The article “U.S. withholding tax in an RRSP for Canadians” was originally published in MoneySense on August 2, 2022. Photo by Alexander Mils from Pexels.

For Canadians who have withholding tax on U.S. income in an RRSP, sometimes this tax can be avoided.

I have EPD stock in my RRSP for their dividend payments (about 7%). What a surprise I had—even when in an RRSP—I had to pay about 30% tax on these dividends. EPD is registered in Louisiana. — Wanda

How much is withholding tax on U.S. dividends?

I am going to provide a brief summary of U.S. withholding tax on investments, Wanda, before addressing Enterprise Products Partners (EPD) specifically.

First, U.S. stocks are generally subject to 30% withholding tax on dividends for non-residents. Many countries, including Canada, have tax treaties with the U.S. to ensure a reduced rate of withholding tax. For qualifying Canadian residents, the tax can be reduced to 15%. In a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP), the tax may be reduced to 0%.

Qualifying to reclaim U.S. withholding tax

In order to qualify, an investor has to fill out this form and provide it to their investment firm: Form W-8BEN Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding and Reporting (Individuals).

These forms are generally valid until the end of the third calendar year after signing, so it needs to be re-signed every three years.

U.S. stock dividends paid into an RRSP, registered retirement income fund (RRIF) or a similar registered retirement account are generally free from withholding tax for Canadian residents who have completed W-8BEN forms. In non-registered and tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs), the reduced 15% rate generally applies.

If excess tax is withheld, it can be recovered by filing a U.S. tax return. However, the time and cost may be more than the potential refund unless the withholding tax is significant.

An important point is that Canadian mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that own U.S. stocks are considered Canadian investments and subject to 15% withholding tax. If you own these in your RRSP, they will not qualify for the 0% withholding tax rate. This is because the mutual fund or ETF is considered the shareholder of the U.S. stocks, not you or your RRSP.

EDP dividends for Canadians

In your case, Wanda, you own shares of Enterprise Products Partners, which is a master limited partnership trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Based on the current quarterly dividend and stock price, the annual dividend yield is about 7.15%.

A master limited partnership (MLP) is a U.S. publicly traded entity that is taxed as a partnership, rather than a corporation. Most stocks on U.S. exchanges are corporations paying dividends.

MLPs do not generally pay income tax, instead distributing their income to the unitholders or “partners” as opposed to a corporation that pays its after-tax profits to shareholders. However, U.S. MLPs can elect to be taxed as a corporation.

A Canadian resident unitholder of an MLP, like EPD, is generally considered to be a partner carrying on a trade or business in the U.S. The tax withholding rate is equal to the top U.S. marginal tax rate of 37%, Wanda, unless the partnership elects to be taxed as a corporation in the U.S.

A Canadian investor who owns an MLP is technically required to file a U.S. tax return to report this U.S.-source income. It may not be easy to use the U.S. tax reporting form (schedule K-1) to convert the U.S. income for Canadian tax purposes for non-registered accounts. This is a drawback of owning U.S. MLPs.

In addition, if the dividends are subject to 37% withholding tax in a tax-sheltered account like an RRSP, and they are subject to additional Canadian tax payable on a withdrawal in the future, there may be an element of double taxation for Canadians owning MLPs, Wanda.

So, the lesson here is that the high yield of EPD is only part of the story for a Canadian investor. There is a high withholding tax rate that applies, potential double taxation and even tax-filing complexities as well. Canadians should think twice about buying MLPs.

Jason Heath is a fee-only, advice-only Certified Financial Planner (CFP) at Objective Financial Partners Inc. in Toronto. He does not sell any financial products whatsoever.