401k vs RRSP: What Are They? How Do They Differ?

Do you know the difference between a 401k vs RRSP? If not, don’t worry – many people don’t either!

401K vs RRSP

In this article, we’ll break down the differences between these two retirement savings options.

The average American worker has a 401k retirement savings plan through their employer, while the average Canadian worker has a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP).

There are some key differences between the two types of plans that can affect how much money you have in retirement.

Here’s a look at the American 401k vs the Canadian RRSP.

What Do 401k and RRSP Refer To?

An RRSP is a Canadian retirement plan. It stands for Registered Retirement Savings Plan. The Group Retirement Savings Plan (Group RRSP or GRSP) is the closest Canadian equivalent to the American 401(k). The RRSP and GRSP have a lot in common. However, a GRSP has one benefit over an RRSP in that many companies match their employees’ contributions.

On the other hand, a 401(k) is an employer-funded retirement plan available in the US and other countries. It’s named for the section of the Internal Revenue Code that created it.

401k and Group RRSP are retirement plans that let you set aside money pre-tax as an employee. This means you get to save for retirement without having to pay taxes on your income until it’s withdrawn in retirement.

Imagine if you didn’t have to pay taxes on your salary each month — you’d have more money available to put toward retirement, wouldn’t you? Although both government plans offer tax-deferred growth, they have several differences.

Let’s look at how they differ from each other.

American 401(k) vs Canadian RRSP: How Do They Differ From Each Other?

There are several differences between the two retirement plans, especially in contribution mode.

1. The Setup

For a 401k plan, only self-employed people can set it up themselves. If you’re employed, your employer will be integral in the setup. That could be because they are the ones that will handle the deductions from your payroll.

On the other hand, for an RRSP, you can walk into any financial institution or bank and set it up. If your employer sets the RRSP up, it will become a Group RRSP (or GRSP) for which you will pay by agreeing to specific deductions from your payroll.

2. Withdrawal Penalties

With a 401k, you need to be over age 59.5 to take out money without attracting a 10% penalty. The RRSP, on the other hand, doesn’t penalize you should you decide to take out the money way before your retirement.

With the RRSP, you will be charged taxes on whatever amount you take out besides not getting that contribution room again.

3. Contribution Options

The contribution rules and options for 401k vs RRSP can’t be more different. For RRSP, you need to have earned money the previous year to contribute. The Canadian government has a website that helps people calculate the amounts they need to pay.

For 401k plans, the IRS has a fixed amount you need to contribute. These amounts don’t in any way depend on your income. Once you hit 50 years of age, you get an increase in the contribution room.

Finally, 401k has two options you can contribute with; the traditional way and Roth. Traditional means that you pay taxes on the money as you’re putting it in. Roth means you only use the after-tax dollars.

4. The Carryforward Rules

If you cannot contribute one year in a 401k plan, you lose the room and can no longer contribute the following year. The RRSP allows you to push forward any extra contribution room you accumulate.

That means you c carry forward the flexible payments to later years when there are more favourable tax rates.

401K vs RRSP: How Are They Similar?

1. Tax Deferment

Both offer you the chance to save for retirement via a tax deferment scheme. The tax deferment plan proceeds until the contributor decides to withdraw their money. That can either be in retirement or any other time they feel like it.

2. Who makes the Contribution?

For both, either the employer or the employee can contribute. 

3. Taxes on Withdrawal

Once you want to withdraw the money, it is subject to government taxes that have been deferred. The same applies to all of them. However, in the 401k plan, if you had chosen the Roth option, then the taxes won’t apply.

4. Investment Options

The employees decide what they want their money to invest in for both retirement plans. It can be mutual funds, government bonds, or any other investment choice. The employees have the responsibility to evaluate and monitor these investments.

Supplemental Information: 401(k) vs RRSP

Is It Possible to Convert RRSP to 401k?

You can’t convert an RRSP to 401k since there’s no rule in the regulations that allows you to. That’s why the best option is to let the savings grow in your account till retirement or convert them to RRIF (Registered retirement income fund).

The RRIF enables you to withdraw at a lower withholding tax rate of 15%. It would be 25% for the RRSP. The RRIF allows you to distribute the amounts you want to withdraw over a year.

The last option you can try is to withdraw all the money from the RRSP completely.

Can You Change a 401(K) To an RRSP or Vice Versa?

Yes, Canadian law allows you to transfer your 401k to the Canadian RRSP. It still retains the tax deferment basis it originally had. So, if you moved to Canada due to a green card or other means, you can have your foreign retirement plan transferred to the RRSP.

How Does This Affect Your Retirement if You’re a Canadian Living in the US?

If you live in the US and would love to retire in Canada, you can contribute to a 401k plan but then transfer the funds to the Canadian RRSP once you retire and want to get back to Canada. The tax rules will apply here and might have negative results for you.

That’s why you need to ensure you consult a cross-border finance expert to help you with the transfer.

401K Vs. RRSP: Which Retirement Savings Plan Is Best for Me?

This will ultimately depend on the country you live and work in. if you’re in Canada, the RRSP is an excellent way to save for your retirement. They will offer you the same benefits the 401k plan will offer a person living and working in America.

What Is the Equivalent of 401 (K) In Canada?

The RRSP is the equivalent of the 401k in Canada. 

FAQs: 401K vs RRSP

Is RRSP Better than 401k?

A 401(k) has a 10% penalty if you withdraw funds before 59.5 years of age, while an RRSP does not have any penalties if you withdraw the money before retirement. You will be taxed on the money you take out, and your contribution room is lost for good.

Are 401K Plans Worth It?

There may be administrative expenses associated with your 401(k), which you can’t change. If your employer covers some or all of these fees, a 401(k) plan may be worth it. However, it might not be if it charges high administrative fees in addition to providing limited investment choices and no offer match from your employer.

Can You Lose Your 401k?

Yes, you can. If you cash out your stock investments during a downturn, are heavily invested in company shares, or cannot repay a 401(k) loan, you might suffer a 401(k) loss.

Can I Contribute 100% Of My Salary to My 401k?

The lesser of 100% of pay or $19,000 is the maximum deferral amount allowed in 2019 to a 401(k)s. However, some 401(k)s may restrict your contributions to a lower amount. As a result, IRS regulations may restrict the contribution for highly compensated workers.

Is It Better to Retire in Canada or USA?

The Canadian equivalent of an IRA has larger contribution limits and fewer withdrawal restrictions than the American version. America’s Social Security is paid for by payroll taxes. In contrast, Canada’s Old Age Security pension plan is funded through general tax revenue.

Final Words: American 401K vs RRSP in Canada

So there you have it! The 401K and RRSP are both retirement accounts, but the two account types have different tax consequences and apply in different countries.

The 401k is a great investment for Americans, while the RRSP works well for Canadians.

Hopefully, this article has helped clear up some of the confusion around these two types of retirement plans, and you are now better equipped to make the right decision for your future.


> What is RRSP?
> How to withdraw RRSP without paying tax


Charity (Charee) Oisamoje is the founder of TheFinanceKey - TFK. She leads the editorial team, which is comprised of subject-matter experts.

Her professional competencies and expertise make her qualified on this topic. She is an expert at collecting details, verifying facts, and making complex subjects easy to understand.

Backed by Solid Credentials: ✔️MBA in Finance ✔️Canadian Investment Funds (IFIC) Graduate ✔️Masters Degree in International Business ✔️Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) Candidate ✔️Chartered Insurance Professional (CIP) ✔️BSc Accounting

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