Understanding the Difference: RSP vs. RRSP


Retirement planning in Canada offers many options, but two key accounts often dominate discussions: Retirement Savings Plans (RSPs) and Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs). While their names sound alike, they are distinct. RSP refers broadly to any retirement savings account. RRSP is a specific, registered account with unique tax benefits and contribution limits. The “Registered” part is key—it means the RRSP is registered with the CRA. Why does this matter? Choosing between an RSP and RRSP affects your finances and retirement planning. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between RSPs and RRSPs to help you make an informed decision tailored to your goals.


What is an RSP?

Retirement Savings Plans (RSPs) are fundamental to retirement planning in Canada. Serving as an umbrella for various retirement accounts, RSPs offer tax advantages that can significantly impact financial futures. But RSPs are not one-size-fits-all. Understanding the types of RSPs and their unique benefits is key to maximizing savings.

RSP refers to the broad category encompassing accounts geared toward retirement savings. Unlike RRSPs, which are a specific type of registered account, RSPs include both registered and non-registered plans with differing tax implications. Getting to know the main RSP options provides a clearer picture.


Types of RSPs

While RSPs share the goal of building retirement savings, the accounts themselves differ. Some major RSP varieties include:

  • Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) – The most common RSPs, RRSPs are registered with the CRA and provide unique tax perks.
  • Group RSPs – Employer-sponsored plans similar to 401(k)s in the US. They enable automatic payroll deductions into a group investment account.
  • Spousal RSPs – Allow higher-earning spouses to contribute to an account in a lower-earning spouse’s name for income splitting and potential tax savings.
  • Pooled RSPs – Cater to small businesses, self-employed, and employees to pool resources for investment purposes.


RSP Tax Advantages

The tax benefits attached to RSPs depend on the type. But some general perks include:

  • Tax-Deductible Contributions – Certain RSPs, including RRSPs, allow deducting contributions from taxable income for that year.
  • Tax-Deferred Growth – Investments grow tax-free over time, accelerating compounding.
  • Income-Splitting – Spousal RSPs permit income-splitting for couples to minimize taxes in retirement.
  • Tax Credits – Some RSPs qualify for extra tax credits as an extra retirement savings incentive.
  • Tax-Free Withdrawals – Withdrawals from most RSPs are taxable as income. But exceptions like the Home Buyers’ Plan allow tax-free withdrawals.


In summary, RSPs encompass diverse retirement savings accounts with varied tax advantages. Understanding the RSP landscape is key to strategically maximizing savings for the future.


What is an RRSP?

Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) are specialized Retirement Savings Plans (RSPs) registered with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Unlike general RSPs, RRSPs must adhere to specific CRA rules and regulations. But in return, RRSPs provide advantageous tax perks to incentivize dedicated retirement savings. Let’s explore RRSP eligibility and tax benefits.

While RSPs broadly refer to retirement savings accounts, RRSPs take it a step further by registering with CRA. This official registration enables unique tax advantages not accessible through regular RSPs. However, eligibility criteria must be met to open and contribute to an RRSP.


RRSP Eligibility

Opening an RRSP isn’t as simple as walking into a bank. Specific criteria include:

  • Age Limit: You can contribute until December 31st of the year you turn 71.
  • Canadian Residency: To open or contribute to an RRSP, you must be a Canadian resident.
  • Earned Income: You must have earned income in the previous tax year to contribute, including salaries, wages, rentals, etc.
  • Approved Institutions: RRSPs can only be opened at CRA-approved financial institutions like banks, credit unions, and investment firms.
  • Spousal RRSPs: Both you and your spouse must meet eligibility criteria for spousal RRSP contributions.


RRSP Tax Advantages

The major draw of RRSPs lies in their beneficial tax perks:

  • Tax-Deductible Contributions: You can deduct RRSP contributions from your taxable income for that year.
  • Tax-Deferred Growth: All income and gains within an RRSP grow tax-free until withdrawal.
  • Tax Planning: Spousal RRSPs permit tax planning through income-splitting strategies.
  • Withdrawal Taxes: While withdrawals are taxed, the goal is to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement.
  • Special Withdrawal Plans: Programs like the Home Buyers’ Plan allow certain tax-free RRSP withdrawals.


