New CIBC Report Explores Why Tax-Free Savings Accounts May Be a Better Retirement Savings Vehicle than RRSPS for Some Canadians

Jan 13, 2011 | Corporate Member News

Investors that are too focused on the RRSP ‘refund’ may short-change their own retirement

For some Canadians, Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) – not Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) – may be the best vehicle for saving for retirement, finds a new report from CIBC’s tax and estate planning expert, Jamie Golombek.

However, a lack of understanding and appreciation of how TFSAs work has many Canadians missing out on the benefits of this powerful new retirement savings tool. Since its launch in 2009, only 20 per cent of eligible Canadians have opened an account investing some $19 billion tax-free.

“This seems to suggest that Canadians are perhaps not embracing this new savings vehicle as wholeheartedly as they should as a means to funding a comfortable retirement,” says Mr. Golombek.

In his report entitled, Blinded by the “Refund”: Why TFSAs may beat RRSPs as a better retirement savings vehicle for some Canadians, Mr. Golombek attributes this partly to the newness of TFSAs. But he also thinks that a broad misunderstanding of the RRSP “refund” combined with an unfamiliarity of the tax mechanics behind both RRSP and TFSA contributions and withdrawals may explain the modest uptake of the TFSA by investors.

“Unlike an RRSP, on which tax is paid when the funds are withdrawn, assets held within a TFSA are “tax pre-paid” as the tax has already been paid in advance,” explains Mr. Golombek. “While investors who can afford to maximize their contributions to both a TFSA and an RRSP would be wise to do so, many investors who cannot are so focused on receiving the tax refund associated with RRSP contributions that they may be missing out on the longer-term advantages of the TFSA.”

The CIBC report shows that given identical tax circumstances, compounding periods and dates of contribution and withdrawal, the amount of after-tax cash that can be accumulated within an RRSP or TFSA is identical.

“Where the two plans differ greatly is on the matter of accessibility,” notes Mr. Golombek. “The TFSA offers greater flexibility as contributed funds can be withdrawn at any time tax-free and later re-contributed, while RRSP withdrawals are taxable within the same year and cannot be re-contributed.

“Yet, cash-strapped Canadians seem to be accessing funds in their RRSPs pre-retirement at an alarming rate. Recent data shows that of the 1.9 million Canadians who withdrew $9.3 billion from their RRSPs in 2008 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), over 80 per cent of such withdrawals were made by individuals below age 60. This suggests that RRSP funds are being used well before normal retirement age to supplement income.”

Not only can these RRSP funds not be replaced at a later date, the tax paid on these funds can push an individual into a higher tax bracket, and could reduce his or her income-tested benefits, including the GST/HST Credit, the Canada Child Tax Benefit and the Working Income Tax Benefit.

TFSA withdrawals, on the other hand, avoid both these problems since the funds can be recontributed at any time following the year of withdrawal and the withdrawals, being non-taxable, cannot trigger the loss of government benefits.

Investing in a TFSA may also be preferable for many lower-income Canadians whose marginal effective tax rate (METR) at retirement is expected to be higher than their METR while they are working. The METR takes into account not only statutory income tax rates but also the effect of income-tested government benefits and credits which are reduced based on net income.

“Seniors currently living on RRSP or RRIF withdrawals find that even modest withdrawals from these plans upon retirement affect the retiree’s eligibility for income-tested government benefits and credits, such as the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), Old Age Security (OAS) benefits and the Age Credit,” adds Mr. Golombek. “Since withdrawals from a TFSA are not considered to be “income,” they have no impact on the amount of GIS or OAS received nor will such withdrawals reduce the Age Credit.”

Given the many variables affecting the benefits of both retirement savings vehicles, Mr. Golombek suggests that all Canadians sit down with a financial advisor to assess the best way of saving that meets their needs. “Ultimately, an individual’s specific financial circumstances and long term retirement goals will determine which vehicle is most advantageous. Perhaps with some financial guidance and a better understanding of how these new savings vehicles work, TFSAs may become the retirement vehicle of choice for many more Canadians going forward.”

CIBC is a leading North American financial institution with nearly 11 million personal banking and business clients. CIBC offers a full range of products and services through its comprehensive electronic banking network, branches and offices across Canada, in the United States and around the world. You can find other news releases and information about CIBC in our Press Centre on our corporate website at

For further information: or to receive a copy of the report, contact Kevin Dove, Senior Director, External Communications and Media Relations, CIBC, Tel: 416-980-8835, [email protected]

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