The Canada Revenue Agency requests that some Canadians pay their income tax by installments through the year.

The majority of Canadians don’t have to make quarterly tax installment payments toward their income taxes because their employers deduct sufficient tax at source throughout the year to cover their tax bill.

But those who have sources of taxable income outside of regular employment — which can include freelance income, income from investments, or withdrawals from RRIFs — often have insufficient (or no) tax withheld though the year, and as a result owe tax when they file their returns.

See: Why Do I Owe Income Tax?

CRA requests quarterly income tax installments if your income tax assessment shows an amount owing of over $3,000 for any two of three consecutive years.

When to pay tax installments:

Tax installments are due four times per year: March 15, June 15, September 15, and December 15.

How much to pay

You installment payments must total the lesser of:

  • your tax owing for the year, or
  • what CRA requested of you in their request letter

If you don’t meet at least one of these criteria, an interest charge will be added to your tax bill.

The requested tax installment payment is always equal to 1/4 of the tax owing at the end of the previous year. So for example if your last income tax bill came to $3,600, the Canada Revenue Agency will request four tax installment payments of $900 each.

However, the very first time you’re asked for installments, those requested installments may actually be higher than usual. The first year you’re requested to pay, you won’t be notified until late in the summer. At that point there are fewer installment deadlines left for the year. Consequently CRA may apportion the total amount over the three or fewer remaining deadlines available.

Do I have to pay installments? What happens if I don’t pay?

Generally, if you owe tax at the end of the year you’ll pay interest on the unpaid tax installment(s). The interest will be applied retroactively to the due date of the missed payment(s).

Video: What Happens If You Don’t Pay Tax Installments?

CRA’s interest rate is set every calendar quarter. The interest is the only consequence of not paying installments, so consider your own cash flow and the costs when deciding whether to pay or not to pay. You’re not in trouble — and you’re not a bad person! — if you decide to skip your installments and just pay the full amount plus interest after you file your tax return.

See CRA’s current and historical interest rates here.

What if the requested tax installments total more than I owe?

If your tax instalments through the year total more than your final tax bill for that year, the excess will be refunded or credited to your account.

What if the requested tax installments total less than I owe?

If your income is higher this year, you may have a higher tax bill than your installments can cover. That does not mean you need to increase your installment payments (unless you want to). CRA won’t charge you interest for whatever additional tax you owe, so long as you paid the requested amounts.

You’re only responsible for paying the lesser of a) what you owe, or b) what CRA requested of you.

To learn more, check out CRA’s pamphlet on Tax Instalment Payments here.