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How I Plan to Withdraw from my RRSP/TFSA to Fund Early Retirement

withdrawing from retirement accounts

I’ve been writing about money on MDJ for a long time – a very long time.  During this tenure, most of my pieces have been about the accumulation of money and wealth.

Articles like:

As I get older and closer to early retirement, my mind has started to shift from the accumulation of wealth to how I will spend the money and where it will come from.

This is actually a fairly recent mental shift that has gained momentum with a reader comment in a recent financial freedom update.

First great job! Let’s assume you have reached your goal and quit your job, living on your dividend streams only. How would you approach this? Would you just harvest the dividend from all the accounts? Or?

I wonder if there is a optimal way of thinking about it considering taxes, the decisions you have to make as you get to 60 yrs old (CPP, AOS, …), and associated potential clawbacks.

On the topic of where the money will come from, for us, we have built our wealth around investments in the public markets.  A significant amount in tax-efficient dividend stocks, and the rest in globally indexed ETFs.

When it comes time to withdraw from my portfolio, for us, the question is really how to most efficiently withdraw from the portfolio to not only fund our lifestyle but also to leave something to the estate.  Perhaps a large sum to charity, and of course, some to my kids and future grandkids.  Buffett puts it best along the lines of: “You should leave your children enough so they can do anything, but not enough so they can do nothing.” For others, they want to die with $0 in their bank accounts – to each their own!

Our Investment Accounts

As discussed in our financial freedom updates, we have the following accounts:

  • RRSP x 2 
  • TFSA x 2
  • Non-registered accounts x 2
  • Corporate investment account x 1
  • Small defined benefit pension accessible at age 60

Figuring out the most efficient withdrawal strategy depends on the situation and really requires financial planning software to get the optimal answer.  Here are some retirement calculators that may give you a start

Without having an advanced piece of software, or the patience to write my own Excel spreadsheet, I did some digging around the web for some solid rules of thumb.  With that, I came across a thread on The Financial Webring Forum that contains useful information about retirement accounts and withdrawals.

Within that thread, there are readers that have access to financial planning software and have run a number of common retirement scenarios leading to some general conclusions.

Some general rules of thumb for retirement account withdrawals

  • Keep tax-sheltered accounts as long as possible but watch out for the old age security (OAS) threshold which is $77,580 for 2019.  After that income, OAS will be reduced by 15% for every dollar until it’s eliminated at income $125,696.  So ideally you want to keep your retirement income under $77,580 (per spouse).  If you have a spouse, the ideal scenario is to keep both incomes just under the first tax bracket.  In Ontario that would be $43,906, and in NL that would be $37,591.  You can see tax brackets from other provinces here.  Having a tax-efficient family income of $80k would make for a comfortable retirement for most families.
  • Withdrawing from RRSPs early sometimes makes sense.  Even though the accepted rule of thumb is to keep the RRSP as long as possible (up until Dec 31 on the year you turn 71 when you are forced to convert to an RRIF), there are a number of situations that drawing down the RRSP early has merit.  For example, say your spouse has a large RRSP balance, has health issues, and unfortunately passes away early.  In that scenario, the RRSP gets transferred to you tax-free.  This is great, but when you reach 71 and forced to convert the RRSP to an RRIF, you’ll be required to withdraw 5.4% of the account balance in the first year and increasing after that.  If you have a $1M total RRSP, that would be $54,000 in the first year of RRIF withdrawals and increasing annually.  When you add CPP/OAS on top of your RRSP income, you’ll likely start seeing OAS clawback which is essentially an additional 15% tax.  Not only that, when the second spouse passes away, the large RRSP balance will likely face the highest marginal tax rate.  One strategy could be to retire a bit early, live on RRSP withdrawals, leave all other accounts intact to grow (or withdraw enough in addition to RRSP to fund lifestyle), all while delaying OAS/CPP for one or both spouses depending on health (up until 70).  This would result in drawing down the RRSP balance to reduce forced taxable withdrawals at 71 which would hopefully be enough to mitigate OAS clawbacks.  All this while letting the TFSAs continue to compound, and getting an increased CPP/OAS payout (the longer you delay CPP/OAS, the higher the payout).
  • Income split as much as possible. If you have a spouse, the goal is to keep incomes as equal as possible to maximize income and minimize taxes.  You’ll have to wait until you turn 65 for the RRIF withdrawals to be eligible for income splitting with a spouse for tax purposes, and to be eligible for the $2,000 pension tax credit. Defined Benefit Pensions can also be split with a spouse for tax purposes – this can be a huge advantage for families where one spouse is a government employee.  Here are some additional income splitting ideas.

