What is the Tax-Free First Home Savings Account (FHSA)

This Page's Content Was Last Updated: August 02, 2022
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First Home Savings Account

Housing affordability is a clear issue in Canada's housing market. As of March 2022, the average price to buy a home in Canada was $796,068. This means you'd need savings of $67,379 at minimum to cover your down payment and closing costs. As housing prices continue to rise, as well as mortgage rates across Canada, so does the required minimum savings. Assuming an interest rate of 3.50%, you'd also need an income of at least $102,564 to meet stress testing requirements.

Considering this is out of reach for many millennials, the federal government has created new policies to help Canadians buy their first home. In the 2022 budget announcement, the federal government announced the intention to ban foreign homebuyers from purchasing residential real estate across Canada.

While this will cool the growth in housing prices, it doesn't address unaffordability. The government has proposed a new tax shelter to help you save for a down payment to fix this issue. This program is known as the First Home Savings Account (FHSA), which combines the best tax benefits of a TFSA and RRSP. This article will help you understand everything you need to know about the FHSA and how to best use it to buy a home.

First Home Savings Account Fact Sheet

Maximum Withdrawal:
$40,000 per person plus any return on investment earned
Maximum Contribution:
$8,000 annually or $40,000 total
Tax Benefits:
Income tax deductions and no tax on qualifying withdrawals
Who It's For:
First-time Home Buyers Looking to Buy a Home
Expiry:
15 Years after opening
Eligibility Criteria:
  • You are between the ages of 18 and 40
  • You have not lived in a home that you or your partner owned in the past four years
  • You are a resident of Canada
Tax-Free Withdrawal
Criteria:
  • You already have a written contract to buy a home
  • You will use the home as your principal place of residence within one year of buying or building it

First Home Savings Account (FHSA) Explained

The FHSA is a proposed tax shelter account that allows you to save and invest for your home down payment. Like RRSP contributions, any deposits into the account will be deducted from your taxable income. As a result, FHSA contributions lower your annual income tax. Additionally, you will not need to pay capital gains tax on the amount you withdraw from the account to fund your home purchase.

While the FHSA has a similar tax benefit to the RRSP First-Time Homebuyers' Program (HBP), the primary difference is that you will not need to make payments back into the account. The RRSP HBP can be seen as borrowing from yourself, while the FHSA is a self-grant. You can not combine both programs to fund your down payment. This means you must choose to borrow $35,000 from your RRSP or your entire FHSA balance.

However, you will only benefit from tax-free FHSA withdrawals if using the proceeds to buy your first home. You must also buy a home within 15 years of opening the account. Otherwise, the account will be transferred into your RRSP for retirement savings.

First Home Savings AccountRRSP Home Buyers’ PlanTFSA
Deduct Contributions From Income
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Red-Cancel
Tax Free Growth
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Tax-Free
Withdrawals
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With Home Purchase
Up to $35,000 With Home Purchase
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Must Pay
Withdawals Back
Into Account
Red-Cancel
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Red-Cancel
Account Expiry Date
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Red-Cancel
Red-Cancel

The Finer Details

The First Home Savings Account was recently announced in April 2022. The account can be opened in early 2023 and will have similar functionality to your RRSP and TFSA. You will be able to open an account with partnering financial institutions, which may include online trading platforms and brokerages. The following section details everything the government has mentioned about the FHSA.

FHSA Eligibility Requirements

The FHSA is designed to benefit first-time homebuyers in Canada. To open an FHSA account, you must be between 18 and 40. Additionally, you must be a resident of Canada who hasn't owned a home in the past four years or the year you open your account. You can open multiple accounts but it won't increase your contribution limits.

Maximizing FHSA Contributions Ending Balance

Assuming 6% Annual ROI

Contributing to Your FHSA

There is a lifetime contribution limit of $40,000 or $8,000 annually. For example, if you maximize annual contributions of $8,000 per year, your account will reach the lifetime limit in five years.

Unlike the TFSA, unused contribution room doesn't roll over into the following year. This means if you contribute $4,000 one year, you won't be able to contribute $12,000 the next year. Any unused contribution room is lost forever, and it will take longer to reach your lifetime $40,000 limit.

Note that the limits are for contributions and not your overall FHSA balance. Any return on investments earned will not affect your contribution limit. Additionally, you can contribute your whole FHSA balance to your home down payment without incurring capital gains tax.

You can make FHSA contributions for 15 years after opening the account. While the penalties for overcontributing to your FHSA have not been announced yet, it's expected they will be similar to the TFSA and RRSP. This means the amount you overcontribute will be subject to a penalty of 1% each month.

