What is an RRSP?

What is an RRSP, really?

An RRSP is simply a saving or investing account with certain tax-saving characteristics.

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Of course you know what an RRSP is—it’s that thing you’re putting money into to save for retirement, right? Beyond that, many people’s understanding of RRSPs is pretty fuzzy. A common misconception is that the RRSP is a type of investment like a mutual fund, but it’s not.

So, what is an RRSP?

It’s simply a saving or investing account with certain tax-saving characteristics. When your bank sells you an RRSP, all they’re selling you is a prepackaged investment—usually a collection of mutual funds or a wrap program—that happens to be in an RRSP or registered account. But you can also open an empty RRSP account at your bank or discount brokerage and put whatever investments you want in it. You can even hold several different RRSP accounts with different institutions. “It’s really a personal pension plan,” says Peter Volpé, senior vice-president of the Toronto wealth management firm Integra. “For those of us who don’t have a pension plan to fall back on, it’s our best opportunity to build our own pension.”