Funding Early Retirement

Keeping those rules of thumb in mind, they will apply to every one of you in a different way.  To some, they will have no issues with the OAS clawback threshold, to others, especially those with full defined benefit pensions or large RRSPs/non-registered accounts, taxation can potentially be reduced with some proper planning.

But how does this apply for someone who plans on retiring early? Let’s take a look at my personal example!

From our family’s perspective, it looks like my wife and I may reach financial independence in our early 40’s. We tend to keep our expenses fairly low which has been between $52k – $54k per year, all while raising two kids.  I like to think that we live a balanced albeit comfortable life, which may not sound possible on $50k/year, but having no debt payments makes all the difference.

As you may know, we plan on living off dividends – for the most part.  While our total dividends are very close to reaching the $52k-$54k mark, some of the dividends are from registered accounts.  Some of which I would rather not touch, like our TFSA’s.

Here is a summary:

March(Q1) 2019 Dividend Income Update

 Account Dividends/year Yield
SM Portfolio $7,500 3.96%
 TFSA 1 $3,500 4.54%
 TFSA 2 $3,600 5.03%
 Non-Registered $3,300 4.42%
 Corporate Portfolio $20,600 3.73%
 RRSP 1 $7,000 2.75%
 RRSP 2 $2,700 2.37%
  • Total Invested: $1,332,522
  • Total Yield: 3.62%
  • Total Dividends: $48,200/year (+4.56%)

Imagining that we had enough to retire today, how would we draw down our portfolios?  Being too young for seniors benefits (we both turn 40 this year), early retirement would have to be 100% funded by our own means. 

To fund early retirement, my strategy would be the following:

  • Use dividends from non-registered accounts and corporate portfolio first.  Using dividends would allow for tax-efficient income, especially for early retirees.  This may get to be a challenge when you approach OAS time as dividends are grossed up by 38%.  So if you make $40k in taxable eligible dividends, it will look like $55k for income testing against OAS.  Something to be mindful of if you are approaching senior status.  But being someone with 20+ years until senior status, the tax efficiency of dividends are welcome and realistically, it’s hard to predict old age security benefits 20 years from now.  
  • Use RRSP’s for the difference. While dividends from with non-registered sources are not quite enough for our expenses (at the moment), I would top-up our income by drawing down the RRSP’s. While it wouldn’t deplete the RRSPs, it would help keep it to a more manageable level when we reach forced RRIF withdrawals age. 
  • Leave TFSA’s in-tact.  Combining non-registered accounts and RRSPs for spending will give us a lot of flexibility with the TFSAs.  We could keep the TFSAs compounding over the years OR simply spend it.  It will likely be a mix of the two.  This can potentially be used as a future slush fund for luxuries such as travel, vehicles (likely one vehicle household by that point), and/or to leave to the estate/charity.  Thankfully, TFSA withdrawals are not income tested for seniors benefits (as of right now!).
  • Delay OAS and/or CPP – With enough income to live on via dividends and drawing down on our RRSPs, we may delay OAS and/or CPP.  This would depend on our health and the size of our RRSP when we reach senior status.

Realistically though, if we were to “retire” today, it would be more of a shift from full-time work to part-time (or entrepreneurial) work.  So I would likely be drawing an income from somewhere.  I imagine our family income coming from:

  • Non-registered and corporate dividends
  • Part-time (entrepreneurial) work
  • Potentially RRSPs to top up for travel and other large capital costs

Further Efficiency Needed

Going through this process has made me realize that there is an RRSP imbalance between me and the boss.  If we keep going on this path, this will result in lopsided RRSP withdrawal taxation up until the age of 65 where we will be able to split the withdrawals (must be converted to RRIF first). 

To mitigate this, I plan on opening a spousal RRSP (likely another account with Questrade) to help even out the account balances over the coming years.  After all, the goal is to balance retirement income between spouses to minimize taxes while maximizing income.

Final Thoughts

Phewf – there sure is a lot of information in this post!  There a number of factors to consider when it comes to generating retirement income.  If you have some time before your retirement years, then some planning can go a long way to reduce taxation during your golden years.  If you are lucky (or unlucky?) enough to have a spouse during that time, there are some strategies that can be employed as mentioned above.  In the big picture though, a tax problem is a nice problem to have during retirement!

