As tax time looms, it’s prudent to get your plan in place

This time of year you should be talking with your financial advisor about where to put your hard earned money.  Will you contribute to an RRSP or pay down debt?  Or should you do both by contributing to an RRSP and using the tax savings to pare debt?

Contributing to an RRSP should be done with a view of keeping the funds committed for a longer period of time and pulling them out at retirement, hopefully when you’re in a lower income tax bracket. This option is suitable for individuals who have stable income.  If it’s debt reduction, you always have the flexibility of taking out equity in your home later on if capital is needed. On the other hand, if you need capital and your only access to savings are from your RRSP you will have to make one of the most common RRSP mistakes – deregistering RRSPs before retirement and paying tax. In addition, you will not have the RRSP contribution room replenished.

Since 2009, financial options were further complicated with the introduction of the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA). The main benefit of an RRSP is the deferral of income within the account until the funds are pulled out. Another is the tax savings in the period in which the contribution is first applied. The TFSA has the same first benefit of an RRSP, deferral of all income including interest, dividends and capital gains. TFSA contributions do not provide you a tax deduction; however, withdrawals are not taxed at all. Withdrawals can be replenished in the next calendar year. .

Business owners have the ability to have active small business income taxed at a lower rate. Most owners are encouraged to pull out only the income they need to live on. The rest of the income is left in the corporation. Income paid out of the corporation is either through dividends wages, or both. Should business owners still contribute to an RRSP or TFSA when income is already taxed at low rates?  Wages paid helps future CPP benefits and also creates RRSP deduction room.  Dividends paid can be tax efficient, but do not create RRSP room and have no benefit for CPP purposes.  Some organizations provide RRSP programs that involve matching and length of service programs that are linked to the member’s RRSP.

Singles have a higher likelihood of paying a large tax bill upon death. With couples, the chances that one lives to at least an average life expectancy are far greater. Couples can also income split where the higher income spouse can contribute to a spousal RRSP.

If you have a good company Registered Pension Plan (RPP), you may not have a great a need to have an RRSP. If a person had debt and a good RPP then the decision to pay down debt is a little easier than someone that doesn’t have an RPP at all. Individuals who have no other pensions (not counting CPP and OAS) really need to consider the RRSP and how they will fund retirement.

Income levels below $37,606 in BC are already in the lowest income tax bracket. Contributing $5,000 to an RRSP while in the lowest bracket would result in tax savings of approximately $1,003 or 20.06 per cent.  Income over $150,000 is taxed at 45.8 per cent and this same contribution would save $2,290.   I would encourage the lower income individual to put the funds into a Tax Free Savings Account or pay down debt depending on other factors. If the lower-income individual’s income increased substantially, then the option to pull the funds out of the TFSA and contribute them to an RRSP always exists.

In order for your advisor to provide guidance about the right mix between TFSA, RRSP, or paying down debt, they require current information.  In some cases, your advisor should be speaking with your accountant to make sure everyone is on the same page.  Every situation is unique and your strategy may also change over time.  Preparing a draft income tax return in late January or early February helps your advisor guide you on making the right decisions.

The submitting of your completed tax return should be done only when you are reasonably comfortable you have all income tax slips and information. Some investment slips, such as T3s, may not be mailed until the end of March. We recommend most of our clients do not file their income tax return until the end of the first week of April.  By providing projected tax information to your advisor in January or early February you have time to determine if an RRSP should be part of the savings strategy. If it is not, the discussion can lead to whether you should pay down your mortgage or contribute to your Tax Free Savings Account.  

Most mortgages allow you the ability to pay down a set lump sum amount (such as 10 or 20 per cent) on an annual basis without penalty.  Every January you are given additional Tax Free Savings Account room.