With the advent of CRM2, many advisors have considered switching to a fee-based model, in part so investors can deduct advisor fees. But when are advisor fees tax-deductible? And are there real financial benefits to this deductibility? This article provides the answers.
Advisor fee deductibility rules
The rules for deductibility of Investment Counsel Fees can found in section 20 (1) (bb) of the Income Tax Act (italic emphasis ours):
20. (1) (…) in computing a taxpayer’s income for a taxation year from a business or property, there may be deducted (…) (bb) an amount, other than a commission, that
(i) is paid by the taxpayer in the year to a person or partnership the principal business of which
- (A) is advising others as to the advisability of purchasing or selling specific shares or securities,
- (B) includes the provision of services in respect of the administration or management of shares or securities, and
(ii) is paid for
- (A) advice as to the advisability of purchasing or selling a specific share or security of the taxpayer,
- (B) services in respect of the administration or management of shares or securities of the taxpayer;
Basically, the Income Tax Act allows a taxpayer to deduct fees paid for advice on buying or selling a specific share or security of the taxpayer, or for the administration or the management of the shares or securities of the taxpayer. The amounts deducted need to be reasonable. A reasonable fee would be a fee charged normally in an arm’s-length relationship.
Advisor fees are deductible against any other type of income at the federal level. However, Quebec has its own rules: advisor fees are only deductible against investment income (interest, Canadian dividends, foreign income, and taxable capital gains). In Quebec, if there is not enough income generated by the investments to use the deduction, the unused portion of the deduction can be accumulated and carried forward indefinitely as long as there is investment income earned in a future year.
Fees paid for other types of advice, such as financial planning, are not within the provisions of paragraph 20(1) (bb), and are not deductible.
Commissions are specifically excluded from the definition of investment counsel fees. So commissions paid to stockbrokers to process transactions, or front- and back-end mutual fund commissions, are generally not deductible. All is not lost, however, as commission fees increase the ACB of an investment at purchase or sale, thus reducing capital gains or increasing capital losses when the investment is eventually sold.
Although not specified in paragraph 20 (1) (bb), fees charged by the trustee of a registered plan directly to the annuitant are not deductible, as the shares or securities held in the plan belong to the trust, not the annuitant. This means that no fees are deductible if paid on registered accounts (i.e., RRSP, RRIF, TFSA, RESP, RDSP).
Shares or securities
Paragraph 20 (1) (bb) mentions that the advice has to be relative to a share or a security owned by the taxpayer – so stocks, bonds, mutual funds, corporate class mutual funds and ETFs.
But are segregated funds considered securities? It seems not. At the CALU 2014 CRA Roundtable, CRA stated that, for the purpose of paragraph 20(1) (bb), a segregated fund policy is an insurance contract and not a share or security. Consequently, CRA says, fees for acquiring, disposing, administering or managing segregated fund policies are not deductible.
The taxpayer must pay
To be deductible, the taxpayer needs to pay the advisor fee. Also, the fee needs to be paid for advice or service pertaining to shares or securities that the taxpayer holds directly. That means mutual fund MERs are normally non-deductible at the investor level.
And, if the advisor fee is charged directly to the investors (not as part of an MER) in a non-embedded (F-class) mutual fund, the fee would be deductible against income for the investor, if other criteria are met – namely, the fee is paid in respect of advice regarding the purchase of eligible securities (including mutual fund units or shares) owned directly by the investor. However, mutual fund portfolio management fees themselves, even if charged directly to the investor by the mutual fund company, are not normally deductible at the investor level. Why? Again, par. 20 (1) (bb) specifies that the shares or securities must be held directly by the investor for deductibility to be possible. The CRA has supported this position in several technical interpretations.
Do investors truly benefit?
Is there a true tax advantage when an investor can deduct advisor service fees directly? And does owning a security directly, as opposed to owning mutual funds, provide a distinct tax advantage?
To answer those questions, consider the following situations.
- In the chart below, the first column illustrates when someone holds a traditional embedded mutual fund, with bundled management and advisor fees that are paid directly by the fund. The MER of the fund is 2.3%, and no fee is deductible by the investor on his or her personal tax return.
- The second column illustrates when holds a non-embedded mutual fund, where the management and advisor fees are separated and the advisor fee is paid directly by the investor. The fund’s MER is lower (1.3%), reflecting the fact that the investor directly pays an advisor fee of 1%, allowing him to deduct the advisor service fee directly on his income tax return.
- The third column illustrates when someone invests with a full-service broker and directly owns the securities. His full service broker charges 2.3% in advisory, administration and management of securities fees. Since the investor owns all securities personally, he will be able to deduct the full 2.3%.
For the sake of comparison, it is assumed all three investors own balanced portfolios that are sold after one year, generating capital gains on disposition.
|Initial investment||$ 100,000||$ 100,000||$ 100,000|
|Capital gains (6%)||$ 6,000||$ 6,000||$ 6,000|
|Interest income (4%)||$ 4,000||$ 4,000||$ 4,000|
|Minus MER @ 2.3% (1.3% for non-embedded)||($ 2,300)||($ 1,300)||($ 0)|
|Generated capital gains||$ 6,000||$ 6,000||$ 6,000|
|Taxable capital gains||$ 3,000||$ 3,000||$ 3,000|
|Interest distributed after paying MER||$ 1,700||$ 2, 700||$ 4,000|
|Total taxable income before deduction||$4,700||$5,700||$7,000|
|Deduction of advisor fee @ 1% (2.3% for direct ownership):||–||($ 1,000)||($ 2,300)|
|Total taxable income||$ 4,700||$ 4,700||$ 4,700|
|Tax paid @ 45 %||($ 2,115)||($ 2,115)||($ 2,115)|
|Net income after MER, advisor fee deduction and taxes||$ 5,585||$ 6,585||$ 7,885|
|Minus advisor fees paid out of pocket by investor||–||($ 1,000)||($ 2,300)|
|Net cash flow generated||$ 5,585||$ 5,585||$ 5,585|
When investing in a mutual fund, whether the advisor fee is deducted from income generated within the fund structure (as is the case with embedded mutual funds), or whether the fee is deducted at the investor level personally, the net after-tax result is the same.
Even with a full-service broker, the after-tax effect is identical. That is, owning securities directly does not confer an after-tax advantage.
Francois Bernier is Mackenzie Investments’ Director, Tax & Estate Planning. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.