FHSA – First Home Savings Account

Let’s face it, buying your first home in Canada has become more challenging in the past few years. The days of saving up enough money for a downpayment in your first few years of work seem far away. Even if you are a good saver, where do you put your money? Common ways have been in a savings account or contributing to a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) and withdrawing the majority of the account through the Home Buyers’ Plan.

In 2023 the Canadian Government released a new account to give a clear answer of how to save for the downpayment on your first home: the Tax-Free First Home Savings Account (FHSA). This account provides the benefits of all the other ways to save and provides clarity on how to do it.

The Basics

The FHSA contributions work like an RRSP contribution as they are tax deductible. This means if you earn $60,000 in income in a year but contribute $5,000 into the FHSA, your taxable income is lowered to $55,000. The best part? You do not use up your RRSP contribution room!

You can put $8,000 into the FHSA per year starting in 2023, up to a lifetime maximum of $40,000, so it would take until 2027 to max the account out. What happens then? Well, are you ready to buy your first home? If not, do not worry as the account can stay open for 15 years from when you opened it.

When you do finally withdraw the money to purchase your first home, you may be wondering how much tax you need to pay. This amount is zero! Yes, $0. The withdrawal on a qualified home purchase is tax free. You get the tax deduction when you put it in, and you pay no taxes upon withdrawal.


FHSA Investments

The investments you can hold in the FHSA are the same as other registered accounts such as an RRSP and TFSA. Some examples are mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETF’s), stocks, guaranteed investment certificates (GICs) and cash or cash equivalents.

Time horizon is critical when choosing what to invest in. If you are starting out and know it will be upwards of 10 years until you buy a home, you may consider taking on a little more risk for higher return potential over that period. If you are “turbo charging” your downpayment and you know within 2 years you will buy a house, a conservative investment would make the most sense.

If you are unsure, a qualified professional can help you throughout the whole process.


What if I do not use the FHSA to buy a home? 

Your FHSA must be closed:

The year you turn 71

15 years after first opening the account

The year following the year of the qualifying withdrawal

There are situations where you may not use your FHSA to purchase a qualified home. A couple of the most common ones are:

You may choose to rent for the rest of your life.

You may move in with a partner who already owns a home.

You are not ready to buy a home within 15 years of opening the account.

Remember the part where you receive the tax-deduction on your contribution? If you do not purchase a home for whatever reason, you can transfer the FHSA into an RRSP on a tax-free basis! This is a great benefit of the account, especially as it doesn’t use up any RRSP contribution room.

If you do not transfer it into an RRSP and you withdraw the money NOT for a qualified home purchase, this amount will be taxable to you.


Where do I go from here?

If you have read this far, you probably are planning to buy a home at some point, or you know someone who is. Home ownership is a significant life event for most Canadians and sometimes it may not feel achievable.

A few tips which will help along the way:


Have a plan in place

If you are training for your first marathon, you probably won’t just head out the door for a run randomly leading up to the race. You may have a 6-month training schedule, a recovery plan and a plan for the marathon weekend itself. Planning out your training far in advance is the best strategy to ensure things go smoothly. Financial goals and home ownership goals are no different than planning another endeavor. Sometimes you can achieve it without a plan, but often it will not go smoothly and it probably will not be a comfortable ride.


Ensure your overall wealth plan is not fully replaced by a home owership goal 

It is understandable buying your first home may be your number one financial goal, but it is best to ensure your retirement savings is not fully replaced by a home ownership goal for a period of your life.

Let’s say you spend 9 years contributing only into your FHSA, and no other retirement accounts. You finally purchase your home, and most of your money over a further 9 years goes into renovations, bill payments and the rest. After 18 years, you finally feel comfortable saving for retirement. The bad news? You just lost 18 years of saving/investing for retirement, which may mean you work longer or have to save A LOT more each month to achieve the goal. A retirement goal 30 years from now is a lot easier to manage than a retirement goal 12 years from now.


Work with a qualified professional 

If you are unsure of how to start saving or if you are unsure if this account is right for you, you should work with a qualified professional. They can help you put a plan in place and remove a lot of the stress while guiding you along the path to achieving your goal. Having someone else along for the journey will make it easier and will give you more time to focus on other important aspects of your life.



This material is provided for general information and is subject to change without notice. Every effort has been made to compile this material from reliable sources however no warranty can be made as to its accuracy or completeness. Before acting on any of the above, please make sure to see a professional advisor for individual financial advice based on your personal circumstances.

