You should read this guide if you’re a Canadian physician who is:
- transitioning to practice in the near future;
- new in practice and wants to find out more about incorporating your medical practice; or
- practising, paying down debt and thinking about building wealth.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Why physicians incorporate their medical practice
Many businesses incorporate to take advantage of certain benefits, but there’s more to think about when incorporating a medical practice.
Incorporating your medical practice can help you defer some of your immediate tax burden and thus speed up your retirement savings.
How to decide whether incorporation is right for you
Answer these five questions to decide whether you should incorporate your medical practice. See how many you answer with “yes”:
- Are you self-employed?
- Are you easily covering your living expenses, with savings to spare?
- Do you want to save a lot more than what you can in your RRSP and tax-free savings account?
- Do you have large debt related to your practice?
- Do you think your income might vary from year to year?
Understanding medical professional corporations
When you incorporate, you create a legal corporation that owns your medical practice. It means that you become a shareholder and a director or employee of the corporation.
The corporation is a separate entity. You, the physician, control it, but the corporation independently earns income and pays tax on it. There are two main points to be aware of regarding this separation between physician and corporation:
- The corporation is a separate taxpayer under the Income Tax Act (Canada), and certain types of income earned by a corporation may be taxed at a lower rate than if earned by a physician personally.
- A corporation is owned by its shareholders. While all voting shares are typically physician-owned, a spouse and children (and potentially others, depending on your province or territory) can become shareholders and own non-voting shares.
How incorporation works
You, the physician
- You create the corporation.
- You (and other shareholders) own the corporation.
- You make the decisions.
- You may be a director, company officer or employee of the corporation.
- You are personally responsible for your services.
Your medical professional corporation
- Your corporation is a legal entity in the eyes of the law.
- It is separate from you, the physician.
- The corporation owns your medical practice.
- It can owe and pay taxes; it files its own tax return.
- It can own property and insurance policies.
Why a physician would want to incorporate
To get significant tax advantages. Medical professional corporations benefit from the small business tax rate, which is about 12%, depending on your province or territory. You pay this lower rate now on your practice income (up to $500,000, but this varies by province). The money you save on tax can be invested through your corporation, where it will grow. You will pay more tax later when you withdraw money from your corporation, but you will already have enjoyed the tax-deferral benefit.
To build retirement savings faster. Incorporating your medical practice can help you keep more of your earnings and grow wealth more effectively. While registered plans like RRSPs and TFSAs are a tax-efficient way to save for the future, you might want to save more than these plans allow.
To accelerate business payments. Let’s say you have some large business expenses, like buying into a medical building, acquiring costly medical equipment or offering substantial employee benefits. While there is no getting around these expenses, you may be able to pay for them — or the financing used to acquire them — more efficiently from inside the corporate structure, using the corporation’s funds.
Case study: the tax-deferral advantages of incorporating
Maria,* age 35, is a general practitioner with annual earnings of $300,000 (after overhead expenses but before taxes).
Maria estimates her annual living expenses to be around $114,500.
She would like to contribute $27,230 to her RRSP this year and $6,000 to her tax-free savings account. And in order to build savings to fund her retirement, she hopes to have cash left after tax to invest a good deal more.
* The hypothetical case study is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent actual clients. Any resemblance to actual people or situations is purely coincidental.
Tax impact if Maria’s practice is unincorporated
After accounting for her living expenses, RRSP contribution and TFSA contribution, this leaves her with an extra $44,270 that can be invested.
The following illustration shows the math:
In summary, if Maria is unincorporated, she can invest a total of $77,500:
Tax impact if Maria’s practice is incorporated
If Maria incorporates, the medical professional corporation earns $300,000 and pays $4,000 in additional administrative costs each year.
Maria pays herself a salary of $213,000, which allows her to cover her living expenses and contribute to her RRSP and TFSA.
In this scenario, the total after-tax cash available for investment inside the corporation is $73,040. This exceeds the amount of cash available for investment if Maria remains unincorporated by $28,770. This is known as the tax-deferral advantage.
The illustration shows the math:
Now let’s see what happens in her personal accounts: her RRSP and TFSA.
Adding together corporate and personal accounts, if Maria is incorporated, she can invest a total of $106,270:
** This is an estimated amount of tax payable. The actual amount will vary depending on the individual’s province/territory and personal tax situation.
*** This is an average tax rate and assumes the small business tax rate applies to all active business income (no reduction due to passive income rules).
Maria’s cash available for investment
Personal non-registered investment account
Corporate investment account
To summarize, when Maria is unincorporated, she has $77,500 to invest. When Maria is incorporated, she has $106,270 to invest. (Both figures include her RRSP and TFSA contributions.) Maria has $28,770 more cash available for investment if she incorporates:
Other strategies that can boost the value of your corporation
We’ve established that the main advantage of incorporating is having lower tax rates to speed up saving for retirement or help pay for business costs. But there are some things you can do to make incorporating even more worthwhile:
Banking**: Your corporation will need a bank account and may need credit and other banking services. Your MD Advisor* can refer you to a banker familiar with medical professional corporation needs, which may bring advantages.
