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Understanding RRSP Contributions

Retirement Planning in Canada Simplified

A well-known option in the Canadian retirement planning toolkit, the Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) has been around since 1957. Due to its true tax-obliterating feature, most financial experts consider RRSP contributions an excellent, retirement-enriching option for managing future finances. Remember, an RRSP account is tax-deferred and not tax-free, which means, your RRSP contributions are fully taxable when you withdraw the funds during your retirement years. However, the advantage with RRSPs is that you can generate tax-deferred contributions in the higher income earning years when you are subject to higher tax rates and access these funds at lower marginal tax rates during retirement. As long as you meet the required conditions and have sufficient contributions in your RRSP account, you may also be able to access other RRSP-linked benefits, such as the Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP) or Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP).

Understanding the many aspects of RRSPs is essential for creating solid wealth management plans. Read on to know more about RRSP contributions, deductions, over contributions, and more.

Retirement Planning with RRSPs

What are RRSP Contributions?

Motivating Canadians to put away money for retirement, RRSP contributions are a great choice for reducing taxable income and paying less tax now, while potentially building a larger retirement fund. Basically, every year until you reach 71 years of age, you can contribute a certain amount to your tax-advantaged RRSP account and pay tax on this sum only when you withdraw from your fund in the future. It is also possible to contribute to your spouse’s RRSPs.

However, there is an upper limit on the RRSP contribution room that you can build each year. Your total contribution room** for the year is the lower of

  • 18% of your earned income for the previous year
  • The maximum yearly set limit (defined by the CRA). The maximum RRSP contribution limit in 2021 was $27,830*, while the 2022 limit is set at 29,210*. This amount may change every year and has been steadily increasing over the years.

* The deduction limit is the maximum allowable contribution for that year and does not take into account any unused contributions from previous years.

** If you are a member of a pension plan, your RRSP contribution room will reduce by the amount of your pension adjustment.

How does an RRSP Work?

Let’s say you make $100,000 in the previous year and decide to put the maximum allowable amount ($18,000) in your RRSP account. During the annual tax calculation, your taxable income for that year will be $100,000 minus 18,000 i.e., $82,000, saving you the tax on your RRSP contribution amount. At a future date, any withdrawal from your RRSP account will count as fully taxable income, but by then, you will most likely fall under a lower tax bracket due to age and income.

It is important to note that any amount you do not contribute in a certain year carries forward indefinitely. Hence, even if you did not utilize your contribution room in one year, you can add that amount to your RRSP contributions anytime during the following years. You may still have to be mindful of your deduction limit for the year (explained further in the next section).

For example, let’s assume your 2020 annual income was $90,000, which allows you to make a RRSP contribution of $16,200 for that year, but you contributed only $15,000 due to other financial priorities. In the following year, your 2021 income is $100,000, which allows you to make RRSP contributions of $18,000. At this point, you can add the leftover contribution from the previous year (i.e., $16,200 – $15,000 = $1,200) to the current year. That way your contribution for the current year will be $18,000 + $1,200 = $ 19,200, which is still within the maximum set limit of $27,830.

How is a RRSP Contribution Different from RRSP Deduction?

RRSP contribution is the amount of money that you invest in your RRSP account in a given year. A RRSP deduction is how much of that contribution you have used in your tax return to reduce your taxable income reported on the T1 Income Tax and Benefit Return (“T1”). Typically, RRSP contribution and RRSP deduction would be the same amount if you have fully deducted all your past RRSP contributions. The only time these amounts differ is if you have deferred your deduction from a past year to a future tax year. In such cases, you may add any unutilized amount from your past contribution room to another year’s RRSP contribution.

Essentially, the RRSP deduction limit takes into account the amount of contribution you have deferred to use for future tax returns. Hence,

RRSP Deduction Limit = Unused deduction room of preceding years + Available contribution room for current year

If you are part of a pension plan through your employer, there will be a Pension Adjustment (PA), Pension Adjustment Reversal (PAR), as well as Net Past Service Pension Adjustment (PSPA). In this case,

RRSP Deduction Limit = Unused deduction room of preceding years + Available contribution room for current year + PA or prescribed amount (whichever is higher) + PAR – PSPA.