Investments and Your Estate

Have you had to settle an estate lately? If you have, you may know that it can be an exercise in frustration. More recently, banks and credit unions are asking for probate on smaller and smaller amounts. A recent, immediate, family story was a request to probate a bank account with only $23,000 in it. Their threshold is apparently $20,000; however, it is within their discretion to request a probated will on any amount below that. In this family’s situation, all other assets passed directly to the named beneficiaries on various investments accounts, such as TFSA and RRIF. Not only is there now an undue delay of months, depending on whether you do a simplified method or not, the average cost can range between $2000-$3500. That’s an awful lot on $23,000! 

On the upside, there is a way to keep your estate efficient, private, and less costly for settlement: have some or all of your non-registered/taxable/open investments with a life insurance company. While still offering an investment portfolio of both growth and security, their products allow you to name a beneficiary, bypassing any need for probate. Any inheritance remains completely private, unlike a will, which is public, and your money can be distributed in weeks versus months or longer. Potential costs associated with these investments are increasingly unfounded, as companies have introduced low-cost versions, to attract estate planning money, knowing this has been a long-standing objection.

If your financial advisor is not talking to you about this, we would love to!

Mybusinessmagazine Stephanie Lafond Interview.

When Stephanie Lafond began her financial career at Mutual Life, the gender balance at her office was 50/50. She didn’t know then what an anomaly that was. “In 1993, that was leading edge. I didn’t realize until I left in 2005 how male dominant the industry was. I would go to these big meetings and the room would be 80 to 90 percent men.” A very recent report from Investment Executive Report Card currently has female Advisors across all channels at 20.6 percent.

Today, Stephanie is part owner of Limestone Financial Inc.,and Senior Financial Planner at the Limestone Team, at Assante Financial Management Ltd.” with offices in Brockville and Kingston, Ontario. While she’s seen many changes in the last three decades, the lack of women in the industry is not one of them.

Why so few women?
A 2020 report from the financial services consulting firm StrategyMarketing.ca lists some reasons why many women don’t pursue a career as an Advisor. Among them: the industry is male dominated, the pay is potentially unsteady, and there’s a perception that giving advice is based primarily on financial calculations. At the top of the list was that women didn’t think they had the skills required for the job.

Stephanie begs to differ. In her experience, many women are, by nature, ideally suited for a career in financial planning. “We’re compassionate and nurturing,” she says. “A lot of time in meetings, particularly with women, you talk about many different things that aren’t purely about the client’s investment or insurance portfolio. You certainly must be well-versed and wear that hat too, but you build the relationship by talking, listening and sharing about life with people.”


Talking a lot – an attribute Stephanie was disciplined for in elementary school – turns out to be something that helped her do well in her own career. “It’s just so interesting to see how certain childhood experiences and personality traits led to my success in this career: leadership skills, giving people direction and advice, as an instructor and lifeguard, hardworking and goal-oriented, as a top student and Canada Cord Girl Guide, and loving to have conversations with people all around me!” she laughs.

Conversations – especially about the many rewards financial planning has to offer as a career – is also one of the ways that could encourage more women to enter the industry. “Female independent Financial Advisors need to talk to other women about what a wonderful career this is,” says Stephanie, who has recently been having some good conversations about this herself. “The push is for 50 per cent but that seems like a huge hurdle to overcome. Lack of diversity and gender bias are still very real in our sphere.”

She notes it’s a great career for women who are starting, or anticipate starting, a family. When Stephanie was a new mother herself, she controlled her own schedule, so she could pick up her kids from school, stay home if they were sick or take holidays that coincided with the family’s schedule. Today, the kids are adults, but Stephanie’s schedule allows her the flexibility to help her aging parents. “It’s hard to keep going to your supervisor and asking for that flex time. And that’s huge for women who are, a lot of the time, the primary caregiver for children and older parents. In the right environment, much of the work that I do, can be done from home, given the widespread use of cloud-based technology, especially post-pandemic.”

That flexibility also extends to gaining the knowledge and designations required to become a Certified Financial Planner. In fact, the financial planning sector has, long before the pandemic, offered courses online, for self-study. And that’s a good fit for someone who is raising a young family and needs to work through studying on their own time. 

