Pay Taxes or Your RRSP ?

Given my love for the RRSP (or the Tax Deferral Savings Plan), I was wondering whether folks use it to defer owed taxes? The simple question is Pay Taxes or Your RRSP ?

If you received my T4 early enough that you could estimate my taxes, what would you do if you estimated you owed $500 taxes?

You have two options:

  1. Give the CRA their $500 and forget about it
  2. Put enough money into your RRSP (before March 1st) to counteract the owed taxes. This means you would then owe $0 in taxes.

The argument I keep hearing is that if I put money away in an RRSP now, I’ll just end up paying a higher tax rate on it when I take the money out. There is a school of thought that you might be in a higher tax bracket when you retire. To me, it seems an odd statement given the money will grow (hopefully) in your RRSP. This mean you’ll have more money to be taxed, albeit at a higher rate ?

I tried very hard to find what your nominal tax rate might be in Ontario, but let’s just assume it’s 50% for you.

This means you need to put about $750 into your RRSP to not pay $500 in taxes to the CRA. To do this exercise, if you have Quicktax or something similar, you can simply plug numbers into their RRSP estimator. This might be a better way to estimate, how much to pay.

Now you have $750 in your RRSP, and say you are 32. You have about 30 years until you want to take your $750 out. Assuming a simple growth 4.5% year over year, it will be about $3100.

Why not Put It in an RRSP ?

You now take $3100 out at a higher tax rate (say 60% again hopefully taxes in 32 years are not that brutally high), but it is still about $1300 dollars net. The bonus is you didn’t have to pay the CRA $500 32 years ago (an added bonus).

A net investment of $250 (you were going to have to spend $500 no matter what) you end up with $800 ? Seems like a winner to me.

Why wouldn’t you do this? If you didn’t have $750 dollars I suppose that might stop you, but are there other reasons?


Rrsps: The Definitive Book on Registered Retirement Savings Plans

No, I haven’t started working on my stack of books I promised to review. I did, however, find Preet’s book in the Ottawa Public Library and had a quick read through it. This is a great book for folks who want to learn about RRSPs.

Rrsps: The Definitive Book on Registered Retirement Savings Plans
Link to Amazon for Rrsps: The Definitive Book on Registered Retirement Savings Plans

The book has short punchy chapters, which is great for folks like me with short attention spans. Many are simple recaps of previous articles Preet has written. Many of the later chapters capture the more intricate topics of RRSPs like:

  • RRIFs and how they fit into the RRSP solution.
  • Locked in Retirement accounts, and their possible uses (including ways to unlock them).
  • Spousal RRSPs, a topic near and dear to my heart.
  • Life Long Learning Plans and The Home Buyer’s Plan the two ways to get money out of an RRSP “early”.
  • Holding your mortgage in your RRSP.
  • RRSP meltdowns, or using your RRSP the wrong way

I also like that Preet’s introduction mentions the now infamous doubling penny saving plan. A fun arithmetic trick, that will surprise some folk.


I would recommend this book, however, I took it out of the library. It is a quick read, and also a good reference book to have. You need to understand the power of an RRSP, although this book doesn’t really touch on TFSAs and how they have changed the retirement game. The book misses the TFSA because it was published in 2008.

I am also a friend of the author (for full disclosure).

ISBN 978-1-4357-0758-0
Title: Rrsps: The Definitive Book on Registered Retirement Savings Plans
Author: Preet Banerjee


5 Things to Remember about RRSPs

things to remember about rrsps

Almost time to have your RRSP story closed off (although, you should be doing this all year around). You know my love for top 10 lists, (and evidently the correct cardinality of a financial list is 7) but, here are 5 things to remember about RRSPs.

Things to Remember about RRSPs

  1. Your RRSP balance is not how much money you have to withdraw. The RRSP program is a tax deferral savings system, you will have to pay taxes on your balance.
    • If you take it all out at once, you will end up paying the highest tax rate on the withdrawal.
  2. Are you sure your tax rate when you withdraw the money is going to be lower than your current rate? You may not withdraw at retirement, what if you get laid-off? If you are not sure about the tax rate, is the RRSP is the right place to put your money?
  3. When you take money out of your RRSP, that RRSP “room” is lost (except for a few specific programs (e.g. 1st home purchases). Every year you are allocated RRSP room, but if you cash out before retirement, that room is lost.
  4. The Spousal RRSP is one of the few ways to income share. I have written countless posts about this, but if your spouse will have less retirement income, this is an important tax evasion tactic for Canadians.
  5. Always name a beneficiary for your RRSP (or any registered savings plan), to ensure a smooth and easy transferral should you die before you can spend it.

