RESP – A Comparison to Non-Registered Accounts

This post is part of the Big RESP Series. See the entire series here.

See the previous post on Individual and Family Plans

I did an analysis of some different resp and non-registered account scenarios (child goes to school or not) in order to determine the different amounts of money that would result from each scenario. The idea was to try to see how well the resp does in the different situations compared to putting the money in a non-registered account. Thanks to the Money Gardener for the idea.

The spreadsheet showing all the calculations is here. Basically it’s an account with $150/month contributions into an equity security. In real life an investor might switch to a more conservative portfolio later on but I decided to keep it simple for this example.

Some assumptions

The equity return is 0.5% per month which works out to just over 6% per year, it also gets a 2% dividend at the end of each year. The dollar figures were calculated at the 18 year mark which is when the student would normally be going to school.

The average tax rate on the withdrawal of the subscriber who is working is 40%, subscriber who is retired is 15%


  1. RESP account – student uses the money for school. This scenario is the typical “hoped for” scenario where the student uses the money to go to school. I assume that the student doesn’t pay any income tax on this money. All dollar figures are future dollars.
  2. RESP account – subscriber collapses plan before retirement. If the child doesn’t go to school then the subscriber will pay the marginal tax rate on the income in the account.
  3. RESP account – subscriber collapses plan during retirement. In this case the student doesn’t go to school but since the subscriber is retired they have a lot more flexibility with respect to income tax rates. Keep in mind that the plan doesn’t have to collapsed until the 26th year of it’s existence so there is time to do this option even if you are working when the child decides not to go to school.
  4. Non-registered account – money is withdrawn before retirement. For non-reg accounts since the money is always taxed to the owner of the account it doesn’t matter whether the child goes to school or not – the taxation is the same.
  5. Non-registered account – money is withdrawn during retirement. In this case the capital gains paid by the account owner will probably be less than when they were working.


Scenario #


Amount of $$

1 RESP account – student uses the money for school.


2 RESP account – subscriber collapses plan before retirement.


3 RESP account – subscriber collapses plan during retirement.


4 Non-registered account – money is withdrawn before retirement.


5 Non-registered account – money is withdrawn during retirement.



If the child goes to school then the RESP account is the clear winner with a total of $87,556. The non-reg account would only provide $66,953 or $62,284 depending on if the account owner is retired or not. This is not surprising considering the 20% grant available to the resp as well as the zero tax drag during the accumulation phase.

If the child does not go to school then the results are dependent on if the subscriber is working or retired when the plan is collapsed. If the subscriber is retired then there is not much difference between the resp ($64,039) and non-reg account ($66,953). If the subscriber is working, then the non-reg ($62,284) fares quite a bit better than the resp ($51,870).


If your child goes to school then the RESP account will have about 30% more money than the non-reg account. If the child does not go to school then the non-reg account will have 5% more money than the resp if the subscriber is retired, if subscriber is working then non-reg account will have about 19% more.

Bottom line is that if you are an older parent (like me) and are pretty sure that you’ll be retired (or can control your income) by the time the resp plan is 26 years old then the resp is the winner hands down. If you are a younger parent then the choice is not so clear, although there is a big upside (30%) to the resp, there is also a significant downside (19%) if the child doesn’t go to school.

Things to think about

Commander T pointed out that if you transfer the non-contribution portion of a collapsed RESP to your rrsp (if you have the contribution room) then you can avoid the 20% penalty. I personally don’t plan to have this much room, but this is a great strategy if you can do it.

One strategy to think about if you are a younger parent is to wait a few years before starting the resp account since that’s when the clock starts ticking on the age of the account. If the child doesn’t go to school then collapsing the resp plan when you have no other income will reduce the income tax considerably. Most younger parents have mortgages, rrsp room so waiting a few years to start the resp is probably a good idea anyways.

How many kids? Having two or more kids will improve the odds that the resp money will get used since you can transfer between beneficiaries. This generally only works if the older child doesn’t go to school or they are very close in age.


