Getting help to file your taxes in person is tougher than ever since the Canada Revenue Agency stopped providing face-to-face service last fall.

Monday, May 5, is the deadline to file your income tax if you want to avoid paying interest or penalties. 

So CBC put private providers to the test to see just how much they are charging consumers to file their taxes.

We called several outlets with a scenario: a single T4 slip and a typical return of a refund of about $2,000. Here's what we found:

H&R Block:

  • The fee to file your income is $69.99.
  • To both file your taxes and get your instant refund, the fee is $130.

Liberty Tax Services:

  • $65 and up for a regular tax return.
  • $130 for filing a return and an instant refund.

Money Mart:

  • $49.99 for a regular e-file.
  • Plus an additional $130 for the instant refund.
  • And, if Money Mart cashes your cheque. it's an additional two per cent fee.

Three days after the CBC News I-Team contacted Money Mart stores for quotes, a company spokesperson corrected the rates given to the I-Team by call takers.

The company says customers are charged 15 per cent on the first $300 of the return and a charge of five per cent to the remainder of the refund.

The Money mart spokesperson says that would net a $130 charge on a $2,000 refund, adding that no cheque-cashing fees are applied as customers receive cash.

The spokesperson believes miscommunication may have contributed to the quote that CBC News previously received.

'Sometimes, they lose money'

Mel Kiesman, owner of  three Liberty Tax Services offices in Winnipeg, said places that offer the instant refund service are taking the risk that CRA won't refund the amount they pay to customers. 

"Sometimes, they lose money." he said.

INCOME TAX FEES

Kesandra Duquette, who had her taxes done by volunteers at a West End community centre, is grateful the service was free. (CBC)

He added that the instant refund service can also help customers who are in a cash crunch.

"There are people who need this service," he said. " They live paycheque to paycheque and day to day." 

Kiesman pointed out that at his offices, all return fees include tax.  

CBC found Kesandra Duquette at a West End community centre getting her taxes done for free by volunteers.

She was surprised by how much it could cost to file taxes.

"Wow, that's crazy," she said. "I have a two-year-old child. That's a couple of boxes of diapers, a couple new outfits, a pair of shoes. It goes a long way."

She said she's grateful she found a service that she didn't have to pay for.

"I learned that there's still a lot of good people in the world that can actually volunteer their time for other families and other individuals," she said.

The federal government came up with the formula for how much these companies can charge.

It's 15 per cent on the first $300, and five per cent on all money afterwards.

Jerry Buckland, a professor of International and Development Studies with Menno Simons College at the University of Winnipeg, and an expert in poverty and banking issues, says the formula should be changed. 

He said it means interest can run as high as 286 per cent annually for some of the most vulnerable Canadians.

Many online tax services are free for people who earn less than $20,000 a year. Fees range from $15 to $50 dollars for people and small businesses earning more.

The Canada Revenue Agency certifies several online tax services that are free. 

Clarifications

  • Three days after CBC News contacted Money Mart stores for income tax service quotes, a company spokesperson corrected the rates given to the I-Team by call takers. The spokesperson says customers are charged 15 per cent on the first $300 of the return and a charge of five per cent to the remainder of the refund. As well, no cheque-cashing fees are applied as customers receive cash.
    May 08, 2014 7:28 PM CT