How to Start Accounting for a New Business in Canada: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Start Accounting for a New Business in Canada: A Step-by-Step Guide

Sebastien Prost, CPA

Starting accounting for a new business in Canada is a critical step that lays the groundwork for financial health and legal compliance. It involves choosing the appropriate business structure, registering the business with the appropriate government bodies, and setting up an accounting system that suits the entity’s needs. A clear understanding of tax obligations, bookkeeping practices, and financial reporting requirements is crucial from the onset. This will not only aid in managing business finances effectively but also ensure the business fulfills all compliance and regulatory mandates.

Seeking professional advice is beneficial, as accountants with a deep understanding of Canadian business practices can provide insights and services tailored to your specific situation. They can assist in navigating the complexities of financial management and ensure entrepreneurs establish systems and processes that will support business growth and withstand scrutiny from investors, creditors, and regulatory bodies.

Key Takeaways

  • Effective accounting practices form the bedrock of a new business’s financial health.
  • It is essential to align business accounting with Canadian regulatory and tax requirements.
  • Professional advice can streamline financial management for business sustainability and compliance.

Understanding Canadian Business Structures

When initiating a business in Canada, it is critical to choose the right structure as it influences legal liabilities, tax obligations, and compliance requirements.

Sole Proprietorship

Sole Proprietorship is the simplest business structure, where the business is owned and operated by a single individual. It is easy to set up and requires less regulatory paperwork. The owner is personally responsible for all debts and liabilities.

  • Legal Liability: Unlimited personal liability.
  • Taxation: Income is reported on the individual’s personal income tax return.


Partnerships involve two or more individuals or entities working together. They come in various forms including general partnerships where all partners are equally liable, and limited partnerships that protect some partners’ personal assets.

  • Legal Liability:
    • General Partnership: All partners have unlimited liability.
    • Limited Partnership: At least one partner has limited liability.
  • Taxation: Profits and losses flow through to partners’ personal tax returns proportionally.


A corporation is a separate legal entity owned by shareholders. It offers the highest level of protection from personal liability for its owners and can raise capital more easily through the sale of stock.

  • Legal Liability: Limited to the corporation’s assets.
  • Taxation: Taxed at the corporate rate, distinct from personal income.

Registering Your New Business

Before a new business can legally commence operations in Canada, it is important to handle registration effectively. This includes choosing and registering a business name as well as obtaining a government-issued business number.

Business Name Registration

When entrepreneurs decide on starting a business, they must select a unique and appropriate name. The business name is not only a legal requirement, it also establishes the brand identity. To register a business name, one must:

  1. Check Availability: A name search should be conducted to ensure that the selected name isn’t already in use or trademarked. In Canada, this often involves accessing a NUANS (Newly Upgraded Automated Name Search) report.
  2. Provincial or Territorial Registration: Depending upon the nature and location of the business, the owner must register the name with the relevant provincial or territorial authority.
  3. Consider Trademarking: To protect the business name beyond just the operational area, one might consider registering it as a trademark with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO).

Obtaining a Business Number

The next step is obtaining a Business Number (BN). This number is a unique identifier provided by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and is necessary for various aspects of the business, like tax matters. To get a BN, one must:

  • Apply Through the CRA: An application can be made either online, by phone, mail, or fax.
  • Federal Level Registration: While some businesses operate provincially, those that plan to work federally or need to charge GST/HST must register with the CRA.
  • Tax Accounts: Depending on the business activities, various tax accounts such as GST/HST, payroll, corporate income tax, and import-export might have to be set up under the BN.

Setting Up Your Accounting System

When starting a new business in Canada, it’s crucial to establish a robust accounting system. Adequate setup paves the way for streamlined financial management, compliance, and growth.

Choosing an Accounting Software

For small businesses, Xero is often recommended due to its comprehensive features tailored for ease of use and scalability. It allows users to:

  • Track sales and expenses: Xero provides a complete overview of financial transactions.
  • Invoice customers: The platform offers customizable invoicing solutions.
  • Connect bank accounts: Business bank accounts can be linked for real-time information on cash flow.
  • Run reports: Users can generate financial statements and reports to gain insights into their business’s performance.

