There are several types of accounts that can be used for your investments. There is a time and place for each of these accounts and there is definitely overlap in some areas too. Information about account types can easily be found elsewhere so I've kept my descriptions focused to the main points and provided links to more detailed information (as a start). After reading just this page you'll be armed with enough Google search phrases to keep you going if you need it.
In an RRSP (sometimes called just RSP), for any money that you place into the account, you get a tax deduction. Unfortunately, there are limits on how much you can contribute every year. Once your money is in the account, if it grows it will be sheltered from income tax (what happens in the account, stays in the account). As a result your money can grow much faster than if the money was in a non-registered account. When you withdraw, the money will be taxed as if it is income, but hey - it's been growing for 30 or 40 or 50 years tax free so try not to complain too much!
RRSP and related plans - Canada Revenue Agency
Frequently Asked Questions: RSPs - TD Canada Trust
A Spousal RRSP (sometimes called a SRSP) is a special type of RRSP. In a Spousal RRSP one spouse opens the account (Spouse A) and the other spouse contributes to it (Spouse B). When the money is withdrawn, it is taxed in the hands of the spouse who opened the account (Spouse A). Couples use it to spread the investments between themselves so that at retirement, both spouses can aim to draw the least amount of tax overall. Note that there are rules that govern how long the money must reside within the account before it deemed property of the other spouse.
Spousal RRSPs: Timing matters - MoneySense
How does a spousal RRSP work - Gena Katz - Morningstar
The Tax Free Savings Account is another account that allows your money to grow tax free. However, contributions to the account do not provide a tax deduction but withdrawals from the account do not incur taxes either. The current annual maximum contribution limit is $5,000 per year.
Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) for Individuals - Canada Revenue Agency
TFSA Frequently Asked Questions - Scotiabank
The RESP is a plan that is used to save and later help pay for your child's education. The RESP is a another account that allows your money to grow tax free. Contributions to the account do not provide a tax deduction, but they often do provide a grant from the government that goes straight into the account. Withdrawals are taxed in the hands of the child, who would normally be in a low income tax bracket, and therefore would not incur very much in taxes. There are rules that govern how much can be contributed each year (per child) and what constitutes a valid educational program.
Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) - Canada Revenue Agency
In a Non-Registered account, contributions do not provide a tax deduction and the investments do not grow tax free. Withdrawals do not attract any additional taxes as your money as been taxed all along.
Once you turn 71, your RRSP becomes and RRIF. At this point, you can no longer make contributions and you must withdraw a minimum amount each year.
A Registered Disability Savings Plan is a savings plan that is used for parents (and others) to help to save for a person who is disabled.
Registered Disability Savings Plan - Canada Revenue Agency
I have created a comparison table below to quick show the main differences between the types of accounts. Note that one of the main differences between the account types are the tax implications. As a result I have made another page called Tax Planning which goes into these details a bit more.
Further Related Links and Articles
Ask the Spud: Investing With Multiple Accounts - Canadian Couch Potato
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