Sept 11: Best from the blogosphere

As the leaves change colours and we gear up for the busy fall and winter season, it’s time to check in on what some of our favourite personal finance writers have been discussing this summer.

With the announcement that CIBC has gobbled up PC Financial which will be rebranded as CIBC Simplii Financial on November 1st, Stephen Weyman says on Howtosavemoney.ca that it will be banking as usual in the short term but you can expect CIBC to sneak in a few fees here and there to make sure they’re profitable and try to cut costs where they can.

On Boomer & Echo, Marie Engen offers 25 money saving tips. A couple of my favourites are:

  • Turn off the “heat dry” on your dishwasher. Open the door when the cycle is done and let the dishes air dry.
  • Learn some sewing basics so you can make minor repairs and alterations to your clothing – hem your pants and skirts, sew on a button, sew up a torn seam, put in a new zipper.
  • Buy some time. Set aside the purchase you are considering for a few hours (or a day or two) before you decide whether to buy it. Often you may decide you can easily live without it.

Bridget Casey (Money After Graduation) has recently welcomed a new daughter and she is already thinking about saving for her college education. She writes about the importance of setting up your child’s Registered Educational Savings Plan as a trust so it will be covered by the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation in the event of financial institution failure up to $100,000 per account.

Retire Happy’s Jim Yih writes a thoughtful piece on Minimizing Your Old Age Security Clawback. The maximum monthly OAS benefit in 2017 is $578.53 ($6,942.36 annually). If you earn between $74,788 and $121,070/year the OAS benefit will be clawed back. He explains that with pension splitting, spouses can give up to 50% of their pension income to their spouse for tax splitting purposes. This is a very effective way to reduce income if you are close to the OAS clawback threshold.

When Sean Cooper, author of Burn Your Mortgage paid off his mortgage, he promised himself he’d stop putting off travel. His first major trip was to San Francisco this summer. Nevertheless, he still travelled frugally booking his $700 roundtrip flight through PC Travel. He also got from the airport to downtown on Bay area rapid transit for less than $10. In San Diego, he opted for a four-bed mixed dorm room at USA Hostels for less than $60 a night as opposed to $200/night in a hotel.


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.

2017 – Saskatchewan’s Top Employers

Getting up every day for 40+ years and going to work for eight or more hours a day pays the bills, but it can become tedious and repetitive. However, if you work for a great employer that is constantly reviewing compensation, benefits and employee engagement levels in order to attract and retain the best and the brightest, work can be a much more pleasurable experience.

One way to identify a top-notch employer is to keep an eye out for organizations that are recognized as leading employers in various lists published from time to time. For example, take a look at Canada’s Top 100 Employers published by Mediacorp Canada since 2000 and spinoffs such Canada’s Top Employers for Young People and Saskatchewan’s Top Employers.

First published in 2006, Saskatchewan’s Top Employers recognizes the Saskatchewan employers that lead their industries in offering exceptional places to work. The 2017 winners were announced this past April in a special magazine published by the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

Employers are evaluated by the editors of Canada’s Top 100 Employers using the same eight criteria as the national competition:

(1) Physical workplace.
(2) Work atmosphere and social.
(3) Health, financial and family benefits.
(4) Vacation and  time off.
(5) Employee communications.
(6) Performance management.
(7) Training and skills development, and
(8) Community involvement.

Companies are compared to other organizations in their field to determine which offers the most progressive and forward-thinking programs. You can find the 2017 Saskatchewan list here, but featured below is information collected by Mediacorp about just five of these notable Saskatchewan employers.

Access Communications Co-operative Ltd.
This cable and communications company with 215 employees has locations in Saskatoon, Regina and nine other towns in the province.

  • In addition to 3 weeks of starting vacation allowance, Access Communications recognizes previous work experience when setting individual vacation entitlements for experienced candidates and provides 3 paid personal days off to help employees balance their work and personal lives.
  • Access Communications supports its new and adoptive moms with maternity leave top-up payments (to 100% of salary for up to 17 weeks).
  • Access Communications supports ongoing employee development with tuition subsidies and a variety of in-house training programs — and offers the next generation opportunities to gain on-the-job experience through paid internships and co-op placements.

ClearTech Industries Inc.
Cleartech distributes chemicals and equipment. It has facilities in Port Coquitlam BC, Saskatoon SK and Edmonton AB with a total of about 145 employees.

