Unlocking

Key Points for individuals wishing to unlock federally locked-in funds:

  • If you hold federally locked-in funds, your first point of contact should be with the financial intermediary that holds your account.
  • Your financial intermediary may be able to assist in determining whether you are eligible for unlocking, and may be able to assist in filling out the forms.
  • Do not send your forms to the Government or OSFI. The Government’s role is not to approve individuals’ forms or to provide individual assistance in filling out the forms.

Forms

General Questions

  1. Who can unlock funds?

    The following unlocking options apply to you if:

    1. you were a member of a federally regulated private pension plan; and,
    2. your funds in the plan were vested; and,
    3. you left the employer sponsoring the plan and took the commuted value of your pension out of the plan and transferred the funds into

       

      • A locked-in Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP);
      • A locked-in Life Income Fund (LIF); or,
      • A Restricted Life Income Fund (RLIF).
  2. What unlocking options are available?
    Age Requirement Unlocking Options
    All Ages Financial hardship: If you are experiencing financial difficulties because of low income, and/or high medical or disability-related costs relative to income.
    Non-residency: If you have ceased to be a resident of Canada for at least 2 consecutive calendar years, and you are no longer employed by the employer from which the pension funds originated.
    Shortened life expectancy: If you have a shortened life expectancy (as certified by a physician) due to physical or mental disability.
    Age 55 and Over One-time 50% unlocking: In the calendar year you turn 55 or in any subsequent year, you are allowed to transfer 50% of your funds into a tax-deferred savings vehicle, from which you can then withdraw cash.
    Small balance unlocking: In the calendar year in which you turn 55 or in any subsequent year, if your total locked-in holdings are below the minimum threshold - 50% of the YMPE or $27,650 in 2017 (the YMPE in 2017 is $55,300) -- you are able to unlock the total value of your locked-in funds

    Terms and conditions for the unlocking options are set out in the Pension Benefits Standards Regulations, 1985.

  3. How much can I unlock?
    • Non-Residency: Total value
    • Shortened Life Expectancy: Total value
    • Financial hardship:
      1. Low Income: The amount is based on the expected income for the year. This amount varies from a withdrawal of 50% of the YMPE or $27,650 in 2017 for $0 in expected income, to no permitted withdrawal when expected income is 75% of the YMPE (i.e. $41,475 for 2017) or higher. The YMPE in 2017 is $55,300
      2. High Medical or Disability-Related Costs: The amount of medical expenditures up to a maximum of 50% of the YMPE or $27,650 in 2017 (the YMPE in 2017 is $55,300) provided that the medical or disability-related expenditures exceed 20% of your expected annual income.
    • One-time 50% unlocking: Up to 50% of the total value may be transferred into a tax-deferred savings vehicle, from which you can then withdraw cash
    • Small balance unlocking: Total value, if your total locked-in holdings are below the minimum threshold – 50% of the YMPE or $27,650 in 2017 (the YMPE in 2017 is $55,300).
  4. Can I take advantage of the new options without purchasing a new locked-in fund or amending my existing contract?

    Locked-in RRSP and LIF contracts issued before May 8, 2008 did not reflect changes to the Pension Benefits Standards Regulations, 1985. Therefore, if you wish to unlock your pension funds, you may have to purchase a new contract that reflects the amendments to the Regulations, and that allows unlocking under the new provisions.

    If you do not wish to unlock under the new provisions, you do not have to purchase new contracts: all existing contracts are still valid.

  5. Do the new options affect provincially regulated pensions?

    No. These changes only affect those funds that are regulated federally.

  6. Do the new options affect the pensions of those who were or are employed by the Government of Canada?

    The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat is responsible for matters relating to pensions for federal government employees. Therefore, questions about the application of these amendments to federal government employees should be directed to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Their toll-free number is 1-800-561-7930.

  7. What is the form of withdrawal (i.e. cash or RRSP) for the three new options?

    For both the small amount unlocking and financial hardship unlocking, the funds may be withdrawn as cash, or transferred to a tax-deferred savings vehicle such as a RRSP or a RRIF, subject to any applicable income tax rules.

    For the one-time 50% unlocking, the funds cannot directly be taken in cash; the funds must be transferred to a tax-deferred savings vehicle such as a RRSP or a RRIF.

  8. Can I combine these new unlocking options? Can two options be used in the same calendar year?

    Yes, as long as all the conditions for unlocking under the relevant option(s) are met. For example, if after using the option for 50% unlocking, the amount left in the RLIF meets the small balance requirements, then that option can be used, either in the same year or in any subsequent year.

  9. Is the maximum annual income withdrawal from a LIF separate and in addition to the unlocking options?

    Yes, the maximum annual withdrawal is separate from, and in addition to, any unlocking under the one-time 50%, the small balance or the financial hardship options.

