By Bruce Sellery  |  MoneySense  |  June 13, 2012


Everyone talks about the importance of asset allocation, which is critical to ensure you have the right mix of equities, bonds and cash in your portfolio. But very few commentators talk about the best way to divide the asset allocation between accounts to minimize your tax bite for the long term. My current portfolio is roughly 60% equities and 40% bonds. What’s the best way to divide my portfolio between my RRSP, TFSA and non-registered accounts?


You need a few ingredients to make a batch of butter tarts—sugar, butter and pastry shells, for instance. You also need a few ingredients to make a well-diversified investment portfolio—some Canadian equity, some U.S. and international equity and a dollop (even a large dollop) of fixed income, perhaps in the form of bonds or a bond fund. As you say, that part of the asset allocation recipe is discussed a lot. But where to store each ingredient isn’t talked about nearly as much.

Keep your kitchen clean and your investment portfolio tidy

Sugar goes in the cupboard, butter in the fridge and pastry shells in the freezer. (Yes. I use store bought pastry shells, don’t judge.) So where should you store your investment ingredients? In your RRSP, TFSA or non-registered account? The choices you make on asset location can have an impact on how much tax you pay. I’ll go through some rules of thumb below, but this is an area where a financial professional can make a big difference—a financial adviser or a tax accountant can help you sort out what makes the most sense for you and provide guidance on what account you should draw from first in retirement.

One thing to keep in mind: asset location is most relevant for people who have maxed out their RRSP and use a non-registered account to hold their other investments. If you still have available RRSP contribution room, then that is probably still your best option for your retirement savings.


Registered accounts

Interest bearing investments should be held in registered accounts such as RRSPs and RRIFs. “In all provinces, taxpayers pay half as much tax on capital gains than interest income, so that suggests holding bonds and GICs in your RRSP and stocks in non-registered accounts makes sense,” explains Jason Heath is a CFP with Objective Financial Partners. If that interest is earned inside the RRSP you don’t pay tax on it until you withdraw it as income at some point in the future.


Let’s look at your case as an example. Lets say you have already maxed out your RRSP and that math worked perfectly—you would want to keep all of your fixed income in your portfolio in your RRSP and the remaining 60% in equities in your non-registered account.

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