  • ClearTech Industries lets everyone share in the fruits of their labours with a profit-sharing plan and also encourages long-term savings through a defined contribution pension plan.
  • ClearTech Industries invests in the long-term development of its employees through tuition subsidies for job-related courses, in-house training initiatives and financial bonuses for some course completions.
  • ClearTech Industries’ employee social committee organizes a number of events through the year, including a Christmas party, family barbecue and golf tournament, weekly treat days and summer “Rider Day” barbecue.

The Mosaic Company
Fertilizer manufacturing company Mosaic has its head office in the U.S. but Saskatchewan branches in Regina, Belle Plaine, Colonsay and Estherhazy with 2,250+ Canadian employees.

  • Mosaic helps employees build their skills through a variety of in-house training options and generous tuition subsidies for courses directly related to their positions (up to $10,000).
  • Varying by employee group Mosaic employees share in a range of excellent financial benefits including a defined contribution pension program, matching RSP contributions, year-end bonuses, new employee referral bonuses (up to $1,000) and profit sharing for salaried positions. The company also offers retirement planning assistance services for all employees.
  • Mosaic ensured that architects consulted directly with employees in the design of their new head offices in downtown Regina. The modern head office is located on the top 4 floors of one of the tallest and newest buildings in the city, complete with a rooftop patio and a theatre-style conference centre plus convenient access to a shared-use fitness facility

Innovation Credit Union
Innovation Credit Union with branches in North Battleford, Swift Current, Meadow Lake and Regina has 325+ employees.

  • Innovation Credit Union offers employees a range of financial benefits including discounted financial services, new employee referral bonuses (up to $1,750), retirement planning services and a defined contribution pension plan.
  • Innovation Credit Union invests in the long-term development of its employees through tuition subsidies for courses that are both related and indirectly related to their current position.
  • Innovation Credit Union and its employees support approximately 250 charitable and community organizations every year. The credit union’s charitable focus includes initiatives that support arts and culture, business, charity, community, education, and sports and youth.

Saskatchewan Research Counsel
Three hundred and forty-four employees conduct research activities in Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Regina, Uranium City and Calgary AB.

  • Saskatchewan Research Council provides maternity and parental leave top-up payments for employees who are new mothers or adoptive parents, up to 95% of salary for up to 17 weeks.
  • Employees working at Saskatchewan Research Council’s head office can take advantage of a number of onsite amenities including a cafeteria with healthy and special diet menus, a fully-stocked employee lounge and shared access to an onsite fitness facility, complete with sauna, squash courts and instructor-led classes
  • In addition to 3.6 weeks of starting vacation allowance, Saskatchewan Research Council offers up to 15 paid personal days off to help employees balance personal commitments.

Check out the websites of these and other top Saskatchewan employers to see if they are hiring. In addition, make note of the enriched programs these top Saskatchewan employers offer if  you are evaluating other employers when you are looking for work in the province.

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.

Understanding flood insurance in Canada

We moved into our newly-built home in 2001 and fortunately we have never experienced flooding. But some of our neighbours have and I still get really nervous when we  periods of torrential rain or spring freezes and thaws.

In particular, I worry about whether or not in these circumstances our home insurance would cover necessary repairs.  That’s why when the article Home Insurance and Flooding in Canada: Finally Explained  from InsureEYE appeared in my inbox, I was pleased when company co-founder Alexey Saltykov gave me permission to share the information* with savewithspp.com readers.

According to insurEYE, there are actually four different types of flooding from the perspective of insurance companies in Canada and each of them is treated differently. They can all be protected via a home insurance policy (sometimes with additional endorsements).

Flood Insurance Topic #1: Overland flooding

  • Originates outside of your home.
  • Often enters your house through the basement/ windows/doors/walls and house foundation.
  • Often has natural causes e.g. rising river level, heavy rains, melting snow.
  • High to very high degree of damage.

Insurance perspective: Until recently, home insurance in Canada has not covered this risk. Then, during the last two to three years, Canadian home insurers developed overland flooding coverage that is typically sold separately and added on top of your standard home insurance policy.

