Most Canadians know that the deadline for making contributions to one’s registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) comes 60 days after the end of the calendar year, around the end of February. There are, however, some circumstances in which an RRSP contribution must be (or should be) made by December 31 in order to achieve the desired tax result.
Similarly, most Canadians who have opened a registered retirement income fund (RRIF) are aware that they are required to make a withdrawal of a specified amount from that RRIF each year, with the percentage withdrawal amount based on the RRIF holder’s age – although few are aware of when and how that required withdrawal is calculated.
The rules around TFSAs are more flexible, but it is nonetheless the case that advantages can be obtained (and disadvantages avoided) by carefully timing TFSA withdrawals and recontributions based on the calendar year end.
Finally, beginning in 2023, taxpayers have an additional opportunity to save on a tax-assisted basis, through the new First Home Savings Account (FHSA). While saving through an FHSA is possible only for those who have not owned a home in the current or any of the four previous years, the FHSA offers qualifying taxpayers the opportunity to reduce taxes payable to an extent not available through other government-sanctioned tax saving or deferral programs.
While the basic rules with respect to contributions to and withdrawals from each of these tax-assisted savings plans are relatively straightforward, there are nonetheless benefits to be obtained from careful consideration of the detailed rules – and some exceptions from those rules. What follows is an outline of steps which should be considered, before the end of the 2023 calendar year, by Canadians who have an RRSP, RRIF, TFSA, or FHSA – or maybe all four.
Timing of RRSP contributions
- When you are making a spousal RRSP contribution
Under Canadian tax rules, a taxpayer can make a contribution to a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) in his or her spouse’s name and claim the deduction for the contribution on his or her own return. When the funds are withdrawn by the spouse, the amounts are taxed as the spouse’s income, at a (presumably) lower tax rate. However, the benefit of having withdrawals taxed in the hands of the spouse is available only where the withdrawal takes place no sooner than the end of the second calendar year following the year in which the contribution is made. Therefore, where a contribution to a spousal RRSP is made in December of 2023, the contributor can claim a deduction for that contribution on his or her return for 2023. The spouse can then withdraw that amount as early as January 1, 2026 and have it taxed in his or her own hands. If the contribution isn’t made until January or February of 2024, the contributor can still claim a deduction for it on the 2023 tax return, but the amount won’t be eligible to be taxed in the spouse’s hands on withdrawal until January 1, 2027. It’s an especially important consideration for couples who are approaching retirement who may plan on withdrawing funds in the relatively near future. Even where that’s not the situation, making the contribution before the end of the calendar year will ensure maximum flexibility should an unforeseen need to withdraw funds arise.
- When you are turning 71 during 2023
Every Canadian who has an RRSP must collapse that plan by the end of the year in which they turn 71 years of age – usually by converting the RRSP into a registered retirement income fund (RRIF) or by purchasing an annuity. An individual who turns 71 during the year is still entitled to make a final RRSP contribution for that year, assuming that they have sufficient contribution room. However, in such cases, the 60-day window for contributions after December 31 is not available. Any RRSP contribution to be made by a person who turns 71 during the year must be made by December 31 of that year. Once that deadline has passed, no further RRSP contributions are possible.
RRIF withdrawals for 2023
Under Canadian law, anyone who has an RRIF is required to make a minimum withdrawal from that RRIF each year. The amount of the withdrawal is calculated as a specified percentage of the balance in the RRIF at the beginning of the calendar year, with that percentage based on the age of the RRIF holder at that time.
Taxpayers who have no immediate need of funds held within an RRIF are often reluctant to make a withdrawal and pay the tax on those amounts, especially where the value of investments held in an RRIF has declined. While there is no way of avoiding the requirement to withdraw that minimum amount from one’s RRIF, and to pay tax on the amount withdrawn, such taxpayers can consider contributing those amounts to a tax-free savings account (TFSA). Where that is done, the funds can be invested and continue to grow, and neither the original contribution nor the investment gains will be taxable when the funds are withdrawn from the TFSA.
Planning for TFSA withdrawals and contributions
Each Canadian aged 18 and over can make an annual contribution to a tax-free savings account (TFSA) – the maximum contribution for 2023 is $6,500. As well, where an amount previously contributed to a TFSA is withdrawn from the plan, that withdrawn amount can be re-contributed, but not until the year following the year of withdrawal.
Consequently, it makes sense, where a TFSA withdrawal is planned (or the need to make such a withdrawal might arise within the next few months), to make that withdrawal before the end of the calendar year. A taxpayer who withdraws funds from their TFSA on or before December 31, 2023 will have the amount which is withdrawn added to their TFSA contribution limit for 2024, which means it can be re-contributed, where finances allow, as early as January 1, 2024. If the same taxpayer waits until January of 2024 to make the withdrawal, they won’t be eligible to recontribute the funds withdrawn until 2025.
Contributing to an FHSA
The First Home Savings Account (FHSA) program, which became available to taxpayers beginning in 2023, offers qualifying taxpayers significant tax benefits. The FHSA program allows taxpayers who do not currently own a home (and did not own a home in any of 2019, 2020, 2021, or 2022) to contribute up to $8,000 per year to an FHSA. Each qualifying taxpayer can contribute up to a lifetime total of $40,000 to an FHSA.
Contributions made to an FHSA are deductible from income, and investment income earned by funds inside an FHSA is not taxed as earned. Finally, where funds are withdrawn to purchase a home, both the original contributions made and investment income earned are received by the taxpayer free of tax.
The ability to contribute up to $8,000 per year to an FHSA does not depend on the taxpayer’s income, and contributions not made in a calendar year can (subject to a maximum of $8,000 in carryforward amounts, and to the $40,000 lifetime limit) be carried forward and made in a future tax year.
Where an individual has opened and contributed to an FHSA, he or she has up to 15 years to withdraw those funds tax-free and use them to purchase a home. However, taxpayers who have an FHSA also have the option to transfer funds from that FHSA plan to their RRSP (and vice-versa), without immediate tax consequences.
For taxpayers who qualify, the new FHSA program offers an unparalleled degree of flexibility to save on a tax-free or tax-deferred basis. Details on the FHSA program can be found on the Canada Revenue Agency website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/individuals/topics/first-home-savings-account.html.
The approach of the calendar year end doesn’t usually prompt Canadians to consider the details of making contributions to an RRSP or FHSA, or withdrawals from a TFSA or an RRIF. There is, however, no flexibility in the deadlines for taking such actions, and considering what steps may be needed or advisable now means one less thing to remember as the December 31 deadline nears.
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.