By Sheryl Smolkin
Saving for retirement or any other important goal like a home purchase or your child’s education is not easy. But if you are able to deduct your annual contributions from taxable income and/or accumulate investment earnings tax-free, the balance in your accounts will accumulate much faster.
Most Canadians have heard about and save in at least one of the following registered accounts: Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs), pension plans, Tax Free Savings Account (TFSAs) or Registered Educational Savings Plans. But many may not be aware of exactly how much money they can contribute to these programs annually or carry forward to future years.
In 2014 you can contribute 18% of your income to a defined contribution (DC) pension plan to a maximum of $24,930. RRSP contributions are based on your previous year’s earnings (2013 earnings for 2014 contributions). As result of the one year lag, maximum RRSP contributions for 2014 are $24,270.
In order to contribute up to $2,500/year to the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP), you must have RRSP contribution room. Maximum permissible defined benefit (DB) pension plan contributions are calculated per year of service, and reduce your DC plan or RRSP contribution room.
RRSP and pension plan contributions are tax deductible and the contributions accumulate tax deferred. However, you do not have to take a deduction for RRSP contributions in the year you contribute. You can wait until a later year when your earnings are higher and if you do, the tax savings will be greater.
Unused RRSP contribution room can also be carried forward to use in any future year. And you can still catch up even if you are retired. For example, if you have unused RRSP contribution room from past years and funds are available, contributing to your own or your spouse’s RRSP is allowed up until the end of the year the plan holder turns age 71. However, you cannot contribute to an RRSP for a person (yourself or your spouse) who already turned age 71 in the previous year.
Unlike DB or some DC pension plans (i.e. SPP), funds in your RRSP are not locked in. That means you can take money out at any time subject to paying taxes on the money in the year of withdrawal. But it is important to remember that once you withdraw money from your RRSP the contribution room will not be restored and you lose the benefit of future compounding on the amount of the withdrawal.
If tax-free withdrawals are made under the RRSP Home Buyers’ Plan or Lifelong Learning Plan, you will eventually be liable for taxes on the money if you do not pay back the principal over a prescribed period.
Tax-Free Savings Account
The TFSA is a flexible, registered savings account that first became available to Canadians in 2009. From 2009 to 2012 maximum annual contributions were $5,000/year. Based on indexation due to inflation, the annual contribution maximum was increased to $5,500 in 2013.
A TFSA can be used to enhance retirement savings or to accumulate money for other goals. Contributions are not tax-deductible but savings grow tax-free. If you make a withdrawal from your TFSA, the contribution room is restored in the year following the year you take money out. Unused contribution room is also carried forward.
Because withdrawals are tax free and contribution room is restored after a withdrawal, a TFSA can be an ideal place to stash your “emergency funds.” Another benefit of a TFSA is you can continue to make contributions indefinitely, unlike RRSP contributions which must end after age 71.
An additional attractive feature of a TFSA is that neither income earned within the plan nor withdrawals affect eligibility for federal income-tested government benefits and credits such as Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Child Tax Benefit.
Registered Educational Savings Plan
A Registered Educational Savings Plan (RESP) is a tax-sheltered plan that can help you save for a child’s post-secondary education. Unlike an RRSP, contributions to an RESP are not tax deductible. However, investment earnings accumulate tax-free in the plan. When money is paid out of the plan it is taxable in the hands of the student, who typically will be in a lower income bracket than the parent or other contributor.
There is no limit on annual RESP contributions but there is a lifetime maximum of $50,000 per child. However, there are annual and lifetime maximums on the Canadian Education Savings Grant (CESG) available for eligible beneficiaries under the age of 18.
The federal CESG matches 20% on the first $2,500 (maximum of $500) contributed annually to an RESP. The maximum total CESG the government will give, up to age 18, is $7,200 per beneficiary. The grant proceeds are invested along with your contributions, further enhancing the benefits of tax-deferred and compound investment growth within your plan.
A $500 Canada Learning Bond (CLB) is also provided for children of families who are entitled to the National Child Benefit Supplement (net family income of $44,701 in 2015) and who are born after December 31, 2003. These children also qualify for CLB instalments of $100 per year until age 15, as long as they continue to receive the National Child Benefit Supplement. The total maximum CLB payable per child is $2,000.
CLBs are allocated to a specific child; unlike CESGs, they cannot be shared with other beneficiaries. There is no requirement to make contributions in order to qualify for the CLB.
Adding it all up
Over the years RRSP/pension savings limits have crept up and with the introduction of TFSAs in 2009, Canadians have another tax-effective way to save. RESPs are particularly attractive vehicles for educational savings as the federal government offers CESG grants and the Canada Learning Bond as further incentives for saving.
Understanding annual savings limits for all of these registered plans will help you to budget and save the maximum affordable amount every year in the most tax-effective way. Any unused savings room that can be carried forward will come in handy as your income increases or if you ever need to tax shelter a lump sum such as the proceeds of a severance package or capital gains on the sale of a property other than your principal residence.