WITHDRAWING FROM FAMILY RESPs: Flexible Planning Possibilities

Posted on September 27th, 2023 in Domestic Tax, Financial Planning & Wealth Management

Happy family posing outdoors. The son has his sister on his back and they are all smiling at the camera.

A July 21, 2021, Money Sense article (My three kids chose different educational paths. How do I withdraw RESP funds in a way that’s fair to them and avoids unnecessary taxes?, Allan Norman) considered some possibilities and strategies to discuss when withdrawing funds from a single RESP when children have different financial needs for their education.

Some of the key points included the following:

  • There is likely a minimum educational assistance payment (EAP) withdrawal that should be taken, even by the child that needs it least.
  • The EAP includes government grants (up to $7,200) and accumulated investment earnings on both the grants and taxpayer contributions.
  • The grants can be shared, but only up to $7,200 can be received per child, with unused amounts required to be returned to the government.
  • Only $8,000 ($5,000 in previous years) in EAPs can be withdrawn in the first 13 weeks of consecutive enrollment.
  • The withdrawal amount is not restricted by school costs. • The children are taxed on EAP withdrawals.
  • It is generally best to start withdrawing the EAP amounts as early in the child’s enrollment as possible, when the child’s taxable income is lowest. If the child is expected to experience lower income in later years, there is flexibility to withdraw EAP amounts in those later years instead.
  • The level of EAP withdrawn for each child can be adjusted. As individuals are taxed on the EAP withdrawals, planning should consider the children’s other expected income (e.g. targeting less EAPs for years in which they will be working, perhaps due to co-op programs or graduation). Consider having the EAP completely withdrawn before the year of the last spring semester as the child will likely have a higher income as they start to work later in the year.
  • To the extent that investment earnings remain after all EAP withdrawals for the children are complete, the excess can be received by the subscriber. However, these amounts are not only taxable, but are subject to an additional 20% tax. Alternatively, up to $50,000 in withdrawals can also be transferred to the RESP subscriber’s RRSP (if sufficient RRSP contribution room is available), thus eliminating the additional 20% tax. An immediate decision is not necessary as the funds can be retained in the RESP until the 36th year after it was opened.

ACTION ITEM: The type, timing, and amount of RESP withdrawals can significantly impact overall levels of taxation. Where an RESP is held for multiple children, greater flexibility exists. Consult a specialist to determine what should be withdrawn, at what time, and by whom.

Article originally published in: Tax Tips & Traps 2021 Fourth Quarter – Issue 136

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