INVESTING IN “TAX-SMART” WAYS
Have You Maximized Tax-Advantaged Accounts?
We aren’t doing a good job fully maximizing TFSA contributions — even the wealthiest Canadians appear to be overlooking the opportunity! The latest reports suggest that only nine percent of TFSA holders have maximized available contribution room.1 For those earning $250,000 or more, only about 30 percent of holders had fully contributed, with an average unused contribution room of around $22,000. During tax season, we often try our best to reduce our taxes as much as possible, so it’s hard to understand why more Canadians don’t take full advantage of the TFSA. As of the start of 2023, eligible Canadians can contribute $88,000 (for those yet to open a TFSA).
Are you taking full advantage of the TFSA? Beyond the significant benefit of growing funds on a tax-free basis, here are some additional reasons why the TFSA is an important planning tool:
Transferring Wealth While Alive — The TFSA may help to gradually transfer wealth to beneficiaries while you are alive. Gifted funds can be used by adult children to contribute to their own TFSA, which can grow over time. Transferring wealth while alive can simplify an estate and potentially minimize taxes. However, keep in mind that once assets have been gifted, you will have no control over the funds.
Approaching Retirement: RRSP/RRIF Meltdown Strategy — There may be benefit in gradually drawing down RRSP funds as you approach retirement, or RRIF funds. One significant reason is if you are in a lower tax bracket than you will be in future years. A strategy may be to use RRSP/RRIF withdrawals to fund TFSA contributions. As the TFSA grows, this tax-free income can augment or replace RRIF withdrawals later. At death, these funds can pass entirely to heirs; residual RRSP/RRIF income would potentially be subject to the highest marginal tax rates.
Funding Retirement — The TFSA can help optimize retirement income and cash-flow streams. TFSA withdrawals aren’t considered taxable income so they won’t affect income-tested benefits such as Old Age Security. TFSA withdrawals can also help with tax planning. For example, if you need funds but generating RRIF income will put you in a higher marginal tax bracket, you may be able to minimize tax by withdrawing only the required RRIF amount and using TFSA withdrawals to supplement income. On the other hand, if your marginal tax rate is lower than you expect in the future (or at death), funds in excess of the RRIF minimum requirement may be withdrawn and put into a TFSA where they can continue to grow. This may reduce your overall lifetime tax bill. The TFSA can also supplement cash flow if a retiree chooses to defer Canada Pension Plan benefits.
Your Estate Plan — The TFSA can play a valuable role in your estate plan. At death, an individual is deemed to have sold their capital property, generally resulting in taxes owing on capital gains. However, the TFSA is an exception to this rule and gains made on TFSA assets generally will not be taxed. Consider that even a lump sum investment today of $88,000 would result in over $250,000 in 20 years at a compounded rate of 5.5 percent — not an insignificant bequest by any measure!
The bottom line? Ensure you have fully contributed to your TFSA!
1. Based on 2019 data released in 2021. This may have changed based on the bull market in 2021. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/cra-arc/prog-policy/stats/tfsa-celi/2019/table1c-en.pdf
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