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Tax-free savings account (TFSA) rules (to remember)

Finance professional explaining the tax-free savings account rules to a lady by pointing at a phone

A tax-free savings account(s) lets your money work for you to generate interest and build wealth without the tax penalty — unless you break the rules…

Did you know that you’ll be penalised with a 40% tax if you breach your tax-free savings contribution limits?

So, it’s important that we all get to know the rules of the game. Take note of each of the rules that we cover in this post so that you can ensure that your tax-free savings/investments remain tax-free.


These rules apply to tax-free savings accounts in South Africa

Here are the rules that apply to tax-free savings accounts in South Africa:

  • Each person has a total annual contribution limit
  • Everyone also has a lifetime contribution limit
  • Withdrawals may be made, but contribution allowances are not restored
  • Exceeding annual and lifetime limits will incur penalties


Let’s go into more detail on each of the tax-free savings account rules, so that you can ensure that you save and invest within them.


Each person has a total annual contribution limit 

A tax-free savings account has a limit on how much you can save each year.

Each person can invest a lump sum, a series of regular investments or a combination of both, provided that you do not contribute more than a total that exceeds the limit for that year (across all of your tax-free savings accounts).

SARS sets the annual contribution limit, and adjusts the limit over time. The current limit is set at R36 000 per year.

Everyone also has a lifetime contribution limit

A total lifetime contribution may not exceed R500 000 — this means that you may not invest more than R500 000 in your tax-free savings during your lifetime.

That’s fine, R500 000 is a great start. Just make sure that the amounts you put in do not add up to more than the annual or the lifetime limit.


Withdrawals may be made, but contribution allowances are not restored

If you have a TFSA, you can withdraw money whenever you want (although we recommend that you try not to).

When you withdraw funds, the money is deducted from your lifetime contribution limit, so withdrawals should be carefully considered.


Here is an example to help clarify:

Suppose you saved R100 000 in a tax-free savings account and withdrew the entire amount, then that amount would be deducted from your available lifetime contribution amount. So you would only be able to re-invest R400 000, and not the full R500 000 after withdrawing R100 000 of your tax-free savings.

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Exceeding annual and lifetime limits will incur penalties

When you exceed the limits on your tax-free account, you are subject to a stiff penalty tax of 40%.

In one tax year, if you invest R16 000 with one provider and R30 000 with another, you will have contributed R10 000 more than the annual limit. SARS will expect you to find the money to pay the 40% tax on the excess R10 000 you invested.


To avoid exceeding the limit on your TFSAs, make sure you monitor them across all approved accounts.


A few other considerations

The rules listed above are the most important tax-free savings account rules, so make sure that you remember all four. 

Some South Africans use their tax-free savings accounts for different goals, in which case, a few other considerations may apply.


Here are a few more important considerations to keep in mind:


Opening more than one tax-free savings account

Yes. You can have as many tax-free savings accounts as you like, but you must ensure that the total of all your payments each year doesn’t exceed the annual contribution limit, or you will have to pay a penalty tax as previously discussed. 


Switching tax-free savings accounts

Can you switch your TFSA from one financial institution to another?

Yes, but transfers can only be made between service providers. It is not possible to switch to another financial institution by withdrawing your funds from your TFSA and putting them into a different TFSA with a different provider – that would be considered a new contribution.


To be considered valid, a transfer between product providers must meet the following requirements:

  • A transfer certificate
  • The number of days within which a transfer must be effected
  • The type of information that must be passed on to the new product provider


Fun fact: Transferring money between tax-free savings accounts wasn’t always an option. The National Treasury introduced transfers in 2018 for the first time


Using tax-free savings accounts for children

Children can open TFSA accounts in their names. However, there is a catch that you need to be aware of. 

Since you will be using part of their tax-free allowance, it may limit their ability to save for themselves through a TFSA later on in their lives, especially when you withdraw money.

Money that is withdrawn can only be placed in an account with their name, and, you might have to consider donations tax if it’s applicable. 


Tax-free savings vs retirement annuities?

It may be tempting to rely solely on a TFSA but know that because there is a lifetime contribution of R500 000, this may not be enough to sustain you or cover your expenses when you retire. It can definitely be used as an extra boost (so to speak). The bottom line is that you ensure you will be comfortable in retirement.  

Final thoughts

Tax-free savings accounts are a great investment, especially when you know how to use one properly.

For most of us, addressing debt is the first step toward saving and investing — if you’re struggling to keep up with debt, reach out via our website. We can help reduce your monthly instalment, consolidate your debts, and make monthly repayment much easier.

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Disclaimer: This website and any information herein is not intended to be, nor does it constitute, financial, tax, legal, investment, credit, or other advice. Before making any decision or taking any action regarding your finances, you should consult a qualified professional directly.

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