FHSA Tax Savings

Any contributions to your FHSA will directly lower your taxable income. For example, if you make $100,000 but contribute $8,000 to your FHSA, you only need to pay income tax on $92,000. Combining contributions with your RRSP will let you significantly reduce your annual income tax.

Although the FHSA program is expected to start in 2023, we can use the 2021 tax year rates to calculate the income tax savings. In the 2021 tax year, an Ontario resident with a gross income of $100,000 was required to pay $27,511. However, with a maximum FHSA contribution, they would only need to pay $24,437 in taxes. In this scenario, an $8,000 contribution saves $3,074 in income taxes. This is a risk-free ROI of 38.43%.

Transferring from Registered Accounts to FHSA

You can transfer from your RRSP or TFSA into your First Home Savings Account without triggering any taxes. However, you must ensure you are not exceeding FHSA contribution limits.

You will not be able to deduct RRSP transfers from your income taxes. This is because you already received a tax deduction on your RRSP contributions. However, there is no tax deduction for TFSA contributions, so transferring from your TFSA into your FHSA will allow you to lower your taxable income.

Transferring from a TFSA to FHSA could be a good strategy if you can't contribute $8,000 in one year but want a home soon. This is because TFSA withdrawals roll over while FHSA doesn't. For example, if you withdraw $4,000 from your TFSA this year, you can contribute an additional $4,000 in the future. This is not true for the FHSA. By transferring from your TFSA to FHSA, you will receive an income tax deduction, and you can re-contribute to your TFSA in the future. Any missed FHSA contributions do not roll over into the following year.

Moderate FHSA Contributions Ending Balance

Assuming $4,000 Annual Contribution, 6% Annual ROI

Investments Through Your FHSA

As of right now, it appears you will be eligible to invest in any of the same assets as an RRSP or TFSA. This means you can use your FHSA to hold individual stocks, ETFs, Mutual Funds, Bonds, Gold, and more.

Withdrawing From Your FHSA

Withdrawals from your FHSA will not incur taxes if you use the proceeds to purchase your first home. When you are ready to access your FHSA balance, you must submit a purchase and sale agreement to your financial institution. At this point, you will receive the funds and will not need to pay taxes on it.

However, you can still withdraw from your FHSA for non-home purchases but must pay taxes on the proceeds. For example, imagine you earn $100,000 but withdraw $10,000 from your FHSA to pay off student debt. Your taxable income would increase to $110,000, and you would need to pay an extra $4,341 in income taxes.

FHSA Expiry

Your FHSA expires 15 years after opening it. If you don't purchase a home within 15 years, your FHSA balance will be contributed to your RRSP. This transfer will not overcontribute your RRSP balance. However, once this transition happens, you will be limited to the First-Time Homebuyers' Program to fund your down payment.

If you choose not to buy a home, the standard RRSP rules apply. You will be required to turn your RRSP into an RRIF before 71. At this point, you must make withdrawals from your RRIF.

FHSA Investment Strategy

As a rule of thumb, you should transition to holding safer investments as you get closer to buying a home. This is because there is less chance of wild price swings. For example, if you have an all-stock portfolio, a 10% drop could set you back a few years while waiting for a price rebound. Meanwhile, real estate prices may continue to increase.

Additionally, you don't want to be forced to sell at a loss because you are nearing the 15-year FHSA expiry. The following investments could be a good strategy depending on how close you are to purchasing a home

Time Until Home PurchaseRecommended FSHA Holdings
Less than one year:High-interest savings account, GICs
One to three years: Short to mid-term government bonds
Three to five years: 70% Bonds and 30% low-risk stocks
Five to ten years:Blue-chip stocks, REITs
More than ten years:Stock market index fund

Note that this is a suggestion and not financial advice. Your FHSA portfolio allocation may vary with your risk tolerance. If you do not want to adjust your portfolio manually, a good approach could be investing in a target-date fund. While these funds are designed for retirement, they will automatically adjust to risk-averse investments as your target date nears. This will save you trading fees and the hassle of rebalancing your portfolio. You can also use calculators such as our GIC calculator to predict your future FHSA balance.

The Bottom Line

The FHSA is a great tool for first-time homebuyers to save on income taxes and fund their down payment. However, careful planning is required as it comes with specific timelines that can impact your savings strategy. To learn more about the FHSA and how to make the most of it, i’ts best to speak with a financial advisor.

The calculators and content on this page are provided for general information purposes only. WOWA does not guarantee the accuracy of information shown and is not responsible for any consequences of the use of the calculator.