5 RRSP Withdrawal Strategies to Save Huge on Taxes! (RRSP Meltdown)

Planning how to withdraw from your Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RSP) after retirement is essential. Many focus on growing their RRSPs but often neglect to plan for strategic withdrawals. The timing and amount of your withdrawals can impact your tax bracket and overall financial security.

A good strategy helps you manage RRSP withdrawals in a way that aligns with your financial goals. By looking at the long-term effects on your tax situation and government benefits, you can avoid pitfalls like higher taxes and ensure a more secure retirement.

Key Takeaways

  • Effective RRSP withdrawal strategy is crucial for minimizing taxes.
  • Delaying government pensions like CPP and OAS can significantly increase benefits.
  • Various strategies exist to reduce tax burdens and maximize financial security.

Importance of RRSP Withdrawal Strategy

Planning your RRSP withdrawals is crucial as it can significantly impact your financial well-being during retirement. When you withdraw funds from your RRSP, it is taxed as income, and this can push you into higher tax brackets if not managed correctly. This potential tax increase is known as “tax bracket creep.”

To avoid this, you should aim to withdraw your RRSP funds during years when your taxable income is lower, thus minimizing your tax burden. For instance, taking out your RRSP funds before you start receiving government pensions like CPP and OAS can be beneficial. This way, you can delay your CPP and OAS, leading to higher payouts from these programs, as they increase the longer you wait to start receiving them.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how CPP and OAS benefits can change:

  • CPP Benefits
    • Age 60: 36% less if you start then compared to age 65.
    • Age 70: 42% more if you start then compared to age 65.
  • OAS Benefits
    • Age 65: Full benefit.
    • Age 70: 36% more than age 65.

By strategically withdrawing from your RRSPs and delaying your CPP and OAS, you ensure a more secure financial future with higher guaranteed benefits. Additionally, this strategy helps in avoiding OAS clawbacks if your income exceeds certain thresholds and boosts financial security by trading uncertain RRSP returns for indexed and stable government benefits.

Another key reason for a strategic withdrawal plan is estate planning. If you don’t withdraw smartly, your entire RRSP balance may be taxed harshly upon your death, reducing the inheritance for your beneficiaries. For example, an RRSP balance of $500,000, taxed at an average rate of 40%, would mean $200,000 in taxes, leaving only $300,000 for the heirs.

Effective strategies to minimize these taxes include:

  • Gradual Withdrawals: Draw from your RRSPs during low-income years to spread out the tax burden.
  • Spousal Rollovers: Naming your spouse as a beneficiary allows the RSP to transfer tax-free to their account.
  • Income Splitting: After converting your RRSP to a RRIF at age 65, you can split up to 50% of the income with your lower-earning spouse.

Having an RRSP withdrawal strategy helps maximize your retirement income and minimize taxes, ensuring a smoother financial transition into retirement.

Grasping the Concept of Tax Bracket Creep

2024 Federal and Provincial Tax Brackets

Navigating your RRSP withdrawals effectively is crucial to managing your taxable income. In Canada, withdrawals are taxed as income for the year. This can push you into a higher tax bracket, increasing your marginal tax rate. Here’s a look at the 2024 combined Federal and provincial tax brackets in Ontario:

Income RangeTax Rate
$0 – $15,00020%
$15,001 – $45,00025%
$45,001 – $90,00030%
$90,001 – $150,00035%
$150,001 – $220,00040%
$220,001 – $315,00045%
$315,001 and aboveOver 50%

To minimize your tax burden, plan your withdrawals for years when your income is lower. This helps keep you in a lower bracket.

RRSP Withdrawal Strategies Overview

Taking funds from your RRSP takes careful planning to avoid hefty taxes and make the most of your retirement money. Here’s a look at various strategies to consider:

Strategic Early Withdrawal

One smart approach is to delay your Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) benefits until you’re older. Withdraw from your RRSP to cover your expenses until you start receiving these benefits. This can significantly increase your CPP and OAS payments.

  • CPP Benefits:

    • Begin at age 60: 36% less than at 65.
    • Begin at age 70: 42% more than at 65.
  • OAS Benefits:

    • Begin at age 65: Full benefit amount.
    • Delay until age 70: 36% more than at 65.

Minimizing Taxes on Death

Proper withdrawal planning helps reduce taxes upon your passing. If you don’t plan, the entire balance is taxed as income in the year of death, which can lead to a significant tax hit.

  • Example: A $500,000 RRSP balance can result in approximately $200,000 in taxes if not managed.

Strategies to Consider

  • Gradual Withdrawal: Withdraw smaller amounts over your retirement years to lower your RRSP balance.
  • Spousal Rollover: Name your spouse as the RRSP beneficiary to transfer funds tax-free.
  • Income Splitting: Convert your RRSP to a RRIF at age 65 and split the income with a lower-earning spouse.

These strategies can help you minimize taxes and ensure that more of your savings go to your beneficiaries. It’s crucial to evaluate which methods align best with your financial goals and health status.

Strategy I: Early Withdrawal Method

Maximizing CPP and OAS

This method revolves around using your RRSP and RRIF withdrawals to secure the highest possible payments from CPP and OAS. The key here is to delay your CPP and OAS benefits while withdrawing from your RRSP and RRIF to cover your expenses.

Here’s how it works:

  • Delaying CPP from age 65 to age 70 can result in a 42% increase in your payments.
  • You don’t have to wait until 70; even a delay until age 66 or 67 can boost your benefits.

