Category Archives: Personal finance

Protecting pensions preserves retirement security, independence: CFP

Imagine reaching the end of a long, hard career and then finding that your workplace pension isn’t there for you. It happens more often than we might think with private sector pension plans. And that’s why Mike Powell and the Canadian Federation of Pensioners (CFP) are there to help.

The CFP, says Powell, was started in 2005 and now includes 20 member organizations. Those 20 organizations “represent about 200,000 people who mostly belong to private sector, defined benefit (DB) pension plans,” he explains.

DB plans pay pensions for life based on what members earned at work, and how long they were in the plan. While members contribute each payday, it is up to the employer – the plan sponsor – to ensure enough money is set aside to pay the future pensions.

Pensions can be dramatically reduced when companies run into financial trouble, notes Powell. This has happened “with Nortel, with Sears, so our organization is there to advocate for the pension rights of those plan members,” he explains.

In Ontario where the government recently reduced solvency requirements, the CFP has lobbied hard to improve the Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund (PBGF), a sort of pension insurance that kicks in when corporate plans are insolvent. Currently there are limits on what the PBGF pays out, and it does not top up retirees to 100 per cent of what they should have been receiving.

In addition to giving plan sponsors a break on solvency funding, Powell says, the government should also change the PBGF to fully cover pension loss funded by those same sponsors. That would mean retirees would be “made whole” in the case of an insolvency. The CFP hopes that if Ontario goes this route, the other provinces will follow.

At the federal level CFP wants pension plan members to become “super priority” creditors when companies go bankrupt. “That would move them from the back of the line to near the front,” he explains. “If they did this, pensions would be taken right out of the equation when a company is insolvent.”

Protecting pensions delivers retirement security, Powell explains. “If you can’t count on your pension, it creates a great deal of uncertainty,” he says. Affected retirees spend less on goods, services, and charities, and may have to rely more on taxpayer-funded social assistance. The fact that many seniors are retiring with debt can compound the problem, he explains. For more on the CFP, visit their website.

We thank Mike Powell and the CFP for speaking to us. Even if you have a workplace pension plan, additional saving for retirement via the Saskatchewan Pension Plan is a wise move. For more information, visit our website,

 

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer, hopeful darts player and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Sheltie, Duncan, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Slow and steady wins the exercise race, advises author Alyson Rodgers

Many of us, as we reach that certain age, begin to notice the little aches, pains and extra pounds that the “golden years” seem to want to pack on.  We can’t turn back the hands of time, perhaps, but we can equip ourselves to be ready for its onslaught.

So notes Alyson Rodgers, author of Health and Fitness for Seniors: Exercise Solutions for Baby Boomers. This short, helpful book makes the important point that we all “can still benefit from exercise, regardless of age, medical condition, or genetics.”

Rodgers advocates “regular but moderate exercise,” ranging from 15 minutes to one hour, three to five times a week. The trick – moderation – will avoid the burnout of overdoing exercise, and the physical pain that can accompany it, she writes. A shorter, more sensible program of exercise will be easier to stick with, she notes.

It’s best to “work it in at a comfortable pace, and to keep it challenging,” she writes.  Her book outlines specific, easy-to-follow exercises for a variety of different situations and for different medical and physical conditions.

In the book’s chapter on balance and flexibility exercises, Rodgers notes that targetted exercise programs can help set up your body “to defend itself against the all-too-natural slips and tumbles we all take from time to time.” Balance can be improved through standing and sitting exercises, the book notes. There are great ways to improve one’s flexibility, and an exercise ball is a great tool for helping in that regard, the book says.

In addition to boosting the body’s natural line of defence, exercise helps avoid the risk bone loss (a frequent side effect of being sedentary) and can control weight, she writes. As we get older, she notes, “our metabolisms slow down, but our eating doesn’t.”

Rodgers also says energy should be spent on making the home safer – grip bars, anti-slip mats, and de-cluttering are among the strategies listed.

