were around 80 volunteers.

“Our focus is volunteers,” said Kearns. “We’ll cover everything in this promotion, but it’s really the volunteers we’re looking for.”

Meals on Wheels has hired a small group of people to help in the revamping process and promote the organization. Kearns said there is no shortage when it comes to clients, the problem is having enough volunteers to deliver the meals.

Meals on Wheels is planning a launch party that will take place in June. Some changes that will be presented include a new logo and new brochures.  They also plan to create a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

“We are a charity, but people think they have to be on social assistance to get our services. That’s not the case,” said Kearns. “Our role really, is that if you are unable – no matter what age you are – to prepare a nutritious meal for yourself, then you are eligible to get our service.”

Through this revamping, Kearns said she hopes they can change some of these misconceptions.

Seniors helping seniors

A majority of the volunteers are over 60 years old, with some volunteers even being over 80 years old. Kearns said winter and summer months can be hard because many of the senior volunteers go away on vacation.

Kearns said ideally, when Meals on Wheels delivers the meals, there are two volunteers on a route. One is the driver, and the other delivers the food.

“One of the shortages that we have are driver volunteers. Some of the drivers we do have don’t want to go out in the winter because they are getting older,” said Kearns.

This year they had to cancel delivery eight times due to winter weather conditions. Some years they have never had to cancel.

There are seven routes that Meals on Wheels services – most of them five times a week. If they had two volunteers on every route, they would need around 70 volunteers a week.

“Most of us on the board go out more than once a week,” said Kearns. “All of us drive as well.”

Janeske Vonkeman, 23, is one of three volunteers who are under the age of 60. She has been volunteering since June 2014.

Vonkeman is a volunteer at a couple of organizations, but decided to get involved with Meals on Wheels because she wanted to try something new and different.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet great people, clients and other volunteers,” said Vonkeman. “Small kind acts can make a big difference to someone, and I’ve seen this with Meals on Wheels.”

Vonkeman said she thinks it is really important for young people to get involved with Meals on Wheels because it provides on opportunity to make a difference in the community.

“We tend to get caught up in our school or work bubbles and forget about what’s going on around us,” said Vonkeman. “Not only does it allow us to help people living in our community, but it helps enrich ourselves.”

Kearns said she knows students do a lot of volunteer work with regular schooling, but that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of young people continuing with it.

“I know it’s because they need to get a job. They need some money, and we’re not paying people, but you know, it’s satisfying.”

Meals on Wheels recently celebrated its 40th anniversary in Halifax. Kearns said she hopes with these coming changes, they will be able to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

Rock Your Campus winner to play in Halifax

Busty and the Bass, winner of Rock Your Campus, will be playing two shows in Halifax for the first time.

After winning TD’s Rock Your Campus competition, Busty and the Bass has been playing all over North America, and for the first time they are headed to Halifax.

“We are most looking forward to playing for new people in a different city,” said Milo Johnson, bassist for Busty and the Bass. “Whenever we play for people and it is their first time at a Busty show, the energy in the room is so amazing. This is one of our favourite things about touring.”

Busty and the Bass will be performing at The Seahorse Tavern this Thursday alongside Robert Loveless & The Loveland Band. None of the members of Busty and the Bass have been to Halifax, but Johnson said they are “super excited about playing” here.

Because Busty and the Bass are travelling all the way to the East Coast, a member of the Halifax band Dub Kartel — friend of Busty and the Bass — organized for both bands to play together at Dalhousie’s Open Mic at the Grawood Campus Pub on Friday.

East West Melody, Halifax-centered music blog and organizer of both shows, said on its website, “Trust us — after seeing them on Friday you won’t be able to get enough and will most certainly want to hit up the Grawood to get your daily dose of funk.”

The electrofunk band from McGill University is made up of nine members ranging in age from 21 to 24, from various parts of North America. Last October, Busty and the Bass was crowned the winner of CBC’s and TD’s Rock Your Campus competition. They were one of hundreds of Canadian bands to enter.

Almost all members are set to graduate in May from McGill with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Performance, with the exception of one who already has a music degree.

After meeting during frosh week, playing at house parties, and now being the winner of Rock Your Campus, they are now in the position to be considering different labels.

“As of right now we are just taking our time to really hone our sound, and our live performance,” said Johnson.

Halifax hairstylist more than about hair

Michael Phillips, owner of One Block Barbershop, strives to offer more than just hairstyling to the people of Halifax. From art shows, to dance parties, he’s been pretty successful in doing so.