Insurance companies will typically assess the risk associated with your property and decide if you fall into one of the following categories:

  • Low risk: You will be able to get overland flooding protection (also called an overland flooding endorsement) for a low price and it will have extensive coverage.
  • Medium risk: An insurer will offer you overland flooding coverage, but the limits might be lower than in the previous case and this coverage will be more expensive.
  • High risk: You might have challenges getting this coverage due to the history of flooding in your neighbourhood, or your case will be treated as a high-risk home insurance case (i.e. meaning much higher premiums). High River in Alberta is an example of such a location.

Chances that insurer will pay your claim: With an overland flooding endorsement – very high; without it – very low.

What could you do up front to avoid potential issues?

  • Home location: Before buying a property, try to understand if it is located in a flood-endangered location. Typically, local flooding maps will help you understand this  In addition, a good real estate lawyer who works on your closing formalities should inform you if your property is in a flood-endangered zone.
  • Overland flooding endorsement: In general, if you have a house that has a basement (the part of the house that is most likely to be flooded during overland flooding), consider getting an overland flooding endorsement after understanding its cost.
  • Bundles: For customers’ simplicity, some insurers bundle sewer backup and overland flooding insurance riders, offering a combined product with a range of limits and deductibles. Examples of such companies include Intact Insurance and Economical Insurance.

Flood Insurance Topic #2: Sewer Backup

  • Originates inside your home.
  • Often enters your dwelling through a toilet/sewage system.
  • The major cause is an overflow in municipal water storage pushing sewer water back into your house.
  • High to very high degree of damage.

Insurance perspective: Insurance companies treat sewer backup as a separate risk and often cover it through a separate, optional endorsement, also called a sewer backup endorsement. This insurance coverage has been on the market for a long time; therefore, significantly more policy holders know about it – somewhere around 50%. This coverage is typically not that expensive, and it adds just a few additional dollars per month to your home insurance policy.

Chances that your insurer will pay your claim: With a sewer backup endorsement – very high; without it – very low.

What can you do up front to avoid potential issues?

  • Sewer backup valve: Getting a sewer backup valve (also called a backwater valve) is not too complicated. If it is integrated into your plumbing system, it will help to keep the house protected against unpleasant sewer backup surprises. These devices cost under $250 and are a cost-efficient way to prevent sewer backup accidents. Depending on the age and construction, your home may require either a backwater valve on the main sewage line (typically for homes built before the 70s) or both on the main sewage and storm line (newer homes). Check with your plumber or with municipal services.
  • Water damage/sewer backup endorsement: As mentioned earlier, this type of coverage does not cost a lot, but it can prevent significant financial loss. Cleaning and restoration costs can add up to $50,000 – $100,000 and, together with damaged content upgrades (especially in the case of finished basements), can reach $250,000 – $500,000 for larger homes.
  • Coverage limits: Carefully understand coverage limits for sewer backup – these can either be defined separately, or can be equal to the full policy coverage. Be careful when insuring with insurers that cap their coverage (e.g. TD Insurance, State Farm).

Flood Insurance Topic #3: Plumbing issues

  • Originates inside your home
  • Can be caused by burst pipes, broken faucets, malfunctioning taps, incorrectly sealed pipes
  • Medium to high degree of damage

Insurance perspective: From the insurance perspective, this is one of the easiest flooding situations to deal with. The flood originates within your house and, in most cases, is covered by your standard home insurance policy without the purchase of an additional rider.

Chances that an insurer will pay your claim: High
Unless there are special circumstances, the insurance company will typically pay this claim (after subtraction of your deductibles, which are mentioned in the insurance policy).

What can you do upfront to avoid potential issues?

  • Modern plumbing: Make sure your home uses copper or plastic pipes as opposed to lead or galvanized plumbing. That will also be rewarded with lower insurance premiums.
  • Switch off water: Turn off water if you are leaving for several weeks (like on a long vacation or a business trip), and make sure that somebody visits your place regularly. It is important to know that some insurers may even reject your claim if something happens during your long absence and nobody was regularly visiting your home. Some policies may even require that these visits take place as often as every 4th or 5th day.
  • Insulation for interior pipes in winter: Your interior pipes may cause problems while you are away – make sure they are well insulated in the winter to prevent pipe bursts due to ice buildup.
  • Keep external pipes dry in the winter: Your external pipes should be dry in order to prevent any ice build-up; otherwise, that can also lead to a burst pipe.