This well-written and positive short guidebook is well worth a read, and is available at your local bookstore or on Amazon.ca.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer, hopeful darts player and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Sheltie, Duncan, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Research suggests retiring early can extend your life

Retirement is a sort of grey area for most of us – a destination that we’d like to arrive at one day, but one we know very little about.  But research shows that life after work may have the hidden benefits of extending your life and boosting your health.

A Dutch study, published in the journal Health Economics, found that a group of male retirees who retired at age 55 were 2.6 per cent less likely to die within the next five years than those who didn’t retire early. The study, authored by economists Hans Bloemen, Stefan Hochguertel and Jochem Zweerink, is reviewed in this New York Times article.

Why is retirement seen as good for health?
The Dutch study found that those who were retired had fewer signs of digestive and cardiac trouble – less stress, less “road” eating, and less sitting in traffic.

The Times article also cites US research that concluded retirement is, for health purposes, like finding out you are 20 per cent less likely to develop a serious illness, such as diabetes or a heart condition.

A similar study in Australia found that “retirement was associated significantly with reduced odds of smoking, physical inactivity, excessive sitting and at-risk sleep patterns.” You can have a look at the Australian study, called Retirement: A Transition to a Healthier Lifestyle.

A lot of times we are sort of trapped in our thinking on the topic of retirement. We wonder (and worry) how we will manage to live on less money than we made at work. But the research points to a nice new way to frame our thinking. Retirement may be the time of life when we can really focus on our health and well-being. We’ll be liberated from the stress and strain of the workplace, and able to take the time to look after ourselves.

So as you plan your retirement, SPP can help you with the financial side. What you make of the other side – the opportunity to look after yourself – is up to you.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer, hopeful darts player and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Sheltie, Duncan, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

How SPP changed my life

Punta Cana: March 2018

After a long career as a pension lawyer with a consulting firm, I retired for the first time 13 years ago and became Editor of Employee Benefits News Canada. I resigned from that position four years later and embarked on an encore career as a freelance personal finance writer.

In December 2010 I wrote the article Is this small pension plan Canada’s best kept secret?  about the Saskatchewan Pension Plan for Adam Mayers, formerly the personal finance editor for the Toronto Star. The Star was starting a personal finance blogging site called moneyville and he was looking for someone to write about pensions and employee benefits. I was recommended by Ellen Roseman, the Star’s consumer columnist.

The article about SPP was my first big break. I was offered the position at moneyville and for 21/2 years I wrote three Eye on Benefits blogs each week. It was frightening, exhausting and exhilarating. And when moneyville began a new life as the personal finance section of the Toronto Star, my weekly column At Work was featured for another 18 months.

But that was only the beginning.

Soon after the “best kept secret” article appeared on moneyville, SPP’s General Manager Katherine Strutt asked me to help develop a social media strategy for the pension plan. Truth be told, I was an early social media user but there were and still are huge gaps in my knowledge. So I partnered with expert Leslie Hughes from PunchMedia, We did a remote, online presentation and were subsequently invited to Kindersley, Saskatchewan, the home of SPP to present in person. All of our recommendations were accepted.

By December 2011, I was blogging twice a week for SPP about everything and anything to do with spending money, saving money, retirement, insurance, financial literacy and personal finance. Since then I have authored over 500 articles for savewithspp.com. Along the way I also wrote hundreds of other articles for Employee Benefit News (U.S.), Sun Life, Tangerine Bank and other terrific clients. As a result, I have doubled my retirement savings.

All my clients have been wonderful but SPP is definitely at the top of the list. I am absolutely passionate about SPP and both my husband and I are members. Because I was receiving dividends and not salary from my company I could not make regular contributions. Instead, over the last seven years I have transferred $10,000 each year from another RRSP into SPP and I would contribute more if I could.

By the end of 2017 I started turning down work, but I was still reluctant to sever my relationship with SPP. However, as my days became increasingly full with travel, caring for my aged mother, visiting my daughter’s family in Ottawa, choir and taking classes at Ryerson’s Life Institute, I realized that I’m ready to let go at long last. After the end of May when people ask me what I do, I will finally be totally comfortable saying “I am retired.”

