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TFSA contribution confusion

by | Dec 9, 2015 | SELF-PUBLISHED

Should you max out the $10,000 contribution for 2015?

Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) sound simple. But they’re not. There’s an array of rules and regulations involved. One of the most common questions I’m asked is whether you would lose this year’s contribution opportunity forever if you don’t contribute. And this year, the issue is complicated even further by an increase in the contribution limit to $10,000 that the previous Conservative government enacted for 2015, which the new Trudeau Liberal government has rolled back starting next year.

First, there’s no irrevocable deadline for TFSA contributions. There are annual limits, of course, that apply to the calendar year ending December 31. But you do not have to contribute the annual maximum amount – or anything at all. Even if you do not contribute the max or miss a contribution for a year, the difference between the annual maximum contribution limit and the amount you contribute in any year is carried forward as additional “contribution room” indefinitely, which you may then add on to next year’s maximum contribution, until your allowable contribution room is used up.

From 2009 to 2012, the maximum contribution was set at $5,000. It was raised to $5,500 for 2013 and 2014. And it was raised again to a maximum $10,000 in 2015. So if you have not contributed to a TFSA since inception in 2009, you’d have $41,000 total contribution room in 2015. And you would be able to contribute that entire sum to a TFSA this year.

Contribution conundrum

The maximum TFSA contribution is available to everyone, regardless of your income or pension plan contributions or anything else. You only have to be over 18 and a have a valid Canadian Social Insurance Number. That’s it.

There’s no tax deduction for contributions as there is with other registered plans like RRSPs, but the whole beauty of the TFSA is that investment income generated within the plan – whether interest, dividends, or capital gains – is completely tax-free on withdrawal.

Until this year, the maximum contribution had been indexed to inflation, so from time to time, the amount had been increased. It was last increased in 2013, to $5,500 from $5,000. Although the previous government had cancelled indexation, the Liberal government has reinstated it.

Here’s how Canada Revenue Agency calculates your unused TFSA contribution room:

The amount, either positive or negative, at the end of a particular calendar year after 2008, determined by your unused TFSA contribution room at the end of the year preceding the particular year.

Plus: The total amount of all withdrawals made from your TFSA in the preceding calendar year, excluding a qualifying transfer or a specified distribution;

Plus: The TFSA dollar limit for the particular year.

Minus: The total of all TFSA contributions you made in the particular year, excluding a qualifying transfer or an exempt contribution. A “qualifying transfer” is essentially a direct transfer between your TFSAs if you have more than one plan. An exempt contribution is basically a contribution made during the rollover period after the death of a TFSA holder, from payments received from the deceased holder’s TFSA.

Overcontributions and withdrawals

Overcontributions during the year can be a problem, especially this year, with the increased limit. Excess contributions will be penalized by the CRA at 1% per month for any month that has an excess contribution. And this penalty applies regardless of when the excess contribution was made. So a tax penalty may be payable even if you withdraw the excess in the same month that you make the overcontribution.

Note that a withdrawal from your TFSA in any year does not increase the TFSA room until the following calendar year. Thus, if you are thinking of making a withdrawal close to year-end, make sure it is done by December 31, in order to have the withdrawal amount added back to the TFSA contribution room on January 1.

Contribution rollback for 2016

Should you contribute the maximum $10,000 for 2015? The new Liberal government rolled back the increased limit for 2016 and subsequent years, but left it in place for 2015. So it makes sense to max out the $10,000 contribution limit for 2015 if you can. Your deadline is Dec. 31. If you don’t make the maximum $10,000 contribution this year, you can carry forward any unused amount as contribution room into future years. Consider it a one-time “bonus” that puts you ahead of the game for future tax-free growth.

© 2015 by Robyn K. Thompson. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited. This article is for information only and is not intended as personal investment or financial advice.

© 2021 by Robyn K. Thompson. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited. This article is for information only and is not intended as personal investment or financial advice.

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