There are really not only 5 things to remember for RRSPs, there are many more, but here are five to start with.


Tax Deferral Savings Plan ( your RRSP )

I think if the RRSP was named the Tax Deferral Savings Plan it would clarify to folks how it all works. Most folks simply think of it as a Tax Avoidance program, but like death, there is no hiding from taxes.

The government rarely wants you to get something Tax Free (with the exception of the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA), and a few other programs). When you get a refund for your RRSP deposit, all you are doing is deferring paying tax on your deposit. You will pay tax on the money in your RRSP, when you withdraw it. This is why I am calling it the Tax Deferral Savings Plan. Remember there are tax deferral advantages possible, but you must realize that is what the RRSP does.

Tax Deferral savings plan
The Tax Ramifications of a Tax Deferral Savings Plan

Some of the underlying assumptions for your RRSP are simple. When you withdraw money from your RRSP you will:

  • Be in the same or lower tax bracket, thus your tax deferral is a net positive (if you have kept your refund from when you deposited into your RRSP).
  • You have money saved to pay the taxes on the withdrawal.

This is where folks tend to get tripped up. They look at their RRSP balance and see the entire value ($X) , when in fact the actual value is  ($X – Income Tax). How much income tax? Depends on when you take the money out, and how much you withdraw. Take it all out at once and you pay the most tax on that withdrawal.

Retirement Withdrawal

Assuming you are making less when you are retired you are withdrawing at a lower tax rate (hopefully). If you have a higher tax rate when you are retired, you will pay more in tax than you got as a refund.

Emergency Withdrawal

A dangerous idea is using your RRSP as an emergency fund. While it might work if you are unemployed (and have no income), using it to pay for a large purchase might give you a much bigger tax bill.

What to do with Refund?

If you put money into your RRSP (or tax deferral savings plan) and you receive a refund, what should you do with it?

  • If you spend the refund, you need a plan to recover it in some fashion. You must be able to pay the taxes on your deposit.
  • Keep in mind the actual value of your RRSP deposit
    • $X deposit gives $N refund, thus you will need approximately $N in tax payment money to withdraw all of $X again.
  • Put the refund into the RRSP, problem solved, and you get another refund next year (repeat).
  • Refund into TFSA, let it grow there, thus you have the Tax Money. An added bonus is you are using it to grow you nest egg (tax free).
  • Hope your RRSP investments grow enough to cover $N worth of taxes due on the initial deposit.

Your RRSP Balance is Before Tax Money

Remember this, you must pay tax on your RRSP withdrawal (with a few exceptions), plan accordingly!


Leap into Your RRSPs and Financial Planning

RRSP banking web sites must be white hot with action today, as we all have an extra day to add more funds to our RRSP and then claim it on our previous year taxes. Leap Year adds one more day for the festive RRSP Rebalancing Season, and gives financial pundits another day to argue RRSP or TFSA ? The answer (of course) is it depends.

Leap Year and RRSP

Another Exciting Leap Year is Here

No doubt there will be countless articles today arguing that you should be trying to sneak a little more money into your RRSP, because you have an extra day to do it (and that is always the best reason).

You could also view this extra day, as a day to clean up a bunch of financial things you have been ignoring like:

  1. Putting Money in your RRSP !!! OK, enough of that.
  2. Make up a financial plan for the rest of the year (you have 10 months still to go, after all).
  3. Check that all your insurance policies are up to date.
  4. Make an extra payment on your debt, just because that would be cool!

I view a Leap Day with trepidation because I am not getting paid  for this extra day, am I? I am working an extra day for free? Not really, as I get paid bi-weekly, but for those that are being paid bi-monthly, you are making a little less per day in February than you would normally.

Question of the day:

If you were given a free day to do whatever you want, what would you do? Today is that day.

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