I will miss working with the gang at SPP. I will also miss the wonderful feedback from our readers. I very much look forward to seeing how both savewithspp.com and the plan evolve. My parting advice to all of you is maximize your SPP savings every year. SPP has changed my life. It can also change yours.

Au revoir. Until we meet again….

—-

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Part 2: Tax deductions, credits you need to know about

If you are anticipating a large tax return you may have filed your income tax return as early as possible once you received all of your tax slips. The deadline for filing is April 30, 2018, but for Canadians who ran a business, or whose spouses ran a business, during the 2017 fiscal year, the tax deadline is pushed out to June 15.

However, for those of you who are still wading through the piles of paper on your desk to assemble the documentation you need to complete your 2017 income tax return, we present Part 2: Tax deductions, credits you need to know about. You can find Part 1 here.

    1. Line 212 – Annual union, professional dues: Claim the total of the following amounts related to your employment that you paid (or that were paid for you and reported as income) in the year:
      • Annual dues for membership in a trade union or an association of public servants.
      • Professional board dues required under provincial or territorial law.
      • Professional or malpractice liability insurance premiums or professional membership dues required to keep a professional status recognized by law.
      • Parity or advisory committee (or similar body) dues required under provincial or territorial law.
    2. Line 214 – Child care expenses: Canadian taxpayers can claim up to $8,000 per child for children under the age of 7 years at the end of the year, and $5,000 per child for children aged 7 to 16 years. For disabled, dependent children of any age who qualify for the disability tax credit, the amount to claim for that child is $11,000. More details about what expenses qualify, who can claim expenses and for whom expenses may be claimed can be found here.
    3. Line 219 – Moving expenses: To qualify, your new home must be at least 40 kilometres (by the shortest usual public route) closer to your new work or school. You can claim eligible moving expenses if you moved:
      • And established a new home to work or run a business at a new location; or
      • To be a student in full-time attendance in a post-secondary program at a university, college or other educational institution.
    4. Line 229 – Other employment expenses: Most employees cannot claim employment expenses. You cannot deduct the cost of travel to and from work, or other expenses, such as most tools and clothing. However, you can deduct certain expenses (including any GST/HST) you paid to earn employment income.You can do this only if your employment contract required you to pay the expenses and you did not receive an allowance for them, or the allowance you received is included in your income.If you are filing electronically, keep all your documents in case CRA asks to see them at a later date. If you are filing a paper return, you must submit a completed Form T777, Statement of Employment Expenses with your return. Keep all your other documents in case CRA asks to see them at a later date, including a completed copy of Form T2200, Declaration of Conditions of Employment signed by your employer.
    5. Lines 230 and 220 – Support payments made: If you are claiming deductible support payments, enter on line 230 of your tax return the total amount of support payments you paid under a court order or written agreement. This includes any non-deductible child support payments you made. Do not include amounts you paid that are more than the amounts specified in the order or agreement, such as pocket money or gifts that you sent directly to your children.
    6. Line 313 – Adoption expenses: As a parent, you can claim an amount for eligible adoption expenses related to the adoption of a child who is under 18 years of age. The maximum claim for each child is $15,670. You can only claim these incurred expenses in the tax year including the end of the adoption period for the child.
    7. Line 319 – Interest paid on your student loans: You may be eligible to claim an amount for the interest paid on your loan in 2017 or the preceding five years for post-secondary education if you received it under:

      Only you can claim an amount for the interest you, or a person related to you, paid on that loan in 2017 or the preceding five years.

      You can claim an amount only for interest you have not already claimed. If you have no tax payable for the year the interest is paid, it is to your advantage not to claim it on your return. You can carry the interest forward and apply it on your return for any of the next five years.

****

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Part 1: Tax deductions, credits you need to know about

In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes, but as my father-in-law used to say, there is no reason why you should pay any more than you have to. A Government of Canada website provides a table with the 94 deductions and tax credits you may be able to claim to reduce the amount of tax you must pay.

