The Department of Finance Canada’s recent letter to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) stating that paying investment fees for registered accounts out of non-registered accounts does not constitute a tax advantage is a big win for investors, who are now free to pay their investment costs from any source they choose.
There are various advantages for investors to pay all investment fees out of a non-registered account. At the core, though, investors will end up with more money, after taxes, if they pay all the investment fees for a tax-free savings account (TFSA) or registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) from assets held outside of those accounts.
So, how did this all come about? In 2016, the CRA announced at a tax conference that its position on paying investment fees for registered accounts from non-registered accounts constituted an unfair advantage. Furthermore, the CRA stated that as of 2018, any taxpayer who engaged in this activity would be subject to a special advantage tax equal to the amount of fees paid outside of the registered account. The implementation was then postponed a couple of times pending a review from the Department of Finance.
Then, the Department of Finance sent a letter this past August recommending that the Income Tax Act be amended to reflect its finding that there is no advantage to paying registered fees outside of a registered account and that such a decision by a taxpayer may not necessarily be tax motivated. In effect, it means the CRA will not penalize a taxpayer for paying investment fees for a registered account from a non-registered account.
For financial advisors and investors, there are various benefits to taking this approach, which is a way to increase assets with no added risk.
For one, investors may have investments that are less liquid in the registered account. So, paying for investment fees from a non-registered account can provide ease of cash management over the portfolio. In addition, paying all investment fees out of one account rather than from multiple accounts may be easier from an administrative perspective.
The main advantage for investors, though, is that registered accounts have an ability for greater compounding of returns than non-registered accounts because of the registered accounts’ tax-deferred or tax-free nature. That was the CRA’s main issue with this practice.
As an example, let’s consider an investor who has $100,000 in a TFSA and $100,000 in a non-registered account. Each account incurs investment expenses of 1.5 per cent, or $1,500, annually.
If all expenses are taken from the non-registered account, it results in more assets growing tax-free within the TFSA, as they’re not impeded by investment costs. Furthermore, it helps the investor save taxes as the capital base in the non-registered account will be lower, which will result in lower taxes against the income within that account as well as lower taxes on the capital gains when the funds are withdrawn.
The strategy is similar for an RRSP, except that the income from the RRSP will be fully taxable when it’s withdrawn from an RRSP or from a registered retirement income fund (RRIF) once the investor reaches retirement. Thus, the investor reduces the capital in the non-registered account today in favour of a much larger payment from a RRIF in the future. Although that payment will be taxable, it will presumably be when the investor is retired and in a lower tax bracket. In addition, as inflation will erode the value of money, it’s preferable to pay $1 of taxes in the future than $1 of taxes today.
Although the advantage in the TFSA is clear, the advantage for the RRSP will be dependent on many factors, such as an investor’s tax bracket now and in retirement, inflation and even potential changes in tax policy.
For investors, this may not be the top tax-saving strategy available, but they should take advantage of every opportunity to improve their returns and reduce their taxes – especially when it can be executed with a simple administrative change.
Matthew Ardrey is vice-president and wealth advisor at TriDelta Financial Partners Inc. in Toronto.