Benefits of Delaying CPP and OAS

Holding off on your CPP and OAS benefits can pay off in several ways:

  • Bigger Payments: As noted, delaying CPP can increase your monthly payouts significantly, up to 42%.
  • Financial Certainty: By tapping into your RRSP, you exchange uncertain investment returns for reliable, government-backed CPP and OAS payments.
  • Potential OAS Clawback Avoidance: Wise income management can help you avoid OAS clawbacks, keeping more money in your pocket.

Calculating CPP Benefits by Age

Here’s how CPP benefits vary depending on when you start:

  • Starting at 60: Reduces your payments by 0.6% per month versus starting at 65, totalling a 36% decrease.
  • Starting at 70: Increases your payments by 0.7% per month versus starting at 65, totaling a 42% increase.

For instance:

  • At 65: $1,000 monthly CPP
  • At 70: $1,420 monthly CPP

Anticipating OAS Benefits with Delay

Delaying OAS also boosts your benefits:

  • At 65: You receive the full OAS benefit.
  • At 70: Payments increase by 36%.


  • At 65: $600 per month
  • At 70: $816 per month

Evaluating Strategic Early Withdrawal

Strategic early withdrawal can significantly impact your retirement planning. This approach revolves around maximizing your government pensions by delaying your CPP and OAS benefits. By prioritizing withdrawals from your RRSPs and RRIFs for any income needs during that time, you can secure a substantial increase in your CPP and OAS benefits upon reaching the age of 70.

Here’s how this strategy works:

CPP Benefits

  • Starting at age 60: You receive 0.6% less per month compared to starting at age 65, totalling a 36% reduction.
  • Starting at age 70: You receive 0.7% more per month than starting at age 65, totalling a 42% increase.

For instance, if you would receive $1,000 per month at age 65, delaying till age 70 would increase this to $1,420 per month.

OAS Benefits

  • Starting at age 65: You receive the full benefit amount.
  • Delaying till age 70: You get 36% more than you would receive at age 65.

For example, if your full OAS benefit at age 65 is $600 per month, delaying till age 70 boosts this to approximately $816 per month.

Benefits of Strategic Early Withdrawals

  1. Higher Payments: By delaying your CPP and OAS, you receive more substantial payments from these programs compared to starting at age 65.
  2. Financial Security: Offers more certainty by trading the unpredictable returns of RRSPs for the guaranteed, inflation-indexed returns of CPP.
  3. Avoiding OAS Clawbacks: Proper management of income can help you evade OAS clawbacks if your net income exceeds certain thresholds.


This strategy works best if you are in good health and expect a longer lifespan. It may not be suitable if you have health issues or a family history of shorter lifespans. In such cases, starting benefits earlier might be more beneficial. Some might also worry about the loss of tax-sheltered growth from withdrawing too much from RRSPs.

Here are the factors you must weigh carefully to decide if early strategic withdrawals fit your situation.

Strategy II: Minimizing RRSP Taxes on Death

Preserving Wealth for Loved Ones

You want to ensure that more of your savings go to your family after you pass away. By reducing the tax burden on your Registered Savings Plan (RRSP), your loved ones will receive more of the money you worked hard to save.

Avoiding Large Estate Tax Hits

Without proper planning, the balance in your RRSP might push your estate into the highest tax bracket. This means huge tax bills, reducing the amount your beneficiaries receive.

Effective Estate Planning Practices

A good strategy can help you transfer your wealth smoothly. This makes it easier for your family to manage your estate and reduces their stress during a difficult time.

Scenario: No Planning Versus Gradual RRSP Withdrawal

Imagine Tom has $500,000 in his RRSP, and he dies without any planning. The $500,000 is added to his income for that year, resulting in a tax bill of about $200,000. Tom’s family gets only $300,000. If Tom had withdrawn $20,000 to $30,000 yearly starting at age 60, he could have reduced the balance and the taxes owed after his death.

The Benefit of Spousal Rollover

If you name your spouse or common-law partner as the beneficiary of your RRSP, the funds can transfer to their RRSP or RRIF tax-free. This means they can continue to grow the money within a tax-sheltered account. For example, if John names his wife as the beneficiary, the RRSP balance moves to her account without immediate tax consequences. She can then withdraw it gradually to minimize taxes.

Strategy III: Income Splitting with RRSP

Transferring Income to Lower-Earning Spouse

To reduce the overall tax burden, you can transfer income to a spouse who earns less. This strategy works by moving income from the higher earner to the lower earner, which can result in taxation at a lower rate. The process starts after you turn 65 and convert your RRSP to a RRIF.

Here are the steps:

  1. Convert RRSP to RRIF: Once you turn 65, you can convert your Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) into a Retirement Income Fund (RRIF).
  2. Allocate Income: You can allocate up to 50% of your eligible pension income, including RRIF withdrawals, to your spouse. This is done on your tax return.
  3. Tax Calculation: By allocating income to your spouse, their lower tax bracket could lead to significant tax savings.

The Conversion to a RRIF at 65

At age 65, converting your RRSP to a RRIF opens up options for income splitting, which is not available before this age. When you withdraw from a RRIF, it counts as pension income. This allows the higher-earning spouse to share income with the lower-earning spouse.

Key points:

  • Eligible Income: Only RRIF withdrawals are eligible for this strategy.
  • Tax Benefits: The lower-earning spouse is taxed at a lower rate, reducing the total tax payable.
  • Process: You need to report this allocation on your tax return each year.

By using this approach, you can lower the overall tax burden and improve your household’s financial situation during retirement.

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Christopher Liew, CFA

Christopher Liew is a CFA Charterholder with over 15 years of Canadian finance experience.