An audit is a scary thing. The idea of government officials pouring over internal company records, micro-searching for financial incongruencies is enough to keep any business owner up at night. Fingers crossed it never happens to you. But sometimes it does…
According to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website, during an audit, officers “closely examine books and records of small and medium-sized businesses to make sure they fulfill their obligations, apply tax laws correctly, and receive any amounts to which they are entitled.” An audit is a stressful process, often involving accountants, lawyers and frantic searches through old records. Ultimately, the goal of any audited party is to resolve the matter quickly and painlessly.
But quickly solving the problem requires corporate records to have been safely stored and updated accordingly. Naturally, the larger and busier a company, the easier it is to push these seemingly minute priorities down the list. Big mistake.
The CRA may ask to see the following records:
- information available to the CRA (such as tax returns previously filed, credit bureau searches, or property database information);
- your business records** (such as ledgers, journals, invoices, receipts, contracts, and bank statements);
- your personal records (such as bank statements, mortgage documents, and credit card statements);
- the personal or business records of other individuals or entities not being audited (for example, a spouse, family members, corporations, partnerships, or a trust); and
- adjustments made by your bookkeeper or accountant to arrive at income for tax purposes.
Corporate record books, commonly referred to as “minute books,” contain pertinent information as it relates to the status and well-being of the company. More often than not, minute books are physical binders that sit idly on law firm shelves. The binders contain the articles of incorporation, amendments, by-laws, original copies of share certificates share certificates, corporate ledgers, and other nondescript records.
The minute book should be updated as necessary, but at the very least once a year. What often happens, however, is that because minute books rarely need immediate updating, they are pervasively out of date.
Certain company resolutions can include the authorization to issue bonuses or dividends to employees or shareholders. For obvious reasons, this is of interest to the CRA. Dividends and income are taxed at different rates. So if an individual declares a dividend payment on their personal taxes, yet the resolution authorizing the corporate dividend payment is missing (because the minute book was not updated), the CRA may issue a tax reassessment.
The truth is that while law firms may charge a nominal amount to regularly update a company’s minute book, it costs thousands less than what a law firm will charge to overhaul and update a minute book in the case CRA audit. To avoid problems later on, here are a few important steps companies can take to alleviate the minute book concern before the Canada Revenue Agency comes calling:
- Make sure you know the location of your minute book. The vast majority of all corporate minute books are kept at the office of the company’s law firm. If it’s not there, try and locate it quickly.
- Ask your law firm whether the minute book is up to date. If necessary, remind them of recent transactions, issued dividends and other corporate matters.
- If possible, use a digital or virtual minute book. Minute books are kept in physical format for no other reason than that’s how they have been traditionally stored. A virtual minute book (whether a scanned version of a physical binder or a series of PDF documents stored on an external server) is equally as valid as the traditional physical minute book under Canadian law. Signatures need not be in pen and ink to be legally binding. New tools allow law firms to store and update minute books on the cloud, so clients can access their up-to-date records and share them instantly. Ensure your law firm uses these new solutions for your minute books.
The truth is that no one plans to be audited by the CRA. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be organized if and when the time comes. Taking a few small steps today with your minute book can bring a little sanity and clarity to an otherwise hectic ordeal.