Why women are good for the finance industry 

Given the makeup of the financial services industry, half the population may be underserved. And that half wields a lot of power. According to Forbes Magazine, women control more than half the private wealth in the U.S. and make 80 percent of the purchases. Women will also inherit 70 percent of the $41 trillion in intergenerational wealth transfer expected over the next 40 years. Similar statistics have been reported in Canada, and given the choice, says Stephanie, many of these women would prefer to get financial advice from another knowledgeable, professional, and compassionate woman.

Stephanie recognizes that attracting more female Advisors is a challenge for most head offices, especially since advisors aren’t employees. “In my opinion, if an advisory team is going to move over to Assante, they’re not usually starting from scratch,” she says. “They’re coming from another dealer, where they have an established business. Given that it’s mostly men out there, mostly male teams will be transitioning over. So, I can see where it’s hard from a corporate perspective. But we need to start thinking outside the traditional toolbox, from a recruiting perspective.”

Interestingly, across their offices in the Kingston area, Assante does have a 50/50 split: I’m sure it’s one of the highest percentages in the country,” says Stephanie. Once you get a woman or two, they often attract other women, which is what has happened in our area.

Building a team with a focus on the future

Stephanie’s own team has gone from one man and three women to, currently, two women and three men. “We have to switch the balance back again,” she laughs. Beyond Stephanie, the Limestone Team includes Tom Shillington, Service Associate; June Donnelly, Business Associate and Licensed Assistant; Everett Childs, Financial Advisor; Rajpreet Singh, Marketing and Digital Communications; and Graham Milligan, Insurance Advisor. “Tom is in the autumn of his career. He’s looking to retire from an active advisory role this year and step into an administrative role, where he can work part time and remotely,” says Stephanie. “Everett is a junior Advisor. He will be getting a CFP designation, so with Tom stepping away, he and I will be the primary advisors for the time being.”

Stephanie has been deliberate in the way she’s structured her team. She’s ensuring there’s a succession plan in place, so the transition is seamless for both her team and their clients, when an Advisor decides to leave. “It happens all the time,” she says. “An Advisor just leaves. They’ve tried to find succession but for one reason or another, it hasn’t worked out. It’s really hard on clients.”

Knowing they could build a team is one of the reasons Stephanie moved over to Assante. “There are many Assante Advisors in Eastern Ontario. We can build relationships with them and hire younger people, sometimes even share employees. From these sources, and other progressive Assante programs, we’ve built a team so that, when the day comes, everyone is familiar with the clientele. You care about your clients – we treat them the way we would treat ourselves or our parents. It’s their money and I don’t want to leave them in the lurch. I inherited some clients where that happened, so I know how upsetting it is to be restarting those close relationships.”

Increasingly, Stephanie’s team is building relationships with higher net-worth families, and a new generation of clients, their children. “About 93 percent of an Advisor’s accounts will transfer out upon the death of a spouse,” says Stephanie. “If you want to keep your business healthy, you need to meet the spouse, and the next generation.”

She notes that some Advisors shy away from younger clients because the money that comes with them tends to mean small accounts. And that’s missing the big picture. At Limestone, where her team ranges in ages and experiences, her junior Advisor can take on a younger client who will, hopefully, grow to be a client for life. “Most importantly for us, philosophically speaking, is working with people who are both willing to pay for advice and to implement it.”

Outside of her practice, Stephanie finds time to give back to the community. An avid volunteer over the years, one of her latest ventures is as a committee member for the Southeastern Ontario Fund for Investment in Innovation (SOFII). The program offers loans to high-growth, innovative small and medium-sized enterprises, to help them face growth challenges. “One of the areas we are focused on is funding women-led businesses. I wanted to be a part of a committee that is helping to lift female entrepreneurs up.” 

The Link between Happiness and Health

Whether it’s your money or your body, wealth and health always go hand-in-hand. It is impossible to achieve the first without the latter and vice versa.

Healthy habits build a healthy body that supports identifying your goals and reaching them to find happiness. 

Happiness is everywhere, but sometimes we are so engrossed in our everyday lives that we lose sight of the small things that bring us incredible joy.

Be happy, healthy, AND wealthy. 



Happiness and health are highly correlated. Happy people tend to be healthier physically and have a lower risk of developing chronic diseases. 

A study on individuals with type 2 diabetes found that those who were happier had lower inflammatory markers, which might slow the progression of the disease. Happy people have also been shown to be more productive at work and there is even some research that suggests that happiness can improve mitochondrial health.