A table comparing Xero to other accounting software could look like this:

Other Software
User Interface
Bank Integration


Determining Accounting Method

Businesses must choose between two primary accounting methods:

  • Accrual Accounting: Records financial transactions when they are earned or incurred, regardless of when the cash is exchanged.
  • Cash Accounting: Transactions are recorded when cash is received or paid.

The choice affects how income and expenses are reported. In Canada, the accrual method is the standard for businesses as it provides a more accurate financial picture, especially for those that have inventory or extend credit to customers. Xero supports both methods, ensuring flexibility for the business owner.

When setting up an accounting system, it is necessary for businesses to consider:

  • The complexity of their financial transactions.
  • Regulatory requirements that apply to their industry.
  • The volume of transactions.
  • Software support and scalability for future growth.

Choosing the right software and accounting method sets the foundation for financial success and regulatory compliance.

Managing Business Finances

When embarking on a new business venture in Canada, it is crucial for business owners to efficiently manage finances from the start. This involves the fundamental processes of opening a business bank account for clear financial separation, and meticulously tracking all income and expenses to maintain a comprehensive view of the business’s financial health.

Opening a Business Bank Account

A business owner should establish a business bank account as an initial step. This action sets the foundation for organized finances by separating personal and business transactions, which simplifies tax preparation and improves financial clarity.

Tracking Income and Expenses

Accurate tracking of income and expenses ensures financial stability and aids in making informed decisions. Business owners can utilize Xero for streamlining their invoicing process. Xero allows for efficient tracking of income, sending personalized invoices, and provides a real-time view of cash flows.

For expense tracking, HubDoc can be a powerful tool, making it easy for businesses to maintain records. HubDoc automates the collection of financial documents, securely stores them, and simplifies the data entry process.

Utilizing these tools allows business owners to focus on growth while maintaining accurate and up-to-date financial records.

Understanding Tax Obligations

One of the first steps new business owners in Canada need to take is familiarizing themselves with the various tax obligations. Proper understanding and management of these taxes are crucial to the operation and success of the business.

GST/HST Registration

Businesses in Canada that expect to have more than $30,000 in annual taxable revenues are required to register for the Goods and Services Tax (GST) or Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Once registered, a business must:

  • Charge: Appropriately apply the GST/HST to taxable supplies (goods and services).
  • Report: File regular tax returns (usually quarterly or annually) to report the collected tax.

It is vital for businesses to keep in mind that different provinces have different rates for GST/HST, and they should charge the tax based on the customer’s location.

Payroll Tax Requirements

For businesses with employees, understanding payroll tax requirements is mandatory. This entails:

  • Deducting income tax, Canada Pension Plan (CPP) contributions, and Employment Insurance (EI) premiums from employees’ pay.
  • Remitting these deductions, along with the employer’s share of CPP contributions and EI premiums, to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

Employers must ensure strict compliance by following the payroll deductions tables provided by the CRA or use payroll software to calculate the required deductions accurately.

Bookkeeping Basics

Bookkeeping serves as the foundation for businesses to track financial transactions, ensuring transparency and compliance with Canadian financial regulations.

Recording Financial Transactions

A business must record every financial transaction with accuracy. This includes:

  • Sales invoices: Documenting income from goods or services sold.
  • Purchase receipts: Recording expenses when buying goods or services.
  • Bank statements: Regularly reconciling these ensures transactions align with bank records.

Using a double-entry system, where every debit has a corresponding credit, is a standard practice in Canadian bookkeeping. This method provides a comprehensive view of the financial health of the business.

Maintaining Accurate Records

For a business to be compliant with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), maintaining precise records is essential. Key elements include:

  • Expenses: All money spent in the running of the business, categorized for tax purposes.
  • Revenues: All money received from business activities.
  • Tax records: Properly filing GST/HST, CPP, and EI payments and returns.

Document retention is critical, as the CRA requires that all records and supporting documents, electronic or paper, be kept for a period of six years.

