Retirement savings: Are the kids alright?

By Sheryl Smolkin

A pair of surveys recently released by Tangerine Bank and TD Bank show that many millennials started saving for retirement in their early 20s, but they do not have a clear understanding of how much to save or how their RRSP savings can be used in future.

A new survey by Tangerine found that the younger generation of Canadians is getting the message to start saving early and build a nest egg for retirement. Despite being in the early stages of their career or still in school, the survey revealed that 62% of millennials (those 18-34) have started saving for retirement and almost half (46%) said they started before the age of 25.

These results are even more impressive when compared to data collected from the 81% of older working Canadians aged 35-65 who are currently saving for retirement. When asked when they began saving, only 18% reported to have started before the age of 25.

Of those 38% of millennials not yet saving for retirement, many (62%) say it’s because of their low salary or not having enough money, and another 23% said it’s because they are saving for a big ticket item like a house, a wedding, or travel.

Nevertheless across the different age groups, the survey’s findings were uniform when it comes to financial literacy. Fifty eight percent of both millennials and older working Canadians felt they did not learn enough about saving for retirement before they started.

This is consistent with the findings of a late 2015 Environics poll conducted for TD bank which found that many millennials are unaware that RRSP funds cannot be used for other items such as making a charitable donation (64%), paying childcare expenses (60%), financing a car (52%), making a personal loan (51%), renting an apartment or purchasing a second home (50%).

Half (50%) of all millennials surveyed by TD correctly identified that RRSP funds can be used for first time home purchase, although just 28% were aware they can be used to fund full-time education as a mature student.

“Saving enough money for a down payment on a home can be difficult for many younger Canadians, so the ability to withdraw up to $25,000 from an RRSP, or up to $50,000 for a couple, can help make it easier,” said Linda MacKay, Senior Vice President, Personal Savings and Investing at TD Canada Trust. “Building up an RRSP from the earliest possible moment not only helps you save on income tax now, but could also help get you into your first home more quickly and lower your monthly mortgage payments down the road.”

But Lee Bennett, Senior Vice President, TD Wealth Financial Planning says there are pros and cons and long-term implications of using RRSP funds to buy a home or pursue further education, including giving up the potential growth of RRSP savings until that money is repaid into the plan. As with any significant investment decision, she recommends investors consult with a financial planner who can help explain what’s best for each individual.

MacKay agrees, adding that it’s important to have a bit of know-how and understand clearly what an RRSP can – and cannot – be used for in order to avoid incurring tax penalties for improper withdrawals and to be able to maximize the amount of money that can be saved. She says this applies particularly to millennials who, as the TD survey shows, have many misconceptions about how an RRSP fund can be used.

You can find basic information on How RRSPs work and Making RRSP withdrawals before you retire on the Ontario Securities Commission’s web site GetSmarterAboutMoney.ca and a more comprehensive discussion from the Canada Revenue Agency at RRSPs and related plans.

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