By Sheryl Smolkin
In the first two months of every year financial institutions across the country advertise heavily encouraging every Canadian to open a registered retirement savings plan and make a maximum contribution.
And if you haven’t made all of your permissible RRSP contributions in earlier years you are an even more attractive target because chances are you have thousands of dollars of additional unused RRSP contribution room.
But in spite of the fact that I have been preaching the retirement savings gospel for decades, I agree with other pundits that there may be some circumstances in which it doesn’t make sense for you to top up your RRSP. For example:
- Low marginal tax rate: If you have a low marginal tax rate, you may be better off saving in a tax-free savings account or other non-registered savings and wait until you are earning more money to use up your RRSP savings room (which can be carried forward). Of course you could make the RRSP contribution in a year of low earnings and wait until a future year when you are more affluent to take the tax deduction.
- High interest debt: If you are carrying high interest credit card or other debt, your priority should be to pay off that debt as soon as possible to avoid further interest compounding. Then put controls in place to avoid getting into further debt. Once you have retired the debt, the additional cash flow can be used to make tax deductible RRSP contributions.
- Short -term goals: If you have high priority short-term objectives such as saving a down-payment for a house, funding your education or taking a family vacation, a TFSA is a more flexible savings vehicle. Your TFSA contributions accumulate tax-free. All or part of the balance can be withdrawn without tax consequences. And contribution room in the amount you withdraw will be restored the following year.
- Higher retirement income: RRSP contributions are most tax effective if you make them at a time when you are in a higher tax bracket but you have a reasonable expectation that your income in retirement will be lower when you must convert your RRSP account into a RRIF and begin withdrawing funds. However, you may live frugally and build a business in your prime working years. As a result, by the time you retire your income from money in the business, registered and un-registered funds is higher than prior to age 65.
- Great DB pension plan: Contrary to what you may have read, the defined benefit pension plan is not completely dead in Canada. For example, a small number of employees of private companies, federal public servants and some provincial employees will have generous monthly pensions when they retire. In these circumstances having a large taxable income in an RRSP maybe a great idea if RRIF withdrawals push your annual income over the threshold and as a result your Old Age Security is clawed back ($74,789 in 2017).
- Business owner: Unlike employees, incorporated business owners can control their compensation. If corporate income is not needed for personal living expenses, for example, it can be retained in a corporation to defer income taxes. The tax cost of withdrawing dividends (in retirement) could be significantly lower than the tax cost of withdrawing RRSP or RRIF dollars, which are be fully taxable.
Nevertheless, for all but a small number of people who fall into the categories above, an RRSP is a splendid idea. And consider using some of your RRSP contribution room to contribute to the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (up to $2,500/year) or transferring in up to $10,000/year to the SPP from your RRSP. Your money will be professionally managed and at retirement you can purchase an annuity that will pay you for life.