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What does an optimal TFSA portfolio look like? What type of investments should be in it given its tax-free growth and withdrawal benefits?

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A questoin that I deal with almost every day. Like most investments it comes down to.....What is the purpose for this money? If it is truly a rainy day savings account that you may need in the short term, then fixed income investments like savings accounts, GIC's, Bonds, Bond funds and Fixed Income ETF's are ideal as they are taxed very inefficiently outside of any registered plan (therefore tax free in here). However if you have a plan in place that has all your short term needs covered elsewhere, I believe this is the place that you should be the most aggressive in your overall portfolio. If that mining stock goes up by 1000% wouldn't it be nice to put all of that gain in your pocket?

  • I would hope your not advocating using a TFSA as an instrument of recklessness just because the profits (if there is any) are not taxable – Tim Jun 15 '10 at 15:53
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    @tim I think he's suggesting "most aggressive in your overall portfolio", not "go out and be more reckless" – Chris Cudmore Oct 26 '10 at 17:01
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I think "optimal" is a term that needs to be better qualified - what's optimal investment for one person is not necessary optimal for another, as it depends on the investor's time horizon, risk tolerance, and investment knowledge.

I would personally put fix-income (or products that generates incomes that CRA considers as "interest") products in the TFSA so the gains aren't taxed at all. I would consider putting preferred shares in this account as well, since dividend incomes are taxed higher than capital gain and preferred shares don't usually change in price unless the company's ability to pay the dividends are in-doubt. I don't want to put common equities in TFSA as that would take away your ability to leverage past losses to reduce future capital gains.

If you are using TFSA as a way to accelerate saving for a near-term purchase, then you definitely want to employ fix-income products as the underlying saving vehicle, since market volatility would be your enemy (unless you are feeling very lucky). If you are using TFSA as a way to supplement your registered retirement saving account, then you can treat it the same way you would invest in your RRSP.

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