01/13/2014 03:00 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST

RRSP 2014 Deadline Is March 3

This year’s deadline for RRSP contributions is coming up on March 3 — the last day you can contribute 2013 earnings to a retirement savings account.

But will you be among the growing number of Canadians who won’t be contributing? If so, financial advisors have some advice for you: If you can at all afford it, put whatever you can in an RRSP, because every penny counts.

According to two surveys by big Canadian banks, fewer Canadians are planning to put money into a Registered Retirement Saving Plan this year simply because they can't afford it.

Both Scotiabank and Bank of Montreal say many Canadians have other expenses, such as car payments and paying down debt, that are preventing them from making a contribution.

Scotiabank found that 31 per cent planned to contribute to their RRSP, down from 39 per cent last year. BMO said 43 per cent of those surveyed planned to contribute, down from 50 per cent in 2013.

“The top answer was that they did not have enough money to make a contribution,'' said BMO's Chris Buttigieg, senior manager of wealth planning strategy.

Mike Henry, a Scotiabank senior vice-president, agreed, saying those surveyed by his bank said ``they can't afford it, they've got other expenses or other things they're trying to manage.''

Overall, three-quarters of those who have RRSPs told Scotiabank they've thought about contributing more money to their plans, but they just don't have the cash.

It’s becoming increasingly evident Canadians are coming under increasing financial strain. Household debt as a percentage of income has grown to record highs; at the same time, retail sales have underperformed, suggesting consumers are tapped out financially.

Those who are planning to make a contribution will have to think about where they will get the money.

Banks would like their customers to set up automatic withdrawal plans to make sure money is being put aside on a regular basis.

Buttigieg said an annual contribution of $2,000 to an RRSP would mean putting aside $167 a month or less than $6 a day, the price of two lattes at a coffee shop.

“We're encouraging Canadians to make an RRSP contribution of any amount before the deadline,'' he said.

Canadians have about $500 billion in unused RRSP contributions and that's expected to increase to $1 trillion by 2018, Buttigieg said.

Royal Bank's annual RRSP poll found that more than half of Canadians said saving for retirement was their top priority, compared with 48 per cent who were focusing on paying off debt. That's a reversal from last year when debt reduction outranked retirement savings.

However, credit monitoring agency TransUnion has predicted the average consumer's total non-mortgage debt will hit an all-time high of $28,853 by the end of 2014.

RBC also found that one quarter of middle-aged Canadians (35 to 54) say they will need to save an average of $545,000 for a comfortable retirement.

Tax preparation firm H&R Block reminds Canadians that if they turn 71 in 2014 they must convert their RRSPs into a form of retirement income before the end of this year or be taxed on the fair market value of the plan.

With files from The Canadian Press

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