My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The ins and outs of Registered Retirement Income Funds

The RRIF (Registered Retirement Income Fund) occupies an odd space for most Canadians. Everyone has heard of them – hands down, they are the most enjoyable financial vehicle to pronounce; the acronym is pronounced as it is spelled – but many people don’t realize the nuanced and sometimes surprising ways that a RRIF can help them and their families increase their income.

To clarify this piece of the retirement puzzle, I invited my colleague Jeffrey Smith to share his insight on this post of The Blunt Bean Counter. Jeff is a Manager in BDO’s Wealth Advisory Services practice, based in Kelowna

What is a RRIF?

A RRIF is a way of turning your retirement savings into income. This is achieved by converting your Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) into a RRIF no later than December 31 of the year you turn 71. You do have the option to convert all or a portion of your RRSP into a RRIF even before the year you turn 71. However, if the whole account is converted, you can no longer make RRSP contributions to the account and will have to open a new RRSP account. (In addition to converting the RRSP into a RRIF, you could also deregister the RRSP and take a lump-sum payment or purchase an annuity.)

The income earned in the RRIF still maintains its tax-deferred growth status; however, once the RRSP becomes a RRIF, there is a minimum amount that must be withdrawn annually. This withdrawal is fully taxable as income.

How do withdrawals from a RRIF work?

Once you convert your RRSP to a RRIF, you will be required to take out the annual minimum beginning the following calendar year. For people under 71, this amount is based on a formula:

1 / (90 – age) 

For example, at age 65 it would be 4%, based on this calculation:

1 / (90 – 65) or 1 / 25 = 4%

If the RRIF value on January 1, 2019 is $100,000, and the minimum RRIF withdrawal 4%, minimum RRIF income in 2019 will be $4,000 ($100,000 x 4% = $4,000). The 4% would apply to the value of the RRIF on January 1 and have to be drawn from the RRIF during the calendar year.

For people age 71 and older, the minimum withdrawal is calculated by applying a percentage factor that corresponds to your age and RRIF value at the beginning of the year.

For example, at age 71 that amount is 5.28%, at age 80 the minimum amount rises to 6.82%, and by age 90 the minimum percentage is 11.92%.

If your spouse is younger than you, their age can be used to calculate the minimum withdrawal. This allows you to withdraw less money from the RRIF in earlier years and thus extend the life of your RRIF. This is a very important tax planning feature of the RRIF and should always be considered in your RRIF and retirement planning.

There are no income tax withholding requirements on the minimum RRIF withdrawal; thus, be sure you either request tax be withheld by your financial institution, or you set aside the appropriate amount of tax related to your minimum RRIF withdrawal

For amounts taken in excess of the minimum amount, withholding taxes of 10% to 30% would apply, depending on the total amount withdrawn in the year, similar to redeeming RRSPs. Therefore, if you don’t need the income, don’t withdraw more than the minimum. It is also very important to understand that statutory withholding rates may be less than your actual marginal income tax rate, and as noted above with the minimum withdrawal, you either need to set aside the extra tax or ask for your financial institution to withhold a higher amount from any withdrawal.

RRIF: Specific situations

There are specific situations where someone may want to create a RRIF. Example situations may include:
  • Retiring early
  • Taking a leave of work to assist with a sick family member
  • You are 65 and have no other qualifying pension income to use your pension income tax credit (which depends on having $2,000 in qualifying pension income)
  • Extended sabbatical leave. If the leave is temporary, you can convert the RRIF back to an RRSP and continue contributing to the RRSP when you return to work, provided you are age 71 or younger at the end of the year.
While creating a RRIF to access the $2,000 pension credit is typically a sound idea, the other situations should be discussed with your investment and/or tax advisors to determine whether the benefit of creating the RRIF is more tax efficient than utilizing your RRSP (i.e. whether to withdraw a RRSP lump-sum in a low income year because you retired early versus creating the RRIF).

What happens to your RRIF when you die?

The three most common outcomes for a RRIF on the death of the owner are:
  • Spouse or common-law partner is named a successor annuitant;
  • Spouse is named a beneficiary
  • Estate is designated a recipient

Successor Annuitant

If the surviving spouse is named as the successor annuitant, they would essentially take over the RRIF as if nothing had happened. For clarity, if your spouse is named as the successor annuitant, the RRIF would continue to exist and your spouse would now be the annuitant. The spouse would continue to receive the RRIF payments that were set up. They would also be required to withdraw the annual minimum amount in the year of death if it was not already paid.

Naming your spouse as the successor annuitant typically has the benefit of administrative ease and simplified tax reporting.


If the spouse is the sole beneficiary of the RRIF, the entire eligible amount of the RRIF is transferred to the spouse’s RRSP (provided the spouse is age 71 or younger by the end of the year of transfer) or RRIF, or used to purchase an eligible annuity by December 31 of the year following death. To be clear, under the beneficiary option, the RRIF ceases to exist and your spouse has the option to undertake the rollover transfer.

The eligible amount of the RRIF is the full value of the RRIF account minus the RRIF minimum for the year of transfer that was not actually paid that year.


If the estate was designated as the RRIF recipient, the executors of the estate will control the RRIF assets. Assuming there is a surviving spouse, the executor and RRIF carrier could agree to name the spouse as the successor annuitant as long as the spouse is a beneficiary under the will. This would have the benefit of creating a tax-deferred rollover.

If nothing is done, the value of the RRIF will be included in the deceased’s final tax return as taxable income.

If a financially dependent child or grandchild under the age of 18 is a named beneficiary under the RRIF, they could purchase an eligible annuity and thus save the estate from incurring the tax.

The many ways to use an RRIF

Every Canadian has unique circumstances, and RRIFs can be used in a surprising number of ways. Customization is key. Work closely with your advisor to obtain guidance on when to convert your RRSP into a RRIF, how to ensure beneficiary designations are made, and how to tax-plan your retirement and estate needs to save you and your family money in the long run.

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

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  1. The minimum withdrawal rate of "1/(90-age)" is not telling the full story.

    According to the CRA website (at, this formula is only valid in certain cases (e.g., pre-1986 RRIFs).

    New RRIFs use this formula only for withdrawals when the age is 70 years or younger. For age 71 and higher, it's a different value that's given by the government (and I can't find a formula for it).

  2. Hi Anon

    The value for 71 and older is the value in the third column of the CRA site you reference. As per the footnote at the bottom, it says "In all other cases, use All other RRIFs" factor". There is not formula, just the prescribed values in column 3.