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Top 7 things that physicians need to know about RRSPs

A young woman smiling while writing in a note pad.

Did you know that the RRSP exists because of Canadian physicians? (This you don’t need to know — it’s just good to know.)

Since most physicians are self-employed and without a pension plan, they have to plan ahead to ensure they can retire comfortably. More than 60 years ago, the Canadian Medical Association realized that Canadian physicians needed some help and lobbied the government for a tax-effective solution for saving for retirement — and the registered retirement savings plan, or RRSP, was born.

Since then, the RRSP has become an essential account for many Canadians. Here are some practical things you need to know about RRSPs.

  1. The RRSP contribution deadline

If you want to deduct your annual RRSP contribution on your 2020 income tax return, the last day to contribute is Monday, March 1, 2021. There are no exceptions. Most financial institutions, including MD Financial Management, have extended hours at the end of RRSP season, but it’s best not to wait until the last minute.

  1. How to create RRSP contribution room if you’re incorporated

If you have a medical professional corporation, you’ll need to pay yourself a salary to get the RRSP contribution room. Dividends do not generate RRSP contribution room. Your accountant and financial advisor can help you figure out how much to pay yourself.

  1. The maximum amount you’re allowed to contribute

This depends on your earned income. To find out how much you can contribute, check your online Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) account or the notice of assessment you received from the CRA after filing your 2019 tax return.

Most Canadians don’t contribute the maximum annual amount to their RRSPs. The median contribution hovers around $3,000. The good thing is that if you don’t contribute your maximum amount, the “unused contribution room” carries forward indefinitely.

  1. What your contribution gives you in tax savings

The higher your tax bracket, the more your RRSP contribution reduces your tax owing. In this fictitious example, let’s say Dr. Arthurs, an anesthesiologist in Ontario, works part-time and earns employment income of $100,000 a year. When she contributes $10,000 to her RRSP, her taxes will be reduced by approximately $3,800.

Her friend Dr. Kinloch, also in Ontario, earns $200,000 of employment income. She will get approximately $4,800 in tax savings when she contributes the same $10,000.

Source: Ernst & Young 2020 RRSP savings calculator. Note: For this example, we’ve assumed that both physicians work in Ontario. The numbers have been rounded.

Whatever your RRSP contribution generates in tax savings, you end up with more money to contribute to your RRSP in a future year, resulting in a kind of snowball effect.

  1. A spousal RRSP can reduce household taxes

If you’re the higher earner in your household, you can contribute to a spousal RRSP and claim the deduction on your tax return. If you contribute to a spousal RRSP and deduct the amount from your taxable income, the tax savings will be greater than if your spouse makes the same contribution and deducts it from his/her (lower) taxable income.

(Note: You can still contribute only up to the maximum of your own RRSP contribution room when contributing to both your RRSP and a spousal RRSP.)

When it comes to planning for income splitting in retirement, you have two ways to consider how best to save for, and report, your pension income. You can use a spousal RRSP, or you and your spouse can choose to split your pension income (including income from a registered retirement income fund). This allows the higher income earner to move some of their pension income from their own, higher tax bracket to their spouse’s lower tax bracket. 

  1. If you borrow from your RRSP, you’ll have to pay it back

You can withdraw money from your RRSP to take advantage of the Home Buyers’ Plan (up to $35,000 per person or $70,000 per couple). But you have to pay it back over the next 15 years. Because you’re merely putting the money back into your RRSP, you won’t get a tax deduction as you would with a regular RRSP contribution. If you don’t put the money back in your RRSP, 1/15 of the amount is added to your income each year and you’ll have to pay tax on that.

  1. A spouse or dependant is a wise choice of RRSP beneficiary

Who will you leave your RRSP to when you die? Here’s an important fact: If you name your spouse, common-law partner, financially dependent child or grandchild, or disabled financially dependent child or grandchild as the beneficiary, you can roll it over to their RRSP tax-free.

Note: If your financially dependent child or grandchild is not disabled, then an annuity to age 18 must be purchased with the proceeds of your RRSP. Otherwise, the fair market value of your entire RRSP is included as income on your final tax return after you die, where it could be taxed at 50% or more.

In Quebec, you cannot name beneficiaries on RRSP applications. This has to be addressed in your will.

This past year has been different, and your ideal RRSP strategy could look very different too. Don’t settle for generic financial planning advice meant for just anyone. Thoughtful planning and physician-focused advice from MD Financial Management can help you save more and rest easier.

To best support your financial goals, you need a plan that considers the intricacies of your career in medicine, your personal circumstances, and the current environment. Contact an MD Advisor* and discover the difference physician-focused advice can make.

* 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.