Jennifer Yang for metro toronto


Peter Lewis is the vice-president of the Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation.


If Peter Lewis had his way, new parents everywhere would be welcoming their babies into the world with a smile, a kiss … and then a new registered education savings plan.

“Obviously, the first few months are fairly chaotic, but we encourage families to (get started) as early as they can,” laughs Lewis, vice-president of the Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation. “The sooner you start, the better it is for you to build up a meaningful nest egg for your child’s education.”

On average, university students today pay almost triple what they did just seven years ago according to Statistics Canada. Over their lifetimes, however, university graduates on average are also earning $1 million more than those with just a high school diploma.

In Lewis’ opinion, if you’re a parent and see a university diploma in your child’s future, you should also be seeing an RESP provider. “When you look at an RESP and its incentives, it really becomes a no-brainer for parents,” he says.

By making contributions of up to $4,000 a year, the money in an RESP will grow tax-free until your child is ready for college or university. At this point, money can be withdrawn and the returns on investment are taxed under the student’s name.

So what’s stopping every optimistic parent from signing up?

One deterrent might be the misconception that if your child doesn’t actually end up in college or university, you could lose all the interest on your RESP.

Lewis explains that while this was once true, it is no longer the case. An RESP subscriber (having met certain conditions) can withdraw the money, paying a penalty and the tax on it themselves, or roll the funds into a registered retirement savings plan.

Lewis also believes RESPs are worth more than just the money they’ll save. In fact, by simply having an RESP, you may actually be increasing your kid’s chance of attending post-secondary school. According to

Statistics Canada, children are more likely to go to college or university when they know that money has already been put aside for that purpose. “It helps your child understand that you value their higher education and expect higher education,” says Lewis. “They’ll know that school doesn’t have to end at Grade 12.”

resp tips

For many young couples, an RESP might be their first time making a significant investment decision. Peter Lewis, vice-president of the Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation, has some useful advice to help ease the process:

  • Just do it — and do it now. It can be hard to start thinking about university when the kid is still breastfeeding, but there’s no time like the present. “It’s an easy decision to put off, but it’s also an important decision to get started today,” says Lewis. “Every dollar they’re ready to set aside today is a dollar they’re not going to have to find later.”

  • Do your homework. No one RESP provider will work for everybody. There are tons of them out there and each has something different to offer — find the one that’s the best fit for you. A list of financial institutions offering RESPs can be found at

  • Start with a savings level you’re comfortable with. Maybe you can only set aside $20 a month for the first few years — that’s OK. Go for it anyways. “Even if that’s all you’re ever able to save, it will still grow into a meaningful nest egg,” says Lewis.