The Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) is a versatile general-purpose investing account. Like RRSPs and RESPs, the TFSA is a registered account that provides tax-sheltered earnings within the account. An added benefit is that withdrawals from a TFSA are not subject to tax.
TFSA key features and rules
Any Canadian resident who is at least 18 years old and has a valid Canadian Social Insurance Number (SIN) can open a TFSA account.
Non-residents with a valid SIN can also open a TFSA, but contributions they make while they are a non-resident are subject to a 1 per cent tax for each month that contributions remain in the account.
Contributions to a TFSA are made with after-tax income. However, earnings within the account are not taxable, and you don't pay tax when you withdraw your money either.
Annual contribution limit
The TFSA annual contribution limit is reviewed annually by the federal government. Starting in 2021, the limit of $6,000 would remain the same, similar to the last 2 years.
Contribution room carry-forward
Unused contribution amounts can be carried forward and used in subsequent years.
If you have never contributed to a TFSA, and you were at least 18 years old in 2009, then as of 2020 you will have accumulated $69,500 of contribution room.
You can withdraw funds from your TFSA any time. Amounts withdrawn in a given year are added back to your contribution room for the next year — regardless of whether the amounts withdrawn are your original contribution or the earnings from your investments.
There is a penalty if you accidentally contribute more than your allowable limit. If that happens, a tax equal to 1 per cent of the highest excess TFSA amount in the month will be applied for each month that the excess remains in the account.
The TFSA is attractive to a wide range of Canadian investors in different circumstances because of these key advantages:
Tax-free earnings and withdrawals
Contributions are made from after-tax dollars. But once contributed, your money is completely sheltered from Canadian tax. Income, dividends and capital gains accrue in the account tax free. And your withdrawals are not treated as taxable income. No other registered plan offers equivalent tax advantages.
Since earnings and withdrawals are not included as income for tax purposes, they don't impact your eligibility for Old Age Security, or for any other income-tested federal benefits.
Everyone has the same contribution room. You don't need to have earned income in order to accumulate contribution room. So, if you are retired or not currently working, you can still contribute to a TFSA.
TFSA rules allow you to withdraw funds whenever you want, for any purpose. This flexibility makes the TFSA an extremely useful general-purpose account for a wide range of long- and short-term saving and investing goals. You can use a TFSA to grow your retirement nest egg or to save in order to start a business. You can also use a TFSA to build an emergency fund or save for a major purchase such as a home, new car or vacation.
No age limit on contributions
As long as you are eligible, you can contribute every year to your TFSA for as long as you like. And you can maintain your TFSA for as long as you like — there is no requirement to withdraw assets or collapse your account by a certain age. Making the TFSA a valuable complement to your RRSP or RRIF.
Investment choice is another key benefit of the TFSA. You can hold a wide range of eligible investments in your TFSA and benefit from an asset mix that is appropriate for your objectives, timeline and tolerance for risk.
Generally, the types of investments permitted in a TFSA are the same as those permitted in a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). These include:
- Securities such as stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) listed on a designated stock exchange
- Mutual funds
- Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs)
For more information about qualified investments, visit the TFSA section of the Canada Revenue Agency website.