RRSPs RRIFs and TFSAs -> Stocks, Bonds etc. -> Investments inside vs outside the RRSP
Which Investments Should be Held Inside vs Outside Registered Accounts?
If you have investments both inside and outside of your RRSP, RRIF or TFSA, investments with income taxed at the highest rates should be held inside the registered accounts. Income earned in a registered account is not taxable while it remains in the account, including interest, dividends, and capital gains, so can grow tax free until the money is withdrawn. There may be tax withheld from dividends received from some foreign investments, but not from dividends received from US corporations received in an RRSP or RRIF/LIF.
If you own any of the following investments, they should be held inside your registered account, because 100% of the income is taxed when they are held in non-registered accounts:
The only one of the above investments that we hold long-term in our investment accounts is foreign stocks, because over the long term, cash and near cash at today's low interest rates don't keep up with inflation.
The following investments are suitable for inside or outside of your registered accounts:
There is no withholding tax deducted from dividends received on shares of U.S. corporations held in an RRSP, RRIF, and other "retirement accounts" such as LIFs and LRIFs, as per the Tax Treaty between Canada and the U.S., Article XXI paragraph 2(a). Sometimes, withholding tax (at varying rates, depending on the country) is deducted from:
These withholding taxes paid by the registered account are not recoverable.
If shares in U.S. or other foreign corporations are held in a non-registered account or a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA), Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) or Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP), withholding tax will be deducted from dividends received. These accounts are not considered "retirement accounts". When the withholding tax is paid from a non-registered account, it can be partially or fully recovered via the foreign tax credit. Withholding taxes paid by the TFSA, RDSP or RESP are not recoverable.
See the following articles about the withholding tax on dividends from Limited Partnerships:
Answers to your tangled tax questions by John Heinzl, Globe and Mail
If you have investments outside of your registered accounts, your first choices should be
Dividends from Canadian corporations and capital gains from any source attract the least tax. There is a dividend tax credit which reduces tax on Canadian dividends, and only 50% of a capital gain is taxable. The marginal tax rate for dividends eligible for the enhanced dividend tax credit is almost always lower than the marginal tax rate for capital gains.
For taxpayers in the lower tax brackets in many provinces, receiving eligible dividends will reduce their taxes payable.
For some higher income taxpayers in a few provinces, it may be more beneficial to receive capital gains than eligible dividends.
Every province and territory has different tax rates, and each person's situation differs. Use our calculators to compare different scenarios, and see our tables of marginal tax rates to find your marginal tax rate on different types of investment income.
Tax Tip: Arrange your investments so that the ones which would attract the most tax are held inside your registered accounts.
Revised: October 26, 2023
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