RRSPs in 2020

If you read our article on RRSPs from two weeks ago, this may sound repetitive. However, since RRSPs are the only account with a non-calendar year deadline, contributions are sometimes easily forgotten.

Maybe you’re a bit of a procrastinator, but don’t wait too long, the RRSP contribution deadline is March 2 this year. That’s just over 5 weeks from today.

You may have never contributed to an RRSP in the past, you may not have even heard of them before. Well, it’s a good thing you found this article. We are going to look at what an RRSP is and help you to figure out if contributing to one is best for you. At the end, there is another small case study to better help explain the information and concepts mentioned below.

Whether you are just entering the workforce or nearing retirement age, planning for the future is critical.

Ron Lewis

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So What is an RRSP?

Registered Retirement Savings Plans, are tax-sheltered savings accounts. Unlike some pension plans, RRSPs are self-established. They can either be established for you or your spouse. When established for a spouse they are called Spousal RRSPs.

You can set up an RRSP through most financial institutions such as banks, credit unions, trust companies, and insurance companies. If you would like to inquire about what is involved in opening an RRSP in our office just fill out this form.

Contributions to an RRSP are made with Pre-Tax income. This means any contributions made can be claimed as a deduction against taxable income in the tax year the contribution was made, or the following 60 days (i.e., contributions for the 2019 tax year must be made by Mar 2, 2020).

Below we look at the following topics in regards to RRSPs in more detail: Contributions, Withdrawals, Receiving Income, Spousal RRSPs, Transfers, and Tax Benefits.

RRSP Contributions

In order to contribute to an RRSP, you must: be under age 72, have available contribution room, and file an income tax return in Canada.

People under the age of 18 can also open an RRSP. However, they must obtain signed permission from a parent/guardian who acts as the signing authority until the child turns 18.

Due to the great tax benefits of RRSPs, the Canadian government has capped individual contribution amounts. An individual is able to contribute the lesser of 18% of gross income or $26,500 in any given year. This means that the maximum income that is eligible for RRSP contribution room in 2019 is $147,217.

It is not just employment income that increases your contribution room. Earned income that increases contribution room includes the following items:

Any unused contribution room accumulates and can be used in future years. We will look at this again later.

As noted earlier, contributions are made with pre-tax dollars. In addition to that, the funds continue to grow tax-free as well. Tax is paid on any contributions and growth when the funds are withdrawn. Contrary to popular belief, contributions can be made at any point throughout the year.

RRSP Withdrawals

Once you have contributed money, there are specific circumstances where withdrawals are eligible and rules that apply.

One of the most common reasons to withdraw money from an RRSP is through the First Time Home Buyers Plan (HBP). This plan allows eligible first time home buyers to withdraw up to $35,000 tax-free from their RRSP to purchase their first home.

Any amount withdrawn under the plan must be repaid within 15 years. Repayment begins 2 years after withdrawal (i.e., withdrew money in 2018, repayment starts in 2020). When repayment starts, CRA will send you a statement specifying the amount that must be repaid that year. For more info on the Home Buyers Plan, click here.

There are other ways to withdraw money from an RRSP besides the HBP. A person can withdraw money from an RRSP for any reason. However, we strongly caution against this, except for some extenuating circumstances.

If money is withdrawn from an RRSP, that contribution room is lost. Unlike a TFSA, where withdrawals can be re-contributed the following year. Furthermore, because the contribution was originally made with pre-taxed dollars, taxes are withheld on the withdrawal.

Receiving Income

No one is permitted to have an RRSP after their 72 birthday. This means that at some point in your 71st year, you will have to convert your RRSP to an RRIF (Registered Retirement Income Fund).

Although you cannot have an RRSP after age 71, you do not have to wait till age 71 to convert it to a RRIF. Conversion can happen at any time.

Once you have converted your RRSP to a RRIF, minimum annual amounts must be withdrawn in the year following conversion. This means that if you converted it in 2020, minimum payments would begin in 2021.

Minimum payments are calculated based upon your age or the age of your spouse. Below is a table outlining minimum percentage withdrawal based on age:

AgeWithdrawal %AgeWithdrawal %
745.67%95 +20.00%

The minimum amount must be withdrawn every calendar year. However, any amount above the minimum can be withdrawn. The only thing to remember is that tax will be withheld on all payments and payments will be recorded as income.

Spousal RRSPs

Earlier we mentioned the use of Sp. RRSPs. Instead of contributing to an RRSP in your own name, spouses can contribute to a Spousal RRSP. This entails opening a designated Sp. RRSP not just contributing to your spouse’s RRSP.

Sp. RRSPs can come in particularly handy when there is a large income discrepancy between spouses. For instance where one spouse is an extremely high-income earner, or where one spouse is a home-maker.

