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This will obviously differ by situation, and might be overly broad, and very closely related to Where to start with personal finance?.

But how about some Canada specific answers?

Say you've reached positive cash flow, debts are in the process of being paid down and may even be gone in the next few years. Where do you go next? What are common next steps or good resources to learn?

TFSA, RRSP, both? You bank is obviously keen to sell you on all of them but should you shop around institutions? etc.

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There are some great answers on this site similar to what you asked, with either a non-jurisdictional or a US-centric focus. I would read those answers as well to give yourself more points of view on early investing. There are a few differences between Canada and the US from an investing perspective that you should also then consider, namely tax rules, healthcare, and education.

I'll get Healthcare and Education out of the way quickly. Just note the difference in perspective in Canada of having government healthcare; putting money into health-savings plans or focusing on insurance as a workplace benefit is not a key motivating factor, but more a 'nice-to-have'. For education, it is more common in Canada for a student to either pay for school while working summer / part-time jobs, or at least taking on manageable levels of debt [because it is typically not quite as expensive as private colleges in the US]. There is still somewhat of a culture of saving for your child's education here, but it is not as much of a necessity as it may be in the US.

From an investing perspective, I will quickly note some common [though not universal] general advice, before getting Canadian specific. I have blatantly stolen the meat of this section from Ben Miller's great answer here: Oversimplify it for me: the correct order of investing

  • You should first and foremost build up a short-term emergency fund of cash. Without sufficient cash reserves to pay for, say, 1 month of expenses, you can very easily lose your progress if you are forced to pay for emergencies with high-interest credit. Also, in an emergency, your credit may be pulled and unavailable.
  • After having ~1 month of emergency savings, personally I recommend maximizing your employer-match pension option, if you are offered one. A typical plan will say that if you contribute up to 3% of your salary to your pension, your employer will match it. This match is so valuable that it outweighs, in my opinion, the loss of liquidity by investing directly in a pension account.
  • After taking advantage of any employer-matched savings, you can look at paying down debt & generally increasing investments, as well as increasing the length of your emergency fund [6 months in near-cash liquid assets is typically a good recommendation]. I leave it to the reader to debate within themselves the orders that these steps should take.

Once you have a solid financial footing, some peculiarities of Canadian investing are below. For all the tax-specific plans I'm about to mention, note that the banks do a very good job here of tricking you into believing they are complex, and that you need your hand to be held. I have gotten some criminally bad tax advice from banking reps, so at the risk of sounding prejudiced, I recommend that you learn everything you can beforehand, and only go into your bank when you already know the right answer. The 'account types' themselves just involve a few pages of paperwork to open, and the banks will often do that for free. They make up their fees in offering investment types that earn them management fees once the accounts are created. Be sure to separate the investments (stocks vs bonds etc.) vs the investment vehicles.

Canada has 'Tax Free Savings Accounts', where you can contribute a certain amount of money every year, and invest in just about anything you want, from bonds to stocks to mutual funds. Any Income you earn in this account is completely tax free. You can withdraw these investments any time you want, but you can't re-contribute until January 1st of next year. ie: you invest $5k today in stocks held in a TFSA, and they grow to $6k. You withdraw $6k in July. No tax is involved. On January 1st next year, you can re-contribute a new $6K, and also any additional amounts added to your total limit annually.

TFSA's are good for short-term liquid investments. If you don't know for sure when you'll need the money, putting it in a TFSA saves you some tax, but doesn't commit you to any specific plan of action.

Registered Retirement Savings Plans allow you to contribute money based on your employment income accrued over your lifetime in Canada. The contributions are deducted from your taxable income in the year you make them. When you withdraw money from your RRSP, the amount you withdraw gets added as additional income in that year. ie: you invest $5k today in stocks held in an RRSP, and get a $5k deduction from your taxable income this year. The investments grow to $6k. You withdraw $6k next year. Your taxable income increases by $6k [note that if the investments were held 'normally' {outside of an RRSP}, you would have a taxable gain of only 50% of the total gain; but withdrawing the amount from your RRSP makes the gain 100% taxable]. On January 1st next year, you CANNOT recontribute this amount. Once withdrawn, it cannot be recontributed [except for below items].

RRSP's are good for long-term investing for retirement. There are a few factors at play here: (1) you get an immediate tax deduction, thus increasing the original size of investment by deferring tax to the withdrawal date; (2) your investments compound tax-free [you only pay tax at the end when you withdraw, not annually on earnings]; and (3) many people expect that they will have a lower tax-rate when they retire, than they do today.

Some warnings about RRSP's: (1) They are less liquid than TFSA's; you can't put money in, take it out, and put it in again. In general, when you take it out, it's out, and therefore useless unless you leave it in for a long time; (2) Income gets re-characterized to be fully taxable [no dividend tax credits, no reduced capital gains tax rate]; and (3) There is no guarantee that your tax rate on retirement will be less than today. If you contribute only when your tax rate is in the top bracket, then this is a good bet, but even still, in 30 years, tax rates might rise by 20% [who knows?], meaning you could end up paying more tax on the back-end, than you saved in the short term.

Home Buyer Plan RRSP withdrawals My single favourite piece of advice for young Canadians is this: if you contribute to an RRSP at least 3 months before you make a down payment on your first house, you can withdraw up to $25k from your RRSP without paying tax! to use for the down payment. Then over the next ~10 years, you need to recontribute money back to your RRSP, and you will ultimately be taxed when you finally take the money out at retirement. This means that contributing up to 25k to an RRSP can multiply your savings available for a down payment, by the amount of your tax rate. So if you make ~60k, you'll save ~35% on your 25k deposited, turning your down payment into $33,750. Getting immediate access to the tax savings while also having access to the cash for a downpayment, makes the Home Buyer Plan a solid way to make the most out of your RRSP, as long as one of your near-term goals is to own your own home.

Registered Pension Plans are even less liquid than RRSPs. Tax-wise, they basically work the same: you get a deduction in the year you contribute, and are taxed when you withdraw. The big difference is that there are rules on when you are allowed to withdraw: only in retirement [barring specific circumstances]. Typically your employer's matching program (if you have one) will be inside of an RPP.

Note that RPP's and RRSP's reduce your taxes on your employment paycheques immediately, if you contribute through a work program. That means you get the tax savings during the year, instead of all at once a year later on April 30th.

*Note that I have attempted at all times to keep my advice current with applicable tax legislation, but I do not guarantee accuracy. Research these things yourself because I may have missed something relevant to your situation, I may be just plain wrong, and tax law may have changed since I wrote this to when you read it.

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