You will also find information on where to claim these amounts on your income tax and benefit return or a related form or schedule. You can sort the table by line number or topic, and you can filter by key word. While your electronic tax program will prompt you to consider each of these, it is important to understand what you may be entitled to so you can find and retain the required supporting documentation.

Here are some common deductions and tax credits you should be aware of. Part 2 of this blog will be posted later this month.

  1. Line 208 – SPP, RRSP and PRPP deduction: Deductible Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP), registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) and pooled registered pension plan (PRPP) contributions can be used to reduce your tax. Any income you earn in SPP, your RRSP or PRPP is exempt from tax as long as the funds remain in the plan. However, you typically have to pay tax when you receive payments from these plans. For more information about RRSPs and PRPPs, see How much can I contribute and deduct? Members of SPP can contribute $6,000/year beginning in 2017 if they have sufficient RRSP contribution room.
  2. Line 314 – Pension income amount: You may be able to claim up to $2,000 if you reported eligible pension, superannuation, or annuity payments on line 115, line 116, or line 129 of your return. For a detailed list of eligible pension and annuity income, go to the Eligible Pension and Annuity Income (less than 65 years of age) chart or the Eligible Pension and Annuity Income (65 years of age or older) chart.
  3. Line 210 – Deduction for elected split-pension amount: If the transferring spouse or common-law partner has agreed with the receiving spouse or common-law partner to jointly elect to split his/her eligible pension income by completing Form T1032, Joint Election to Split Pension Income, the transferring spouse or common-law partner can deduct on this line the elected split-pension amount from line G of Form T1032. Only one joint election can be made for a tax year. If both you and your spouse or common-law partner have eligible pension income, you will have to decide who will act as the transferring spouse or common-law partner electing to allocate part of his/her eligible pension income to the receiving spouse or common-law partner.
  4. Line 301 – Age amount: Claim this amount if you were 65 years of age or older on December 31, 2017, and your net income (line 236 of your return) is less than $84,597.
    Remember to claim the corresponding provincial or territorial non-refundable tax credit to which you are entitled, on line 5808 of your provincial or territorial Form 428.
    If your net income was:

  5. Lines 330 and 331 – Eligible medical expenses: You can claim medical expenses paid for yourself, your spouse or common-law partner and certain related persons. Generally, total eligible medical expenses must first be reduced by 3% of your net income or $2,237, whichever is less. You can find a helpful video and a list of eligible common medical expenses here.

****

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Taxable, non-taxable employee benefits

When you are interviewing for a new a new job, perks like company-paid gym memberships, tuition reimbursement or a free cellphone may seem really attractive and influence you to accept the position. However, it is important to keep in mind that come tax time, all or part of the value of these employee benefits may be included in taxable income on your T4 slip.

Here are 10 things that may form part of your compensation and how they are viewed by CRA.