In summary, RRSPs are required to meet eligibility criteria for registration with CRA. But in return, advantageous tax benefits make RRSPs a compelling retirement savings vehicle for many Canadians.



Key Differences Between RSP and RRSP

RSPs and RRSPs both facilitate retirement savings, but notable distinctions exist. Understanding the differences in taxation, contribution limits, and investment options is crucial for maximizing savings. This section will break down how RSPs and RRSPs diverge.


Taxation Differences

Taxation represents a major contrast between RSPs and RRSPs. RRSPs confer more tailored tax advantages:

  • Tax-Deductible Contributions: RRSP contributions are deductible from your taxable income for that year, reducing your tax bill. Not all RSPs offer this.
  • Tax-Deferred Growth: Investment earnings in an RRSP grow tax-free until withdrawal. This sheltering effect supercharges growth.
  • Tax Planning Potential: Spousal RRSPs provide income-splitting strategies to minimize taxes in retirement.


Contribution Limit Differences

RSPs and RRSPs also differ in their rules around contribution limits:

  • RRSP Limits: The CRA sets specific RRSP limits based on your income. The max is 18% of the prior year’s earnings or a CRA-defined limit.
  • RSP Limits: Other RSPs may have looser limits or none at all. Non-registered accounts have unlimited contributions.
  • RRSP Carry Forward: You can carry forward unused RRSP room to future years, allowing you to catch up.


Investment Option Differences

The types of permitted investments also vary between RSPs and RRSPs:

  • RRSP Investments: RRSPs restrict investments largely to cash, mutual funds, ETFs, and certain stocks and bonds.
  • RSP Investments: Other RSPs, like non-registered accounts, allow broader investment categories, including some prohibited in RRSPs.


In summary, while RSPs and RRSPs share retirement savings goals, RRSPs confer more tailored tax advantages, defined contribution limits, and narrowed investment options in return for registration with CRA. These distinctions are key when deciding between account types.


Which One is Right for You?

Selecting between an RSP and RRSP depends on your financial situation and savings priorities. In certain cases, RSPs may be more advantageous. In other scenarios, RRSPs are likely the better fit.


When RSPs Make More Sense

If investment flexibility is key, a general RSP could be preferable:

  • Investment Diversity: RSPs allow broader asset classes prohibited in RRSPs.
  • No Age Limit: Some RSPs don’t require conversion at 71 like RRSPs.
  • No Contribution Limits: Accounts like non-registered RSPs have no caps on contributions.
  • Tax Flexibility: RSPs offer tax perks that may be more suitable than RRSPs for your situation.


When RRSPs Make More Sense

If you prioritize retirement savings and maximizing tax benefits, RRSPs are likely better:

  • Tax-Deductible Contributions: RRSP contributions directly reduce your taxable income.
  • Tax-Deferred Growth: RRSP investments grow tax-free until withdrawal.
  • Carry Forward Room: You can carry forward unused RRSP contribution room.

Special Programs: RRSPs enable special withdrawals for first home or education.


By weighing these scenarios, you can determine if an RSP or RRSP better aligns with your financial goals and needs. Assess which features are must-haves for you and make the choice accordingly.


Common Misconceptions

Many incorrectly use RSP and RRSP interchangeably, but they are distinct. An RRSP is a registered plan with the CRA that provides official contribution room for tax-deductible retirement savings. An RSP, however, can refer to informal, non-registered savings plans like spousal RSPs or LIRAs that don’t involve contribution room or deductions.

While RRSPs fall under the broader RSP umbrella, not all RSPs are RRSPs eligible for tax perks. This distinction matters for retirement planning and maximizing savings. Canadians need to understand the difference between RSP and RRSP when deciding which type of account fits their needs and will optimize any tax benefits.



RSPs and RRSPs both facilitate retirement savings but have key differences. RRSPs provide tax deductions and maximize long-term growth through compounding. However, RSPs offer more flexibility based on individual needs. Educating yourself on the pros and cons of each is crucial for retirement planning.

While RRSPs optimize tax perks, RSPs allow more investment freedom. With proper understanding, either can help achieve retirement goals through structured savings. The right choice depends on your financial objectives and situation. By learning the nuances between RSPs and RRSPs, you can make an informed decision on the savings vehicle that best fits your retirement vision. With smart planning, these accounts can pave the path toward your future dreams.

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