Flood Insurance Topic #4: Flooding Due to a Leaking Roof

This type of flooding normally happens when water enters your home through a damaged roof and starts damaging your dwelling, starting from the top floor.

  • Originates on your roof starting from the top floor/attic
  • Reasons can vary from lacking roof maintenance and natural wear-and-tear to roof damage due to falling trees or ice
  • Low to medium degree of damage

Insurance perspective: Insurance companies know that, often, flooding via a leaking roof is a consequence of poor maintenance or an old roof. If you have a leaking roof, make sure that it does not fall into the category of insufficient maintenance. However, if your roof has been badly damaged due to hail, a falling tree, ice, etc., you have a good chance to get your insurance claim paid.

But if you live in a condo and have a leaking roof that has resulted in some damage within your unit (e.g. when you live on the top floors), it is important to understand that your own condo insurance covers only content damage within your unit. The roof itself is covered by commercial condo insurance that your condo corporation owns.

Chances that the insurer will pay your claim: Medium – if an insurer decides that it is a lack of maintenance that led to the leakage, you are on the hook for all the costs.

What could you have done upfront to avoid potential issues? Make sure that you maintain your roof in a good condition. Fixing or upgrading your roof prior to getting home insurance may result in insurance savings. Insurers like properties with upgraded elements (e.g. roof, plumbing, etc.) as opposed to older, not upgraded properties.

In addition to the above, when purchasing water damage and flood insurance:

Pay attention to deductibles: Make sure that you understand what your deductible for flooding-related accidents is. Some providers have very high deductibles ($10,000 or even $30,000 and higher) while others do not. In the first case, you might be on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars before your insurer even jumps in.

Know and document your expenses: Should you face an extensive water-related incident in your place and submit a home insurance claim, there will be a question of a claim payout. It is not in the interest of an insurance company to overpay for insurance claims – these are purely expenses for insurers. Thus, make sure that you have confirmation for all major spending associated with your home.

Last Resort: Government Flooding Programs
In addition to the home insurance, there is another potential safety net that you could use in some cases. It by no means it substitutes your home insurance, but it is important to know this source of help.

Below you will find an overview of provincial disaster financial assistance programs for Canadians.

Alberta, Emergency Management Agency
British Columbia, Disaster Financial Assistance
Manitoba, Disaster Financial Assistance
New Brunswick, Disaster Financial Assistance
Newfoundland and Labrador, Disaster Financial Assistance Program
Nunavut, Emergency Management
Nova Scotia, Flood Assistance
Prince Edward Island (PEI), Emergency Measures Organization
Northwest Territories, Disaster Financial Assistance
Ontario, Disaster Recovery Assistance
Quebec, Financial Assistance for Disaster Victims
Saskatchewan, Provincial Disaster Assistance Program
Yukon, Emergency Measures Organization

*These insights are shared with permission from InsurEYE, the largest Canadian insurance review platform that also helps Canadians to find house and condo insurance.

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.

Aug 28: Best from the blogosphere

Whether your children are tiny tots, teenagers or twenty-somethings, back to school shopping can really break the bank. And depending on the age and stage of the child, smart phones, tablets and laptops can really up the ante.

I have memories of walking through stores with both kids randomly throwing “essentials” into the shopping cart and having to carefully filet their selections before we reached the cash. Inevitably, every year after the big shopping trip I also discovered a stash of duplicate items left over from the previous year.

Here are a series of articles with ideas that can help you keep your back to school costs in line.

Money Crafters’ Heather Levin offers 14 Tips to Save Money on Back to School Supplies & Shopping List. She encourages readers to hit up the Dollar Store for some incredible bargains. She also suggests that you start looking for coupons in your Sunday paper, and search online for coupons at sites like RetailMeNot, which even has a special section on their site for back to school coupon codes.

10 Back-To-School Shopping Tips that Save Money on parenting.com recommends that you stick to your list and hold off on buying trendy gear until after the school year starts. She also encourages families to round up a couple of other parents with kids the same gender but different ages, and host an annual clothes swap. “Trade toys and books, too! You’ll save a bundle,” she says.

Tips from RealSimple on How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping by Amy Leibrock include focusing on getting the best price for the most expensive items on your list through coupons, incentive programs, rebates, weekly specials and online-only deals. Also, once you’ve decided where you’re going to shop, she says look for discounted gift cards for those stores on sites like CardSwap. You’ll save as much as 25% on cards recipients don’t want.