  1. Group benefits: Amounts your employer pays for your life, accident and critical illness insurance coverage are taxable benefits. But when the company pays all or part of the cost of your extended health care, dental plan, short-term disability (STD) or long-term disability (LTD) insurance you do generally not pay tax on the premiums. If you collect on your STD or LTD insurance you will pay taxes if any part of the premiums were employer-paid.
  2. Pensions/Group RRSPs: Your company’s contributions to your pension plan are not taxable. However, your employer’s contributions to your Group RRSP account are viewed as additional taxable income by CRA. But you can deduct RRSP contributions (up to $26,010 for 2017) so you will not actually have to pay taxes on Group RRSP contributions made by your employer on your behalf.
  3. Service and recognition awards: Cash, gift certificates and things like gifts of stock certificates and gold coins are always taxable benefits. However, you can receive tangible tax-free gifts or awards worth up to $500 annually in some specified circumstances, such as a wedding or outstanding service award. In addition, once every five years you can receive a tax-free, non-cash long-service or anniversary award worth $500 or less
  4. Clubs and Recreational Facilities – If your employer pays or subsidizes the cost of membership or attendance at a recreational facility such as a gym, pool, golf course, etc. it is considered a taxable benefit. But if the company provides a free or subsidized onsite facility available to all employees, it is not a taxable benefit.
  5. Tuition reimbursement: If you get a scholarship or bursary from your employer it will be a taxable benefit unless you took the program to maintain or upgrade your employment skills. For example, if you need an executive MBA to be promoted, no tax is payable on the value of company-paid tuition. Where the company gives your child a scholarship or bursary, generally neither you nor your son or daughter who gets the scholarship has to pay taxes on the amount.
  6. Transit Passes: Transit passes are a taxable benefit unless the employee works in a transit-related business (such as a bus, train, or ferry service business).
  7. Child Care Expenses are a taxable benefit unless child care is provided to all employees in the business at little or no cost.
  8. Mobile phone or internet: Charges paid by the company for the business use of your cellphone and internet are not taxable. If your phone or internet is used in part for personal reasons, that portion of the bill should be reported on your T4 as a taxable benefit. However, if the cost of the basic plan has a reasonable fixed cost and your use does not result in charges over the cost of basic service, CRA will not consider any part of the use taxable.
  9. Subsidized meals: If the company cafeteria sells subsidized meals to employees, this will not be considered a taxable benefit as long as employees pay a reasonable amount that covers the cost of food preparation and service.
  10. Discounts on merchandise: Generally, if your employer sells merchandise to you at a discount, the benefit you get is not considered taxable. A document posted on the CRA website in late 2017 suggested that CRA’s interpretation changed, but National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier subsequently announced there have been no changes to the laws governing taxable benefits to retail employees.

This chart illustrates whether taxable allowances and benefits are subject to CPP and EI withholdings. The employer’s Guide: Taxable Benefits and Allowances, including What’s New? Can be found here.

****

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Have you committed financial infidelity?

My husband and I joke that it would be pretty hard for one of us to make a major purchase without the other finding out because all our accounts are online and both of us “visit” our money frequently. Also, our Capital One MasterCard has an annoying but useful safety feature that generates an email to each of us each time a charge is posted to our account.

However, an online poll conducted by Leger for Credit Canada and the Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC) earlier this year revealed that 36 % of Canadians surveyed have lied about a financial matter to a romantic partner, and the same number of participants had been victims of financial infidelity from a current or former partner. Furthermore 34%  of those polled keep financial secrets from their current romantic partner.

Kelley Keehn, a personal finance educator and consumer advocate for the FPSC, which helped create the survey told the Toronto Star that, “Financial infidelity is generally defined as dishonesty in a relationship when it comes to money, but she noted that the term is vague and it requires you (as a couple) to define what that means.”

“If you have separate accounts in your relationship and you both discussed openly that your money is your money and their money is their money, and you’re free to do anything that you want, then spending and saving and not telling the other person wouldn’t be an infidelity,” she continued.

Other survey results reveal that:

  • Participants aged 18 to 34 were more likely to be victims of financial infidelity — at 47% — than those aged 65 and older, at 18%.
  • Gender and income do not play a significant role.
  • 35% of men surveyed and 37% of female participants said they experienced financial deception from a partner.

When asked about the worst forms of financial deception they experienced from a former or current partner, common offences cited were:

  • Running up a credit card without informing a partner.
  • Lied about income
  • Made a major purchase without telling me.
  • Went bankrupt without informing me.

Financial infidelity doesn’t get as much press as the other kind of infidelity but it can destroy your marriage. In fact, a 2014 BMO poll revealed that 68% of those surveyed say fighting over money would be their top reason for divorce, followed by infidelity (60%) and disagreements about family (36%).

Blogging on The Simple Dollar, Trent Hamm offers Ten Red Flags of Financial Infidelity and What to Do About It. He concludes:

Financial infidelity can be overcome, of course, but it requires honest effort from both members of the relationship. Accusations won’t solve the problem, nor will anger. It takes time, it takes communication, and it takes calmness. If you can’t bring those to the table yourself, you are a big part of the problem. Moving forward isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about finding a new direction that works for both of you.”

****

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.