9 RRSP hacks you need to know.


Updated on October 31, 2023 

Still trying to figure out this RRSP thing? You’re not alone.

The Registered Retirement Savings Plan, known simply as the RRSP to most, is a great tool for saving money. RRSP contributions are tax deductible, which allows you to delay paying taxes on that income until you retire, when you’ll likely be in a lower tax bracket.

However, even with these tax benefits, a surprisingly low number of British Columbians take full advantage of this savings vehicle. According to Statistics Canada, only 21% of British Columbians contributed to an RRSP in 2016.

Unfortunately, our high cost of living and competing financial demands can make it challenging to put money aside. But hopefully that won’t deter you from figuring out how to make the most of what you have.

The deadline to contribute to an RRSP for the 2023 tax year is February 29, 2024.

To help you get started, we sat down with one of our Vancity and Credential Securities wealth advisors John Vermeulen to put together this list of ways to make the most of your RRSP.

Vancity retirement
9 ways to make the most of your RRSP

1. To contribute or not to contribute

When deciding whether or not to contribute, consider the tax savings that will come from your RRSP contributions. Every dollar you contribute to an RRSP comes off your taxable income. So, for example, if you make $60,000 and contribute $5,000 of it to an RRSP, you’ll only be taxed on $55,000 – saving you $1,410 off your tax bill for 2023.

However, saving for retirement isn’t the top financial priority for everyone.

“There are times when you may need to let retirement planning take a backseat to more urgent financial issues like dealing with debt, saving for a mortgage and planning for your family,” says John.

Keep in mind that RRSPs aren’t just for retirement. The federal government allows you to make penalty-free withdrawals to buy your first home (with the Home Buyers’ Plan) or to finance your education (with the Lifelong Learning Plan), as long as you return the money to your account over a certain period of time. If you’re a first-time home buyer, you have the option to transfer your existing RRSP savings to a First Home Savings Account and make a tax-free withdrawal to purchase a home.

9 ways to make the most of your RRSP

2. Know how much you can contribute

For 2023 your annual RRSP contribution limit is 18% of the earned income you reported in the previous year, up to a maximum of $31,560.

You can find your exact RRSP contribution limit on your latest notice of assessment or reassessment, by logging into your Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) account online or by calling the CRA at 1-800-267-6999. Consider using the SecureKey Concierge service, which allows you to access your personal CRA account (along with 80 other Government of Canada websites) without having to keep track of yet another user ID and password.

The table below gives some examples of contribution limits for different levels of income.

2022 earned income 2023 RRSP contribution limit

And fortunately, it’s not a “use it or lose it” situation. If you don’t contribute the maximum allowable to your RRSP in any year, you can carry the unused portion forward indefinitely.

Keep in mind that if you contribute to a pension, you will likely receive a pension adjustment that will reduce your RRSP deduction limit for the following year.

9 ways to make the most of your RRSP

3. Know your marginal tax rate

Your marginal tax rate is the tax rate that will be applied to the next dollar you earn. It depends on which tax bracket you are earning in, for both federal and provincial taxes.

Let’s look at an example based on 2023 tax rates as listed in the table below.

Combined federal and British Columbia tax brackets and tax rates

Taxable income 2023Tax rate 2023
first $21,00615.00%
over $21,006 to $43,07020.06%
over $43,070 to $50,19722.70%
over $50,197 to $86,14128.20%
over $86,141 to $98,90131.00%
over $98,901 to $100,39232.79%
over $100,392 to $120,09438.29%
over $120,094 to $155,62540.70%
over $155,625 to $162,83244.08%
over $162,832 to $221,70846.18%


Say you earn $50,000 in taxable income in 2023:

  • The first $21,006 of that will be taxed at 15.00%: 
    $21,006 x 15.00% = $3,150.90 
  • The amount over $21,006 up to $43,070, which is $22,064, will be taxed at the higher rate of 20.06%: 
    $22,064 x 20.06% = $4,426.04 
  • The amount over $43,070, which is $6,390, will be taxed at the higher rate of 22.70%: 
    $6,390x 22.70% = $1,450.53 
  • Total tax: $9,027.47

By making RRSP contributions, you can reduce your taxable income in the higher tax bracket.

In this example, making an RRSP contribution of $6,390 would reduce your taxable income to $43,070, which means you wouldn’t have any income being taxed at the higher rate of 22.70%. You would save $1,450.53 off of your tax bill, which essentially translates to a 22.70% return on your RRSP contribution.