Financial Reporting & Compliance

In Canada, financial reporting and compliance are critical for new businesses, requiring meticulous preparation of financial statements and timely filing of annual returns to avoid penalties and ensure transparency.

Preparing Financial Statements

Income Statement: New business owners should prepare monthly or quarterly to monitor profitability. It shows revenue, expenses, and profits, offering insights into the financial performance.

Balance Sheet: This statement provides a snapshot of a company’s financial position at a specific time. It lists assets, liabilities, and equity.

Cash Flow Statement: Essential for managing liquidity, this statement tracks the flow of cash in and out of the business.

Filing Annual Returns

Corporate Tax Returns: Companies must file a T2 return every tax year, even with no tax owing. The deadline is six months after the end of the fiscal year.

GST/HST Returns: If registered for the GST/HST, businesses need to file returns regularly—monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending on the option chosen.

T4/T5 Slips: Businesses with employees must issue T4 slips for the salary paid. T5 slips are needed if the business has paid dividends.

Form T2125: Sole proprietors report business income and expenses on Form T2125, which is part of their personal T1 tax return.

It’s important to maintain accurate records and keep abreast of Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) requirements. Businesses may also need to register for a Business Number and CRA program accounts, enabling the filing of electronic returns and compliance with federal tax regulations.

Seeking Professional Advice

When starting a business in Canada, seeking professional advice is a critical step in setting up robust accounting practices. Ensuring compliance and making informed financial decisions can save a business from costly errors down the line.

Hiring an Accountant

An accountant is essential for managing financial administration and providing strategic business guidance. They offer a range of services:

  • Financial statement preparation
  • Bookkeeping
  • Payroll processing
  • Financial planning

Accountants are well-versed in the financial and tax regulations in Canada, which helps in keeping the business compliant with relevant laws.

Consulting a Tax Expert

Consulting a tax expert is crucial when it comes to understanding the complexities of Canadian tax law. They assist with:

  • Identifying eligible tax deductions for start-up costs.
  • Advising on tax credits and incentives.
  • Ensuring accurate and timely tax filings.

Tax experts can offer advice specifically tailored to new businesses, which can help optimize tax positions and reduce liabilities.

Frequently Asked Questions

When starting a new business in Canada, entrepreneurs must navigate the complexities of setting up an accounting system, choosing the right software, understanding legal requirements, and deciding on hiring an accountant or managing finances independently.

What steps are involved in setting up an accounting system for a new company in Canada?

Entrepreneurs should start by choosing an accounting method (cash or accrual), tracking all financial transactions, selecting appropriate accounting software, and establishing a chart of accounts. They must also decide on a fiscal year-end and set up procedures for invoicing, payables, receivables, and payroll.

What are the best accounting software options for small businesses in Canada?

Some popular accounting software options include QuickBooks and Xero. These platforms offer features tailored to small business needs, such as invoicing, expense tracking, and financial reporting, and they are compatible with Canadian tax and reporting requirements.

Are there specific accounting requirements for small businesses in Canada that I should be aware of?

Small businesses in Canada must comply with federal and provincial tax regulations, and fulfill obligations related to the Goods and Services Tax (GST)/Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), payroll, and corporate income taxes.

Can you recommend any basic accounting courses suitable for new small business owners in Canada?

New business owners can benefit from accounting courses offered by local community colleges, online platforms like Coursera or Udemy, or professional associations such as CPA Canada, which may offer tailored programs focusing on fundamental accounting principles and software training.

Is it necessary to hire an accountant for a small business startup in Canada, or can the owner manage the accounts independently?

While small business owners can manage their accounts independently, especially with the aid of accounting software, hiring an accountant can offer expert advice on tax planning, compliance, and financial analysis that could be crucial for business growth and sustainability.

Sebastien Prost, CPA

Written by Sebastien Prost, CPA

Seb Prost, a CPA with over 10 years of experience in taxation and accounting, offers a unique blend of insights from his time at the CRA and his experience in public practice. Originally from QC and now based in Nelson, BC, he specializes in guiding Canadian startups, SaaS companies and other online businesses for all of their accounting and taxation needs.

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