May 24: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

May 24, 2021

TFSAs are great, but may not be ideally suited for retirement savings: MoneySense

Writing in the Toronto Sun, MoneySense writer Joseph Czikk opines that the rise of the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) may spell trouble for the venerable Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP).

He writes that the TFSA has been “a huge hit” since its inception in 2009, with more than two-thirds of Canadians now the proud owners of accounts.

“But,” he writes “there’s reason to suspect that the TFSA’s popularity is growing at the expense of the RRSP, and if that’s true, it should lead many Canadians to rethink how they plan to invest for retirement.”

Before 2009, he explains, the RRSP was the chief retirement savings tool for Canadians.

“RRSP contributions aren’t taxable, which incentivizes people to top up the accounts every year. The more money you put into your RRSP, the less tax you’ll pay,” the article notes.

When Canadians stop working, the article explains, they “generally convert their RRSP balance to a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF), which they then draw from to cover expenses.” Money coming out of the RRIF is taxable, but “the idea… is that you’ll probably be in a lower tax bracket in retirement than you were in your career, meaning you’ll get to keep more of the money than you otherwise would have.”

Then, Czikk notes, “along came the TFSA,” which works opposite from an RRSP. No tax break for putting money into a TFSA, but no taxation when you take it out, the article adds.

There are tax penalties for robbing your RRSP savings before retirement, but with the TFSA, not so much.

“You can see how such an account — which could be drawn upon like any bank account and which sheltered capital gains — would become popular,” he writes.

“And so it went. Just eight years after TFSAs came on the scene, their aggregate value rocketed to match 20 per cent of RRSPs, RRIFs and Locked-In Retirement Accounts (LIRAs).”

But, the article says, there are unintended negative consequences with the TFSA.

Quoting The Canadian Tax Journal, the article notes that $4 of every $10 that would otherwise have gone to an RRSP are now going to TFSAs. The number of Canadians contributing to RRSPs is in decline. And, the article says, that’s a problem.

Research from BMO suggests that Canadians need about $1.5 million in retirement savings to retire comfortably, the article says. And while for some a TFSA could get you there, the fact that there are no withdrawal rules is posing problems, the article says.

Prof. Jonathan Farrar of Wilfrid Laurier University is quoted in the article as saying “we’re seeing that … a lot of people are not using it for retirement. People are using the TFSA as a bank account instead of an investment account, from which you make a very rare withdrawal.”

“Part of the genius of the RRSP is how it disincentivizes people from taking money out before retirement. The TFSA lacks that aspect,” the article adds.

If you rob your retirement nest egg before hitting the golden handshake, the article concludes, you’ll have to rely more on government income programs like the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security. The government is thinking about creating a TFSA that has withdrawal rules more like an RRSP to address this problem.

Save with SPP once spoke with some Australian colleagues. There, everyone gets put in a mandatory defined contribution pension plan where their employer makes all the contributions. But, as with a TFSA, there aren’t any strict rules on withdrawals – so you could take all the money out and buy a house, for instance. In a strange paradox, a country with one of the highest rates of pension plan coverage has experienced senior poverty and a heavy reliance on the means-test Age Pension – and the lack of withdrawal rules may be to blame.

TFSAs are awesome, for sure, but perhaps not ideally suited for retirement savings. The tried and true approach may be a better path. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan operates similarly to an RRSP, but has the added feature of being a locked-in plan. You can’t crack into your SPP early, meaning there will be more there for you when you don’t have a paycheque to rely on.  Be sure to check out SPP – delivering retirement security for 35 years – today.

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

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