Research on twins suggests that 35-50% of happiness is genetic. This means that while a lot of our happiness is out of our control, there is still a lot that is in our control. The catch is that, according to Dr. Gillian Mandich, who studies the science of happiness, humans aren’t great at knowing what makes them happy. She says that it’s not the big shiny moments, such as a promotion or new car, but rather the small moments that add up over time, that determine how happy we are.

Dr. Michael Rucker, another expert in the field of happiness, says that the Goldilocks’ spot is to dedicate at least 2 hours per day (14 hours per week) to pleasurable activities. This might mean carving out some time for a specific fun activity, or learning how to find pleasure in an activity you’re already doing.

Like many other things, happiness is a learned skill that we have to practice. But eventually, it will become a habit and you’ll be in a positive state more often!

So how can we invite more happiness into our lives?


1. Sprinkle in small bursts of joy. The sum of small day-to-day moments creates a happy life. So one way to invite more happiness into your life is to sprinkle in small bursts of joy throughout the day. This might mean emailing someone to thank them for something they did for you, having a meaningful conversation with a friend, taking 30 seconds to help someone who needs it or recalling a great past experience. 

2. Seek out playful activities. Engaging in playful activities such as sports or games not only boosts your happiness but is also important for your brain! One study found that juvenile rats that engaged in “rough and tumble” the play had higher activation in certain areas of the brain compared to control rats. They also had greater brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene expression, suggesting that play is important for neurodevelopment.

3. Practice gratitude. Gratitude is appreciating the good in your life as opposed to focusing on the negatives. While it sounds simple, gratitude can change the way our brains are wired. Research suggests that practicing gratitude is associated with greater life satisfaction, improved mood, less stress, and can even improve athletic recovery by reducing inflammation, decreasing blood pressure, and improving sleep.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of humour. Laughing is such a powerful mood lifter that laughing therapy is being used to treat people with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, as well as stress-related diseases. Research has shown that laughter suppresses cortisol, one of the stress hormones while enhancing dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good chemicals. Give yourself some laughter therapy by going to see a stand-up comedian, an improv show, or watching your favourite comedy movie.

5. Make self-care non-negotiable. This means dedicating some time each day to an activity that is for you and you only. Going for that quick walk in the middle of the day will not only improve your physical health but also make you more focused for the rest of the day. Taking time to meditate every day will make you more patient with your family. Setting aside time to work on a project or hobby will give you balance, give you a sense of accomplishment, and make you happier.

 6. Don’t confuse seeking happiness with trying to be happy all the time. In fact, trying to be happy all the time makes usless happy, because we’re constantly chasing (and failing to achieve) an unrealistic expectation. Instead, focus on creating happy moments when you can, and accepting the lows as they come as well.


What other strategies are you using to bring more happiness and joy into your life? We’d love to know! 

Credits for the info go to drgregwells.com/blog.



TFSA vs RRSP for Retirement Savings

Two of the main self-funded retirement vehicles which Canadians use are the Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) and the Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). The RRSP was introduced in 1957, while the TFSA was introduced in 2009. The RRSP is typically known as the investment account you use to save for retirement, but a TFSA may be the correct choice for your situation.

So TFSA vs RRSP for retirement savings, let’s see which is best for you! 

How does an RRSP work?

An RRSP account can be opened once you start earning income from employment or certain other sources. Your RRSP contribution room is the lower of 18% of your previous year’s income or the specified maximum ($30,780 for 2023), subject to certain adjustments, usually for work pension contributions. Your unused contribution room is carried over each year, so it keeps building. One of the main benefits of an RRSP is the contributions are tax deductible. For example, if you make $80,000 a year and you contribute $10,000 in one year, your taxable income will be reduced to $70,000 and your taxes payable will be reduced by roughly $3,000. Your tax deductions go against your marginal tax rate, not your average tax rate. Another main benefit is the growth within your RRSP is tax-sheltered. When you withdraw money from an RRSP, at any time after contributing it or in retirement, both your contributions and growth will be treated as taxable income. Presumably, your retirement income is lower than your earned income over your career, resulting in a net benefit to you over the years.


How does a TFSA work?

A TFSA can be opened by all Canadian residents who are 18 or older. There is a specified contribution amount each year, but you can carry forward the unused contribution room up to your lifetime maximum. Contributions to a TFSA differ from an RRSP as there are no tax deductions, however the growth within your TFSA is tax-free, and when you withdraw from your TFSA there are no taxes to pay whatsoever. For example, if your TFSA is valued at $50,000 and over 30 years it grows to $150,000, you can take out the full $150,000 without paying taxes.


