Dealing with the OAS clawback

May 24, 2024by Akmin

Most retired Canadians receive income from two government-sponsored retirement income programs – the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and the Old Age Security (OAS) program. While benefits from both are paid to recipients by the federal government on a monthly basis, there are significant differences in how the two plans are funded, the amounts which can be received, and, most significantly for retirees, in how entitlement to benefits is determined each year.

Canadians who participated in the paid work force during their adult life will have contributed to the Canada Pension Plan (contributions are mandatory, and are deducted from the individual’s paycheque and remitted to the federal government on their behalf) and will be able to receive CPP retirement benefits as early as age 60. The amount of monthly benefit received depends on the amount of contributions made by the benefit recipient made during their working life.

The Old Age Security program differs from the Canada Pension Plan in a number of ways. The OAS program is funded entirely from general government revenues, with no direct contribution made by individual Canadians. Entitlement to OAS is based solely on the number of years of Canadian residence, and individuals who were resident in Canada for 40 years after the age of 18 can receive full OAS benefits. As of the second quarter (April to June of 2024), the full OAS benefit for individuals under the age of 75 is $713.34 per month.

The OAS program is distinct from other sources of retirement income in another, less welcome, way, in that it is the only government retirement income program under which the federal government can require the recipient of benefits to repay those benefits, in whole or in part. That repayment requirement comes about through the OAS “Recovery Tax”, which is universally known as the OAS “clawback”.

While the rules governing the administration of the clawback can be confusing, the concept is a (relatively) simple one. Anyone who received OAS benefits during 2023 and had income for that year of more than $86,912 must repay a portion of OAS benefits received. That repayment, or clawback, is administered by reducing the amount of OAS benefits which the individual receives during the following benefit year, which runs from July 1, 2024 to June 30, 2025.

For example, an individual who receives full OAS during 2023 and has net income for the year of $96,000 will be subject to the clawback. They must repay OAS amounts received at a rate of 15 cents (or 15%) of every dollar of income over the clawback income threshold, as in the following simplified example.

The OAS clawback threshold for 2023 is $86,912.

If your income in 2023 was $96,000, then your repayment would be 15% of the difference between $96,000 and $86,912:

$96,000 – $86,912 = $9,088

$9,088 x 0.15 = $1,363.20

You would have to repay $1,363.20 ($113.60 per month) for the July 2024 – June 2025 period.

The OAS clawback affects only individuals who have an annual income of at least $86,912 (for 2023), and it’s arguable that at such income levels, the clawback requirement does not impose any real financial hardship. Nonetheless, the OAS clawback is a perpetual irritant to those affected by it, perhaps because of the sense that they are being penalized for being disciplined savers, or good managers of their finances during their working years, in order to ensure a financially comfortable retirement.

While any sense of grievance can’t alter the reality of the OAS clawback, there are strategies which can be put in place to either minimize or, in some cases, entirely eliminate one’s exposure to that clawback. Some of those planning considerations are better addressed earlier in life, prior to retirement, However, it’s not too late, once one is already receiving OAS, to make arrangements to avoid or minimize the clawback.

In all cases, no matter what strategy is employed, the goal, as with much of individual tax planning, is to “smooth” one’s income from year to year, so that net income for each year comes in under the OAS clawback threshold and, not incidentally, minimizes exposure to the higher federal and provincial income tax rates which apply once taxable income exceeds $100,000.

The starting point, for taxpayers who are approaching retirement, is to determine how much income will be received from all sources during retirement, based on CPP and OAS entitlement, any savings accrued through an RRSP, and any amounts which may be received from a private pension plan.

Anyone who has an RRSP must begin receiving income from those RRSP funds in the year after that person turns 71. However, it’s possible to begin receiving income from an RRSP at any time. Similarly, an individual who is eligible for CPP retirement benefits can begin receiving those benefits anytime between age 60 and age 70, with the amount of monthly benefit receivable increasing with each month receipt is deferred. The same calculation applies to OAS benefits, which can be received as early as age 65 or deferred up until age 70.

Once the amount of annual income is determined, strategies to smooth out that income can be put in place. Those strategies can include receiving income from an RRSP prior to age 71, so as to reduce the total amount within the RRSP and so thereby reduce the likelihood of having a large “bump” in income when required withdrawals kick in at that time.

Taxpayers are sometimes understandably reluctant to take steps which they view as depleting their RRSP savings, but receiving income from an RRSP doesn’t necessarily mean spending that income. While tax has to be paid on any withdrawals (no matter what the taxpayer’s age), the after-tax amounts that aren’t currently needed as income can be contributed to the taxpayer’s tax-free savings account (TFSA), where they can be invested in the same manner as they were in the RRSP and can continue to compound free of current tax. And, when the taxpayer has need of those funds in retirement, they can be withdrawn free of tax and they won’t count as income for purposes of the OAS clawback – or for purposes of any other income-tested tax credit or benefit.

Taxpayers who are married can also “even out” their income by using pension income splitting, so that neither of them has sufficient income to be affected by the clawback.  Using pension income splitting, the spouse who has income over the OAS clawback threshold re-allocates the “excess” income to their spouse on the annual return, and that income is then considered to be income of the recipient spouse, for purposes of both income tax and the OAS clawback. To be eligible for pension income splitting, the income to be reallocated must be private pension income, which is generally income from an RRSP or registered retirement income fund (RRIF), or from an employer-sponsored pension plan.

There are two reasons why pension income splitting is a particularly attractive strategy for avoiding or minimizing the OAS clawback. First, there is no need to actually change the source or amount of income received by each spouse, as the reallocation of income is “notional”, existing only on the return for the year. Second, no decision has to be made on pension income splitting until it’s time to file the return for the previous year, meaning that spouses can easily calculate exactly how much income has to be reallocated in order to avoid the clawback, and to reduce tax liability generally. More information on the kinds of income eligible for pension income splitting, and the mechanics of the process, can be found on the CRA website at

Detailed information on the OAS clawback  is available at

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.