Making the most of the new First Home Savings Account

August 16, 2023by Akmin

The scarcity of affordable housing in just about every Canadian community can’t be news to anyone anymore. Whether it’s in relation to rental housing or the purchase of a first home, the opportunity to secure affordable, long-term housing has become more and more elusive, especially for younger Canadians.

In early 2022, as part of its 2022-23 budget, the federal government announced the creation of a new tax measure intended to assist Canadians in their efforts to purchase a first home. And while that new program – the First Home Savings Account (FHSA) – isn’t a solution for all of the difficulties faced by those seeking to purchase that first home, it can provide some significant financial assistance in that effort. As the name implies, the FHSA allows first time home buyers (starting in 2023) to save on a tax-assisted basis (within prescribed limits) toward such a purchase.

Contributing to an FHSA

Under the program terms, any resident of Canada who is at least 18 years of age (but under the age of 71 at the end of the current year) and who has not lived in a home which he or she owns in any of the current or four previous calendar years can open an FHSA and contribute to that plan annually. Planholders can contribute up to $8,000 per year to their plan, regardless of their income. The $8,000 per year contribution must be made by the end of the calendar year, but planholders will be permitted to carry forward unused portions of their annual contribution limit, to a maximum of $8,000. For example, an individual who contributes $6,000 to an FHSA in 2023 would be allowed to contribute $10,000 in 2024 (representing $8,000 in contributions for 2024 plus $2,000 in remaining contributions from 2023). Regardless of the schedule on which contributions are made, there is a lifetime limit of $40,000 in contributions for each individual.

The real benefit of the FHSA program lies in the tax treatment of contributions and income earned by those contributions. Individuals who contribute any amount in a year can deduct that amount from income, in the same manner as a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) contribution. And while funds are held within the FHSA, they can be held in cash, or can be invested in a broad range of investment vehicles. Specifically, such funds can be invested in mutual funds, publicly traded securities, government and corporate bonds, and guaranteed investment certificates (GICs). Regardless of the investment vehicle chosen, interest, dividends, or any other type of investment income earned by those funds grows on a tax-free basis – that is, such investment income is not taxed as it is earned.

Most significantly, when the planholder withdraws funds from the FHSA to purchase a first home, those withdrawal amounts – representing both original contributions and investment income earned by those contributions – are not taxed.

In sum, contributions made to an FHSA are deductible from income, investment income earned on those funds is not taxed as it is earned, and, where either original contributions made or investment income earned is withdrawn from an FHSA to purchase a first home, no tax is payable on such withdrawn amounts. For the taxpayer, it’s a win-win-win.

Withdrawing funds from an FHSA

Given the generous tax treatment accorded contributions to an FHSA, there are inevitably some qualifications and restrictions placed on the use of the plans. First, amounts withdrawn from an FHSA can be received tax-free only if such withdrawals are “qualifying withdrawals”, meaning that the funds are used to make a qualifying home purchase. In order for a withdrawal to be a “qualifying withdrawal”, the planholder must have a written agreement to buy or build a home located in Canada. That home must be acquired, or construction of the home must be completed, before October 1 of the next year. In addition, the planholder must intend to occupy that home within a year after buying or building it.

Amounts withdrawn from an FHSA and used for any other purpose are not qualifying withdrawals and the funds withdrawn are fully taxable in the year the withdrawal is made.

While Canadians who open an FHSA and make contributions to it are certainly hoping to be able to purchase a home, there are any number of reasons why their plans could change. Fortunately, the rules governing FHSAs provide planholders with a great deal of flexibility when it comes to the disposition of funds saved within an FHSA, in that  planholders can transfer all funds held within their FHSA to an RRSP or to a registered retirement income fund (RRIF) on a tax-free basis. Significantly, the amount which is transferred from an FHSA to an RRSP would not reduce or be limited by the individual’s RRSP contribution room. However, transfers made to an RRSP in these circumstances do not replenish FHSA contribution room – in other words, each eligible individual gets only one opportunity to save for the purchase of a first home using an FHSA. And, of course, any amounts transferred from an FHSA to an RRSP or RRIF will be taxable on withdrawal from those plans, in the same way as any other RRSP or RRIF withdrawal.

The ability to transfer funds between plans can also work in the other direction. Individuals who have managed to accumulate funds within an RRSP will be allowed to transfer such funds to an FHSA (subject to the $8,000 annual and $40,000 lifetime contribution limits). While no deduction is permitted for funds transferred from an RRSP to an FHSA, that transfer does take place on a tax-free basis. Transfers made to an RRSP in these circumstances do not, however, replenish RRSP contribution room.

Older taxpayers who open an FHSA should be aware that it is not possible to transfer funds from an RRIF to an FHSA.

Closing an FHSA

Individuals who open an FHSA have 15 years from the date the plan is opened to use the funds for a qualifying home purchase. (Taxpayers must also close their FHSA by the end of the year in which they turn 71.)  While these rules do place some pressure on planholders with respect to the timing of their home purchase, there is some flexibility. Specifically, planholders who have not made a qualifying home purchase within the required 15-year time frame (or by the end of the year in which they turn 71) must then close the FHSA plan, but can still transfer funds held in the FHSA to their RRSP or RRIF, on a tax-free basis.

The FHSA is a significant new tax planning tool, and Canadians who are in a position to take advantage of its terms should certainly consider doing so. The federal government has posted information on the FHSA program on its website, and that information 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.