Learning how to save money and make smart financial choices is the focus of the blog myMoneyCoach. How to Get the Most Out of Your Back-to-School Budget advocates balancing the purchase of pricier name brands with generic products by offering to pay the first $20 or whatever your budget will allow for the item and letting your child pay for the rest. Younger kids can use gift money towards their “wants” and older kids can use part-time earnings to top up what they’d prefer to buy.

And finally, 6 tips for frugal back-to-school savings on Bankrate reminds readers to comparison shop online first to try and avoid impulse buying.Following the brands you use and the stores you regularly shop at on Facebook and Twitter, as well as signing up on mailing lists, can also net you back-to-school savings.


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 2: Always appeal refusal of CPP disability benefits

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For the second part of our series about CPP disability benefits, I interviewed David Brannen, a former occupational therapist turned disability claim lawyer from Moncton, New Brunswick. Brannen is the author of A Beginner’s Guide to Disability Insurance Claims in Canada. He started the national disability claim law firm Resolute Legal to help deserving people win long-term disability payments from insurance companies and the CPP Disability Program, even after a denial or unsuccessful appeal.  Thanks for joining me today David.

I’m delighted to be here, Sheryl

Q: How does the definition of eligibility for CPP disability benefits differ from the definition in an individual or a group disability insurance plan?
A: The easiest way to look at it is that the CPP definition is much harder to meet than most disability insurance policies. CPP disability is focused on the inability to do basically any job in the economy, whereas disability insurance policies look at the ability to do your own job. Then there usually is a second part in an insurance policy that will continue to pay benefits if you’re disabled from doing any job as defined by the insurance policy but that is usually a much less restrictive definition of any job as would be defined for CPP.

Q: So how hard is it to meet the eligibility criteria and get CPP disability benefits? Of the people who apply, how many are successful at the first level?
A: The last data that we had released was an auditor-general’s report back in 2016. The results were pretty shocking and showed that of the 70,000 people who applied in the audit year, about 60% were denied.

Q: Why is the denial rate so high?
A: It’s hard to say. I would assume a number of those people of the 60% simply don’t meet the eligibility from a contribution standpoint so many people have either not made recent contributions or they’ve never paid into CPP at all. But the bulk of people who have met the contribution requirements get denied because they simply don’t have enough information for the case to be approved.

Q: Why should a person receiving LTD benefits — that’s long-term disability benefits — from a private or a group plan apply for CPP disability benefits although if they are successful the LTD benefits will typically be reduced?
A: That is a very good question. The first reason I tell people is look, you really don’t have a choice because after a certain point the insurance company will estimate and start deducting your CPP disability amount even if you’re not receiving it.

The other big one is that receiving a CPP disability benefit will actually result in you eventually getting a higher CPP retirement. The general idea is that it shows that you’ve been out of the workforce for a legitimate reason and it actually does factor into the ultimate CPP retirement pension at the end. Finally, getting the CPP disability benefit is really a safety net. If you suddenly lost your disability benefits you would have still the income coming in from the CPP disability program.

Q: That’s interesting. Now, tell me about the appeal process available to people who are turned down.
A: Okay. It’s a two-step paper appeal process. So once you apply and get a denial, you have 90 days to submit a written appeal requesting a re-consideration. You will send it directly to Service Canada, the same people who declined the original application. The best scenario is that you will supply more information to support your arguments.

If your internal reconsideration is denied, the next level of appeal is to the Social Security Tribunal which is an independent body that is the final decision-maker as to whether or not you are entitlted to a CPP disability benefit.

Q: You just told me in an offline discussion that typically those hearings are held by video conference or telephone.
A: You have the option to do them in person and certainly sometimes the tribunal judges will request an in-person hearing but more and more they are scheduled by video conference and telephone. It enables the Tribunal to actually process the claims more quickly and at less expense to the claimant.

Q: So of the 60% of applicants who are turned down initially, what percentage go on from there to submit a reconsideration appeal and then an appeal to the Social Security Tribunal if they are turned down a second time?
A: One of the big things that really shocked me when I saw the auditor general’s report is that of the 40,000 people denied, about 66% just give up altogether. That means only 33% or about 13,000 people actually file appeal. Then of these 13,000 people, about 35% get approved and about 65% are denied. That leaves you with a pool of like about 8,500 people who get denied after the second appeal.