Establishing a trust for your child is another method of funding their education and saving taxes. The reason I didn’t get into trusts here is because I consider them a completely different animal compared to non-reg accounts and RESPs. Unlike RESPs and non-reg accounts where the parent owns and invests the money and controls the account all the way through the process, with a trust you give the child the money and will never get it back. My problem with this is that if the kid doesn’t go to school then I don’t want him to get any of the education money since he probably doesn’t need it. This is not to say I wouldn’t help him out if he needed it. The other problem I have with trusts is that it might encourage the child not to go to school. Think about it, if you are 18 and have a trust account with $50k in it and you have a choice between going to school or buying a fancy sports car or travelling the world for a few years – which would you choose?


RESP – Individual and Family Plans For 2020

There are two types of resp accounts that you can have: individual and family. This post will outline some of the rules and differences of these account types.

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Individual Plan RESP

Individual plans can only have one named beneficiary. The beneficiary can be any individual named by the subscriber including the subscriber (Individuals can open RESPs for themselves). There are no age restrictions on this type of account, however CESG and other grants can only be paid to beneficiaries under the age of 18. The beneficiary on the account can be replaced by anyone else but if the new beneficiary is not blood related to the subscriber then any CESG (grants) have to be repaid. The last contribution date is the end of the 21st year of plan’s existence. Plan has to be collapsed during it’s 36th year.

Family Plan RESP

Family plans can have one or more beneficiaries. The beneficiaries must be connected to the subscriber by blood or adoption. This includes children, grandchildren or siblings of the Subscriber, either by blood, adoption, or marriage. The beneficiaries must be under 21 years old when named.  Beneficiaries can be removed or added anytime during the life of the plan.

If there is more than one beneficiary then the contributions have to be allocated to each beneficiary. For example if you have twins you might set the allocation at 50% for each child. If you have two kids that are different ages and you don’t set up the resp until the second child is born then you might choose to allocate more of the contribution to the older child in order to catch up on their contributions.

One rule which is always in effect for both types of plans is the maximum lifetime grant amount of $7200 per child. If you have a situation where both of your children have received the maximum grant and you want to transfer some of the contributions to a different beneficiary then you will lose the corresponding grants. This also applies to transfers with individual accounts as well.

So which is better? Family or Individual?

If you only have one child then the individual account is the obvious answer. For multiple child families it may appear at first glance that family accounts are more flexible than individual accounts however in fact they are pretty much the same thing, because the rules allow transferring money between any type of accounts. In case one of your kids doesn’t go to school, it doesn’t matter whether you have your kids in a family account or individual accounts since you are allowed to transfer money to the kid(s) who are still going to go to school in either case. I would suggest that family plans are slightly better if you have more than one child mainly because it will save on account fees and it might simplify the paper work a bit. Bottom line is that it doesn’t really matter so pick the cheapest and most convenient option.

Tip – If you have one child, you can set up a family account for future expansion

Multiple RESP accounts for same beneficiary – Communicate!

When setting up a RESP for a child, it’s important to communicate with other relatives and friends who might have also set up a resp for the same beneficiary. The government will add up all the contributions attributed to each beneficiary in order to enforce the various grant limits and maximum amounts. This applies to any RESP accounts set up for a beneficiary – it doesn’t matter if they are set up in different financial institutions by different subscribers.

You might be wondering why someone would set up an RESP for a relative (ie nephew) rather than give the money to the parents to set up an RESP? For one thing, if that parent is not as financially sound as you are and perhaps you don’t trust them, you might not want to give them the money directly for fear that they won’t set up the RESP account or maybe they will withdraw the money before the child goes to school. Another scenario is if the child doesn’t go to school, the money goes back to the subscriber, so you might want to make sure you get your money back in that case.

More detailed RESP information

Check out the RESP rules page for a list of more detailed RESP articles on this site.