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Dale Jackson

Personal Finance Columnist, Payback Time


Canadians have spoken. Last week’s re-election of an almost identical Liberal minority government is a thumbs-up for Ottawa’s COVID response so far, and that means more spending until the coast is clear.

But as the bills come due it also makes the tax incentives most Canadian investors need to help get them to retirement more vulnerable to a revenue-hungry government.

During the campaign, the New Democratic Party - which continues to hold the balance of power - vowed to raise the taxable portion of capital gains when equities are sold to 75 per cent from 50 per cent.

While it might seem like a “tax the rich” policy from Canada’s left-leaning party, the right-leaning Conservatives raised the capital gains inclusion rate to 66.67 per cent from 50 per cent in 1988, and boosted it again to 75 per cent in 1990. It was a Liberal government that eventually returned it to 50 per cent.

It’s an easy political target considering it impacts wealthy and institutional investors more than the average investor who saves for retirement through registered retirement savings plans (RRSP) and tax-free savings accounts (TFSA), where the capital gains tax does not apply.

According to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), fewer than ten per cent of tax filers contribute the maximum allowable amount to their RRSP and TFSAs, which means there’s plenty of shelter space from any capital gains tax for the other 90 plus per cent.

If you trade equity investments in a non-registered account and are concerned the inclusion rate will be raised, it is possible to sell those investments now, pay the 50 per cent inclusion rate, and invest the cash in a registered account. Keep in mind any capital losses from the sale of equities can offset your capital gains tax bill, so you might want to sell your losers, too. 

The best registered home for that cash is a TFSA, where capital gains are never taxed.

You first need to ensure you have enough contribution room in your TFSA. For anyone who was 18 or older in 2009, the total contribution limit is currently $75,500. In 2021 it was raised by $6,000 and it is expected to be raised by at least another $6,000 in January.

Another option is to contribute the cash to your RRSP. Those contributions can be deducted from your current taxable income and can be spread out over several years. They can also grow tax-free in investments until you retire. 

There is a catch though; those contributions and any gains they generate are fully taxed when withdrawn. If your RRSP savings grow too much you will be forced to withdraw your money at a high marginal rate, and could even face Old Age Security claw backs if your income is too high. You can help avoid over-contributing to your RRSP by making TFSA contributions a priority and only withdrawing from your RRSP at a lower tax rate in retirement.

There are other registered investment accounts that provide a shelter for capital gains including a registered education savings plan (RESP) to help pay post-high school education costs for your kids, which is matched by a government grant.

A similar registered account exists to help pay costs associated with disabilities called the registered disability savings plan (RDSP). 

It’s important to note that one Liberal campaign promise included another registered investment account called the first home savings account (FHSA) to help first-time homebuyers save for a down payment. The intent is to allow Canadians who are under 40 years old to contribute up to $40,000 toward the purchase of a home with no tax on contributions or withdrawals. 

It’s basically the best of the RRSP and TFSA but it is only a campaign promise - at least for now.