It's Your Money  

RRSPs still misunderstood

Every year, when RRSP season rolls around I question whether I should dedicate another column to this same topic.

Surely by now, everyone knows how RRSPs work, right?

Surprisingly, after more than 60 years of existence, the RRSP program is still widely misunderstood and many common myths persist.

In the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in commentary surrounding the lack of benefits of RRSPs and we’re seeing more Canadians eschew RRSP contributions in favour of TFSAs.

For some people, the TFSA program may make more sense, but many others should not be avoiding RRSP accounts simply because they don’t understand them or get bad advice.

Let’s look at some of these common myths and the reasons why Canadians are avoiding RRSP plans.

Myth No. 1 

A recent poll showed 39 per cent of Canadians believe that RRSPs are pointless because you’ll pay back all of the savings in taxes anyway. Although you do pay taxes on RRSP withdrawals, most investors will pay less tax and end up farther ahead by putting this money into an RRSP since their income in retirement will be less than while they’re working.

Even if you pay the same tax rate during retirement as you do while working, your “worst case” is getting the same net amount as you would with a TFSA so you’d get a similar tax free rate of return.

All other things being equal, an RRSP contribution is typically better than a TFSA one (better equals you’ll have more money net in your pocket in retirement) if you’re income will be lower during retirement. RRSP vs TFSA will be a wash if you expect to be in the same tax bracket during retirement and the TFSA option will generally win out if your income is expected to be higher.

One big catch is what you do with the tax refund you receive after making the RRSP contribution – if you re-invest the refund into the RRSP you end up taking full advantage of the program’s features but if you use the refund to go on a trip or go shopping, you’re really missing the point.

Myth No. 2 

Many people feel that they don’t have enough money left at the end of the year to put some aside in an RRSP. While balancing a budget is certainly challenging, you really can’t afford to not put money away.

A Certified Financial Planner (CFP) professional can help analyze your budget and find out what areas can be trimmed or cut to make space for retirement savings.

While paying off debt is often at the top of the priority list for many Canadians, doing so in place of saving for retirement doesn’t always make sense. High interest debt such as credit cards should take priority, but neglecting your retirement savings in favour of paying extra onto a mortgage is often the wrong move.

Likewise, money being allocated to items like RESPs (education funds) for your kids might seem like the right thing to do but those funds should often be diverted to RRSP accounts instead if you’re unable to do both.

Myth No. 3

There is an un-warranted concern by many of saving too much money in an RRSP since they fear a large tax bill when they die. While the market value of your RRSP or RRIF does in fact need to be included as income on your terminal tax return, there are numerous exceptions.

Your RRSP value can potentially be rolled over to a surviving spouse, a financially dependent child or grandchild or an RDSP (disability) savings plan. More likely, you will draw down on your RRSP values over many years of retirement.

Many (most?) Canadians still don’t fully understand the tax consequences and planning opportunities that exist with the RRSP program. Don’t let unfounded RRSP myths or advice from un-informed people keep you from maximizing your RRSP savings opportunities.

And don’t allow missing this year’s “deadline” keep you from getting your retirement savings plans in order. March 2 is a good of day as any to start yourself on the right track.                 


Comments are pre-moderated to ensure they meet our guidelines. Approval times will vary. Keep it civil, and stay on topic. If you see an inappropriate comment, please use the ‘flag’ feature. Comments are the opinions of the comment writer, not of Castanet. Comments remain open for one day after a story is published and are closed on weekends. Visit Castanet’s Forums to start or join a discussion about this story.

More It's Your Money articles

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 took over as board chairman in 2019. 

Brett has been writing a weekly financial planning column since 2012 and provides his readers with easy to understand explanations of 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]

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

Previous Stories