When you review your Notice of Assessment by the CRA, you will get an at-a-glance summary of your Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA), as well as your RRSPs. This calculation is based on the deduction limit set by CRA, as well as your own past contributions and contribution room utilization.

What is Overcontribution to RRSPs?

Your RRSP contribution room grows by 18% of your previous year’s earned income or up to a maximum set limit, whichever is lower. If you participate in a workplace pension plan, there will be a pension adjustment ((provided by your employer), which reduces your RRSP contribution room up to that extent each year. However, you have the option to include unutilized deduction room from previous years into your RRSP contributions for any given year, which may lead to a possibility of overcontribution to RRSPs. Any amount that exceeds the contribution limit given in your previous year’s Notice of Assessment constitutes overcontribution. Over your lifetime, you can overcontribute up to $2,000 without attracting any penalties. Any overcontribution that exceeds $2,000 is subject to a hefty tax of 1% per

month on the ***excess amount until such time as you withdraw the excess amount, or gain adequate additional RRSP contribution room to accommodate the surplus. Additionally, you must report any instance of overcontribution to the CRA within 90 days after the last day of the tax year when you overcontributed. In case of delays, there is a penalty of 5% of the taxes you owe, which is in addition to the 1% per month that you will pay.

Here’s a look at an instance of overcontribution:
Let’s assume that the Notice of Assessment states your RRSP deduction limit for 2020 is $20,500 and you contributed $14,000 to your own and your spouse’s RRSPs in that year. In the following year 2021, your annual income was $125,000 and you had no other PA adjustments from previous years. Which means, your deduction limit for 2021 will be 18% of $125,000, i.e., 22,500, while your contribution room for that year will be 29,000 [$22,500 + ($20,500-$14,000)]. If you decide to utilize the previous year’s deduction room as well as current contribution room, you will invest 29,000 in your RRSP account, which means you have overcontributed by $1,170 since the CRA-set deduction limit for 2021 was 27,830. However, since this is still under $2,000, you are exempt from any penal taxes, assuming there are no other instances of past overcontributions in excess of $2,000.

*** Canadians under age 18 do not have the cushion of $2,000. Any amount in excess of the deduction limit is subject to the 1% tax per month.

What Canadians Should Know About RRSP Accounts and RRSP Contributions?

Here are some aspects related to opening and contributing to RRSPs:

  • Canadians can open an RRSP account at any time. There is no ****minimum age. However, those under 18 may have to set up one with their parent or guardian.
  • As long as you have employment income, you file a tax return, and you have contribution room, you can contribute to your RRSP account, or even to that of your spouse or common-law partner.
  • The CRA tracks your contribution limit on your Notice of Assessment each year after you file your tax return. Hence for the subsequent year, you simply have to refer to the “Available Contribution Limit” calculated by CRA for you.
  • The deadline for RRSP contributions is usually 60 days after the year end. Typically, it will be March 1 or February 29 (in case of a leap year), or the following Monday (if any of these dates fall on a weekend).
  • You can contribute to your own RRSP until December 31 of the year you turn 71.
  • When you turn 71 years old, you will have to withdraw the RRSPs, transfer them to a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRRIF), or use the funds to purchase an annuity.

So how much can Canadians contribute or deduct to their RRSPs? It depends on your individual RRSP deduction limit which you will find on CRA’s Notice of Assessment.

The deadline to make an RRSP contribution is 60 days after year-end (March 1st, or February 29th in a leap year, or the following Monday, if March 1st or February 29th falls on a weekend.)

**** Certain financial institutions may require a customer to be over the age of 18 years to open an account.

Get Professional Help to Plan your Retirement Finances in Canada

As specialists in wealth advisory services, the elite team at Nour Private Wealth (NPW)  is committed to helping high-net-worth individuals and families manage wealth in a tax-efficient manner. Whether it is asset management, estate planning, or investment planning, our team of knowledgeable and experienced wealth advisors can assist you in meeting your financial goals in the best possible manner. We serve clients across seven Canadian provinces.

Contact us to learn more about maximizing your RRSP contributions and deductions for a financially secure retirement.

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