There are two advantages to RRSP investing. The first is tax deferred growth, which allows the effects of compounding to grow your assets far in excess of non-sheltered assets. The second is the assumed reduction in your personal tax rate at older ages when the assets will be withdrawn. Both of these benefits may not be as advantageous as they used to be.
RRSP funds should be invested in income generating assets, such as bonds and GICs, which would attract the most tax outside of an RRSP. Assets which return capital gains are best kept outside of the RRSP due to the more favourable tax treatment of those gains. With interest rates at multi-decade lows, and projections that these rates will continue for the foreseeable future, compounded growth will be severely hindered.
With growing government debt loads and lower projected growth rates, we also face the real potential for higher taxes. This may be especially true with respect to retirement assets, which will draw the attention of future politicians struggling to pay for the debt load which, as far as many voters will be concerned, was created by a wealthy retired class.
In analyzing a retirement strategy, it would therefore be prudent to consider the possibility of low investment returns, and higher tax rates. For instance, a 50 year old, earning only 3%/year, with a marginal tax rate increasing from 46% to 60%, by age 71 would have been slightly better off without an RRSP. Assuming investments are based on capital gains the RRSP effectiveness drops significantly.
Most scenarios for the future do still show RRSP investing to be beneficial, especially if it is likely that you will find yourself in a lower tax bracket at retirement. Nonetheless, based on age, investment return, and future tax rates, there will be a percentage of Canadians who would have been better off without registered assets. Those fortunate enough to expect to remain in the top tax bracket should consider whether deregistering all of their assets now would reduce their total tax bill, if tax rates do increase in the future.