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26 Comments

  1. Chrissy on April 22, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    This is similar to what we have planned for early retirement funding (minus the dividend stocks as we’re 100% indexers!)

    I do have a hard time wrapping my head around how to deal when the RRSPs though: leave to grow, and risk a huge tax bill later, or withdraw slowly while in early retirement, but lose the compounding in the tax shelter?

    Not an easy decision as there are many factors involved. :(

    • FT on April 22, 2019 at 2:37 pm

      Chrissy, from my research, leaving them intact and paying a big tax bill later, or slowly melting them down works out to be a wash (perhaps slightly in favour of keeping the RRSP). The advantage of the meltdown option is in the scenario of a large RRSP balance and when one or both spouses pass away early, the estate will face large RRSP taxes. Melting down, in this case, will result in lower overall taxes.

      • Grant on August 5, 2019 at 10:52 am

        Interesting. Does that include paying the extra 15% tax by incurring OAS clawback? In other words, do you allow the RRSP to grow large enough to cause OAS clawback, or are you saying, allow it to grow but not to the point of triggering OAS clawback? Could you provide links to any articles you name across with your research? Thanks!

    • DM on April 24, 2019 at 4:59 pm

      Good book on the “decumulation” phase:

      * https://www.morneaushepell.com/ca-en/insights/retirement-income-life

      One suggestion: take money out of RRSP early (perhaps putting some in TFSA) and delay CPP. Remember: CPP is for-life, so even if you live to 100 and run out of everything else you’ll still have it (and OAS). And by delaying it you’ll get bigger cheques (42% more if taken at 70). And it’s indexed to inflation.

      The author (an actuary) argues that it is better to use up all the more risky money (RRSP in the market) first and have the generally safer CPP to deal with “longevity risk”.

      • FT on April 25, 2019 at 9:15 am

        Does the book talk about different situations? Did it work out the numbers in terms of estate value and net income during retirement?

  2. Tawcan on April 22, 2019 at 2:05 pm

    That’s roughly inline with our plans as well. I did a more comprehensive article with some numbers a few months ago – https://www.tawcan.com/revisit-our-financial-independence-assumptions/

    I do think withdrawing from RRSP early on makes sense. If the withdrawal amount is relatively small, you should be able to recover from the withholding tax. I simply don’t like the idea of mandatory withdrawal target in RRIF.

    To be efficient, it makes sense to do as income splitting as possible by having similar amount of RRSP and taxable accounts. It’s easier said than done though.

    • FT on April 22, 2019 at 2:38 pm

      Thanks for this Tawcan. I agree a bit of planning with income splitting will make a big difference.

  3. Gruff403 (Semi retired at 56) on April 23, 2019 at 11:27 am

    Great article. What we are doing is keeping one RRIF intact and adding the dividends to cash flow. The second RRIF is being wound down over a 6-8 year period and enjoyed. Because I have a DBPP there was not huge RRSP contribution room so RRIF are small. By then CPP and OAS (hopefully) become part of the equation. Pension income can be split at any age and that makes a huge difference. Also looking at topping up to the bottom of tax bracket and moving RRIF money into TFSA. Key is to have several sources of income. Ours will eventually be pension, rrif, unregistered account dividends, house, CPP and OAS.

    • FT on April 23, 2019 at 11:47 am

      Gruff, sounds like you have a good plan to minimize taxes during retirement. Yes, the ability to split pension income makes a big difference. One thing to note is that CPP is typically already included in your DBPP payouts.

      All the best!

      • Gruff403 (Semi retired at 56) on April 24, 2019 at 10:42 am

        Typically yes but I had the option to decline the CPP advance. Means I get a little less DB pension now and a lot more CPP pension later.

        • FT on April 24, 2019 at 1:22 pm

          Good call Gruff, thanks for the update.

  4. Erick on April 23, 2019 at 11:08 pm

    “You can convert your RRSP to an RRIF as early as age 55 which will allow you to claim the pension tax credit.”

    I don’t think that’s accurate, except in death-related circumstances, based on CRA’s chart for those under 65:

    https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/individuals/topics/about-your-tax-return/tax-return/completing-a-tax-return/deductions-credits-expenses/line-314-pension-income-amount/you-claim-pension-income-amount-3.html

    • FT on April 24, 2019 at 9:07 am

      Good pickup! My mistake, will fix.

