Start Investing

RRSP vs. RESP

Andrew Goldman

Andrew Goldman has been writing for over 20 years and investing for the past 10 years. He currently writes about personal finance and investing for Wealthsimple. Andrew's past work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, New York Magazine and Wired. Television appearances include NBC's Today show as well as Fox News. Andrew holds a Bachelor of Arts (English) from the University of Texas. He and his wife Robin live in Westport, Connecticut with their two boys and a Bedlington terrier. In his spare time, he hosts “The Originals" podcast.

As anagrams go, RRSP and RESP look quite alike and indeed have major similarities apart from having three letters in common. Both are registered investment accounts that offer easy ways to save. If you’re a parent, you’re absolutely going to want to open one of each and contribute as much as you possibly can to both.

RRSP is an acronym for “registered retirement savings plan” and, naturally is all about saving for when you’re old. RESP stands for “registered education savings plan” and provides a great way to sock money away for your child’s university education.

But the way these two accounts save you money differs dramatically. RRSPs allow you to contribute as much as 18% of your income “pretax,” meaning the government will only tax you on your post-contribution income amount. A guy who makes $50,000 but socks away $5,000 for his golden years will only pay income tax on $45,000. RESPs are also financially beneficial, but function differently — the government provides matching funds for 20% of any contribution up to $2,500 per year (for math slowpokes, that’s up to $500 of free money per year.) The government will continue showering your account with free money annually up until the account recipient hits a lifetime max of $7,200. An RESP can be used for any education related expenses and can even be transferred to a sibling if your child opts to forgo a university education.

The two account types also differ in how your money is taxed once withdrawn. Since RRSPs are a tax deferral plan, you’ll have to pay taxes on the value of the investment when you withdraw it in retirement (and, with a couple exceptions, you’ll be taxed mightily if you withdraw the money before you retire.) RESP funds, however, are taxed less upon withdrawal; students will be obligated to pay taxes only on the interest, dividends, capital gains, and the government’s contributions.

Last Updated October 31, 2017

Wealthsimple is investing on autopilot.