Personal Services Corporation Definition

Being a Personal Services Business Has Serious Tax Consequences

Businessman with digital tablet in conference room
Is yours a personal service corporation?. Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Definition:

In Canada, a personal services corporation is:

"a business that a corporation carries on to provide services to another entity (such as a person or a partnership) that an officer or employee of that entity would usually perform" (T4012 – T2 Corporation Income Tax Guide, Chapter 4, Canada Revenue Agency).

Bluntly, you do not want the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to decide that your corporation fits this definition because a personal services corporation (a.k.a. personal services business) is not allowed to claim any of the standard business expenses, including the Small Business Deduction.

That's because, as the CRA Guide goes on to explain, that the person providing those services on behalf of the corporation is called an incorporated employee (not a contractor).

Right away, your mental alarm bells should be ringing like mad, because as you know, this is the basic income tax divide, employee versus business person. Business people (whether sole proprietorships or corporations) have many more potential tax deductions available to them than employees.

The Canada Revenue Agency generally considers four issues to determine whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor:

  1. Control
  2. Ownership of tools
  3. Chance of profit/risk of loss
  4. Integration

Are You a Contractor or an Employee? provides detailed explanations of each of these points.

But these may be moot in terms of determining whether or not a corporation is deemed to be a personal services business.

It appears that all that is required for a small corporation to be considered a personal services corporation is:

1) that the person performing the services (you) or any person related to you, is a specified shareholder of the corporation (a person who owns at least 10% of the issued shares of any class of capital stock in the corporation or a related corporation, directly or indirectly, at any time of the year);

2) that you would "reasonably be considered an officer or employee of the entity receiving the services" if not for the existence of the corporation.

You can see, just from reading this last pair of sentences, how difficult it could be for a person with a corporation that has a single shareholder who is doing business with one company to prove otherwise.

From the government's point of view, just calling an employee something else doesn't mean they’re not actually an employee – especially when they're doing exactly what an employee would do.

Corporations who are suddenly deemed to be personal services corporations not only lose their favorable tax advantage of being able to claim business expenses, but also become ineligible for the Small Business Tax Deduction, losing their favorable tax rate on the first $500,000 of active income.

To make it even worse, personal services businesses have no tax deferral advantage either; for tax years ending October 31st, 2012 and later, the federal tax rate has increased to 28% from 15% (plus the applicable provincial tax).

Historically, this issue has been (and still is) of particular concern to IT consultants. Peter Kovessy reported that thousands of local IT consultants faced hefty tax reassessments as the Canada Revenue Agency reexamined their relationship with staffing agencies that helped connect them to the federal government (Taxman cracks down on IT consultants, Ottawa Business Journal).

IT consultants (and other types of consultants) have basically run into the incorporation wall. If they don't incorporate, staffing agencies and corporations won’t hire them. But if they do, they may not appear "corporate enough" for the Canada Revenue Agency and face tax penalties. Some consultants, according to the article by Peter Kovessy linked above, have faced tax reassessment bills of up to $50,000 when their small business deduction claims and business expenses were disallowed. Either way, they're out of pocket.

Whether or not the Canada Revenue Agency is still pursuing an active "crackdown" on such businesses, any small business corporation that sells the services of a person to other businesses runs the risk of being viewed as a personal service business.

Read more about the problem of having a Canadian personal services corporation and how you can avoid it in Being Declared a Personal Services Corporation Can Really Cost You.

Also Known As: Personal Services Business

Examples: Mitch was devastated when his corporate taxes were reassessed and he had to pay thousands of dollars in back taxes because his corporation was found to be a personal services business.