Group RESP Plans are Loaded with Fees
In some of the long-running posts on this blog (for example, see Is a Group RESP Plan Right for You?), Group Registered Education Savings Plan — usually referred to as scholarship plans — cheerleaders (often sales people) continue to post comments on how Group RESP fees are a bargain compared to bank MERs. These cheer leaders conveniently forget that the mutual funds recommended by this blogger and other objective observers for RESPs feature Management Expense Ratios (MERs) of well under 0.5 percent. Parents saving for their child’s education in self-directed mutual fund RESPs at the big banks will find that the MER charged by the mutual funds is usually their only expense.
Let’s consider two new parents George and Simon. George opens up a Group RESP for his newborn and Simon opens up a self-directed RESP. We’ll assume that both George and Simon contribute $2,000 to their child’s RESP for the next 3 years. We’ll also assume that both RESP portfolios are invested in similar securities and the returns are flat over those years. Simon’s total expenses are straightforward to figure out. He invested a total of $6,000, earned Canada Education Savings Grants worth $1,200 and paid about $60 in fees over 3 years ($12 in the first year plus $24 and $36 in subsequent years).
George on the other hand is discovering that Group RESPs are loaded with fees. He counts the many creatives ways in which he is charged fees in a typical plan:
The fee meter starts running before contributions even reach the Group RESP account. George has to pay for group life and total disability insurance. There are no opt-out provisions (except in Quebec) even if George has plenty of coverage through other sources. A typical Group RESP will deduct roughly 1.7 percent of contributions (plus HST) as insurance premiums. So, after deducting $38.50 in insurance premiums, only $1,961.50 is deposited into George’s Group RESP account.
Cost over three years: $116
Group RESP vendors charge a fee for simply depositing a RESP contribution into the account. The fees depend on the frequency of contributions. Since George is making annual deposits, he will be charged $6.50 plus GST per year.
Cost over three years: $22