  10. Has anything been done to protect the interests of the spouses or common-law partners of individuals?

    Yes. If you wish to unlock funds under financial hardship, one-time 50% or small balance unlocking, you will be required to provide an attestation that proves your spouse or common-law partner agrees to the unlocking.

    If you do not have a spouse or common-law partner, you must provide an attestation to this effect.

    All attestations must be made before a notary public, commissioner, or other person authorized to take sworn affidavits. Attestations by a spouse or common-law partner do not have to be made at the same time as an attestation by the owner of the funds, or before the same person who takes the fund owner's attestations.

    If you wish to unlock funds under shortened life or non-residency unlocking no attestation is required under the PBSA or its Regulations, however, a financial institution may require a form of spousal consent as part of its administrative procedures.

  11. What if I can’t locate my spouse?

    If you have a spouse or common law partner, his or her consent and attestation is required before you can unlock funds under financial hardship, one-time 50% or small balance unlocking (Form 2). In a case where you cannot locate your spouse and the spouse’s consent is required, you may wish to speak to a lawyer to find out what your options are.

  12. When does my pension plan money become locked-in?

    While you are a member of a pension plan, your money and entitlement are locked-in. If you stop being a member of the plan, the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 generally requires, as a minimum, that your pension money is locked-in if you were a member of the plan for a continuous period of at least two years.

    Although not required, a pension plan may specify that your pension money is locked-in earlier than a two-year period of membership (e.g. immediate locking-in).

  13. Can I unlock small amounts when I leave my pension plan?

    Your pension plan may allow for small amounts to be unlocked. Check with your plan administrator when your membership in your plan ends. If the value of your entire pension benefit credit is less than 20% of the Year’s Maximum Pensionable Earnings (YMPE) for the calendar year in which you stop being a member, the plan administrator can choose to pay out your pension benefit credit as a cash payment.

  14. Can I use my locked-in registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) as collateral for a loan?

    No. The Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 and its Regulations prohibit an assignment, making a charge against, anticipating or using your locked-in RRSPs, including using your locked-in RRSP as a security. Any transaction attempting to do so is void. However, funds unlocked in accordance with the Pension Benefits Standards Regulations, 1985 can be used at the individual’s discretion.

  15. Does unlocking funds affect the protection these funds receive from creditors?

    Yes, regardless of whether they are withdrawn or not.

    Funds that are unlocked, even if they are transferred to an unlocked tax-deferred savings vehicle such as a RRSP or RRIF will lose the protection from creditors that locked-in funds have.

  16. Can a creditor force me to use my federal locked-in pension funds to pay off my debts?

    No. However, if you choose to transfer your funds to a Life Income Fund (LIF), or to a restricted LIF, or to purchase an immediate life annuity, the monthly or annual payments could be seized by a creditor.

  17. Can I remove the growth/interest from my defined contribution (money purchase) pension plan when returns on my mutual fund investment account are high?

    No. You cannot remove the principal or interest while you are a member of a pension plan. If after two years you cease to be a member, both the principal and interest are locked in.

Questions relating to contracts and addendums (following the changes to the LIF Regulations)

  1. Can my financial institution or advisor update my contracts by simply revising the addendum or is a new contract required?

    Subject to the terms of the existing contract, existing locked-in vehicles can generally be amended to reflect the new terms in the Regulations. Financial institutions and clients can amend existing agreements via an addendum, rather than drafting entirely new contracts. Any new or amended contract must incorporate all of the changes to the requirements for LIF contracts.

  2. Can my financial institution or advisor charge penalties for unlocking early?

    Your financial institution or advisor may, at their own discretion, charge transfer fees for LIFs and other such products. Contact the financial institution that holds your Life Income Fund or locked-in RRSP contract to find out.

  3. Can I take my pension credits out of my pension, put them in a RLIF, and unlock half the value?

    The new rules do not affect a plan member’s ability to transfer pension benefit credits out of the plan.

    The right to do this under certain circumstances is set out in federal pension legislation and may also be allowed by the terms of the pension plan. If you have the ability to transfer a pension benefit credit out of the plan, the new rules do permit the pension benefit credit to be transferred into a RLIF, from which half of the value can be unlocked.

Questions about the forms

  1. What forms are required for each option?
    Unlocking Options Form/s to Complete
    Financial hardship option Form 1: Attestation Regarding Withdrawal Based on Financial Hardship
    Form 2: Attestation Regarding Spouse/Common-Law Partner
    Non-residency No prescribed form required
    Shortened life expectancy No prescribed form required
    One-time 50% unlocking Form 2: Attestation Regarding Spouse/Common-Law Partner
    Small balance unlocking Form 2: Attestation Regarding Spouse/Common-Law Partner
    Form 3: Attestation of Total Amount Held in Federally Regulated Locked-in Plans

    Form 1 requires you to state your expected income for the current calendar year and, if applicable, state your expected medical expenditures, and attach a letter from your physician certifying that medical or disability-related treatment or adaptive technology is required. The form requires that a calculation be done to determine the maximum permitted withdrawal for the current year. You must then indicate the amount that you wish to withdraw. The form must be signed as a sworn affidavit.

