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Apr 19, 2024

What is the First Home Savings Account (FSHA)?

7 minute read

Buying your first home is a thrilling milestone, but the financial journey to get there can feel daunting. One of the most significant challenges is accumulating the necessary down payment to make this dream a reality. To aid in this uphill battle, various financial tools and incentives have been created to support. In this blog, we’ll focus on the most recent benefit launched, the First Home Savings Account (FHSA). For information on all the other incentives, such as the First-Time Home Buyer Land Transfer Tax Rebate, check out our blog.

Introduced as a financial innovation to support aspiring homeowners, the FHSA is a specially designed savings vehicle that combines flexibility with substantial tax advantages. This account not only helps in growing savings more effectively but also educates and prepares first-time buyers for the financial responsibilities of homeownership.

The concept of saving for a home is familiar, yet the introduction of the FHSA brings a new dimension to this process. Understanding how this account works, the benefits it offers, and how it compares to other saving strategies can significantly impact your home-buying journey. Whether you're just starting to save or looking to optimize your current strategy, the FHSA offers compelling advantages that are worth exploring. Let’s dive deeper into what the First Home Savings Account is and how it can be a key component in securing the keys to your new home.

What is the First Home Savings Account?

Launched in 2023, the First Home Savings Account (FHSA) combines the tax-free growth features of a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) with the tax-free withdrawal benefits of a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA), specifically tailored for the purpose of saving for a first home purchase. This is a tax-free home savings account where people who have not purchased a property before can accumulate savings to contribute towards their first purchase. The money in your FHSA can be used to purchase various investment products (eg. mutual funds, GICs, stocks, etc.).

There are three core benefits of the FHSA - tax deductibility, tax-free growth, and tax-free withdrawals. Every contribution to an FHSA is tax deductible, similar to RRSP contributions. All growth within the investment vehicle is tax free and then any withdrawals out of it is tax free. It pulls in the best of the RRSP and TFSA to create a savings vehicle that all who are eligible should take advantage of. Let’s dive deeper into these benefits in the next section.

Benefits of Using an First Home Savings Account

Tax Deductibility of First Home Savings Account

The tax deductible nature of contributions to a First Home Savings Account (FHSA) is one of its standout features, making it a particularly attractive option for saving towards the purchase of your first home. Let’s break down how this works in a way that’s easy to understand.

When you contribute money to your FHSA, these contributions can actually reduce the amount of income tax you owe. Essentially, any money you put into your FHSA is deducted from your taxable income. For example, if you earn $50,000 a year and contribute $5,000 to your FHSA, you'll only be taxed as if you earned $45,000. This reduction in taxable income can lead to significant tax savings, putting more money back in your pocket that you can redirect towards your home savings or other expenses. For those familiar with the Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), the FHSA functions in the same way from a tax deductibility point of view.

This mechanism is particularly beneficial because it not only helps you save more money towards your goal of homeownership but also eases your tax burden each year you contribute. It's like getting a small reward from the government every time you save for your future home! In simple terms, the tax-deductible feature of the FHSA contributions means that the more you contribute, the less tax you pay now, giving you a dual advantage: growing your home savings faster while reducing your immediate tax expenses.

Tax-Free Growth with the First Home Savings Account

Tax-free growth in a First Home Savings Account (FHSA) is another excellent benefit that helps you build your savings more efficiently. When you invest money in an FHSA, any earnings from those investments, such as interest, dividends, or capital gains, are not subject to tax as long as they remain in the account. This is what we mean by "tax-free growth." Normally, investment earnings in regular accounts get taxed each year, which can slow down how quickly your savings grow. However, in an FHSA, these earnings compound over time without being trimmed by taxes, allowing your savings to grow faster and more robustly. This tax-free growth functions similarly to the primary benefit of investing in a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA).

For example, say you invest $5,000 in your FHSA, and it grows by 5% in a year, which would be $250. In a regular investment account, you might have to pay taxes on that $250 gain, which could reduce it significantly depending on your tax rate. But in an FHSA, the full $250 is yours to keep and continue growing. Over years, this difference can add up, giving you a much larger sum when you're ready to buy your home. It’s like putting your money into a high-growth mode where every cent you earn accelerates you closer to your goal without the drag of taxes.

Tax-Free Withdrawals from the First Home Savings Account

When you’re ready to buy your first home, you can withdraw money from your First Home Savings Account (FHSA) without having to pay any income tax on those withdrawals. This is quite different from how typical savings or investment accounts might work, where withdrawing funds could mean paying taxes on the growth or earnings.

For instance, suppose you’ve been diligently saving and your FHSA balance has grown thanks to contributions and investment earnings. When it’s time to purchase your home, you can pull out the money you need, and all of it—both the money you initially put in and any gains it has earned—comes to you tax-free. This means every dollar you withdraw goes directly toward covering your home purchase costs, without a chunk getting diverted to taxes. Again, this is another function that’s similar to the benefits you receive with a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA).