      • beth on April 27, 2019 at 11:45 am

        I would love to see something written in plain English about this tax benefit of an early conversion to a RRIF.

        • FT on April 28, 2019 at 11:30 am

          Hey Beth! The tax benefits start at age 65. At that age, you can convert a “portion” of your RRSP to an RRIF to maximize the pension tax credit while controlling your income. At that age, you can also start income splitting the RRIF income.

  5. DM on April 24, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    With regards to RRIF withdrawals, at the time of RRSP-to-RRIF conversion, you can decide whether the withdrawal age should be based on your own age or that of a spouse / common-law partner. So if your special someone is younger than you, then you may not be forced to take out as much as you think.

    This is one-shot decision though AFAICT: it can only be done at the initial set up of the RRIF. (Though you can have multiple RRSP/RRIF accounts presumably.)

    • FT on April 25, 2019 at 9:01 am

      Thanks for the tip DM!

    • Grant on August 5, 2019 at 10:59 am

      DM, if you do elect to use your younger spouse’s age, and have more than one RRSP account, can you that with only some of the accounts or do you have to apply the decision to all accounts? I think you have to do it for all accounts, no?

  6. Cristian on April 30, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    Early retirement funded with dividends can be tricky.
    The $52000 you need now will become $70,000 in 10 years and $94,000 in 20 years.
    Are your dividend-paying stocks or ETFs going to provide that amount? Or are you going to have to start selling to cover the difference?…
    And if you are going to have to start selling, how many years is it going to be before you deplete your capital?
    I feel it’s always good to have at least 50% in excess of the amount needed to live on currently. Life can be full of surprises.

    • FT on May 1, 2019 at 12:53 pm

      Thanks for the comment Cristian. I’m not too concerned with inflation as dividend growth should more than cover it. However, as a conservative guy myself, I can see where you are coming from. Also note that in 20 years, we’ll have access to government seniors programs which will help offset required dividends from the portfolio. At this point, the question is if we will have TOO MUCH dividends that will trigger clawbacks (due to gross up). Will be running some numbers through a reputable calculator shortly and report back.

  7. Mandy on April 30, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    Retiring at 50 and using RRSP and TFSA efficiently ?

    Will hit 50 soon, husband 60 soon, house paid, no debts, would like approx $40,000/year

    Looking to use a good chunk of my RRSP between 50-55

    When I turn 55, my husband turns 65 and should get Max OAS/GIS, I will have little income and want to make up the difference using TFSA withdrawals from 55-65

    At 65, my company pension or LIF/LRIF will start, still will get husbands OAS and will have non-registered saving to use until age 70

    At age 70 will have my delayed CPP/OAS, my LIF, my husbands OAS, whatever balance I have in RRSP for RRIF, balance of non-registered investments.

    Obviously, trying to avoid any clawbacks and trying to stay in lowest tax bracket possible when needed.

    Thoughts ?

    • FT on May 1, 2019 at 12:55 pm

      Hi Mandy, sounds like you have a plan. Does your spouse have an RRSP? At 65, your husband can convert at least a portion of his RRSP to an RRIF which would make it eligible for pension splitting (along with the pension tax credit). The goal is to have income as equal as possible during retirement to minimize taxes. Also, does your husband have life insurance? That would help reduce risk if he were to pass away.

      • Mandy on May 1, 2019 at 3:58 pm

        Thanks for the quick reply :)

        He currently does not have an RRSP, but their is room and time left for him to get one. At his age 65, won’t having RRIF income start clawing back his OAS/GIS income ?

        Yes he has life insurance to cover me for his lost pension income, just in case.

        • FT on May 2, 2019 at 11:22 am

          Is your husband working right now? If he is plannig on utilizing GIS in retirement, then contributing to an RRSP may not make sense. In his case, any savings should go towards a TFSA.

  8. Dividend Earner on May 4, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing. That’s something I have been thinking a little as well.

    One of my thoughts right now is to have 2 years in cash (or bonds or GIC) in order to not run any risks and let the dividend income fill and replace what I am using for the current year.

    What is your thinking on it?

    • FT on May 4, 2019 at 2:09 pm

      2 years in cash would be a conservative move, but doesn’t hurt to have a little cushion in case large unexpected expenses come up! Personally I would be comfortable with about 1x-1.5x annual expenses in cash.

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