The “holy trinity” of tax-assisted savings plans available to Canadians are TFSAs, RRSPs and RESPs. RESPs (Registered Educational Savings Plans) are primarily designed to help families to save for post-secondary education.
Each year, on every dollar up to $2,500 (to a life time maximum of $50,000) that you contributed to an RESP for a child’s education after high school, a basic amount of the Canada Education Savings Grant of 20% may be provided. Depending on the child’s family income, he/she could also qualify for an additional amount of CESG on the first $500 deposited, which means $100 more if the 2017 net family income was $45,916 or less and up to $50 if the 2017 net family income was between $45,916 and $91,831.
In total, the CESG could add up to $600 on $2,500 saved in a year. However, there is a lifetime CESG limit of $7,200. This includes both the basic and additional CESG. Lower income families may also be eligible for the Canada Learning Bond (CLB) that could amount to an additional $2,000 over the life of the plan.
Contributions to RESPs are not tax deductible, but the money in the account accumulates tax-free. Contributions can be withdrawn without tax consequences and when your child enrolls in a university or college program, educational assistance payments made up of the investment earnings and government grant money in the RESP are taxable in the hands of the student, generally at a very low rate.
When our children were young, we purchased Group RESPs for them and their grandparents also purchased additional units. I was so impressed with the program that I even took a year before transitioning from family law to pension law and sold RESPs.
Each child collected about $8,000 from the plan over four years of university, which helped them to graduate debt free. Fortunately, both my daughter and my son took four straight years of university education so there was no problem collecting the maximum amounts available to them minus administrative fees.
However, I’ve come to realize the potential downside of Group RESPs so we started contributing $200/month to a self-administered plan with CIBC Investor’s Edge for our granddaughter soon after she was born. She is now 5 ½ and as I write this, there is already $22,000 in the account.
Our decision to self-administer Daphne’s RESP was influenced in part by what I learned from other personal finance bloggers about the potential downside of group plans.
Robb Engen notes that group plans tend to have strict contribution and withdrawal schedules, meaning that if your plans change – a big possibility over 18 plus years – you could forfeit your enrollment fee or affect how much money your child can withdraw when he/she needs it for school.
With a Group RESP, contributions, government grants and investment earning for children the same age as yours are pooled and the amount minus fees is divided among the total number of students who are in school that year. Typically the pool is invested in very low risk GICs and bonds.
In contrast, there are no fees in our self-administered plan other than $6.95 when we make a trade. The funds are invested in a balanced portfolio of three low fee ETFs. We can easily monitor online how the portfolio is growing and as Daphne gets closer to university age we can shift to a more cautious approach.
Macleans recently reported that the total annual average cost of post-secondary education in Canada for a student living off-campus at a Canadian university is $19,498.75 and it will be much higher by the time your child or grandchild is ready to go off to college. So learn as much as you can about RESPs, get your child a social insurance number, set up a program and start saving.
However, as Engen suggests before you choose a group or individual RESP provider make sure you read the fine print and ask about:
- Fees for opening an RESP;
- Fees for withdrawing money from a RESP;
- Fees for managing the RESP;
- Fees for services and commissions;
- What happens if you can’t make regular payments;
- What happens if your child doesn’t continue his or her education; and
- If you have to close the account early, do you have to pay fees and penalties; do you get back the money you contributed; do you lose interest and can you transfer the money to another RESP or different account type.
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|Written by Sheryl Smolkin|
|Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.|