Live Well, Do Good

Tax Time Offers Folks a Chance to Reflect

Brandon Sun, May 8, 2010 - David McConkey

You might think that your income tax return is just a way to report your income and figure out the taxes you owe. Or – better yet – calculate the size of your refund.

But a tax return tells a lot more: how we go about our lives, getting and spending.

I make this observation as I work part-time as a tax preparer during the tax season.  

The yearly income tax return becomes a record of the stories that make up a life.

When we are born, we start off as a dependant on our parent’s tax return. We last show up when our estate files our final tax return after our death.

Along the way, the tax return documents who we are: our first job as a teenager, post-secondary education, career, marriage, birth of children, separation and divorce, change of employment, investments, starting a business, illness, retirement, death of a spouse, and even participation in the community.

As people bring in their income tax information and share a bit of their lives, I find much that is quite inspiring.

People can face great problems – losing a job, marital separation, going through an illness, experiencing the death of a loved one. And yet people often exhibit great fortitude, resilience, and even humour in the face of life’s travails.

Members of our new immigrant population are another source of inspiration for me. Overcoming what must be a difficult transition, within just a few years of coming to the city, they have created a real life here.

New immigrants are beaming as they describe how they have just bought their first house, their kids are in school, and their next baby will be born in Canada.

Hearing their stories reminds me not to take for granted the good fortune of just living in Brandon, Manitoba.

The tax return also says something about our involvement in the community. For one thing, charitable donations are eligible for an income tax credit.

This is one area, however, where the tax return does not tell the whole story. I know that people in Brandon and Westman are very generous with their money and time.

They donate and volunteer. They help out in neighbourhoods, schools, service clubs, workplaces. And at large events like the Memorial Cup.  

Yet in the kind of charitable donations that appear on the tax return, I see opportunities for more engagement with our own community.

Those who do donate (seniors more often than not) usually give to their local church and to national agencies. I see a gap, however, in giving to other community organizations.

I am thinking partly of small home-grown charities like The Marquis Project that are close to my heart. And I am also thinking of the mainstays of our city and region.   

It is rare to see a tax receipt for a donation to, for example, the Brandon Area Community Foundation, the Brandon Regional Health Centre Foundation, or the Brandon & District United Way.

I know that donations to the large organizations are often done at the workplace. Still, it is unusual to see donations listed on a T4 slip.  

Can people afford to donate, when they might be struggling themselves? Each person or family obviously has to decide for themselves.

Now is also the time for me to climb onto one of my favourite hobby horses: encouraging contributions to political parties.

Political contributions rarely show up on a tax return (although there are usually a few during election years).

Taxpayers can keep in mind that the tax credit for political contributions is even greater than the credit for charitable donations.

I do not think that politicians have cynically made these generous provisions just because they themselves belong to a political party.

Rather, this is a way for ordinary citizens to participate in the political process. Remember, if you don’t get involved in our democracy, you can’t complain if you don’t like the results!

So, please give to a political party (any one of them) if you can at all afford to.   

By the way, what we can “afford” is also exposed when we tally up our annual income.

When we look at a summary of our income and taxes for the year, we usually think, “Where did all the money go?”

The annual rite of doing our taxes is not only a way to count up what we owe the government.  

It also can be a way to reflect on what counts in our lives.

* * *  

See also:

Charitable Donations:  Top Ten Canadian Tax Tips

Six Words To Describe A Life? 

Ways to Leave a Legacy

Live Well, Do Good 

Political Contributions: Top Ten Canadian Tax Tips 

Pay More Income Tax?

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