THE BLOG

The CRA Wants to Help With Your Taxes -- But Only Online

03/04/2014 08:47 EST | Updated 05/04/2014 05:59 EDT

You may like the personal touch but the CRA is pushing people towards its My Account online information portal to cut costs.

The Canada Revenue Agency shuttered its local inquiry and payment desks last October. The agency has abandoned the practice of mailing hard-copy tax return packages except by specific request. The Telefile system, which allowed Canadians with simple returns to enter their data over the telephone, no longer exists.

In case you haven't gotten the hint, the CRA wants to deal with you online.

Like most government departments, the CRA is looking to cut costs and be more efficient. Paperwork is expensive to process: processing a paper tax return costs four times as much as an electronic one. Online processing is faster and more accurate, and customer self-service is more efficient. That's why about two-thirds of Canadians taxpayers file their returns online.

But the CRA's efforts extend beyond encouraging people to file their tax returns online. The Agency is trying to funnel as many interactions with taxpayers into an online, self-service environment. That's why the CRA created My Account, a secure online portal that allows Canadians to manage and track their tax accounts online.

The array of services available through my account encompasses pretty much every interaction a taxpayer could have with the CRA, replacing dozens of forms and most telephone inquiries.

It's quite easy to register for My Account, but you'll need some information handy: your social insurance number (SIN), date of birth, current postal code and your last two tax returns. The registration portal will ask for an amount from a line on one of those returns to authenticate who you are. Which return and which line appears to be random, for security purposes.

Then you'll be asked to create a series of security questions by selecting from a list and providing answers. These will be used as challenges when you log into your account. It's very similar to the process most financial institutions use for online banking. Make sure the spelling of the answers is unambiguous; if the challenge question asks for a family member's name, for example, don't choose "Robert" if you're likely to accidentally enter "Rob," "Robbie" or "Bob."

The CRA will mail an access code within five to 10 business days. This access code works for a limited time. If it's not entered into the system before the expiry date, you'll have to go through the whole process again.

But what if you need information now? You need to know your Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) deduction limit before you make a contribution, you can't remember how much room you have on your tax-free savings account, or perhaps you want to know the status of your tax return. The My Account registration portal will offer you a one-time, "Quick Access" look at that information, along with giving you information about your benefit payments and allowing you to request a remittance form.

Once you're account is set up, you can also set up access to My Account by using your online banking account and password information, leaving you with one less password to remember. The CRA uses a service called SecureKey Concierge as an intermediary between the agency and partner financial institutions. The CRA doesn't have access to your banking information, and the financial partner can't access your tax information. At the moment, the CRA lists only five sign-in partners: BMO Financial Group, Choice Rewards MasterCard, ING Direct, Scotiabank and TD Financial Group.

Another individual, like your tax professional, can also be authorized to access your My Account information. That person must authenticate online through the Represent a Client service to receive a RepID.

So what can you do now you're registered for My Account? Check the list of My Account services on the CRA Web site to see them all, but here are a few examples:

• Review the details of your tax return

• Check carryover amounts

• See your RRSP and TSFA contribution limits

• View the status of tax credit and benefit programs

• Set up pre-authorized payment plans and direct deposits of tax refunds

• Update your address, marital status and other personal information

• Change your return or dispute your assessment.

The CRA has nearly all the bases covered with the implementation of My Account, so you may never have to fill out a form or pick up a phone to call the CRA again. However, if you do not use a computer or do not have Internet access, it is much more challenging to get in contact with the CRA. Unfortunately, the taxman is moving online and My Account is the best way to reach the agency now.

ALSO ON HUFFPOST:

Free Software For Canadian Taxes 2013