    Form 2 requires that you attest as to the existence of a spouse or common-law partner. If you have a spouse or common-law partner and you are not living separate and apart, the consent of the spouse or common-law partner, in the form of a signature, is required to unlock funds. Form 2 notes certain consequences that may arise when withdrawing or transferring funds from a locked-in plan. For example, unlocked funds may lose creditor protection and may be taxable. All signatures on the form must be done as sworn affidavits.

    Form 3 must be completed for small amount unlocking. It requires that you list all federally regulated locked-in plans that you own, state the total value of all such plans, and certify that the total value is less than 50% of the Year’s Maximum Pensionable Earnings. The form must be signed as a sworn affidavit. Changes to Schedule II, Form 3: If you hold funds in a pension plan, you should be aware of changes to the application to transfer a pension benefit credit, which must be given to plan administrators before transferring to a locked-in savings plan.

  2. Where can I obtain the forms required to unlock the funds in my Life Income Fund?

    These forms are available from the financial institutions/advisors that offer LIFs and locked-in RRSPs. If you currently have a LIF or locked-in RRSP, the necessary forms can be obtained from the financial institution that holds your LIF or locked-in RRSP contract. Generic versions of the forms are available on OSFI’s Web site in Word or PDF format. Any other forms required would be supplied by your financial institution or advisor.

  3. Who is responsible for filling out the forms?

    The holder of the LIF or locked-in RRSP is responsible for filling out the forms, including any calculations and certifications. It is likely that the holder’s financial institutions will help them with the unlocking process including giving them the necessary forms and help in filling them out.

  4. What are the responsibilities of the financial institution or advisor for verifying the accuracy of individuals’ certifications?

    The Regulations do not require that financial institutions or advisors verify the figures provided by a client.

    The role of the notary public, commissioner, or other person authorized to take affidavits is to verify and witness the individual's signature, not to verify the contents of what the individual is certifying to be true.

    The Government does not approve forms, nor does it provide assistance in filling out the forms. Therefore, do not send your forms to OSFI or any other Government Department.

Questions about the one-time 50% unlocking option and the restricted LIF

  1. When is the date of establishment of the RLIF?

    The RLIF is considered established on the date the first of the funds are deposited into the account. Within 60 days of this date, up to 50% of the funds may be withdrawn.

  2. Is the withdrawal limit up to 50%, or exactly 50%?

    The Regulations allow the unlocking of up to 50% of the RLIF. They do not require the unlocked amount to be equal to exactly 50% of the funds in a LIF. It should be noted that this option is a one-time option and there is no “carry forward” of unused withdrawal room. If you choose to unlock less than 50% of your RLIF, you will not be able to unlock any more funds under this option at a later date.

  3. What is the date on which the 50% limit is determined?

    The 50% withdrawal limit from the RLIF is calculated as 50% of the funds in the RLIF on the date the actual withdrawal occurs. No more than 50% of the value of the RLIF on that date may be withdrawn.

  4. Is there a maximum annual withdrawal in year 1 from the RLIF, if transferring from a LIF?

    Yes. If funds that were held in a LIF are transferred to a RLIF, you may withdraw a new maximum amount from the RLIF, calculated in accordance with subsection 20.3(1)(f) of the Regulations, i.e. pro-rated for the number of months to the end of the year.

  5. What if the holder of a LIF was receiving their annual maximum withdrawal on a monthly basis, before transferring to a RLIF?

    Upon transferring to the RLIF, any payments from the previous LIF cease. A new maximum annual withdrawal amount would be established for the RLIF, based on the amount in the RLIF on the date it is established.

    Before transferring funds to the RLIF, you could ask to receive the remainder of the annual maximum withdrawal that had not been paid out.

    There is no minimum annual income withdrawal from the RLIF for the year it is established. The transfer from the LIF to the RLIF must be structured in a way that the minimum annual income withdrawal for the LIF is paid out, either wholly from the LIF before the transfer or as the sum of withdrawals from the LIF and the RLIF over the calendar year.

    Questions about the minimum annual withdrawal from locked-in retirement savings plans should be directed to the CRA at 1-800-959-8281.

  6. What if I want to unlock funds under the one-time 50% option from more than one account?

    You can transfer funds from a number of accounts either into a single RLIF or into a number of different RLIFs.

