What are the tax implications of buying a business, and how can I minimize them?


When purchasing a business it is essential for buyers to consider the potential tax implications and strategies to minimize them. Two key tax considerations are the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and provincial sales tax (PST). The method of acquisition, whether through share or asset transfer, significantly impacts the tax outcome. In general, when buying a business by transferring shares, GST is often exempt, as shares are considered financial instruments. However, in asset transfers, the GST exemption does not apply, so careful evaluation of the transaction is necessary to determine GST obligations. To further complicate matters, the choice between share and asset transactions can also affect provincial sales tax liabilities. Real estate holdings within the business, for instance, can significantly impact property transfer tax costs.

To navigate these complexities and minimize tax burdens, buyers should conduct a thorough tax assessment and consider seeking professional guidance to make informed decisions during the acquisition process. An asset purchase as opposed to a share purchase can be better for the buyer when considering potential tax implications, however, it tends to cost the seller more. Therefore, a seller may demand a higher price in an asset deal to offset its reduced proceeds.

In a share purchase transaction, the purchaser becomes responsible for any unpaid GST, source deductions and income tax that was to be paid by the target company. These tax compliance matters could expose the purchaser to significant liabilities after the share purchase. Reviewing all financial matters including tax compliance by your tax/accounting consultant is essential. Unknown tax liabilities could be mitigated by a holdback (from the purchase proceeds) to be held for a set period of time after the share purchase to meet any unknown tax obligations.