Both the Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) and the Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) are tax-sheltered accounts offered to Canadians by the government as a way to help save and invest without the drag of income tax on annual returns.
Although both are great ways to help grow your money, it can be difficult to decide which one is best for you.
Often one type of account (either TFSA or RRSP) is better for an individual than the other. In most cases we would prefer to maximize one of these accounts before moving on to the next.
Which account we choose, TFSA or RRSP, will depend on a number of factors. These factors may change over time. It’s reasonable to assume that a new grad entering the work force would be better suited to maximizing their TFSA first but as their income grows they may prefer to start focusing on their RRSP instead.
This decision between TFSA or RRSP often involves looking at your marginal effective tax rate today and your marginal effective tax rate in the future. You marginal effective tax rate is your income tax rate PLUS the claw back rate you experience from government benefits.
Making the right decision between TFSA or RRSP can help save $100,000’s over time.
It can mean paying thousands LESS in income tax and it can mean qualifying for thousands MORE in government benefits (like the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) or the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) or one of dozens of other government benefits that are available).
The Tax-Free-Savings-Account (TFSA) is a great way to save and invest for the future. In our opinion, it’s the best tax advantaged account in Canada, and probably the first tax advantaged account most people should use (versus an RRSP or RESP). But with all the rules it can be very misunderstood.
To get the most out of your TFSA you have to have a good idea of how it works, what the benefits are, and what the limitations are.
The Canadian government introduced TFSAs in 2009 as an incentive to help any Canadians 18 years or older save more money. Although called a “Tax Free Savings Account”, the TFSA is more than an average savings account.
Even though the TFSA has been around for 10+ years, there is still a lot of confusion about how TFSAs work and what the benefits are.
In this post we’ll do an ELI5 for the TFSA (ELI5 = explain it like i’m 5-years old) and share some of the important considerations when using a TFSA.
The TFSA is an amazing account and it just got a little bit better. The contribution limit for 2020 is an additional $6,000. This means that as of January 1st 2020, anyone over the age of 18 in 2009 will have $69,500 of TFSA contribution room if they’ve never contributed before!
What makes the TFSA so amazing is the tax free compounding and when this compounding starts to take hold the results are incredible (just take a look at some of the projections below).
It’s reasonable to expect that many of us with TFSAs will see them reach $1,000,000+ at some point in the future. It’s just a matter of time. We’ll share some projections below but its pretty reasonable to expect that TFSAs could reach $5M, $7M or even $10M+ (in future dollars).
In fact, having TFSAs that reach $1,000,000+ is pretty common in many retirement projections that we do at PlanEasy.
Often, from an income tax and estate planning perspective, we want to draw down TFSAs last in retirement (or sometimes they’re also draw down strategically to avoid higher marginal tax brackets). We’re also strategically shifting assets from RRSPs/RRIFs into TFSAs over time. This leads to some very large TFSA balances and very little tax on the estate (depending on future investment returns of course).
Income splitting is often talked about in reference to high-income earners, but what about the average Canadian family? For high-income earners there are income splitting strategies like spousal loans or “income sprinkling”. Spousal loans are for families with lots of non-registered savings and a large difference in marginal tax rates between spouses. “Income sprinkling” can be used by families who own a corporation (although with the new TOSI rules has changed dramatically).
But what about your average Canadian household? Are there are income splitting options for them?
One very accessible type of income splitting is a spousal RRSP. Unlike other income splitting strategies this one is very easy to set up, it doesn’t require a lawyer, and it’s easy to understand.
The big benefit of a spousal RRSP is that the average family can use it to “equalize” their registered assets before retirement. This allows for a more equal distribution of income in retirement and a lower overall tax bill for a household.
In addition to lower income tax it also opens up more opportunities to maximize government benefits in retirement.
But you might be wondering, isn’t it possible to split income after age 65 anyway?
While its true that after age 65 income splitting is much easier to do, it’s still a best practice to try to equalize registered assets before age 65. This allows for the maximum flexibility when creating a retirement drawdown strategy, especially when retiring early.
Equalizing registered assets can be extremely beneficial, especially before the age of 65 when there are fewer income splitting opportunities, for this reason we sometimes want to look at using a spousal RRSP to help split income in the future.
Low-income retirement planning requires a very different set of tools than your average retirement plan and this can sometimes lead to trouble when a soon-to-be low-income retiree gets advice that has been tailored for someone with a much higher income.
What we need to consider for a low-income retiree is very different than for your average retiree and the recommendations in a low-income retirement plan can sometimes be the opposite of a regular retirement plan.
The drawdown of investment assets, the timing of CPP and the timing of OAS are among many factors that differ in a low-income retirement plan.
When it comes to low-income retirement planning we’re primarily concerned with one thing, government benefits. We want to ensure that the way we save pre-retirement and the way we create income after retirement does not impact the amount of government benefits received.
This can be very tricky and can often lead to some less than obvious recommendations.
Before we get into some ideas to consider around low-income retirement planning lets look at why government benefits are the main consideration.
TFSAs are an amazing tax sheltered account that every Canadian has access to regardless of income. Unlike RRSP contribution room, which is based on employment income, we all get the same amount of TFSA contribution room every year.
The TFSA is a perfect way to save for retirement. In fact, for many young people they are better off starting with their TFSA rather than their RRSP, especially when they’re starting out at a lower income.
At lower income levels the TFSA can provide many advantages versus the RRSP. Namely that future withdrawals aren’t taxed and won’t count towards government benefit claw backs.
There are other benefits to the TFSA too, like if you have a habit of spending your tax refund. If that’s the case then maybe a TFSA contribution is a better idea.
My wife and I have a BIG goal for our TFSAs. Our goal is to grow our combined TFSAs to $1 million by the time we reach early retirement at age 55. This is an ambitious goal, one that we may not meet, but it’s fun to have a BIG financial goal like this. We find it motivating to have BIG financial goals and it gives us something to work toward.
Two years ago I provided an update on our progress to our one million TFSA goal and I think it’s time to do it again. Not just for the accountability but also because it’s good to share how amazing the TFSA is for these kinds of goals.