    The one-time 50% unlocking option has to occur within 60 days of the establishment of the RLIF from which the funds are withdrawn. The RLIF is considered established on the date when funds are initially deposited into the RLIF. Holders with funds in more than one account may, therefore, wish to transfer funds into more than one RLIF if it is expected that some of the funds will not be transferred within 60 days of the establishment of the RLIF.

  7. If I unlock 50% of my RLIF and transfer this amount into a regular RRSP, does this put me above my yearly maximum contribution for RRSPs?

    Funds unlocked from a locked-in vehicle are subject to the Income Tax Act. Generally speaking, under the tax rules, a direct transfer of funds from a locked-in vehicle to an unlocked registered retirement vehicle (RRSP or RRIF) does not require or use up contribution room. The transfer is not considered a new contribution but rather a transfer from one vehicle to another. Withdrawals from the registered retirement vehicle may, of course, have income tax implications.

    Questions about the tax implications of unlocking should be directed to the CRA at 1-800-959-8281.

  8. For the one time 50% unlocking option, can the funds be transferred to a spousal RRSP?

    The Regulations require that the amount withdrawn from a RLIF be transferred to any RRSP or RRIF. They do not require that the transfer be to an RRSP owned by the holder of the RLIF, so a transfer to a spousal RRSP is permitted under the Regulations. However, there may be restrictions and tax implications under the federal Income Tax Act for a transfer to a spousal RRSP. Questions about the tax impact of any such transfer should be directed to the CRA at 1-800-959-8281.

  9. Can I transfer funds directly from a locked-in savings plan to a restricted locked-in savings plan (RLSP)?

    You cannot transfer funds from a locked-in RRSP directly into a RLSP. The only way to transfer funds into a RLSP is from a RLIF.

    It would be of no advantage to transfer directly into a RLSP, as the funds would then be “restricted” and the 50% unlocking option could not be exercised. You can move funds from a locked-in RRSP to a RLIF and then to a RLSP.

Questions about Financial Hardship unlocking

  1. What is financial hardship? Am I eligible for financial hardship unlocking?

    For financial hardship unlocking, there are two types of hardship: 1) low income, and 2) high medical or disability-related costs.

    The amount that you can unlock under the low income unlocking option is determined using a sliding scale based on your expected income. If your expected income for the current calendar year (from Jan.1 to Dec. 31) is $0, a withdrawal of up to 50% of the YMPE or $27,650 in 2017 is permitted. If your expected income is 75% of the YMPE (i.e. $41,475 for 2017) or more, you have reached the maximum limit for unlocking and are therefore ineligible. The YMPE in 2017 is $55,300.

    For financial hardship unlocking based on medical or disability-related costs, you can withdraw up to a maximum of 50% of the YMPE or $27,650 in 2017 (the YMPE in 2017 is $55,300), if your medical or disability-related expenditures exceed 20% of your expected income for the current calendar year. To unlock under this option, you need your physician’s certification.

  2. What does Expected Income mean? Is it individual or household income?

    This means the individual's "Net Income" as set out in the Income Tax Act, which corresponds to Line 236 on the Canada Revenue Agency T1 General form. This is pre-tax net income. It does not mean household income.

  3. What is YMPE?

    The YMPE (Yearly Maximum Pensionable Earnings) is the maximum amount of earnings on which contributions to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) are based.

  4. For withdrawals based on medical expenditures, who do the medical expenditures have to be for?

    The Regulations do not specify who the medical expenditures are required for. The holder must be the one making the expenditures, but those expenditures can be required for the holder or others, including for example a spouse or dependent.

  5. I am able to unlock under financial hardship if I am experiencing high medical or disability-related costs relative to income. What kind of medical expenditures does this refer to?

    The expenditures must be on a medical or disability-related treatment or adaptive technology that a physician certifies is necessary. Medical or disability related expenses for the unlocking of LIFs or locked-in RRSPs should be given the same treatment as they are for the Medical Expense Tax Credit (METC). It is up to the physician to certify that the treatment is required and the form of the certification is left to the physician.

    More information regarding the METC can be found on CRA's Web site and questions should be directed to the CRA at 1-800-959-8281.

  6. What is the 30-day time limit for financial hardship withdrawal(s)? When do the 30 days start?

    Generally, you can withdraw for financial hardship once per calendar year. If, however, you have more than one locked-in account, you can make a subsequent application within 30 days from the date of the first withdrawal, as long as you meet the necessary conditions for withdrawal.

    In that case, you have 30 days from the date of the first withdrawal for financial hardship to fill out and certify another form for the same reason. This means that multiple withdrawals can be made from one or multiple locked-in accounts within 30 days from the date of the first withdrawal as long as the total dollar amount of all withdrawals is within the permitted maximum dollar amount for the calendar year. After 30 days from the date of the first withdrawal, there can be no more withdrawals for financial hardship in the same calendar year.