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Incorporated physicians and passive income rules: The impact of RRSPs

           A doctor taking notes in front of a laptop.

If you incorporated your medical practice, you probably did so to reduce taxes and save more than you could with registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) and tax-free savings accounts alone. 

Many incorporated physicians use a combination of options to save for retirement. So the question is how best to allocate your funds, and what portion to invest through your corporation.

One major consideration is how you’re affected by the passive income rules, which took effect January 1, 2019. We will outline how these rules increase the relative value of RRSPs.

Let’s review the basics

Your practice income is earned by your corporation. You decide how best to compensate yourself, with either salary or dividends. The net practice income (after deducting any salary) earned by the corporation is taxed at the low small business tax rate, rather than your personal tax rate.

By being incorporated, you can cut annual taxes by as much as 75% on up to $500,000 of your practice income (the limit for the small business tax rate). The money you save on taxes can be invested through your corporation. Any earnings from that investment — interest, dividends, capital gains — are called passive income. 

Although earning income on investments is usually welcomed, it’s important to remember that passive income in a corporation is taxed at higher rates than your practice income. What’s more, as of 2019, passive income can now limit your access to the low tax rate on your practice income.

Here’s a formula to calculate how much passive income you can have before your access to the small business tax rate is reduced:

$150,000 minus your net professional income divided by 5 equals passive income allowed before impact

For example, if your corporation has $350,000 of practice income (before paying you — more on that below), passive income must stay below $80,000 ($150,000 – [$350,000 / 5]) to avoid a higher tax rate on your practice income.

If your corporation has more than $500,000 in net professional income, then your allowed passive income drops to $50,000.

How RRSPs help mitigate the passive income rules

If you are affected by the passive income limits, paying yourself salary and contributing to your RRSP can help mitigate the impact.

Let’s look at how this works. A salary (unlike dividends) creates RRSP contribution room for you. You can then use your RRSP as a savings vehicle — one where the investments grow tax-deferred until it’s time to withdraw. This way, the portion of your investments that create passive income goes down, while your total investments remain the same or even go up.

What’s more, you can contribute to a spousal RRSP, which is a great way to split income with a lower-income spouse and further reduce taxes.

Another benefit of paying yourself a salary is it reduces the corporation’s net practice income. Let’s return to the passive income formula and our example above: if you paid yourself a $150,000 salary, the corporation’s net practice income would be reduced to $200,000 (from $350,000 above).

This would increase your passive income threshold to $110,000 ($150,000 – [$200,000 / 5]). In other words, you could have up to $110,000 in passive income and still be entitled to the small business tax rate on your $200,000 in practice income.

So, if you are already contributing to RRSPs, continuing to do so is probably the right thing to do. If you aren’t, it may be worth re-evaluating your strategies.

Your accountant is in the best position to advise you on how much salary you should take from your practice income. Your MD Advisor* can help you determine how to manage your corporation’s passive income and strike the right balance between corporate investments and RRSPs.

If you have any questions about the effect of the passive income rules on your current financial plan, please contact your MD Advisor.

*MD Advisor refers to an MD Management Limited Financial Consultant or Investment Advisor (in Quebec), or an MD Private Investment Counsel Portfolio Manager.

The above information should not be construed as offering specific financial, investment, foreign or domestic taxation, legal, accounting or similar professional advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of independent tax, accounting or legal professionals.