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RESP withdrawals and Taxes

Understanding the tax consequences of RESP withdrawals

By Gerry Vittoratos, UFile

Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) are a great vehicle to save money for your children’s post-secondary education in a tax efficient way. This article will explain the tax treatment of withdrawing from this plan.

Basics of RESPs

Before we get into the tax treatment of RESP withdrawals, we need to understand certain fundamental concepts of the plan.

Contributions

Contributions to the plan are made by a subscriber (parent of the child or children) to a promoter (financial institution) for the benefit of the beneficiary (child or children). The plans can be individual plans (single beneficiary) or family plans (multiple beneficiaries).

Contributions into the plan are not tax deductible; however, the earnings within the plan accumulate on a tax-free basis. The contributions and accumulated earnings can stay in the account for up to 35 years after the plan is established.

The lifetime contribution limit per child is $50,000.

Canada Education Savings Grants (CESGs)

Apart from the tax deferral of earnings, another major benefit of contributing to the RESPs is the Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG). In simple terms, the CESG is an additional amount the Federal government adds to every dollar contributed into the RESP. The basic grant is 20% of the current year contributions up to a maximum of $500 per beneficiary. This translates to a yearly contribution maximum of $2,500. The lifetime CESG is $7,200. An additional grant of 10% or 20% is given to low income families. The table below summarizes the grant amount:

CESG Family net income of $47,630 or less Family net income of more than $47,630 but less than $95,259 Family net income of more than $95,259
Basic CESG on the first $2,500 of annual RESP contributions 20% = $500 20% = $500 20% = $500
Additional amount of CESG on the first $500 of annual RESP contributions 20% = $100 10% = $50 Beneficiary is not eligible
Maximum yearly CESG depending on income and contributions $600 $550 $500
Lifetime maximum CESG for which you may qualify $7,200 $7,200 $7,200

Source: RC4092 guide

Depending on the province you live in, you can get an additional grant on top of the CESG.

Canada Learning Bond (CLB)

On top of the CESG above, the Federal government provides an additional amount for low-income families in the form of the Canada Learning Bond (CLB). The difference with the CESG is that fact that no contribution is requires to get the CLB; it is deposited directly into the RESP account. An initial payment of $500 is made for the first year the child is eligible; then $100 is deposited for each additional year of eligibility, up to age 15, for a maximum of $2,000. For 2019-2020, the income eligibility threshold is $47,630 for up to 3 children and increases for every additional child.

Tax treatment of withdrawals

Now to the question at hand: what is the tax treatment of these withdrawals?

Contributions

Since the contributions do not benefit from a tax deduction (in other words, after-tax dollars were contributed), the contributions can be withdrawn tax free to the subscriber (parent or grandparent of the child or children) or beneficiary (child or children). These are called “refund of contributions”.

Education Assistance Payments (EAP)

Payment of the Canada Education Savings Grant, Canada Learning Bond and accumulated earnings are called Education Assistance Payments (EAP) and are payed to beneficiaries (children). These payments are taxable in the tax return of the beneficiary.

In order to receive an EAP, the recipient must be enrolled in a qualifying educational program, which is an educational program at post-secondary school level, that lasts at least three consecutive weeks, and that requires a student to spend no less than 10 hours per week on courses. The recipient must also be at least 16 years old.

Although the income received by the student is taxable, remember that it is likely that this student has little to no other income to declare while attending school full-time; therefore, these payments will be subject to a low income tax rate.

Accumulated Income Payments (AIPs)

These are payments made from Canada Education Savings Grant, Canada Learning Bond and accumulated earnings to subscribers (parents). These are possible under 3 conditions:

  • the payment is made after the year that includes the 9th anniversary of the RESP and each individual (other than a deceased individual) who is or was a beneficiary has reached 21 years of age and is not currently eligible to receive an EAP (see above)
  • the payment is made in the year that includes the 35th anniversary of the RESP
  • all the beneficiaries under the RESP are deceased when the payment is made

In this case, the income will be taxed in the subscriber’s tax return (income tax rate based on all income), and an additional 20% tax is added as well. Subscribers can reduce both the income tax and the additional 20% by transferring the AIP into an RRSP, provided the subscriber has enough contribution room to do so.  The limit of this transfer is set at $50,000.