It’s an hour before One Block Barbershop opens for business for the day. Michael Phillips plugs in flat irons and blow dryers, plugs in the kettle for complimentary tea and coffee, and prepares the lemon water. A stick of incense is lit, leaving the shop smelling like anything but a hair salon.

Phillips, 28, is the owner of One Block, located in Halifax. Just like the shop itself, Phillips has his own flare. He has peach coloured hair, tattoos, and is wearing an over-sized galaxy-printed shirt, and baggy, fake leather pants. For him, owning the hair salon is more than just about cutting hair.

“[One Block] is also a venue that’s available for people to use. There is an indie-rock choir that practices here on Sunday nights. It’s pretty cute.”

One Block has hosted around three dozen events at the salon. The events have ranged from unofficial events during Nocturne, to late-night dance parties, to music shows, and art installations.

Hairstyling is just one aspect of what One Block has to offer.Even still, being a hairstylist was not something he had dreamt of his whole life.

“I was never combing doll’s hair or anything,” he says. “It was more of a career, or life, decision to do something that was a trade.”

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Before making the decision to pursue hairstyling, Phillips parents convinced him to get a university education at the University of Prince Edward Island. They offered to pay for everything, including buying him a car.

“Their hearts were in the right place, but I just flunked out of all my classes because I didn’t want to go.”

Nineteen years old at the time, living in Charlottetown, all he wanted was an excuse to leave. He had a friend who was a hairstylist. This intrigued him so he moved to Halifax and did his training for 11 months, which he says was standard East Coast training, at a hair school that is now closed.

“I trained, graduated, then worked one to two weeks at a hair salon in Halifax until I had like an irresponsible teenage crisis, so I moved back home to Charlottetown.”

After working a year and a half there, he moved to Ottawa and received what he deems as his strongest training. He would later return to Halifax for work, but leave that job after six months.

“The reason I moved to Halifax is because I wanted to settle down somewhere. I specifically chose Halifax, like I was really committed to Halifax, but then I was desperate and didn’t know what to do cause there wasn’t a salon that I wanted to work at.”

Phillips wanted a certain size, and a certain feel, which he says just didn’t exist in Halifax.  He wanted a surrounding that reflected his personality. In his time off he started to build the idea of One Block Barbershop. Even though it is labelled as a barber shop, it’s not exclusively for men.

“I liked the idea of opening up a hybrid that was a salon and a barbershop,” he says. “I just kept on talking to people, asking questions, and it slowly started to guide me down this path.”

Phillips says he never had any second thoughts. He was full-steam ahead the whole time.

“It was hard because I was learning everything for the first time. On my mental health, it was really hard. My brain was like crazy.”

Phillips says his business plan for a Gottingen Street salon was denied funding at first because of its location, though it was ultimately approved.

“I’ve never really understood the stigma attached to this street. I understand that it is real because I hear people saying it, but I think a lot of it comes from just not knowing.”

Gottingen Street was the only street Phillips looked at for available spaces. He says that it had always been his favourite street. Also, business wise, it made sense because there was no other hair salon on the street.

“I remember my original business plan. It was gonna be for people who wanted alternative haircuts, quality haircuts, and it was going to be a queer safe space.”

Including Phillips, there are three full-time employees. Kat Cochrane says he is “pretty fair.”

“I learn a lot from him. One Block has a really positive reputation in the social and hair community. They are known for doing really interesting things.”

As for inspiration, Phillips draws from anything, no matter where he is.

“The other day, I was getting inspiration from people’s fashion at the Subway in Dartmouth. I was also in Detroit two months ago, and just the people there I was hanging out with, I was taking note of their fashion, and thinking about how I could bring that back to Halifax, or incorporate it with myself.”

If he can’t put it to use directly for hairstyling, he uses it for seasonal editorial photoshoots that One Block does, which is another creative outlet he uses.

Phillips says he believes in constantly evolving with the world around him, personally and business wise. He says, “It’s always updating things and changing things to keep it interesting and fresh. You can’t just open a business and not change it for five years, otherwise it’s stale.”

Phillips syas they’ve tried to evolve with social media. They recently deleted their Facebook account because he felt that advertisers were pushing too much onto the user, so they moved everything to Instagram.

“You want the people to come here and feel that things are exciting and changing, because it also shows that the person is constantly thinking and also evolving. That translates to hair. They don’t need to get the same haircut every time. It’s about thinking of new ideas and evolving themselves, and their ideas about hair.”