Buying a home is a significant milestone in most people’s lives. It not only provides a sense of stability and security but also serves as an important investment for the future. However, the journey to homeownership can be daunting, especially for first-time buyers.
As the cost of living in Canada is soaring, and mortgage rates are still high, affordable housing is getting rare. To help first time home buyers achieve the dream of owning a home, the federal government has introduced the First Home Savings Account (FHSA) in their 2022 budget.
Effective April 1, 2023, Canadians now have the opportunity to open an FHSA, enabling tax-free savings (up to a lifetime limit of $40,000) and offering additional advantages. In this article, we delve into the concept of FHSA, its benefits, and how it can make Canadian homeownership more accessible.
Understanding First Home Savings Account (FHSA)
A First Home Savings Account (FHSA) is a government-backed savings program designed to assist individuals, particularly first-time homebuyers, in accumulating funds for purchasing their first home. The primary goal of FHSA is to encourage savings for homeownership by providing federal tax relief and other benefits that make the process more feasible and affordable.
The FHSA operates as a registered savings plan, affording potential first-time homebuyers the chance to accumulate up to $40,000 ($8,000 annually) towards their home acquisition without incurring taxation. This model parallels the concept of a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), permitting tax-deductible contributions in the tax year they are made.
Furthermore, FHSA holders can withdraw funds for the purpose of purchasing or constructing their first home, exempt from taxation. Any unused funds can be moved on a non-taxable basis to an RRSP or a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF).
In essence, the FHSA amalgamates features from the Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) and the RRSP, offering a stepping stone for new homeowners in challenging economic times.
Key features and benefits
An FHSA program offers several key features and benefits that differentiate them from regular savings accounts. Some of the common features include:
- Tax benefits: One of the primary attractions of an FHSA is the tax incentives it provides. The government often offers tax deductions on contributions made to the account, reducing the individual’s taxable income. This not only encourages regular savings but also helps you accumulate a larger down payment for your home.
- Higher interest rates: Financial institutions may offer higher interest rates on FHSA balances compared to standard savings accounts. This increased interest helps the savings grow faster over time.
- Usage restrictions: The funds accumulated in an FHSA are typically earmarked exclusively for buying a first home. This ensures that the savings are utilized for their intended purpose and discourages early withdrawals for non-housing-related expenses.
- Annual contribution limits: The annual contribution limit is $8,000, whereas the lifetime contribution limit is $40,000.
Key Regulations of the FHSA
Although the FHSA presents significant benefits, it is accompanied by stringent requirements. For individuals considering opening an FHSA at major banks, the Department of Finance Canada has determined these specific criteria:
- Residency: Must be a resident Canadian.
- Age: Must be at least 18 years old.
- Property Ownership: Should not have solely or jointly owned real property (e.g., condo, duplex, single-family unit) within the past four years.
Note: The spouse or common-law partner also cannot possess the individual’s current primary residence.
In addition to eligibility criteria, the FHSA adheres to specific account rules:
- Annual contribution limit: $8,000; Lifetime contribution limit: $40,000.
- Multiple accounts are permissible, while maintaining the same annual and lifetime contribution limits.
- Contributions made within the first 60 days of a calendar year are not eligible for income deductions in the prior year’s tax return.
- Unused contribution amounts can be carried forward to the next year, up to a maximum of $8,000.
- Contributions exceeding the annual limit will incur a 1% monthly tax until rectified (either by year’s end or withdrawal).
- The account remains active until one of three conditions is met: the account reaches 15 years of age, the account holder turns 71, or a qualifying withdrawal is executed for a first-home purchase.
Other Homebuyer Incentives in Canada
In addition to the FHSA, two other incentives support first-time homebuyers in Canada:
Home Buyer’s Plan (HBP): Allows tax-free withdrawals up to $35,000 from RRSPs to buy a home, to be repaid within 15 years.
First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit: A shared-equity mortgage by the Government of Canada, reducing down payments by 5% to 10%. Repayment occurs within 25 years or upon home sale.
FHSA vs TFSA vs HBP (RRSP)
Besides the First Home Savings Account (FHSA), there are other government relief programs, such as the Tax Free Savings account (TFSA), and the Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP). To save for a home, you can combine those programs. Furthermore, the potential to transfer assets between these accounts exists, enabling the optimization of tax advantages.
|Contribution deductions||Tax deductible contributions||Contributions not tax deductible||Tax deductible contributions|
|Taxation on withdrawals||Tax-free withdrawals for first-home purchase, taxed for other purposes||Tax-free withdrawals for any purpose||RRSP withdrawals taxed, except those for the acquisition of your first home (HBP) or to finance your education (LLP)|
|Withdrawals for property purchase|
No withdrawal limit in FHSA; withdrawals not repayable
|No withdrawal limit in TFSA; withdrawals not repayable||The HBP permits up to $35,000 withdrawal for first property. HBP withdrawals must be repaid to an RRSP over a maximum period of 15 years, starting in the second year following withdrawal.|
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