Gerry Vittoratos is the national tax specialist at tax software provider UFile, which has been helping millions of Canadian taxpayers file smart for the past 20 years.

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Why an RESP for a Disabled Child ?

I have set up an RESP for my son. For those who don’t remember my son is on the Autism Spectrum, so why would I not put money into this RDSP, instead of an RESP? There are a few reasons for an RESP for a disabled child.

RESP for a disabled child


There can be many reasons that an RESP is still a viable savings plan for parents of disabled children, and here are a few to consider.

Child Can Attend Post-Secondary Programs

If your child is not mentally disabled, or can cope with a post-secondary program, then an RESP is a good way to plan for their post-secondary education. In our case my son may be able to go to College, University or other training programs. Having an RESP is simply a good plan for his future.

CESG Can Pay Well

As my son’s RDSP Disability Savings Bond is calculated against my family income, currently the DSB payment is quite low. When my son reaches his 18th birthday the DSB will be calculated against his income, so the pay out for money deposited into his RDSP will be higher.

While the CESG portion of the RESP is also calculated based on my family income, it still pays well. I get 20% pay back up to $2500, so $500 every year is pretty good payback for an investment.

RESP Can Be Rolled into RDSP

There is a way to transfer money from an unused RESP to an RDSP. Is this the best thing to do with the RESP if it is unused is an open question. My RDSP expert said it would be better to collapse the RESP, pay back all grants and pay tax on any growth, and then add the remaining moneys into an RDSP. I will investigate that concept some more as my son gets closer to University age.

Your Situation May Vary

Depending on the situation, what is working for me (in my opinion), may not work as well for your family. I would do the research and look at the arithmetic about whether it is worthwhile setting up both an RDSP and an RESP for your disabled child. If you can only afford 1 savings plan, make sure the RDSP is dealt with first. If your income is low, remember the Canada Learning Bond might be available to your kid’s RESP, and that pays if you put in minimal amounts.

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My 5 Best Investments

I have written previously about my 4 best investments, but I feel it is important to update and follow up on that statement. I now feel I have 5 best investments that I can boast about.

5 Best Investments

Last week one of my daughters graduated as a Chiropractor, so now my 5 best investments are

The last 2 investments I didn’t actually spend that much on, but the previous three I feel were mostly my investments. I did have a rule that I pay for the 1st degree (and if I pay for a degree I don’t pay for a wedding). As with all rules they have not been adhered to verbatim.

My parents invested in my education, and for that I am eternally grateful. I have had folks comment that if a child pays for their own education, they are more invested in the process. In my case, letting my parents down was actually a strong motivating factor, so I think that is a wash in terms of arguments.

I like the fact that it wasn’t a foreign investment either. I don’t think I could have afforded sending my kids outside of the country, it was expensive enough out of the city.  If you are planning on helping your kids, an RESP is where you should start with your plan, and then look into CO-OP programs, OSAP and the Scholarships out there (and there are many).

Regrets?

My guess is if I hadn’t put the money away that I used to help my kids’ educations I would have blown it on something stupid, so I am glad I can point to something tangible for where the money went. It has also been pointed out that I didn’t do any of the work (aside from repairing a few computers). Why is this a good investment? I have always relied on the good works of others.

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RESPs and High Fee Mutual Funds

RESPs and high fee mutual funds seem to go hand-in-hand in Canada. Most RESPs, are set up with an “adviser” of sorts (usually at a bank), who makes helpful suggestions as to where your money should go. The question to ask, who profits from this advice? Sometimes both adviser and investor, but always the adviser.

Mutual Fund companies want you to buy high MER funds for 18 years, so they can profit from you. This does not mean RESPs and high fee mutual funds are inevitable.

High Fee Mutual Funds

Whether your investment goals succeed is not their goal. Their goal is to extricate as much money from you in fees and increase their profits. Mutual Funds are businesses, sometimes with shareholders, and employees who want bonuses, remember that and you will be fine. Who and how are profits made, is always the question to be answered.

