By iA Private Wealth, January 23, 2023
Looking for something positive about soaring inflation? Given the rising cost of many goods and services, the Canadian government has raised the 2023 contribution limit for the Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) to $6,500, an increase of $500 from 2022. That’s good news for people who can contribute the maximum amount this year, and it may even benefit those who can’t (more about that later).
How does the TFSA work?
In 2009, the TFSA was introduced as another tax-advantaged way for Canadians to save for the future, joining established programs like the Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP).
While both savings vehicles are valuable, there’s a big difference between them. RRSP contributions are made with “pre-tax dollars” because you deduct the amount from your taxable income. Investment growth in the RRSP is tax deferred until you start withdrawing from the account. TFSA contributions are made with “after-tax” dollars with no deduction on your income tax return. However, investment growth isn’t taxed, nor are any withdrawals you make from your TFSA.
Here's another great feature of TFSAs: since income earned in the account is tax-free, it won’t affect eligibility for income-tested benefits like Old Age Security, Employment Insurance, the Canada Child Benefit and credits related to HST/GST.
If you’re a Canadian aged 18 or older with a valid Social Insurance Number, you can open a TFSA at a qualifying financial institution and start contributing. The federal government sets the annual contribution limit based on several factors, including the rate of inflation. If you don’t contribute the maximum amount in a given year, you may accumulate contribution room for future years.
That’s why, as mentioned above, you can benefit even if you don’t contribute the maximum in 2023. TFSA contribution room is currently $88,000 (i.e., the amount available if no contributions were made from 2009 to 2023). Let’s say you managed to contribute $63,000 to your TFSA over the years. If you have the money available this year, you can contribute $25,000 ($88,000 – $63,000) to reach the limit, or chip away at your contribution room in the years to come.
Just be sure you don’t exceed the contribution limit in any given year, because over-contributions face a penalty of 1% per month. For instance, if you contributed $8,500 in 2023, that’s $2,000 above the limit. You’ll be penalized $20 per month for every month the over-contribution remains in your account. Paying this tax defeats the purpose of a tax-free account, so keep track of your contribution amounts each year.
Also note you can withdraw from your TFSA without tax consequences, and may recontribute the withdrawn funds to preserve your total allowable contribution amount. The only stipulation is that you cannot recontribute in the same calendar year of the withdrawal.
What’s the purpose of a TFSA?
Ideally, you’d allow your contributions to grow in value over time, and then make use of your savings when you need cash flow in retirement. However, there are also shorter-term uses for a TFSA. You could use your account as a tax-efficient way to save for a vacation, auto purchase, down payment for a home or another financial goal. When you need the funds you can withdraw them tax-free and still have the option to recontribute the withdrawn amount in future years.
How should you invest in a TFSA?
There’s no right answer since it depends on your unique circumstances, such as time horizon, risk tolerance and financial objectives. Like the RRSP, many different investments can go into a TFSA, from stocks and bonds to mutual funds, ETFs and more. Work with your Investment Advisor to create a suitable approach to TFSAs that can meet your short-term and long-term needs. For all the reasons listed above, the TFSA is a powerful tax-free investment account, so consider making the most of it for your portfolio.This article is a general discussion of certain issues intended as general information only and should not be relied upon as tax or legal advice. Please obtain independent professional advice, in the context of your particular circumstances. iA Private Wealth Inc. is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada. iA Private Wealth is a trademark and business name under which iA Private Wealth Inc. operates.