Skip to main content

When to select a TFSA vs. an RRSP

December 7, 2019   10 minute read

Learn when a TFSA is a better choice than an RRSP in your savings plan

You may already use an RRSP to invest for the future. But are you familiar with the Tax-Free Savings Account, or TFSA? This option can be a great complement to an RRSP in your savings strategy. The challenge is deciding when it’s best to choose the TFSA over an RRSP. Here are some general guidelines.

Choose a TFSA when:

You Want Easy & Frequent Access to Your Money

You’ll be able to withdraw funds tax-free at any time and re-contribute the same amount in the future. Keep your RRSP for long-term retirement savings.

You Earn a Low Income

You may benefit more from the tax-free growth and withdrawal flexibility of a TFSA than from the modest tax deduction of an RRSP.

You're Starting Your Career

At this stage, invest in a TFSA before an RRSP. Over the years you’ll accumulate RRSP contribution room that you can eventually take advantage of when your income is higher and when claiming the RRSP tax deduction has a bigger impact.

You Need to Borrow Money

A TFSA can be used as loan collateral. Just remember, the interest on money borrowed to invest in a TFSA is not tax deductible.

You're Saving for a House or Education

A TFSA may be a better option than the RRSP’s Home Buyers Plan or Life Long Learning Plan. That’s because TFSA withdrawals don’t have to be paid back, money doesn’t have to be kept in the account for 90 days before withdrawing, and if you decide to use your money for another purpose, you don’t have to pay tax.

You Have Interest-Bearing Investments

When you have investments like GICs, money market mutual funds, term deposits, or bonds, which are taxed at higher rates, put them in a TFSA where they are tax sheltered.

You Own High Risk/High Return Investments

A TFSA might be better than an RRSP or non-registered account. If your $5K grows to $50K it could be withdrawn tax-free. The downside — you can’t claim a capital loss if your investments lose value.

You Hold Investments in a Non-Registered Account

Consider transferring them ‘in-kind’ to your TFSA so they can grow tax-free. But talk to an expert first because there may be tax consequences.

You Have a Pension Plan at Work

When you have limited opportunities to contribute to an RRSP, use a TFSA to augment your retirement savings.

You're Retiring in 10-20 Years

Use a TFSA to complement your RRSP and grow your nest egg more aggressively.

You're Making Maximum RRSP Contributions

Put additional savings in a TFSA before a non-registered plan so your money can grow tax-free.

You Need to Reduce Taxable Income in Retirement

Use a TFSA in addition to your RRSP. After you convert your RRSP into a RRIF at age 71, RRIF withdrawals are taxed, and more money you withdraw the higher your marginal tax rate. But by also withdrawing tax-free funds from a TFSA you can reduce your RRIF withdrawals, potentially lowering the overall tax you pay.

You Don’t Need All Your RRIF/LIF Withdrawal Cash

Move it to a TFSA where it can grow tax-free until you need them later.

You're Receiving Old Age Security, the Canada Child Tax Benefit, EI or the GIS

Invest in a TFSA to avoid potential clawbacks. TFSA interest earned or withdrawals aren’t considered income so won’t affect your benefits.

In Conclusion

These are all only generalizations. Your situation is unique. If you want to find out how to use the Tax-Free Savings Accounts to your advantage, get advice from your financial advisor. They can provide you with an expert’s perspective and help you invest in the future with your own Tax-Free Savings Account.