I have friends ask me about RESPs, as they are aware that my kids have graduated from University, so they ask if I used the  program. My answer is yes, but  I start with warning them that when I set up these accounts they were Canada Trust Mutual Fund accounts. The CT Mutual Funds turned into TD Mutual Funds, but it was not until later that I learned about the TD E-series funds I should have used (and the bear trap in using them).

The typical answers or comments that I get (that really cause my gears to grind) are:

  • I talked to my Manulife One guy and he helped set up the account for us.
  • While I was at the bank, I saw an adviser who set up some RESPs.
  • My insurance broker said they had a really good product for RESPs so I had her set it up for
  • Someone told me about these great Group RESPs, sounds like a great idea I usually go for a beer after hearing this stuff, and sometimes I just weep.

Let’s unwrap these malodorous gifts, first, your Manulife One guy is going to put you into Manulife Mutual Funds because that is where he (or she) makes their money. These funds have MERs that are far too high for a shorter term savings program like the RESP.

The same is true for your local bank. I once mentioned the TD E-series funds to my Bank’s “TD Mutual Fund Expert”, she looked them up and said that she couldn’t  actually  sell me those  funds. I asked why, the  answer, “they don’t let me”. So TD doesn’t allow their “Mutual Fund Expert” sell some  of their Mutual Funds? In fact you can buy only their I-series in your account, you cannot access their E-series, D-Series, O-series or any other unless you have a TD Trading Account).

Your insurance company’s RESP is going to be closed and the only thing you can buy is their High MER funds. I hope you are noticing a great deal of repetitiveness here.

The Group RESP thing, I had to go look up and then almost cracked a tooth while clenching my teeth. Group Scholarship trusts are throwbacks to before the day of the  RESP. They can work for folks, and their forced savings is a good thing for many folks, but read all the rules very carefully. What are the penalties if you take money out quickly (or early)? Are there penalties if your child doesn’t go to post­ secondary school? What are the rules about what is a post-secondary education.

If I could just hand someone a simple outline like say this article, this article or this article, I would, but I guess no one writes about RESPs much? Yes, that is sarcasm, why do people spend more time worrying about what organically grown kale they want to  buy, than this important  investment?  Rhetorical  question, don’t  answer that.

Are RESPs a Good Idea ?

An RESP is a great idea for your kids’ education, but don’t jump at the first one you see. Do some research; know what you are buying and how much it is going to  cost you. Mutual Funds and other associated firms are hoping you get confused in terms of how much you pay in management fees. It can get confusing especially with the grant money going into the account which can muddle your figures. Your goal is trying to pay the least in fees, and maximize your growth and grants received.

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Helping Kids With University Costs, Idea #214

If you are planning on trying to help your kids out with their University costs (or other post-secondary ideas), an RESP is a must (just for the free money), however, that is not the only way to ensure you can easily help out your kids reach their educational dreams (or your dreams for their eduction).

I have learned after 8 years of paying for children’s expenses for school, that the most debilitating university costs are not tuition, it is the cost of accommodation. At one point in the 8 years I was

  • Paying the mortgage on my house
  • Paying rent of 3 separate apartments across Canada

When did I become so rich that I could afford this (you might ask)? (sarcasm alert) I most assuredly did not, the RESP money helped somewhat, but these kind of costs can almost double your family living expenses. Living expenses for your kids at school really do add up.

There are remedies for this kind of expense (luckily):

  1. Do not allow your child to move away from home while they are going to University. Whether you really want to inflict this on yourself, is a question you must ask, but that will eliminate many of the living expenses. I know at least one set of parents that said, “I will pay for your tuition, and give you a car to use, if you stay at home. If not, it is all on you.”
  2. Pay off your house before your kids get to University, that way you are rich enough to be able to pay for the rent on “N” different apartments (or residence rooms) (where N is greater than 1).
  3. Make your kids pay for their living costs.
  4. Make your kids pay the whole shot. They want an eduction, time to learn about money at the same time.

Option (2) on the list is a very good target to try to hit, but kind of hard if you are maxing out your RESP, TFSA, and RRSP savings targets as well, but still something to keep in mind!

Options (3) & (4) sound heartless, but I know plenty of folks who paid for their entire University career, because their parents couldn’t help out, and they seem to have survived.

Keep in mind, University costs are not just tuition costs.

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