So you’re already down from 70,000 to 8,500 who are denied at that second level. Again, of those people who get denied on the first appeal, more than half give up. As a result, the number of people that go on to the tribunal hearing is about just over 3,000 people as documented in the most recent report.

Q: How do they do?
A: Actually they do fairly well. Of the 3,000 that go to the final hearing, about just over 60% actually get approved. That shows if you’re one of those people that does persevere to the end, you do have a better than 50% change of winning at the tribunal hearing, all things being equal. It’s the one point where the percentage of approvals kind of flips if you look at it. By the time you make it to the tribunal here is about a 60% approval rate.

Q: So you’ve published a number of online publications to help people and one of them is The CPP Disability Claims Approval Blueprint. What are some of the tips for success on appeal that you offer in blueprint?
A: Number one is meet the claim deadlines. Many people lose and are denied because they just don’t meet the deadlines for appeals. It’s a very unforgiving system. The other thing we tell people is that most claims are denied because there’s just a lack of information. Therefore, we encourage people to just get as much information into the claim file as possible. That means getting your complete doctor’s records going back as far as possible. Any physiotherapy records or medical records you send in are helpful. Most people just send in their most recent family doctor’s records but I can’t emphasize how important it is to have historical records on file.

Finally, the real secret to winning these cases is building a persuasive narrative and story of your case. To build that narrative you need the historical medical records. One of the most powerful stories you can tell is a struggle over time — that you just didn’t decide to stop working one day. You can show you struggled for years at work. You struggled with disability and pain for years and it’s all recorded in the medical records. Once you can show that powerful story all of a sudden the hearing can flip from, “Why aren’t you still trying to work?” to, “Wow, look at what this person’s been through over the last five years.” 

Q: How can a disability lawyer help people who are turned down the first time around?
A: Frequently disability lawyers can help not by necessarily jumping in to represent people but by giving them better information to do a better job representing themselves. The main value a lawyer brings in a case like this is the ability to pinpoint where the information gaps are. The fact that you’re disabled does not win your case. What wins the case is showing that the medical records or the materials you put in demonstrate you’re disabled.

I guess lawyers help most by being able to pinpoint the specific information that’s needed and sometimes they are better able to get the information. Doctors are often not as receptive to having the patient tell them, “Can you please expand on this? We need to know more about that.” But if a lawyer writes to them, they’re more likely to respond to those types of inquiries.

Q: How much does it typically cost for legal services to appeal a CPP disability claim?  After all, disabled people appealing CPP benefit typically haven’t worked for a long time and may be really broke. How much are they putting out and how long is it going to take them to pay this off before they even have a pension in their pocket?
A: I can’t speak for all lawyers or people who practice in this area. We take cases on a no win, no fee basis so that there’s no money is required upfront. You would just pay if an appeal is successful. Anticipating this call, I calculated that our average fee for the last year was about $4,500. That’s based on all cases, including ones where we get a zero because the case is lost.

Typically if we are successful, there is a back payment and the fee would be paid as a percentage of that back-payment (say about $15,000). Like I said, our average for 2016 was around $4,500 of that back-payment. We’d get our fee and our client would keep the remainder and all future payments. 

Q: Okay, that’s great. So is there any other comments or questions that I didn’t ask that you’d like to comment on?
A: Many people, legitimate people I see are denied are for two main reasons. One, they haven’t tried to go do other types of work or they haven’t demonstrated that they really tried to stay in the workforce.  The other one is, for whatever reason not really following through all of the medical recommendations. So if you quit going to physio, if you refused to take a drug, those are kind of things that can also cause a legitimate claim to be denied

***

That’s great! Thank you very much, David. It was a pleasure to chat with you today.

It was my pleasure. Thank you.

David Brannen

 

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.

Aug 21: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

If you want to take a break from swimming and sunning in the waning days of summer, here is our latest selection of personal finance vides for your viewing pleasure.

There was a lot of panic recently after the Bank of Canada finally raised its overnight rate after seven years. In her  latest video, Jessica Moorhouse gives a quick recap on what this interest rate hike was all about and what you should do about it (especially if you’re in debt!).

The Globe and Mail’s personal finance columnist Rob Carrick offers several ideas to reduce the impact of the interest rate increase on your finances. If you have a mortgage, he suggests paying down the principal, even with money you were planning to put into an RRSP.

