TFSA Contribution Limit

There are limits to how much you’re allowed to contribute to your Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA). The TFSA contribution limit, also called the annual TFSA limit, is the maximum amount you’re allowed to contribute to your TFSA in a given year. If you go over the limit, you’ll be subject to penalties. There are no limits to how many TFSAs you can open, but your total contributions between all of them during the year must not exceed your allowable limit.

When the TFSA was introduced in 2009, the contribution limit was $5,000. This table shows the annual contribution limits from 2009 onwards:

Year Contribution Limit
2009 $5,000
2010 $5,000
2011 $5,000
2012 $5,000
2013 $5,500
2014 $5,500
2015 $10,000
2016 $5,500
2017 $5,500
Total $52,000

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Contribution Rules

Each year, a certain amount of contribution room becomes available to you. You start to collect contribution room from the year you turn 18, even if you haven’t opened a TFSA and even if you haven’t earned any income. If you don’t contribute your full allowable limit during a given year, your unused TFSA contribution room is carried forward for you to use in future years. There’s also no lifetime contribution limit, so your unused TFSA contributions will carry forward indefinitely. After you withdraw money from your TFSA, you’re allowed to recontribute the full amount of the withdrawal as early as the beginning of the next calendar year.

In summary, your TFSA contribution room in any given year consists of three things:

  • the annual contribution limit for that year
  • your unused contribution room from the previous year
  • any withdrawls you made in the prior year

How the Contribution Limit is Determined

The annual TFSA contribution limit started at $5,000 when the TFSA was introduced in 2009. The new limit for each year is indexed to inflation, rounded to the nearest $500. This means that every few years the contribution limit will increase in $500 increments, assuming the rules surrounding TFSAs stay the same. The limit has changed three times since 2009. It was raised to $5,500 per year starting in 2013 in accordance with the inflation index. It was then raised to $10,000 for 2015 and subsequently reverted to $5,500 per year in 2016.

The reason the 2015 contribution limit was $10,000 was because the Conservative government enacted a change to how the limit was set. Instead of having the limit be indexed to inflation and rounded to the nearest $500, it would simply be set to $10,000 every year, regardless of the effect of inflation. When the Liberals were elected in late 2015, this change was reversed and so the limit for 2016 was brought back down to $5,500. The Bank of Canada’s (BoC) inflation target is at 2%, and so it’s likely that the annual contribution limit will increase to $6,000 by 2020.

TFSA Over-Contribution

Over-contributing to your TFSA will result in being subject to a penalty of 1% of the over-contributed amount for every month that you’re over your limit. You’ll either have to withdraw the excess amount from your TFSA or wait until you get more contribution room in order to stop being charged this tax. The most common way that people over-contribute to their TFSAs is by recontributing money to their account before the start of the following year.

To show just how negatively the over-contribution penalty can impact your savings, let’s say you over-contributed $1,000 to your TFSA in August of a given year. You’ll then be charged 1% of this amount ($10) every month from August until December. This will add up to $50 in penalties that you pay. Make sure that you keep track of what you contribute and withdraw from your TFSA to avoid making any over-contributions that could get in the way of you and your savings goals.

Contributing to Family Members’ TFSAs

Although you’re not allowed to directly contribute to someone else’s TFSA (including family members), you can give them money to contribute to their own TFSA without having that amount or earnings from that amount attributed back to you. However, according to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), the total contributions both of you make can’t be more than your individual TFSA contribution room.

What You Can Hold in a TFSA

You’re able to hold a wide range of investments to your TFSA—you’re not just limited to cash. The money in your TFSA can be invested in stocks, bonds, guaranteed investment certificates (GICs), mutual funds, and more. All the money earned by the assets in your TFSA (capital gains, dividends, and interest), are sheltered from tax.

You can also make an “in-kind” contribution to your TFSA, which is what happens when you transfer stocks that you’re invested in from a non-registered account directly to your TFSA. These stocks are assessed at their fair market value at the time of the transfer, and that will be the amount that’s contributed to your TFSA. If their value is greater than the price you paid for them when you bought them, you’re required to claim a capital gain on your taxes that year. If, however, the fair market value of these assets is less than their cost, then you can’t claim a capital loss.