The youngest’s school. The posters say UNLEARN.

It’s the start of the new year and I figure it’s a good time to take stock of some of our investments and savings (ok, the end of December is better but it’s chaos and I forgot to do it then). One of the things that is good to know is how much grant (and bond, if it applies to you) money you’ve received for each kid in your Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP).

If you don’t have an RESP you can find all the criteria for the program at the Government of Canada’s Canada Education Savings Program (CESP) website. Even if you are low-income you can get up to $2000 in bonds from the government. Otherwise, the government will give you 20% of your contribution in grants, up to $500 a year to a lifetime maximum per child of $7200. Also, if you can’t put the full $2500 a year in to get the $500 grant, you can always play catchup later for a maximum of $1000 worth of grants from the government, per year. The money grows tax free until you take it out to use for school. Of course, go to the link above and read all about it yourself as there is a lot more info than I can give here.

Of course, with most programs offered by the government, third party financial managers will try and convince you that it’s too difficult to manage on your own. They will try and tell you that it costs nothing to use their services and that they will manage the program for you. But there is no such thing as a free lunch and usually they get kickbacks by managing high-fee investments for you, limiting your overall returns and eating away at your savings. In fact, there is no reason why you can’t manage your own with a discount broker (such as Wealthsimple or Questrade) or through your own bank.

There are three types of plans single, family or group. If you have one kid, single (or group) are your options. If you have multiple children, a family plan is best because if one child decides not to pursue post-secondary, the other child(ren) may use the money. Group plans are usually sold via third party financial managers and are usually considered a poor product (read more on this post by Moningstar).

Having said that, I mentioned in a previous post that when my kids were young and unaware, we used to ask family for money for their RESPs instead of gifts for their birthdays. This worked out well. We also had very limited income when my children were younger so we only contributed $80 a month ($40 each) to their RESPs. Since 2020 however, we have been maxing their yearly contribution and maxing their catchup amounts.

Today I called the CESP to see where we were in terms of maxing out that money. For the eldest I can contribute $5000 a year in 2023 and 2024 and then another $635 in 2025 to hit the maximum grant. For the youngest, I have the $5000 max for the next 3 years and then in 2026 I can contribute $2000 to get the maximum grant.

Unlike plans like the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) which sends me a letter telling me how much I can contribute to get the maximum grant for that program, the CESP does not. So you will have to call. Before you call, have with you:
1 – The plan owner’s Social Insurance Number (SIN). I am the plan owner for my kids.
2 – Your child(ren’s) SINs/dates of birth/address on file
3 – To get this information, the plan owner will need to call the Canada Education Savings Program (CESP) toll-free line at 1-888-276-3624, between the hours of 8am and 5pm (ET), Monday to Friday

Make sure you ask how much grant money each individual child has received. You can also ask how much contribution room you have left for each child as well. The maximum contribution room per child is $50000 but you are only eligible for grant money for $36000 of that. We aim to save the $36000 per kid to get the grant money but after that we don’t plan on contributing.

Mr. Tucker and I didn’t have family money to see us through school so we both had to take out student loans. While I don’t regret my decision as it led to a great career, I really felt the weight of the student loan payments when I was just starting out in the working world. We’ve been lucky to be able to have the extra money to save for our children’s education but we have told our children that we expect them to also contribute either via work or scholarships. As I mentioned previously, we also have enough money, currently, for each of them to do a 4-year university or college degree if they live at home. We’ve also discussed that if they want to go away for university they will need to fill in the gaps with scholarships and/or work. Either way, they will hopefully graduate with an undergrad with a lot less debt than I had.