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Unclaimed CRA cheques might be a nice surprise, but there’s a catch

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Canada’s social media is abuzz with news that some taxpayers are finding hundreds of dollars they didn’t know the government owed them.

A new feature on the Canada Revenue Agency’s My Account portal tells taxpayers whether they have uncashed cheques.

There are around 7.6 million such cheques, worth around $1 billion, the CRA told Global News.

Auditor general says CRA blocked Canadians calling help line
Auditor general says CRA blocked Canadians calling help line

There are many reasons why Canadians may have unclaimed CRA cheques, the agency’s website says.

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“For example, someone may have moved and not updated their address, believed the payment was issued to them in error, or the cheque may have been lost, stolen, or destroyed.”

But since CRA cheques never expire or become stale-dated, that money is still for taxpayers to claim — and the CRA says it wants to make it easier for Canadians to get what they’re owed.

These are some of the common CRA scams to look out for
These are some of the common CRA scams to look out for

“This is money that belongs to Canadians,” said CRA spokesperson Etienne Biram. “In order to help taxpayers reclaim these long lost funds, we recently soft-launched this new feature.”

Accessing the money sounds easy enough. Once logged into your My Account, navigate to the “related services section” on the right-hand-side and scroll down to the aptly named “Uncashed cheques” link.

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There you’ll find any cheques that went unclaimed for six months or more, along with how much you are owed for each. Then, all you have to do is complete and submit an online form through My Account.

Your legal representative can also request a duplicate payment on your behalf.

“As government cheques never expire or stale-date, the CRA cannot void the original cheque and reissue a new one unless requested by the taxpayer,” Biram said.

If you register for direct deposit, the CRA will automatically transfer the amount owed into your account. Otherwise, the agency will mail you a new cheque to the address it has on file (which you can update online through My Account).

Many Canadians have been quick to check for unclaimed cash in their CRA accounts and posted their findings on Twitter:

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Still, while discovering unexpected cash may feel like a nice surprise, there’s a downside to having uncashed government cheques: CRA does not pay interest on the unclaimed funds, nor are the amounts indexed to inflation.

Old cheques, in other words, come with a diminished purchasing power. A basket of goods worth seven hundred dollars in 2011, for example, would cost $813 today, according to the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator.

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Another potential snag for Canadians with unpaid government cheques: if you owe money to the CRA, the agency will pay itself first. All or part of your cheque will be applied to your government debt, with any remaining amount paid out to you.

To avoid missing out on government payments in the future, you can sign up for direct deposit inside My Account. You can also sign up for email notifications from the CRA, which include benefit notices and slips.