Asset location: RRSPs, tax-free savings accounts, non-registered accounts — where should your corporation’s assets be held? Different types of accounts have different tax consequences, and your MD Advisor can show you the most efficient way to invest.
Spousal RRSPs: These can be a way to help grow your retirement savings. A spousal RRSP is a way of splitting income with a lower-income spouse and thus reducing taxes. Those savings can be invested through your corporation.
Income sprinkling: A physician who has turned 65 and is still incorporated can pay dividends to a lower-income spouse, thus reducing taxes. In some situations, the spouse and/or children may qualify for income sprinkling even before the physician is 65.
Insurance: A life insurance policy (term or permanent) bought with corporate funds can have several benefits. The lower tax rate applied to those funds makes this a more efficient way to pay for the insurance. And if you name the corporation as beneficiary, the death benefit is tax-free and could be used to pay your final tax bill, donate to charities, etc.
Research tax incentives: If research is part of your work, being incorporated gives you access to better federal R&D tax incentives.
The costs and extra administration of incorporating
When you set up a corporation, you’ll incur some start-up costs as well as ongoing ones. There are also extra administrative tasks, mostly associated with the corporation’s record-keeping and bookkeeping. Your team of MD Financial Management professionals and specialist partners (e.g., accountant, lawyer, tax specialist) have a wealth of experience with incorporation and can tell you more about the following:
- legal and accounting fees
- other disbursements (fee to the professional licensing body, cost of corporate minutes book, corporate registration)
- legal services
- accounting services
- corporation shareholder agreement
Separate tax filing
- filing annual tax return for the corporation
- preparing T4 and T5 income tax slips
- paying tax instalments
- remitting monthly source deductions on salaries paid to you (the physician) and other employees
Avoid surprises: Be aware of these potential snags
Passive income: The tax-deferral benefits that apply to your practice income generally don’t apply to passive income earned by the corporation. As a result, corporate investment income is taxed at rates similar to the top personal tax rate.
Malpractice and liability: Generally speaking, a corporation is liable in the case of a lawsuit, not its shareholders. But this is not true for physicians, as they remain personally liable for malpractice.
U.S. persons: If you’re a U.S. person practising in Canada, you may not benefit from incorporation to the degree a Canadian person will, because of certain reporting requirements. Your MD Advisor can tell you more about this.
Partnerships and group practices: If you enter into a partnership or group practice, you may not be eligible for the small-business tax rate. These group arrangements are more complex, so it is important to find out before incorporating how they are treated for tax purposes.
Structure of your corporation: Other shareholders can create issues related to corporate attribution and documentation. To ensure your interests are protected, get professional tax and legal advice before structuring your corporation. Your MD Advisor and incorporation team can help direct you to the specialist professionals you’ll need.
Lifetime capital gains exemption: It is rare that a medical professional corporation will qualify for this.
Where should you go from here?
If you’re considering incorporation, your MD Advisor can help you understand whether it makes sense for your situation — before you start paying accountant fees. If you’ve already decided it makes sense for you, we’re here to help you with the next steps.
As your MD Advisor begins to work with you, they develop a clear understanding of your current situation and future objectives, and then collaborate with a team of specialists to engineer your customized wealth management strategy — including incorporation, if it’s right for you.
As your financial situation evolves and becomes more complex, your MD Advisor can serve as the point person to monitor and update your comprehensive financial plan as required. And, when the time comes, we can help you transition to retirement or manage estate issues.
Contact your MD Advisor to learn more about incorporation.
* MD Advisor refers to an MD Management Limited Financial Consultant or Investment Advisor (in Quebec), or an MD Private Investment Counsel Portfolio Manager.
** Banking and credit products and services are offered by The Bank of Nova Scotia “Scotiabank”. Credit and lending products are subject to credit approval by Scotiabank.
Insurance products are distributed by MD Insurance Agency Limited. All MD employees dealing with clients regarding insurance products hold life licences.
The above information should not be construed as offering specific financial, investment, foreign or domestic taxation, legal, accounting or similar professional advice, nor is it intended to replace the advice of independent tax, accounting or legal professionals.
A. Maria’s cash available for investment
B. Unincorporated: How much Maria can invest in total
|Personal non-registered investment account||($6,000)|
|Total for investing||$44,270|
C. Tax impact if Maria is incorporated
D. Maria's personal account
|Personal taxes payable**||($65,270)|
|After-tax personal cash||$120,500|
E. Incorporated: How much Maria can invest in total
|Corporate cash available for investment||$73,040|
|Total available for investing||$106,270|
F. Tax deferral advantage