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It's Your Money  

RRSPs not for everyone

Many financial authors including myself have put out countless articles on the benefits of a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) and told you over and over how important it is to have one.

But, just like most other things in the financial planning spectrum, the RRSP is not a one-stop solution and is not for everyone.

So should people not invest inside an RRSP at all? There are some who may in fact be better off skipping RRSPs all together and focusing on a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) and other tax-efficient non-registered investment options instead.

These people will generally fall into one of the following categories:

Low Income

While the annual income amount considered to be “low enough” will vary based on a number of other factors, those that live on a low income level now and expect to also do so in retirement will typically be better investing the small amount they can afford to put away into a TFSA.

In addition to getting little value from the tax credits for making RRSP contributions, if you plan to live largely on only CPP and OAS benefits in retirement, avoiding the RRSP program should allow you to qualify for the Guaranteed Income Supplement as well in retirement.

Close to Retirement

If you’re within a few years of your retirement date and you haven’t made any RRSP contributions at all, the benefits of the program may not be worth it.

This will depend on your current income and the tax credits that you would receive but generally if you’re only able to save a small amount and haven’t started yet, there is a lot less time to take advantage of the tax deferral benefits.

Having said that, there are some situations where large RRSP contributions in the last few years of working will also make more sense so again every situation is different and should be evaluated properly.    

Low Tax Rate

By investing in an RRSP, you get a tax credit that is applied against earned income.

If you’re paying a low marginal tax rate now, claiming this RRSP deduction will provide a smaller refund against taxes owed. Down the road in later working years or in retirement, you could end up paying higher taxes when you pull the RRSP money back out if your tax rate at the time is expected to be higher.

Young people who are in a lower tax bracket but expect their earnings to increase over time should generally still utilize some of their RRSP room now, though they may want to also save some for later years when they are earning more money.

In addition, instead of using the full deduction in the year it’s made, you may elect to hold onto some of your RRPS contribution credits and apply it in subsequent years when your income level has risen.     

Large Pension Plan

For those fortunate enough to have a significant work pension building up, the RRSP program may not be the best choice.

Your pension may provide a substantial income amount during your retirement that will be fully taxable and adding taxable RRSP income on top could push you to a higher tax bracket and/or cause your OAS to be clawed back.

If your pension is going to make up the majority of your retirement nest egg, it might be best to diversify your personal contributions into other options so that your tax situation in retirement is more manageable.    

Roughly half of those who can contribute to an RRSP will in a given year and it’s sad to see all of this RRSP contribution room being wasted, often due to misconceptions about how the program actually works.

Canadians are falling farther behind in their retirement planning and the benefits associated with the RRSP program can go a long way to helping most people reach their goals.

I still strongly advocate the use of RRSPs for most people, but if you fall into one of the four categories above make sure you discuss your situation with a certified financial planner professional to see what contribution plans make the most sense for you.     



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About the Author

Brett, designated as a chartered investment manager and certified financial planner, is the regional director (Okanagan) for IG Wealth Management.

In addition to his “day job," Brett was appointed to the board of directors of FP Canada (formerly FPSC) in 2014, named as the board’s vice-chair in 2017 and will take over as board chairman in June. 

Brett has been writing a weekly financial planning column since 2012 and provides his readers with easy to understand explanations for the complex financial challenges that they face in every stage of life.

Enhancing the financial literacy of Canadian consumers is a top priority of Brett’s and his ongoing efforts as a finance writer and on the regulatory side through the FP Canada board focus on this initiative.   

Please let Brett know if you have any topics that you’d like him to cover in future columns by emailing him at [email protected].



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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