TFSA vs RRSP: What’s the Difference?

By Jacqueline DeMarco · May 18, 2024 · 7 minute read

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TFSA vs RRSP: What’s the Difference?

Both TFSAs and RRSPs are accounts that provide Canadian consumers with a chance to save while enjoying investment earnings and unique tax benefits. While a TFSA acts as a more general savings account, an RRSP is used for retirement savings.

Saving is never a bad idea, so here you can learn the difference between these accounts and how they can play a role in securing your financial future.

Keep reading for a more detailed breakdown of a TFSA vs. RRSP so you can make the right financial move for your needs.

What Is the TFSA?

A Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) is a type of registered tax-advantaged savings account to help Canadians earn money on their savings — tax-free. TFSA accounts were created in 2009 by the Canadian government to encourage eligible citizens to contribute to this type of savings account.

Essentially, a TFSA holds qualified investments that can generate capital gains, interest, and dividends, and they’re tax-free. These accounts can be used to build an emergency fund, to save for a down payment on a home, or even to finance a dream vacation.

A TFSA can contain the following types of investments:

•   Cash

•   Stocks

•   Bonds

•   Mutual funds

It’s possible to withdraw the contributions and earnings generated from dividends, interest, and capital gains without having to pay any taxes. Accountholders don’t even have to report withdrawals as income when it’s time to file taxes.

There is a limit to how much someone can contribute to a TFSA on an annual basis. This limit is referred to as a contribution limit, and every year the Canadian government determines what the contribution limit for that year is. If someone doesn’t meet the contribution limit one year, their remaining allowed contributions can be made up for in following years.

To contribute to a TFSA, an individual must be at least 18 years of age and be a Canadian resident with a valid Social Insurance Number (SIN).

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What Is the RRSP?

A Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) is, as the name indicates, a type of savings plan specifically designed to help boost retirement savings. To obtain one, a Canadian citizen must register with the Canadian federal government for this financial product and can then start saving.

When someone contributes to an RRSP, their contributions are considered to be tax-advantaged. What this means: The funds they contribute to their RRSP are exempt from being taxed the year they make the contribution (which can reduce the total amount of taxes they need to pay for that year). On top of that, the investment income these contributions generate will grow tax-deferred. This means the account holder won’t pay any taxes on the earnings until they withdraw them.

Unlike a TFSA, there isn’t a minimum age requirement to open and contribute to an RRSP. That being said, certain financial institutions may require their customers to be the age of majority in order to contribute. It’s possible to contribute to an RRSP until the year the account holder turns 71 as long as they are a Canadian resident, earned an income, and filed a tax return.

Keep reading for a TFSA vs. RRSP comparison.

Similarities Between a TFSA and an RRSP

How does a TFSA vs. RRSP compare? There are a few similarities between TFSAs and RRSPs that are worth highlighting. Here are the main ways in which they are the same:

•   Only Canadians citizens can contribute

•   Contributions can help reach savings goals

•   Investments can be held in each account type

•   Both accounts offer tax advantages.

Differences Between a TFSA and RRSP

Next, let’s answer this question: What is the difference between an RRSP and a TFSA? Despite the fact that both an RRSP and a TFSA share similar goals (saving money and earning interest on it) and advantages (tax benefits), they have some key differences to be aware of.

•   Intended use. RRSPs are for retirement savings whereas TFSAs can be used to save for any purpose.

•   Age eligibility. To contribute to a TFSA one must be 18 years old, but there isn’t an age requirement to open an RRSP.

•   Contribution limit. The limits are usually set annually and are different for TFSAs and RRSPs. For 2024, the contribution limit for an RRSP is the lesser of either 18% of earned income reported on an individual’s tax return for the previous year or the contribution limit, which is currently $31,560 in US dollars. The limit for a TFSA, which also can vary annually, was most recently $7,000.

•   Taxation on withdrawals. While RRSP withdrawals are taxable (but subject to certain exceptions), TFSA withdrawals can be made at any time tax-free.

•   Taxation on contributions. Contributions made to a TFSA aren’t tax-deductible, but RRSP contributions are.

•   Plan maturity. An RRSP matures at the end of the calendar year that the account holder turns 71. TFSAs don’t have age limits for account maturity.

•   Spousal contributions. There is no form of spousal TFSA available, but someone can contribute to a spousal RRSP.

How Do I Choose Between a TFSA and RRSP?

Choosing between a TFSA and an RRSP depends on someone’s unique savings goals and tax preferences. That being said, if someone’s main goal is saving for retirement, they’ll likely find that an RRSP is the right fit for them. When someone contributes to an RRSP, they can defer paying taxes during their peak earning years. Once they retire and make withdrawals (which they will need to pay taxes on), they will ideally have a lower income (and be in a lower tax bracket) and smaller tax liabilities at that point in their life.

If someone wants to be able to use their savings for a variety of different purposes (perhaps including a medium-term goal like the amount needed for a down payment on a home), they may find that a TFSA offers them more flexibility.
That said, there’s no reason TFSA savings can’t be used for retirement later on. Contributing to a TFSA is a great option for someone who has already maxed out their RRSP contributions for the year, but who wants to continue saving and enjoying tax benefits.

Recommended: What Tax Bracket Do I Fall Under?

Can I Have Both a TFSA and RRSP?

It is indeed possible to have both an RRSP and TFSA and to contribute to them at the same time. Putting money into both of these financial vehicles can be a great way to save. There are no downsides associated with contributing to both an RRSP and TFSA at the same time if a person can afford to do so.

Can I Have Multiple RRSP and TFSA Accounts?

Yes, it’s possible to have more than one TFSA and RRSP open at the same time, but there’s no real benefit here. The same contribution limits apply.

That means that opening more than one version of the same account or plan only leads to having more accounts to manage and incurring more administration and management fees. Just as you don’t want to pay fees on your checking account and other bank accounts, you probably don’t want to burn through cash on fees here.

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Should I Prioritize One Over the Other?

Which type of account someone should prioritize depends on their savings goals. Their preferences regarding the unique tax advantages of each account may also come into play. That being said, if someone is focused on saving for retirement, they’ll likely want to make sure they max out their RRSP contributions first.

The Takeaway

Both RRSP and TFSA accounts are great ways for Canadian citizens to save for financial goals like retiring or financing a wedding. Each account has unique advantages and contribution limits. While an RRSP account is designed to help with stashing away cash for retirement, a TFSA account can be used to save for any type of financial need. Whether you choose one or both of these products, you’ll be on a path towards saving and helping to secure your financial future.

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Is it better to invest in TFSA or RRSP?

When it comes to TFSA vs. RRSP, there’s no right answer to whether investing in one is better than the other. Someone focused on saving for retirement may want to prioritize an RRSP, while someone who wants to save for other expenses (like a home or wedding) may find a TFSA more appealing.

Should I max out RRSP or TFSA first?

If someone is focused on saving for retirement, they may want to max out their RRSP first. That being said, this is a personal decision that depends on unique financial goals and tax preferences.

When should you contribute to RRSP vs TFSA?

Typically, the contribution deadline for RRSPs is around March 1st. A Canadian citizen can put funds in a TFSA at any point in a calendar year, and if they don’t max out their account, they will usually be able to contribute the remaining amount in the future.

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