What happens to RESP money if not used?


Planning for your child’s education is an important step toward securing their future. One popular method for doing so in Canada is through a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP). This savings plan offers a way to invest money in a child’s education and comes with certain advantages. But what happens if the money saved in an RESP isn’t entirely used for educational purposes?


Understanding RESP

An RESP is a tax-advantaged savings account designed to help parents, family members, or friends save for a child’s education. The contributions grow tax-free until the beneficiary enrolls in a qualified post-secondary educational program. There are two main types of RESPs: family plans and individual plans.

Know everything about RESP here 

Unused RESP Funds: What Happens When Education Plans Change

An RESP is a dedicated savings plan designed to support a child’s educational journey. However, life doesn’t always follow the plans we set. When circumstances change, and the funds saved in an RESP are not fully utilized for educational purposes, it’s important to understand the outcomes.

Educational Withdrawals (EAPs):

Money taken out of an RESP for education-related expenses falls under Educational Assistance Payments (EAPs). These include both the investment earnings and government grants accumulated within the plan. The advantage of EAPs lies in their tax-free nature when withdrawn for qualified education expenses. However, there are specific conditions to meet:

  • Eligible Educational Purposes: EAPs can be used for tuition fees, books, supplies, and other essential expenses associated with post-secondary education.
  • Enrollment Verification: In order to withdraw EAPs, the it is essential for the beneficiary to be enrolled in a qualifying educational program, which includes universities, colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeship programs.
  • Withdrawal Limits: There are limits on the amount that can be withdrawn annually, usually based on the beneficiary’s enrollment status and program duration.

Non-Educational Withdrawals (AIPs):

Suppose the funds saved in the Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) aren’t entirely used for educational purposes. In that case, the remaining portion, known as Accumulated Income Payments (AIPs), may have tax implications. AIPs consist of the investment income earned within the RESP.

  • Taxable Income: AIPs are considered taxable income for the subscriber, typically the parent. When withdrawn for non-educational reasons, they are subject to taxation at the subscriber’s regular income tax rate. This tax applies solely to the income earned within the RESP; the original contributions made to the plan are not taxed upon withdrawal.
  • Tax Strategies: There might be strategies to manage the taxation on AIPs. For instance, if the beneficiary has little to no income in the year of withdrawal, the tax impact could be minimized. Alternatively, transferring AIPs to an RRSP or another eligible plan can defer taxation.

Planning Ahead:

Given the potential tax implications on AIPs, it’s wise to plan RESP withdrawals diligently. Consider the timing and amount of withdrawals, ensuring they align with the beneficiary’s educational pursuits to minimize unnecessary taxes.

Consultation Matters:

Navigating the complexities of RESP withdrawals and taxation can be challenging. Taking the advice of a financial advisor or tax professional is recommended. They can offer guidance tailored to your particular situation, ensuring the most efficient and beneficial use of the funds saved in the RESP.

So, understanding the intricacies of RESP withdrawals, EAPs, and AIPs is essential to optimize the funds saved for educational purposes and mitigate any tax consequences associated with non-educational use of the RESP.

Options for Unused RESP Funds: Making the Most of Your Savings

  • Transfer to Another RESP:

One option available if the original beneficiary doesn’t pursue post-secondary education is to transfer the unused RESP funds to a sibling’s RESP. This option offers a seamless way to repurpose the savings without losing the accumulated benefits. However, to make this transfer, the receiving sibling must have a contribution room available in their own RESP. This is a useful strategy, ensuring that the savings contribute to another family member’s educational aspirations.

  • Tax Implications:

In cases where the beneficiary doesn’t pursue post-secondary education, the unused funds face tax implications. The primary portion of these implications arises from the income earned within the RESP. This income, known as the Accumulated Income Payments (AIPs), is taxed. The AIPs consist of all the earnings, including government grants and investment income. The subscriber, often the parent, is responsible for claiming and paying taxes on the AIPs. It’s essential to consider these tax implications and plan accordingly to avoid unexpected financial burdens.

  • EAP Restrictions:

RESPs are designed to support post-secondary education, and any withdrawals from the plan for educational purposes must comply with particular criteria to ensure that the funds remain tax-free. These withdrawals are known as Educational Assistance Payments (EAPs). EAPs encompass investment earnings and government grants. In order to avoid taxation on these funds, the withdrawals must meet specific conditions, such as being enrolled in a qualified educational program. Ensuring compliance with these criteria is crucial to maximize the benefits of the RESP.

  • Making Informed Decisions:

Understanding the available options and their implications is essential when deciding what to do with unused RESP funds. Each option has its considerations, and the right choice depends on individual circumstances. Transferring funds to another sibling’s RESP can be an efficient way to redirect the savings while being mindful of tax implications and EAP restrictions is imperative for maximizing the benefits and avoiding unnecessary taxation.

  • Seeking Financial Advice:

When faced with decisions regarding unused RESP funds, consulting a financial advisor can give you valuable insights. They can help you navigate the complexities, explore available options, and make informed decisions aligned with your financial goals and circumstances. A financial advisor can help you through the process, ensuring that the funds are optimized and utilized effectively within the RESP framework.

Hence, understanding the options available for unused RESP funds empowers individuals to make informed decisions that align with their educational goals and financial situation. Consulting a financial advisor can provide clarity and guidance in maximizing the benefits of RESP savings.

Concluding Thoughts

RESPs offer an excellent opportunity to save for a child’s education with tax advantages. Understanding how to manage unused funds is crucial. Consider consulting a financial advisor to explore the best options based on your circumstances and ensure the RESP funds are optimized for educational purposes.

So, while RESPs offer a tax-efficient way to save for education, it’s important to plan carefully to maximize the benefits and avoid unnecessary taxation on unused funds.