Getting a tax refund is one of the main motivators for contributing to RRSPs. However, there are two main benefits of RRSPs and the tax refund is not one of them.
The benefits of RRSPs are:
- Tax-free growth (same as the TFSA).
- Tax gain or loss depending on your post-retirement tax bracket when you withdraw vs. your tax bracket now when you contribute.
Tax-free growth? Isn’t it tax-deferred growth?
A simple, but dramatic example will clarify this. Let’s say you contribute $10,000 to your RRSP, your investment doubles in one year and then you withdraw it. Assume you are in a 40% tax bracket both years.
Invested $ 6,000 ($10,000 less the $4,000 tax refund)
Withdrew $12,000 ($20,000 RRSP less $8,000 in tax)
Gain 100% You doubled your money tax free.
Note that if you had invested the $6,000 in a TFSA and doubled it to $12,000, you would have been in the identical situation.
What about CRA? CRA actually invests along with you. They charge you “interest” on the tax refund equal to your rate of return on your RRSP, so they make the same return you do.
In the example, CRA gave you a refund of $4,000 and then charged you $8,000 in tax the following year. So CRA doubled its money, just like you did.
In addition to the tax-free growth, you have a significant gain if your tax bracket is lower after you retire compared to your tax bracket now. That often happens because your retirement income will probably be lower than your income now. If your post-retirement tax bracket is higher, however, perhaps because of clawbacks on government benefits, then you lose part of the benefit of the tax-free growth.
Note that the tax refund itself is not one of the two benefits of RRSPs. Of course, there are unique cases where you may need the tax refund for a specific purpose (such as an RESP contribution for your smart kids that you cannot otherwise afford).
However, the tax refund itself is not a benefit. You have to pay it back plus interest (at the rate of return of your RRSP).
In short, the benefit to you of investing in your RRSP is tax-free growth of your investment, plus or minus a gain or loss on you tax brackets now vs. after you retire.