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Insights & advice

Saving for your child’s education

Nov 2021 – 15 min read

Key takeaways

  • With the cost of post-secondary education continuing to rise, it’s important to start saving as soon as you can.

  • Tax-efficient savings options like an RESP can help you save for your child’s education.

  • Combining government grants with other personal investments and savings can help you cover the costs of college or university.

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When to start saving for your child’s education

The short answer? The sooner, the better.

When starting a familyOpens a new website in a new window - Opens in a new window , the cost of college or university may seem like something to think about in the distant future. However, with both the cost of livingOpens in a new window - Opens in a new window and the price of post-secondary education on the rise, putting money aside now can be a big help when the time comes.

For the 2021/2022 academic year, students in full-time undergraduate programs will pay an average of $6,693 in tuition fees, up 1.7% from the year before. For graduate programs, the cost rises to $7,742 a year.

With that in mind, when it comes to planning your child’s future, it can be a big help to start saving as soon as you can.

How to start saving

There are many saving and investment accounts as well as government grants and benefits that can help as you start putting money away for school.

  • Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP)

    Registered with the Canadian government, an RESPOpens a new website in a new window is a tax-advantaged savings account to help you save for your child’s post-secondary education. The money in an RESP is invested tax-free to help maximize the amount available when your child is ready for higher education. Many people choose to set up automatic contributions to grow the money in their RESPOpens in a new window, with the monthly minimum contribution being $25.

  • Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG)

    The CESG is a grant paid directly from the Federal Government into an RESP. Everyone with an RESP is eligible to receive it, regardless of your household income. The CESG pays 20% of annual contributions you make to all eligible RESPs to a maximum of $500 per beneficiary. The lifetime limit is $7,200.

  • Canada Learning Bond (CLB)

    Low-income families may also qualify for the CLBOpens a new website in a new window - Opens in a new window . If you’re eligible, the Government of Canada will contribute up to $2,000 to an RESP.

  • Tax-free savings account (TFSA)

    In addition to savings accounts that are specifically designed for education, you can also use regular tax-free savings accountsOpens a new website in a new window to help pay for college or university.  

  • Provincial education savings incentives

    Depending on where you live, you could also qualify for additional financial help. For example, in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, the provincial governmentOpens a new website in a new window - Opens in a new window may also add money to an RESP if you’re eligible – and this is on top of federal grants like the CLB and CESG.

  • Savings accounts and other investments

    Finally, you can always use money from regular savings accountsOpens in a new window and personal investments to help pay for your child’s education.

How much should you be saving?

Every family is different, but a good rule of thumb is to start saving early and save often.

It’s important to remember that the price of tuition may be substantially more than the current average when it’s time for your child to start college or university, and that you may need to cover more than just tuition. You might also want to make sure you’ve got additional costs covered like the price of living on campus, commuting or travel, and other expenses such as books or, supplies, food and more.

The amount you may choose to save will depend on things like your household income, daily expenses, and other savings and investments you may already have. Maximizing the annual limits for things like RESPs or TFSAs can help grow your money, and even small contributions now can add up later.Opens in a new window

What happens if your child doesn’t go to school?

Of course, it could be the case that when your child reaches high school, they decide that post-secondary education isn’t for them – but that doesn’t mean all your saving was for nothing.

There are still options available if your child doesn’t want to go to college or universityOpens in a new window. You can leave an RESP open for up to 36 years, so they can always use it later if they change their mind. Depending on the RESP, you may also be able to move the money to a Registered Disability Savings Plan or Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP).

The information provided is based on current laws, regulations and other rules applicable to Canadian residents. It is accurate to the best of our knowledge as of the date of publication. Rules and their interpretation may change, affecting the accuracy of the information. The information provided is general in nature, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for advice in any specific situation. For specific situations, advice should be obtained from the appropriate legal, accounting, tax or other professional advisors.