When an RRSP may be better

You are self-funding your retirement

If you are like most Canadians, you won’t be part of a pension plan through work. That means you have a greater responsibility to save towards retirement. Building up an RRSP over your working career means you get tax deductions on your contributions and will receive a stream of income each year in retirement. RRSPs by design are rolled over to a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) in retirement (or at the latest age 71) when the government specifies you start taking out at least the minimum each year. You will also need RRSPs as a mainstay because only saving in your TFSA, will not get you the retirement income you need to survive.


Your income is higher while working than in retirement

A key factor with RRSP contributions is determining if your income is likely to be higher when you are contributing compared to what it will be in retirement. RRSP contributions are tax deductible against your marginal tax rate. If you make $130,000/year, your marginal tax rate is roughly 43%.  If you contribute $10,000 in a year, your taxable income would be lowered to $120,000 and you would lower your taxes payable by $4,300. 

If you will be receiving roughly $65,000/year in retirement, your marginal tax rate would roughly be 30%. If you withdraw $10,000/year in retirement, that would increase your taxable income to $75,000 and you would have taxes payable on that additional withdrawal of $3,000. The net difference is $1,300 in your pocket.


You lack financial discipline 

A TFSA is a lot easier to access your money from. Since your withdrawals aren’t taxed and you get your contribution room back the following calendar year, it may feel easy to take out lump sums. On the other hand, an RRSP withdrawal has taxes withheld on the withdrawal. If you want to take out $50,000 for example, the withholding tax is 30%. You would need to take out $71,429 to receive $50,000 in your bank account, given $21,429 (30%) would be withheld for tax purposes. I’m addition, you do not get to re-contribute those funds back into the account at a future date. That may be the incentive an individual needs to not make any lump-sum withdrawals throughout their working career. 


When a TFSA may be better

The TFSA is generally misunderstood. A lot of individuals think of it as a savings account as opposed to an investment account. Some situations where a TFSA contribution makes more sense are listed below.


Your current income is low/lower than in the future

If you are in a lower marginal tax bracket, contributing to a TFSA probably makes sense over an RRSP contribution. If, for example, you’re making $45,000 in a year, you would be in a marginal tax bracket of 20%, meaning a $10,000 RRSP contribution would lower your taxes payable by $2,000. Given the tax deduction isn’t at a high rate and you may have a salary increase later in your career (which means a higher marginal tax rate), TFSA contributions would make more sense at a lower income.


You have a pension through work

When you have a pension through work, you will receive a pension income which is taxable in retirement. Let’s say you receive a pension income of $55,000 each year, and between Old Age Security (OAS) and Canada Pension Plan (CPP) your income from them is another $20,000. This would mean your base taxable income in retirement is $75,000. Given RRSP withdrawals are taxable, this leaves you with a higher tax rate in retirement. If on the other hand, you had built up your TFSA throughout your career, all withdrawals are tax-free, keeping you with $75,000 taxable income even with a $20,000 TFSA withdrawal in one year. 


You may want to access the money before retirement 

When you withdraw from a TFSA, the withdrawal is tax-free. If you take out a lump sum when you are 50 to help purchase a cottage or a car, the TFSA would make the most sense. The next calendar year you would get your contribution room back. If you were to withdraw a lump sum from your RRSP when you are 50 to purchase a cottage or a car, there will be withholding taxes on your withdrawal, it would be treated as taxable income, and you would lose that contribution room. 

Keep in mind that TFSA money can always move to an RRSP, if it makes tax planning sense down the road.


So…which one is best for you?

These have been a few main examples of when it would make sense to invest in one account over the other. It may seem confusing which account is best for you as everyone’s situation is unique. It is beneficial to put a plan in place with a professional to guide you along the way. A lot of individuals will end up using both accounts at different times throughout their working life. A change in jobs, from a job with no pension to a job with a pension (or vice versa), may mean a change in the account you’re contributing to. One of the most important aspects of investing is to start early and stay invested long-term. 



This material is provided for general information and is subject to change without notice. Every effort has been made to compile this material from reliable sources however no warranty can be made as to its accuracy or completeness. Before acting on any of the above, please make sure to see a professional advisor for individual financial advice based on your personal circumstances.