Using a Sp. RRSP allows the higher-earning income spouse to claim the income tax deduction while at the same time ensuring retirement income is more evenly split. Contributions to a Spousal plan still go against the contributing spouse’s eligible contribution room.

For example, if spouse “A” has the max annual contribution room ($26,500) they may choose to contribute $13,250 to an Sp. RRSP. This means that Spouse “A” now has $13,250 of contribution room remaining. Furthermore, when the funds are withdrawn during retirement they will be taxed in the hands of Spouse “B”.

Note that there are some rules and circumstances that dictate whose hands the funds are taxed in when they are withdrawn. The most notable of such rules is the attribution rule. This rule states that if contributions made in the current tax year or the prior 2 years are withdrawn, they are taxed in the contributing spouse’s hands. RRSP withdrawals are based on “Last In, First Out”.

Transferring an RRSP

Once an RRSP is opened at a particular institution, it can still be transferred. As long as you are transferring it from one RRSP to another there will be no baring on your taxable situation, and no contribution room will be lost.

When the holder of the RRSP dies, the proceeds can bypass probate. Bypassing probate only applies if an eligible beneficiary is designated. This includes spouses, minor children, financially dependent children, or disabled children.

RRSP Tax Benefits

When contributions are made to an RRSP or Sp. RRSP, they are a tax-deductible expense on your income tax return. So what does this mean?

This means that contributions directly lower your taxable income. Let’s say that your taxable income for 2019 was $95K and you contribute $10k to an RRSP, your taxable income drops to $85K.

Below we look at an example of how all the information discussed above might look in a given situation.

Example #2

Note for example #1 check out RRSP: When and Why You Need Them.

In this example, we will be looking at a couple called John (70) and Sarah (67). John has an income of $150,000 while Sarah has an income of $80,000, for a household income of $230,000. Although still working, John is planning on retiring next year while Sarah plans on retiring when she turns 70.

John has used all his past contribution room so he only has the $26,500 available for the current year. Sarah on the other hand still has $35,000 of carry-forward room plus $14,400 ($80,000 x 18%) for a total of $49,400.

John and Sarah have sat down with their accountant and decided that they would like to make RRSP contributions for the 2019 tax year. John has decided to contribute the Max ($26,500) to his RRSP. Sarah has decided to contribute $20,000 to her RRSP. However, rather than using her own money, John is gifting Sarah money to make the contribution.

Contributing Gifted Money

Although contributing gifted money seems fine, there are several rules to be aware of. Since John gifted the money the tax deduction is accredited to him. Further more, in the future when Sarah withdraws the money, the income will be attributed back to John.

To combat these potential issues, there are several alternatives:

First, rather than gifting the money, John could have contributed to a Spousal RRSP for Sarah. Since John is in a higher tax bracket he is in need of the tax deduction more than Sarah. Contributing to a Sp. RRSP will also insure that when the funds are withdrawn later they are taxed in Sarah’s hands. Note that they will only be vested in Sarah’s name after they have been in the Sp. RRSP for 3 years.

Secondly, rather than gifting money to Sarah, John could have loaned her the money or could have taken something back of equal value. If John loans the money to Sarah he must charge interest at or above CRA’s prescribed rate, currently at 2%. Rather than loaning money, Sarah could transfer something that is in her name to John for the same value as the amount she is receiving. However, with both these options, the RRSP tax deduction will go under Sarah’s name so this may not be the best option.

Taking an Income

Since John is planning on retiring in one year’s time, he will have to begin receiving income from his RIF around the same time. If John decides he does need RIF income right away, he has until he turns 72. However, at that point he will have to withdraw at least the minimum in every calendar year.

The minimum is generally calculated based on the account holders age. However, John could also elect to have the minimum calculated based on Sarah’s age. This will reduce the minimum slightly and leave more money invested in the account.

Sarah’s income situation is a little more tricky. Since she used gifted money to contribute to her RRSP, when those funds and attributed growth are withdrawn, they will be taxed in John’s hands. This could have been nullified had John and Sarah used one of the options discussed above.

Withdrawals from an RRSP or RIF are done on a “Last In, First Out” basis. This means that the most recent funds to be contributed are the ones that are withdrawn first.


RRSPs are a great tax shelter for retirement savings. Whether or not you should be contributing to one is another question. Although a lot of people know about RRSPs, few know all the intricacies that go with them.

Maybe you are unsure if you should be contributing to your RRSP, or a Sp. RRSP. Maybe you know you should be, but you have opened one yet. Whatever the case is, contact us! We would love to sit down with you and get a better understanding of your situation and your goals. The first meeting is always complimentary!

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Disclaimer: This Forbes Wealth Blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial, legal, or tax advice of any kind. Please consult your legal, accounting, tax, investment, banking, and life insurance professionals to get precise advice relating to your particular situation before acting upon any strategy