This tax-free withdrawal feature ensures that the money you've saved works as hard as possible for you. It maximizes your purchasing power and simplifies the financial aspects of buying your home, as you won’t have to factor in additional costs for tax on withdrawals. This gives you a financial boost exactly when you need it most, making the biggest purchase of your life!

First Home Savings Account Eligibility 

Unfortunately not everyone is eligible for the First Home Savings Account (FHSA). To benefit from an FHSA, there are several eligibility criteria you'll need to meet:

  • Age: you must be 18 years of age or older and 71 years or younger as of December 31 of the year you open your FHSA.

  • Residency: you must be a resident of Canada. To determine your residency status, check out the Government of Canada’s handy checklist here.

  • First-time Homebuyer: you must qualify as a first-time homebuyer, which usually means you haven't owned a home during a specific period before opening an FHSA. Specifically, this means you did not live in a qualifying home as your principal place of residence that you owned or jointly owned in the calendar year of opening your account or in the previous four calendar years.

    • Spousal Consideration: note that if you lived in a qualifying home as your principal place of residence that your spouse or common-law partner owned or jointly owned in the calendar year of opening your account or in the previous four calendar years, you would not be eligible.

If you meet the above eligibility criteria, you’re good to get started! Don’t delay as you want to maximize the tax-free growth benefit that will accumulate over time.

First Home Savings Account Contribution Limits

The First Home Savings Account (FHSA) does come with some limitations, particularly as it relates to how much you can contribute. Here's a breakdown of the key contribution rules for the FHSA in Canada:

  1. Annual Contribution Limit: the annual contribution limit is set at $8,000. This means you can contribute up to this amount each year, helping you build your savings steadily towards purchasing your first home.

  2. Lifetime Contribution Limit: there is a lifetime contribution limit of $40,000 for each individual. This cap ensures that the benefits of the FHSA are targeted towards saving for a first home, rather than serving as a general investment vehicle.

  3. Carry Forward of Unused Room: if you don’t contribute the full $8,000 in a year, you can carry forward the unused room to future years. This flexibility allows you to catch up in years when you may have more financial capacity to save.

  4. Contribution Timing: contributions can be made up until the end of the calendar year in which the account holder turns 71 years of age.

These rules leave lots of room for you to benefit from the FHSA. By taking full advantage of the FHSA, you can maximize your savings that you will hopefully be able to contribute towards the purchase of your first home one day!

How to Open and Manage a First Home Savings Account

Setting up a First Home Savings Account (FHSA) in Canada is a pretty straightforward process with limited hurdles you need to clear to get started. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get started:

  • Step 1: Determine Your Eligibility

    • Review the section above to determine if you’re eligible. In short, you must be at least 18 years old, a Canadian resident, and a first-time home buyer.

  • Step 2: Choose a Financial Institution

    • Select a bank, credit union, or other financial institution that offers the FHSA. Most major banks in Canada are likely to offer these accounts given their popularity and the tax benefits they provide.

  • Step 3: Gather Necessary Documentation

    • Prepare the necessary documents to open an account. This typically includes:

      • Government-issued photo ID (e.g., passport, driver’s license).

      • Social Insurance Number (SIN).

      • Proof of address (e.g., a utility bill or bank statement).

  • Step 4: Open the Account

    • Visit your chosen financial institution in person or online to open your FHSA. During this process, you’ll fill out an application form where you'll provide your personal details and confirm your eligibility.

  • Step 5: Set Up Contributions

    • Once your account is open, decide how you want to fund it. You can set up regular contributions via direct deposit from your bank account or make lump-sum deposits whenever it suits you. Remember, you can contribute up to $8,000 annually, with a lifetime limit of $40,000.

  • Step 6: File Your Income Tax and Benefit Return

    • You need to actually tell the government that you’ve opened up an FHSA account. To do so, you need to fill out Schedule 15 - FHSA Contributions in the year you open up the account even if you didn’t contribute anything throughout the year.

  • Step 7: Monitor and Manage Your Account

    • Keep track of your contributions to ensure you don’t exceed the annual and lifetime limits. It's also important to manage the investments within your FHSA to align with your risk tolerance and time horizon.

By following these steps, you can set up and start benefiting from an FHSA to support your journey towards buying a home. It’s also well worth it to consult a financial advisor to think through how your FHSA fits into your broader savings plan. While the FHSA is a valuable savings vehicle, taking advantage of your RRSP and TFSA contribution room will also help your work towards your savings goals.

Summing It Up

The First Home Savings Account (FHSA) is a game-changer for many prospective homeowners. By offering substantial tax advantages and potentially faster savings growth, the FHSA can help make your dream of homeownership a reality sooner than you might think. 

Remember that the FHSA is just a part of the broader financial planning that you’ll need to do to work towards your home ownership dream. It’s important to get advice from experts throughout your whole home purchasing journey. This will likely start with a financial advisor to help you with your savings, then you’ll need to consult a real estate agent to support your home search, and eventually you’ll need a real estate lawyer to help you close the deal. 

At Doormat, we have experienced real estate lawyers that can help you with the closing of your purchase. We make the closing process simple with a digital app that keeps you informed and a support team that is available whenever you have questions.

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