It can be a challenge for first time home buyers to come up with a down payment.  With soaring Canadian real estate prices, crippling student loan debt, and low starting salaries, it can take years to save the required minimum down payment.

Canadians do have some options to help them buy their first home.  This post will explain the benefits of a first time home buyer using the Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP) or TFSA for a down payment.

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First Time Home Buyer: Using the HBP

The Home Buyers’ Plan allows you to withdraw up to $25,000 as a loan from your RRSP without paying tax.  Under the HBP, only a first time home buyer is eligible to participate, unless special rules for persons with disabilities apply.

You are considered a first time home buyer if neither you nor your spouse owned a home during the four calendar years prior to the year of withdrawal, and up to 30 days before the withdrawal.

Loan repayment under the HBP must take place over a period of 15 years, or less if desired.  The repayments begin in the second year following the year of the withdrawal.  If the required repayment is not made, an amount will have to be included as income in the year of the shortfall.

If you have previously participated in the HBP, there are certain situations in which you may be able to participate a second time.  First of all, the full amount previously withdrawn must be paid back into your RRSP before the beginning of the year that you want to participate a second time.  Also, you must still qualify as a first time home buyer.

If you contribute an amount to your RRSP, you can’t make a withdrawal under the HBP within 90 days of that contribution, or your ability to claim a deduction for the contribution may be restricted.

As a general rule, you should make your RRSP contribution more than 90 days before the withdrawal.  After a waiting period of 90 days or more, your deduction may generate a tax refund, which can also be applied toward your down payment.

As a first time home buyer, if you have money on hand for a down payment and have accumulated some RRSP contribution room, consider opening an RRSP.  You can deposit that money, wait 90 days, be eligible to participate in the HBP, and at the same time use your tax refund to add to your original down payment amount.

Each spouse or common-law partner can withdraw eligible amounts from their RRSPs under the HBP.  This also means that each person may withdraw up to the $25,000 limit, or $50,000 total (if purchasing the property jointly).

First Time Home Buyer: The TFSA Solution

The TFSA is a registered plan like the RRSP, but differs from the RRSP because contributions to the TFSA are not tax deductible.  The flip side is that withdrawals from the TFSA are not taxable, and that includes any gains earned in the plan.

The TFSA is ideal for saving up for a down payment for a house, and can even be a better solution than the HBP for a first time home buyer.

Unlike an RRSP, you don’t need earned income to create room for the contribution.  For example, a 22-year-old new graduate with a starting salary of $40,000 will only create $7,200 in RRSP contribution room for next year.  With the TFSA, he’ll already have $25,500 in contribution room by 2013 ($51,000 when combined with a spouse).

The other issue with the HBP is that when you first start out in the job market, your income is likely to be low.  Since you’re in a lower tax bracket, your RRSP contributions will result in a lower tax refund.

Final Thoughts

The Home Buyers’ Plan is a good option for a first time home buyer if they have already invested in RRSPs and don’t have any savings outside of their RRSPs.  You can withdraw up to $25,000 ($50,000 when combined with a spouse) tax-free, and repay the amount over 15 years.

For young Canadians just entering the workforce without any savings inside their RRSP, it makes sense to use the TFSA from the beginning to save for a down payment on a house.  The TFSA can offer a more flexible solution for first time home buyers.

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