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Signs advertising RRSPs and other investments in downtown Toronto.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Canadians who are stressed about the annual RRSP deadline are not alone according to a new study that found 60 per cent of respondents feel anxious about coming up with the money for their retirement savings.

And almost half of respondents to the survey – 49 per cent – who make an annual RRSP contribution do so in a lump sum, said the Bank of Montreal study released Wednesday.

The uneasiness around the March 1 deadline is understandable when Canadians have to deal with other financial priorities, said Marlena Pospiech, senior manager BMO Wealth Planning Group.

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"If they haven't saved regularly it could be really hard, especially coming out of the holiday season and if they have racked up a lot of debt over that time," Ms. Pospiech said in an interview from Toronto.

Household debt is a problem and Canadians have been borrowing like never before with help from low interest rates. Statistics Canada recently said the household debt to income ratio is at a record high of 164.6 per cent.

BMO said contributing even a small amount – a few hundred dollars – to an RRSP is better than nothing at all.

"If they don't have the full amount, that should not stop them from making a contribution," Ms. Pospiech said.

"Any little bit helps because of the tax-deferred compound growth. It makes their money work a lot harder for them rather than having it just sitting."

BMO said that the average amount contributed to a Registered Retirement Savings Plan in 2011 was $4,670.

Putting aside just under $400 a month in a continuous savings plan for an RRSP would generate that amount, Ms. Pospiech said.

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But when it's not possible to come up with a lump sum, a RRSP loan is an option and any tax refund would be used to pay off some or all of it, she said.

The BMO study also found that 54 per cent of those surveyed would feel less stressed if they made regular RRSP contributions throughout the year to meet the deadline.

Ms. Pospiech said those who are trying to come up with a lump sum of money should consider taking the time to sit down with a financial professional to talk about setting up a RRSP savings plan.

"By setting it up and forgetting about it and doing it early in the year, then they don't have to worry about a deadline because it's taken care of for them."

The study also found that three quarters of Canadians with a RRSP have already made or plan to make a contribution before the deadline.

Deciding between a tax free savings account or an RRSP is a personal decision, Ms. Pospiech added.

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"The RRSP tax deduction is going to be worth a lot more as people get up in their tax bracket levels," she said.

But a tax free savings account can work for people if they're in a lower income tax bracket and not looking for a tax deduction, Ms. Pospiech said.

Ideally, Canadians could take advantage of both, Ms. Pospiech said, noting the limit for a tax free savings account has been raised to $5,500 from $5,000.

Ms. Pospiech said any work bonus or inheritance could also be use as a contribution and Canadians should take advantage of any special offers from financial institutions to open a continuous savings RRSP plan.

The online survey was conducted by Pollara between Nov. 23-27 with a random sample of 1,000 adults from a panel of over 250,000 Canadians.

The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.

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