Saturday, April 25, 2015

2015 Federal Budget Contains Changes to Tax Free Savings Accounts and Registered Retirement Income Funds

The 2015 Canadian Federal Government’s Budget released on April 21, 2015 does not appear to contain any changes that will have an impact on trusts or estate-planning (perhaps mercifully given the problems created by the 2014 Budget). There are a couple of changes that will affect retirement savings.

First, the Government has increased the amount that you may put into a Tax Free Savings Account (“TFSA”), from $5,500 per year to $10,000 per year effective January 1, 2015. The Budget has a nice summary of how TFSAs work.

Available since January 1, 2009, the TFSA is a flexible, registered general-purpose  savings vehicle that allows Canadian residents aged 18 or older to earn tax-free investment income, including interest, dividends and capital gains. TFSAs can include a wide range of investment options such as mutual funds, Guaranteed Investment Certificates, publicly traded shares and bonds. Contributions to a TFSA are not tax deductible, but investment income earned in a TFSA and withdrawals from it are tax-free. Unused TFSA contribution room is carried forward and the amount of withdrawals from a TFSA can be re-contributed in future years.

TFSAs differ from Registered Retirement Savings Plans (“RRSPs”) in a few key ways. Unlike RRSPs, there is no tax deduction available when you contribute to a TFSA. But TFSAs can be withdrawn without tax, while you pay tax on RRSPs when you withdraw funds from them. With both TFSAs and RRSPs, funds can grow inside the plan without tax.

Generally, if you are in a low tax bracket, it probably makes more sense (and cents) to contribute the up to the maximum permitted in a TFSA in priority to RRSP contributions, especially if you think you may later end up in a higher tax bracket. TFSAs are also a better vehicle for saving for things other than retirement, such as buying a home.

But if you are in a high tax bracket, RRSPs may be preferable because you get the tax break when you contribute. The benefits of RRSPs are enhanced if you expect to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement.

Another key difference between RRSPs and TFSAs is that with an RRSP when you reach the age of 71, you have to either withdraw the funds from an RRSP, buy and annuity, or convert the RRSP to a Registered Retirement Income Fund (“RRIF”). In contrast, you can retain and continue to contribute to a TFSA until death.

I suspect the most common approach to RRSPs at 71 is to convert an RRSP into a RRIF. With a RIFF you are required to withdraw a minimum percentage each year, the percentage increasing with age. You may take out more than the minimum, but you pay tax on the withdrawals.

This brings me to the second change in the 2015 Budget. The Government has reduced the percentages that you have to take out of a RRIF each year, the effect of which is to allow you to defer tax longer. Here is a description from the 2015 Budget (tables omitted):

The basic purpose of the tax deferral provided on savings in RPPs and RRSPs is to encourage and assist Canadians to accumulate savings over their working careers inorder to meet their retirement income needs. Consistent with this purpose, savings inRPPs and RRSPs must be converted into a retirement income vehicle by age 71. Inparticular, an RRSP must be converted to a RRIF by the end of the year in whichthe RRSP holder reaches 71 years of age, and a minimum amount must be withdrawn from the RRIF annually beginning the year after it is established (alternatively, the RRSP savings may be used to purchase an annuity). This treatment ensures that the tax-deferred RRSP/RRIF savings serve their intended retirement income purpose.

A formula is used to determine the required minimum amount a person mustwithdraw each year from a RRIF. The formula is based on a percentage factormultiplied by the value of the assets in the RRIF. The percentage factors (the RRIFfactors) are based on a particular rate of return and indexing assumption. Currently, a senior is required to withdraw 7.38 per cent of their RRIF in the year they are age71 at the start of the year. The RRIF factor increases each year until age 94 when the percentage that seniors are required to withdraw annually is capped at 20 per cent.

The existing RRIF factors have been in place since 1992. Economic Action Plan2015 proposes to adjust the RRIF minimum withdrawal factors that apply in respectof ages 71 to 94 to better reflect more recent long-term historical real rates of  returnand expected inflation. As a result, the new RRIF factors will be substantially lower than the existing factors. The new RRIF factors will range from 5.28 per cent at age 71 to 18.79 per cent at age 94. The percentage that seniors will be required to withdraw from their RRIF will remain capped at 20 per cent at age 95 and above. Table A5.2 in Annex 5 shows the existing and proposed new RRIF factors.

By permitting more capital preservation, the new factors will help reduce the risk ofoutliving one’s savings, while ensuring that the tax deferral provided on RRSP/RRIF savings continues to serve a retirement income purpose. For example, the new RRIF factors will permit close to 50 per cent more capital to be preserved to age 90, compared to the existing factors (Table 4.1.2).

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