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What You Need to Know About Withdrawing RRSPs Before Retirement

What You Need to Know About Withdrawing RRSPs Before Retirement

Sometimes, you end up in a position in which you want to access the money in your RRSP before you retire. One of those situations might be a desire to return to school. The Lifelong Learning Plan, allows you to withdraw a limited amount of money from your RRSP for educational purposes.

But what if you need to withdraw more money from your RRSP to go back to school? What if you want to supplement a maternity leave with money that is in your RRSP? Or, in the case of a job loss, you might also need to pull money out of your RRSP. Sometimes, your RRSP is your only emergency recourse.

In all three of these examples, your income will be lower than when you were working full time. You may have no income at all. Not only can an RRSP provide some much needed income in these situations, there could be tax savings as well.

Paying Taxes on RRSP Withdrawals

When you withdraw money from your RRSP, you are going to have to pay taxes on that money. You received a tax benefit upon contributing, but now it’s time to pay the government its cut. But, even if you have to withdraw and pay taxes, you might not have a huge problem.

As an example, if you have an income of $60,000 in Alberta, the marginal tax rate would be 30.5%. If you had made $10,000 in RRSP contributions that year, the tax refund would total $3,050.

Now say you wanted to go back to school or you lost your job. Maybe your income so far for the year is $20,000. If you need to withdraw that $10,000 from your RRSP, it would be taxable income at a tax rate of 25%, or $2,500. In this example, you would have saved $550 in tax, and more importantly, allowed yourself to go back to school or survive a job loss.

If your income for the year is at $0 then you wouldn’t pay any tax on the withdrawal since it is less than your basic personal amount. You would, however, be subject to the withholding tax by banks, but you would get this amount back as a tax refund if your income remained that low for the entire year.

Drawbacks to Withdrawing Early from your RRSP

However, there are a few negatives to withdrawing from your RRSP before retirement. Most of the drawbacks have to do with opportunity cost. First of all, you will not get this contribution room back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Additionally, you are giving up the potential growth of the investment. You can’t ever replace the work that capital would have done to earn a return over the years that it is now missing from your RRSP.

In certain circumstances, though, it makes sense to withdraw from the RRSP anyway. If you need the money now, you might as well see the tax benefit, and smooth your cash flow, than go into debt and wind up paying a lot in interest.


  1. Inspiration By Experience

    It could help for someone who can’t wait to withdraw their fund at rrsps

  2. Richard RInyai

    Hi Tom,

    I run a small business and am making just under the basic personal amount at the moment.

    Could you please explain in more detail, preferrably with an example, on how the withholding tax would be recouped if I withdraw funds from my RRSP.


    Richard Rinyai

  3. Jack Lee

    Good article. Another point that readers may wish to think about is, what is the rate of return your investments inside your RRSP has gotten you in the past? If you live in Toronto like I do, the fastest growing investment is housing. I am shopping for a house and I wished I didn’t contribute so much in all these years to my RRSP. I could have used all those funds to put towards the house. Withdrawing such a big amount from my RRSP would incurr such a big hit, it wouldn’t have been worth it. House prices double every 7-8 years (Toronto, Vancouver), I know for a fact my RRSP mutual funds, etc didn’t double even after 20 years. Maybe my investing skills aren’t great. Though I imagine lots of people are in my boat. Just bought mutual funds their “advisors” told them to.

    Sure, the tax refund was good from RRSP contribution, but is negligible compared to the ROR on a house.

    Also, not all investments inside your RRSP goes up, some do go down, I had some funds like that. Many years of investing ending up a loss. Or some profited 5% after 10 years. What a waste of my time. Pull up a chart of Toronto Housing prices throughout the years and compare.

    So if anyone in Toronto/Vancouver is thinking of a house in their future, I would think twice before contributing too much into RRSP each year. Keep it out of registered accounts so its available for use later. The high and almost guaranteed ROR for properties in Toronto (location, location, location) will more than offset any lost “tax deduction”

  4. Chris

    Hi Tom,
    Assuming someone who is working into their 60’s, you may wish to also comment on the potential tax advantages of making RRSP withdrawals after age 65 – to take advantage of income splitting options – instead of withdrawals before age 65.

  5. Laura

    Great information. Most people assume you can’t take money out of your RRSP until retirement.

    Your inclusion of maternity leave or losing your job are great resources for people. It is never something I considered but could help most people at some point in their live.

  6. Kim

    Hi Tom. I left Canada last year to return to the UK and am therefore now a non-resident for tax purposes. I have my RRSPs still in Canada and want to make a withdrawl (too young for RRIF). I heard that if I withdraw $5000 or less, then I could claim back the withholding tax because in the UK I am taxed on the whole amount regardless of already paying withholding tax. Do you know if this is true about claiming back the tax in Canada?

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