Frequently Asked Questions
Retirement Planning

What is an RRSP?
What can I hold in my RRSP?
Can I settle trades in my RRSP in another currency besides Canadian dollar?
What is a Locked-in Retirement Account (LIRA) or Locked-in RRSP?
When must an RRSP mature?
What if I'm still earning income after age 71?
What choices do I have to invest my RRSP savings in the year I turn 71?
What is an RRIF?
What is a Life Income Fund (LIF)?
What is a Restricted Life Income Fund? (RLIF)
What is a Restricted Locked-in Savings Plan (RLSP)?
What is an annuity?
What is a spousal RRSP?
What would happen if my spouse were to withdraw from a spousal plan to which I contribute?
Is there a minimum age limit for an individual to participate in an RRSP?
What is the RRSP contribution limit?
How do I find out what my RRSP contribution limit is?
How long can I carry forward my unused RRSP room?
How does the $2,000 RRSP overcontribution limit work?
How much foreign content can I hold in my RRSP or RRIF?
What is book value?
What are the next steps?
What if I want retirement planning advice?

What is an RRSP?
RRSPs are plans registered with Canada Revenue Agency into which you contribute savings or investments for retirement. One individual may have several RRSP savings accounts or plans and invests in a variety of financial instruments such as mutual funds, GICs, stocks and bonds.

There are two primary reasons Canadians invest in an RRSP - the income tax saved when you make an RRSP contribution and because the income earned within an RRSP is tax sheltered until it is withdrawn.

What can I hold in my RRSP?
BMO InvestorLine permits the following variety of investments in your RRSP:

  • Cash - Canadian and U.S. Dollar only
  • Term Deposits and Guaranteed Investment Certificates receiving interest annually, such as those issued through Bank of Montreal
  • Stocks and Bonds of corporations listed on a Canadian stock exchange
  • Bonds and Debentures issued or guaranteed by the Government of Canada
  • Bonds and Debentures issued by a province, municipality or Crown corporation
  • Strip Coupon Bonds
  • Equity-linked notes
  • Rights and Warrants that can be used to purchase qualified investments
  • Shares listed on a prescribed stock exchange outside Canada
  • Units of a Mutual Fund trust, such as those offered by BMO Mutual Funds
  • Covered calls, long calls and puts, LEAPs calls
  • Mortgage-backed securities
  • Gold and Silver certificates

BMO InvestorLine does not allow the following investments in your RRSP:

  • Employee options to purchase stock
  • Gold, Silver and other precious metals
  • Commodity Futures or Contracts
  • Listed personal property such as works of art and antiques
  • Gems and other precious stones
  • Land
  • Bonds where the issuer is a wholly-owned subsidiary and the shares of its parent are not listed on a Canadian stock exchange
  • Mortgages on commercial properties which you or a family member own
  • Small business investments
  • Uncovered Puts and Call Options
  • Bonds or Debentures of a company whose shares are listed only on a prescribed foreign stock exchange even though the company's shares may be qualified

Can I settle trades in my RRSP in another currency besides Canadian dollar?

You can settle trades in Canadian or US dollar in your RRSP.

What is a Locked-in Retirement Account (LIRA) or Locked-in RRSP?
Legislation governing employer-sponsored pension plans generally provides for "portability" of pension rights. As a result, when an employee who is a member of a registered pension plan and, who in many cases is entitled to a deferred pension benefit, terminates employment with the pension plan sponsor/employer, he or she can request the transfer of the commuted value of the deferred pension benefit to a locked-in RRSP, also known as a LIRA. The term differs depending on the province in which the pension plan is administered, but the plans differ only in details.

A LIRA or locked-in RRSP is similar to an ordinary RRSP, except that it is governed by a "locking-in" agreement which ensures that the transferred pension funds and the subsequent earnings are used to provide periodic retirement income. In other words, it cannot be cashed-in or withdrawn in a lump sum before the specified retirement age. Some investors will have multiple LIRAs or locked-in RRSPs because they have worked at different corporations.  

When must an RRSP mature?
An RRSP must mature by Dec. 31 in the calendar year in which you turn 71. That means you must cash in your RRSP or convert it to an RRIF/annuity before the end of December of that year.

