It is Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) season once again! Beyond the importance of contributing to the RRSP to grow funds for retirement, avoiding certain practices can also help to save tax or create a bigger nest egg for the future.

Withdrawing Funds to Pay Down Debt — Consider the implications of making taxable withdrawals from the RRSP to pay down short-term debt. You may be paying more tax on the RRSP withdrawal than you’ll save in interest costs. In addition, once you make a withdrawal from the RRSP, you won’t be able to get back the valuable contribution room – unlike the TFSA, where contribution room resets itself in the following calendar year.

Contributing Losers In-Kind — In order to fund the RRSP, some investors may choose to move investments from non-registered accounts. If you are considering making in-kind contributions to the RRSP, be careful not to transfer investments that have declined in value. You will be deemed to have sold these investments at fair market value when transferring them to the RRSP, yet any capital loss will be denied. Instead, consider selling them on the open market and contribute cash to the RRSP so you can claim the capital loss (and be aware of the superficial loss rules if you plan on repurchasing them).

Claiming the Deduction in the Wrong Year — With any RRSP contribution, you’re entitled to a tax deduction for the amount contributed so long as it is within the contribution limit. Keep in mind that you don’t have to claim the tax deduction in the year that the RRSP contribution is made. You may carry it forward if you expect income to be higher in future years such that you may be put in a higher tax bracket, potentially generating greater tax savings for a future year.

Neglecting to Update Beneficiary Designations — It may be beneficial to review account beneficiaries on a periodic basis, especially in light of major life changes. For example, in the event of separation or divorce, be aware that named beneficiaries may not be revoked, depending on provincial laws. Therefore, the designation of an ex-spouse may still be in effect.

Withdrawals from a Spousal RRSP — For couples in which one spouse will earn a high level of income in retirement while the other may have little retirement income, a spousal RRSP can potentially be a valuable income-splitting tool. However, don’t forget that the attribution rules generally apply to a spousal RRSP. If the higher-income spouse has made contributions to the spousal RRSP in the year or in the immediate two preceding years, and if funds are withdrawn from the plan, they may be taxed to the higher-income spouse, as opposed to the lower-income spousal RRSP owner.

The views expressed are those of Wes Ashton, Director of Growth Strategy and Portfolio Manager, and not necessarily those of Harbourfront Wealth Management Inc., a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund.

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