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RRSP vs. TFSA: What’s the difference?

Canadians have the option of saving their money in a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) or a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA). But what are their differences? How to choose the right savings plan? It all depends on your personal choice and your needs. You can choose one or the other, or both. Both will save you money and taxes. Once you understand both and their benefits, you can make the right decision for you. Let’s explore their differences and learn when to use one or the other.

What is a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA)?

If you are looking to save for a shorter period of time, the TFSA may be the best option for you.

  • The TFSA was first introduced to Canadians in 2009 and has proven to be very popular since then.
  • The TFSA was introduced to encourage Canadians to save money.
  • You can start contributing to a TFSA as early as age 18, and there is no expiry age.
  • The TFSA is suitable for retirement savings.
  • There is no tax to pay on the money you earn and the money you take out of the account because the contributions come from your net income, which has already been taxed.
  • You can save up to a maximum of $6,000 per year.
  • Any withdrawals made from a TFSA can be reinvested in the same account, but only starting the following year.
  • Contributions can be made at any time, which means that there is no deadline for contributions. Any remaining contribution room will be carried over to the next year, beginning January 1.
  • A TFSA can be used for many things, such as a down payment on a house, higher education or any other major expense.
  • The TFSA is flexible, and you can easily contribute or withdraw without penalty.
  • When you retire, the government will not consider your TFSA for withdrawal.
  • Maximize tax refunds by reinvesting in a TFSA.
  • Only you can make Contributions, withdrawals and determine how your money is invested.
  • Your spouse or common-law partner can receive funds from you to contribute to his or her TFSA, but you will not receive any benefit from the amount contributed, nor from any income earned.
  • Starting in 2020, your lifetime limit is $69,500.
  • The TFSA is an excellent choice if you’re looking to invest for short- or medium-term goals, such as buying a car or an emergency fund.
  • The TFSA is perfect for you if your income is less than $50,000 per year.

What is a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP)?

If you are looking to save for the long term, especially for retirement, consider an RRSP.

  • RRSPs have been around since 1957 to help Canadians save for retirement.
  • An RRSP allows you to make contributions until age 71.
  • No tax is paid on the money saved until it is withdrawn.
  • You and your spouse or common-law partner can both contribute to your RRSP.
  • You can save up to 18% of your gross income in an RRSP, or $27,830 for 2021 (whichever is less), without paying tax on it. You will be refunded the tax after you file your tax return for that specific Contribution Year if you invested with after-tax dollars.
  • An RRSP is tax deductible because the contributions are made from pre-tax income. You will lose pre-tax benefits if you choose not to reinvest your tax refund.
  • When you make a withdrawal at retirement age, your tax bracket will be lower than in the years when you earned higher income. As a result, the tax liability will be lower.
  • Consider apply for RRSP if your employer offers a matching contribution to a pension plan.
  • RRSPs can be used for retirement, education or to make a down payment on a house.
  • Home Buyers’ Plan – you can withdraw up to $35,000 for a down payment on a home, but you will have to pay it back over 15 years. This “loan” is interest-free when the money is repaid.
  • Lifelong Learning Plan – you can withdraw $10,000 to $20,000 per year for education, but you will have to repay this amount over a 10-year period.
  • You must convert your RRSP to an annuity or Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) by December 31 of the year you turn 71. If you convert to a RRIF, the government requires you to withdraw a set percentage and report it as income. If you are married, you can legally lower the percentage by using the age of your younger spouse.
  • If you’re looking to save for the long term, an RRSP is perfect for you.
  • RRSPs are best if your income is more than $50,000 per year.

Which is better - TFSA or RRSP?

There is no “best” option, as both plans have their advantages. Considering the tax advantages of both, as well as your annual income, the length of time you’ve been saving and other factors, you can make the best choice for you. Sometimes the best option for an individual is to have both a TFSA and an RRSP. Whatever your goal, whether it’s retirement savings or short-term goals, having a mix will help you once you reach retirement age and need to rely on other sources of income. Given the annual limits and tax benefits of the two savings plans, you need to educate yourself on the pros and cons to be better informed. Customize your savings and retirement planning, and explore all your options. You may also want to consider a professional financial advisor to help you make the right choice for your situation.

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Jean-Maximilien is an expert in Canada and France about Loyalty programs, Credit cards and Travel. He is the Founding President of Milesopedia.

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