What if I'm still earning income after age 71?
If you continue to have "earned income" after the year in which you turn 71, the RRSP contribution rules will still create contribution room as they do in your earlier years. This "post-age 71" contribution room may still be used to:

  • contribute to your spouse's RRSP in each year up to and including the year he or she turns 71
  • deduct, in the calculation of taxable income, previously undeducted RRSP contributions
  • cover certain past service pension adjustments which may arise, if you are a member of a defined benefit pension plan.

What choices do I have to invest my RRSP savings in the year I turn 71?
You can cash in your RRSP by withdrawing the assets as a lump sum and pay the tax in the year of the withdrawal at your marginal tax rate, or rollover the assets into a vehicle that will generate periodic annual retirement income such as an annuity or RRIF. While the former is seldom recommended because of the amount of tax most investors would pay, choosing an option for maturing RRSP savings requires careful consideration.

What is an RRIF?
An RRIF is one of the most flexible investment vehicles for retirement. Most RRIFs are established on the transfer of RRSP assets when you reach 71. An RRIF is a vehicle for tax deferral similar to an RRSP, but RRIFs are subject to the same rules regarding qualified investments. You may not make new tax-deductible contributions to an RRIF. You must withdraw a minimum amount each year commencing the year after you establish the RRIF.

There is nothing to stop you from taking more than the minimum. However, if you do, any excess will be subject to withholding tax at source. The withholding tax will be taken into account when calculating your tax payable when filing your annual return.

One more thing about RRIFs and annuities. Don't wait until you are 71 to start planning what you are going to do with your RRSP you will need some time to investigate your options. In fact, for those retiring early, you can start an RRIF much earlier than age 71. Some people use a portion of their RRSP assets to fund retirement before they are eligible to receive either CPP (Canadian Pension Plan) or OAS (Old Age Security).

Another thing you should know. Prior to the first payment being received from an RRIF, you may choose to use your spouse's age rather than your own to determine the minimum payout amount. Once made, that choice is permanent.

What is a Life Income Fund (LIF)?
A LIF is a form of a RRIF to which you may transfer your locked-in retirement funds (the funds from a registered pension plan or a locked-in RRSP). A LIF is subject to essentially the same locking-in, survivor benefit and transfer option requirements imposed under pension benefit legislation as a LIRA or locked-in RRSP. It provides the pension plan member with the flexibility to defer the purchase of a life annuity until the end of the year in which he or she turns 80 (rather than 71 as is the case for holders of ordinary RRSPs.)

What is a Restricted Life Income Fund? (RLIF)
RLIFs were created to accept the transfer of locked in assets from a Life Income Fund (LIF), locked-in RSP contract entered into after May 8, 2008, or, under some circumstances, pension benefit credits. In the year that they turn 55, or in any subsequent year, individuals will be allowed to "unlock" up to 50% of the value of the RLIF by transferring it into a non-locked-in RSP or RRIF as long as this transfer happens within 60 days of the creation of the RLIF.

What is a Restricted Locked-in Savings Plan (RLSP)?
RLSPs are able to accept transfers from RLIF (Restricted Life Income Fund) plans for individuals who wish to return RLIF assets into a locked-in plan. Someone may want to make such a transfer because they do not want a steady stream of retirement income at the time.

What is an annuity?
An annuity is an investment vehicle usually offered by insurance companies and is designed to provide regular periodic payments to the policyholder for a specified period of time.

Annuity rates fluctuate with interest rates and generally, it is best to purchase an annuity when rates are historically high. If you purchase an annuity when interest rates are low, you may find that your income may not be sufficient for retirement.

Annuities are not flexible investments and once purchased, cannot be reversed.

What is a spousal RRSP?
Rather than contribute to your own RRSP, you may contribute to your spouse's RRSP. The allowable contribution is determined based on your income, not your spouse's and is deductible in the calculation of your income. The contribution will use up some or all of your contribution room thus reducing for tax purposes, the amount you may contribute to your own RRSP. The principle advantage of this approach lies in future income splitting. If you believe that your spouse's marginal tax rate after tax credits during retirement will be lower than yours, then as a family unit, the total tax burden on retirement income can be reduced by having each spouse receive income in retirement from their own RRSPs.

