Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) -> Alternative methods of saving
Other Methods of Saving for Your Child's Education Besides RESPs
Pay Down Debt! - One of the best ways to save for your child's education is to pay down debt on which the interest is not tax deductible! Pay down debt with the highest interest rate first. Use our loan calculators to see how much interest you can save by paying off your debt more quickly.
Despite what we say here, low to modest-income families should open an RESP for their children, as they can receive up to $2,000 of Canada Learning Bond without making contributions.
Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) - Once your debt is paid off, make sure you have contributed the maximum to your RRSP, and to your spouse's RRSP. If you are in the lowest tax bracket, choose TFSAs over RRSPs. When you're in a higher tax bracket, you can always use the TFSA to make a contribution to an RRSP.
Once the RRSPs/TFSAs are at their limit, start saving in a non-registered investment account. If you save money outside of an RRSP, it is better for tax purposes to have assets which produce capital gains or Canadian dividends instead of interest. See Try to earn your investment income (outside of RRSPs) at the lowest tax rate possible, on our Personal Income Tax page. You can use our Canadian Tax Calculator or Investment Income Tax Calculator to compare the taxes you would pay on different types of investment income.
Another option is an informal Trust account for your child, at a financial institution or brokerage. Any interest and dividends on the account are taxed in the hands of the contributor, but capital gains are taxed in the hands of the child (beneficiary). Interest and dividends from re-invested earnings are taxed in the hands of the child. If deposits are made with family allowance or child tax benefit payments received for the child, then all earnings from these deposits are taxed in the hands of the child. The disadvantage of the trust account is that the funds automatically become the property of the child when the child reaches the age of majority, so the contributor has no control over how the funds are used. With a non-registered account in your own name, this problem does not occur.
If you are debt-free when your child begins post-secondary education, and have saved some money, you will have much less difficulty funding that education.
We have done extensive financial analysis related to investing in RESPs vs paying down your debt, investing in RRSPs, or investing via a non-registered account. We did not include any fee calculation with the RESP, and we assumed there would be no taxes payable when the amounts withdrawn are used for education. Even with this bias toward RESPs, they did not look attractive to us. The problem with the RESP is that
The only way an RESP has a chance of doing better than paying off your non-tax-deductible debt first, investing in RRSPs, or investing via a non-registered account is if
Many institutions now offer the ability to change the beneficiary of an RESP - we have not checked the details of this, so make sure you ask about it if you decide to invest in an RESP.
You cannot guarantee that your child will use the funds for educational purposes, so why take the chance? Put your money where it can earn a better return (after paying off your non-tax-deductible debt), and then it can be used for any purpose. However, if an RESP would help force you to save for your child's education when you wouldn't do anything otherwise, perhaps it is the option for you.
Tip: There are other ways to save for your child's education besides RESPs! But if you're not going to use those, then invest in an RESP!
Revised: March 17, 2022
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