This post is a sponsored post written by Sun Life Financial. See my disclosure policy here.

Sometimes, you CAN take money out of your RRSP without penalty. But you have to pay your RRSP back – or pay the tax.

Sometimes, you CAN take money out of your RRSP without penalty. But you have to pay your RRSP back – or pay the tax.

Are you looking at a major expense you didn’t see coming? Short of available cash? Perhaps you’re thinking about tapping your registered retirement savings plan (RRSP). It’s your money, after all, so why not?

Here are three good reasons why not.

1. You’ll owe tax

The first is the tax bill. Since you used pre-tax income when you put money in your RRSP, you’ll have to pay tax when you take it out. And while there’s no tax on investment growth inside your RRSP, you’re taxed when it comes out. RRSPs make sense because you’ll typically cash them in after you retire. That’s when your income and your tax bracket will likely be lower. You’ll still pay tax, but you’ll pay less. If you take the money now, while you’re working, you’ll face more in taxes.

2. You’ll miss out on investment growth

The second reason is lost investment growth. Every dollar you take from your RRSP is a dollar less to build up through compounding. So that little nibble from your plan today could mean a big bite missing from your savings come retirement.

3. You’ll use up contribution room

And the third reason: When you take money from your RRSP, putting it back generally uses up your contribution room. What’s contribution room?  Each year you can put as much as 18% of your earned income from the previous year into your RRSP, up to an annual maximum. The difference between your limit and what you actually put in your RRSP is the unused contribution room. You can carry that forward to use another year. Unused contribution room plus your annual maximum becomes your total contribution room. But whatever you put in your RRSP – replacing a temporary withdrawal or making a brand-new contribution – can use up contribution room. Let’s say you take $5,000 out of your RRSP this year and plan to pay your RRSP back next year. That repayment will reduce your contribution room by $5,000.

There are two ways to avoid paying tax on RRSP withdrawals, without using up contribution room:

  1. Use your RRSP to help buy your first home, or
  2. Use it to go back to school.

What’s the RRSP Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP)?

Are you a first-time homebuyer living in Canada? If so, you can borrow up to $35,000 from your RRSP to put towards a down payment. If you and your spouse are buying together, that’s $70,000 you could use for your home.

The HBP lets you take out the money tax-free. But there’s a catch: You have to pay it back in equal installments over 15 years. Any year you don’t pay the full installment, you have to pay income tax on the outstanding balance. You’ll also lose the chance for that money to grow within your RRSP.

Thinking of using the HBP? When you’re crunching the numbers, be sure to include the RRSP repayments along with your mortgage payments.

What’s the Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP)?

This is another way to take tax-free money from your RRSP:

  • Take out up to $10,000 a year, for a total of $20,000.
  • You can spread those withdrawals over a maximum of four years.
  • Use that money for full-time education or training for yourself, your spouse or partner. 
  • As with the HBP, you need to repay your RRSP or pay income tax on your withdrawal.
  • With the LLP, you have 10 years to repay your RRSP in equal installments.

What about the tax-free savings account (TFSA)?

You might need money for anything at all – not only buying a home or going to school. An option is your TFSA. You don’t pay tax on TFSA withdrawals for any purpose. You’ll still lose potential investment growth while your money is out of the account. But your contribution limit will grow back. Whatever you take out gets added to what you can put in the following year. You can pay your TFSA back according to your own schedule.

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