What would happen if my spouse were to withdraw from a spousal plan to which I contribute?
Normally, a withdrawal by your spouse from his or her RRSP must be taken into the spouse's taxable income and is taxed at the spouse's marginal tax rate. However, there are a special set of rules known as "attribution" rules which provide that certain withdrawals from a spousal RRSP will be "attributed" back to the contributor of the funds. Essentially, any withdrawal from a spousal RRSP which has not yet matured will be attributed back to you if you have contributed to the spousal plan in the year of the withdrawal or the two preceding years.

In general terms, the attribution rules will not apply if at the time of the withdrawal:

  • you and your spouse are living apart as a result of a marriage breakdown
  • either you or your spouse are not a resident of Canada for tax purposes (There may be non-resident withholding tax issues to be addressed.)
  • your spouse transfers, in general terms, the RRSP assets to an RRIF (and does not withdraw more than the prescribed minimum amount), or, transfers the RRSP assets to an annuity (which is not commuted for three years).

Is there a minimum age limit for an individual to participate in an RRSP?
No. As long as qualified income was earned in the previous year and a Social Insurance Number is available to register the plan, there is no minimum age restriction.

However, a self-directed RRSP at BMO InvestorLine requires the individual to be at least 18 years of age because of the contractual nature of securities transactions. Individuals who are under the age of majority can open an RRSP with BMO Bank of Montreal to invest in GICs instead.

What is the RRSP contribution limit?
In general terms, your tax-deductible RRSP contribution limit at a given time is calculated as a percentage of your previous year's earned income less any Pension Adjustment applicable to the previous calendar year (if you participated in a Registered Pension Plan or a Deferred Profit Sharing Plan). Your Pension Adjustment is reported by your employer on your T4 slip, and represents the deemed value of benefits accruing for the relevant year in such plans.

For full details on how your RRSP contribution limit is calculated, please visit Canada Revenue Agency.

How do I find out what my RRSP contribution limit is?
Check the "Notice of Assessment " for your last year's tax return, or, call Canada Revenue Agency "TIPS Automated Phone Service" (available from September to May). You will be asked to provide your SIN, your date of birth and the total income you reported in your last year's tax return.

How long can I carry forward my unused RRSP room?
The March 6, 1996 Federal Budget provided unused RRSP room be carried forward indefinitely.

However, you should consider the following: There is no assurance that the indefinite time limit for carry forward will be retained. If you can't contribute the maximum in any one year, it is unlikely, that without a windfall, you will be able to come up with the extra in the next year. And finally, if you miss a contribution, you will lose forever one year of tax free growth which depending on the amount, can be significant when compounded over a twenty or twenty-five year period.

How does the $2,000 RRSP overcontribution limit work?
Currently, individuals who were at least 18 years of age in the preceding year are allowed to over-contribute to their RRSPs by up to $2,000 without incurring the monthly 1% penalty tax. You cannot claim a tax deduction for the overcontribution in the taxation year it is made but you can wait until new RRSP contribution room is available in a future year and deduct the overcontribution in that year.

NOTE: For planholders with overcontributions in excess of $2,000 as at February 26, 1995, transition rules allow the excess to be kept and deducted against future RRSP contribution room (to a maximum of $6,000) rather than forcing immediate withdrawal of the excess.



How much foreign content can I hold in my RRSP or RRIF?
Foreign content restrictions for registered plans have been eliminated in the Federal Budget 2005. You can now increase your foreign content in your registered account without penalty.

What is book value?
Book value is also known the original cost value. The book value of your investment within your RRSP or RRIF is the original cost of your investment.

What are the next steps?
Ready to open a retirement account? Click here for your application form, or call us at 1-800-387-7800. A BMO InvestorLine representative will be pleased to assist you with further information.

What if I want retirement planning advice?
BMO InvestorLine does not offer advice or recommendations. As an organization, BMO Financial Group can offer you a number of alternatives to meet your needs for investment advice. Through BMO Nesbitt Burns, Investment Advisors can work with you to address all your financial needs, including retirement planning, estate planning, insurance and your overall investment plan. BMO Nesbitt Burns Investment Advisors are committed to gaining a thorough understanding of your financial goals, evolving life circumstances and investment preferences to proactively address your financial interests and stay on top of your wealth management plan.