“If you’re making a large RRSP catch-up contribution, consider only claiming enough to reduce your taxable income in the top tax bracket,” says John. “You can carry forward the remaining deduction for greater tax savings in a future year against income that is taxed in the higher tax brackets.”

This RRSP savings calculator can help you figure out how tax savings your RRSP contribution would generate when both provincial and federal taxes are considered.

Vancity retirement

4. Make contributions regularly

A regular savings plan is one of the best moves you can make for your RRSP. It’s generally much easier to come up with $100 per month, rather than waiting until January or February to come up with $1,200.

By contributing more frequently, your money will begin working for you sooner thanks to compound growth. You can also benefit from dollar-cost averaging when you buy a fixed dollar amount of a particular investment on a regular schedule.

9 ways to make the most of your RRSP

5. Think about a spousal RRSP

Marriage can function as a great tax shelter. The idea behind a spousal RRSP is to equalize family income, which can lead to big tax savings.

As a couple, it’s a good idea to even out the amount in your RRSPs if there’s a big disparity. You don’t want one partner to have a much larger RRSP because they may get bumped up into a higher tax bracket when they start withdrawing, costing you more money in taxes.

But what about income splitting?

“Current income-splitting rules do allow money withdrawn from a RRIF to be split with a spouse if you are 65 or older,” explains John. But these rules could change, he cautions, pointing to the federal government’s family income splitting provisions that were introduced in 2015 and then cancelled the following year. “Using a spousal RRSP is still a prudent thing to do.”

If you are married or have a common-law partner, you can contribute to a spousal RRSP for your partner and claim the tax deduction yourself. However, your total contributions to your own plan and your partner’s can’t exceed your allowable maximum contribution.

6. Name a beneficiary

One of the advantages offered by RRSPs is your ability to name someone to receive your plan value after you’re gone. Naming a beneficiary may save your estate probate fees (i.e., the cost of the legal process to validate your last will and testament). And naming certain beneficiaries may even delay them or you paying tax on the plan, until withdrawals from it are made.

Review your RRSP beneficiary regularly to make sure it matches your current wishes.

9 ways to make the most of your RRSP

7. Consider an RRSP loan

If you’ve fallen behind in your RRSP contributions, you may want to consider an RRSP loan.

“The idea behind an RRSP loan is to borrow money to save money,” says John. “You take out a loan in order to make a large RRSP contribution, which will hopefully result in large tax savings that exceed the cost of the loan.”

While RRSP loans aren’t suitable for everyone, here are some examples of when they might be worth considering:

  • you recently turned 71 and want to top up your RRSP before the December 31 deadline to close or convert your RRSPs
  • you expect your taxable income to fall into a lower tax bracket next year and want to top up your RRSP while you can save more tax with your RRSP deduction
  • your RRSP loan interest rate is low
  • you can get a higher investment return by investing in one lump-sum in your RRSP, rather than investing gradually with smaller amounts throughout the year
  • you plan to use your tax refund to repay a debt, or will contribute it to your RRSP.
Tax refund

8. Invest your tax refund

It’s important to remember that a tax refund is not a windfall – it’s actually your own money coming back to you, so use it wisely.

Paying down debt is usually the first financial priority for most people. If your debt is handled, you may want to get a jump on your RRSP contributions. Here are 7 smart things to do with your tax refund.

9. Watch out for big refunds

If you get a sizeable refund every year, you might be getting too much tax deducted from your pay cheque.

“Ask your employer to make sure you’re contributing the right amount towards your tax deduction,” suggests John.

Then again, some folks don’t mind giving the government an interest-free loan because getting a lump sum at the end of the year allows them to save more easily than putting savings aside every month. Does that sound like you? If so, don’t sweat about changing your tax deductions – just make sure you put most of your tax refund to good use.

Need advice?

You can book a one-to-one planning appointment with one of our wealth management professionals at Vancity, to talk about options relating to your situation. They can also help advise you on the different types of investment products for RRSPs.

Not a Vancity member? Open an account today.

Disclaimer: Mutual funds, other securities and securities related financial planning services are offered through Credential Securities, a division of Credential Qtrade Securities Inc. Credential Securities is a registered mark owned by Avisa Wealth Inc. The information contained in this article was obtained from sources believed to be reliable; however, we cannot guarantee that it is accurate or complete. This material is for informational and financial, tax or similar matters. Using borrowed money to finance the purchase of securities involves greater risk than purchasing using cash resources only. If you borrow money to purchase securities, your responsibility to repay the loan and pay interest as required by its terms remains the same even if the value of the securities purchased declines. Please see our Terms of Use. 

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