Father Jonathan Chevreau and his daughter Helen are interviewed on CBC Business news about what it is like when “boomerang kids” move home years after they left the first time.

Click here to listen

Kornel Szreibjer, host of Build Wealth Canada interviewed Randy Cass CEO of Nest Wealth, a robo advisor service. Robo-advisors are a class of financial advisers that provide financial advice or portfolio management online with minimal human intervention. For more ways to listen to the podcast click here.

 

And finally, couples manage finances in different ways. MoneySense profiles three different couples who talk about their financial goals and steps they have taken to meet them.


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: What you need to know about CPP disability benefits

Employed and self-employed Canadians must pay into the Canada Pension Plan or Quebec Pension Plan* throughout their working career. The standard age for beginning to receive your CPP retirement pension is the month after your 65th birthday. However, you can take a reduced pension as early as age 60 or begin receiving an increased pension after age 65.

But many people do not realize that if they are under age 65 and become disabled, they may be eligible for taxable monthly CPP disability benefits.

Eligibility
To qualify for a disability benefit under the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), a disability must be both “severe” and “prolonged”, and it must prevent you from being able to work at any job on a regular basis.

  • Severe means that you have a mental or physical disability that regularly stops you from doing any type of substantially gainful work.
  • Prolonged means that your disability is long-term and of indefinite duration or is likely to result in death.

Both the “severe” and “prolonged” criteria must be met simultaneously at the time of application. There is no common definition of “disability” in Canada. Even if you qualify for a disability benefit under other government programs or from private insurers, you may not necessarily qualify for a CPP disability benefit. Medical adjudicators will determine, based on your application and supporting documentation, whether your disability is both severe and prolonged.

Benefit levels
For 2017, the average monthly CPP disability benefit for new beneficiaries is $952.51 and the maximum monthly amount is $1,313.66. If you are receiving a CPP disability benefit, your dependent children may also be eligible for a children’s benefit. In 2017, the flat monthly rate your child can receive is $241.02.

If you are aged 60 to 64 and you think you might qualify for a CPP disability benefit, you may also want to apply for a CPP retirement pension. While you cannot receive both at the same time, you may qualify to begin receiving a retirement pension while you wait for your CPP disability benefit application to be assessed, which usually takes longer.

If you are already receiving a CPP retirement pension when your application for a disability benefit is approved, Service Canada will switch your retirement pension to a disability benefit if:

  • You are still under the age of 65.
  • You were deemed to be disabled, as defined by the CPP legislation, before the effective date of your retirement.
  • You have been receiving your CPP retirement pension for less than 15 months at the time you applied for your disability benefit; and
  • You meet the minimum contributory requirements.

Should your disability benefit be approved, you must pay back the retirement pension payments you received. According to Service Canada, the retirement pension payments are normally from your first disability payments.

Waiting period
It takes approximately four months for a decision to be made from the date your application and all the necessary documents is received. See how disability benefit applications are assessed. A Service Canada representative will call you to explain how your application will be processed, the type of information required and answer any questions.

Medical adjudicators may also ask for additional information or ask you to see another doctor who will evaluate your medical condition. How long it takes for them to receive the requested information will impact the time it takes for your application to be processed.

If you are eligible under the terms of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) legislation, your disability benefits will start the fourth month after the month you are determined to be disabled. You may receive up to a maximum of 12 months of retroactive payments from the date your application was received.

While on CPP disability benefits
Without having any effect on your CPP disability benefit, you can:

  • Do volunteer work
  • Go back to school to upgrade or complete a degree, or
  • Take a re-training program.

You can earn up to a certain amount without telling Service Canada and without losing your benefits. For 2017, this amount is $5,500 (before taxes). This amount may increase in future years. If you earn more than the amount allowed, you must contact Canada Pension Plan.

Your CPP disability benefit may stop if:

  • You are capable of working on a regular basis.
  • You are no longer disabled.
  • You turn 65 (it will automatically be changed to a CPP retirement pension)
  • You die (it is important that someone notify Service Canada about your death to avoid overpayment).

What if my claim is refused?
If your claim is refused there is a reconsideration and appeal process. (See Part 2 in this series).

*This article focuses only on CPP disability benefits and does not further explore similar disability benefits available under the QPP.

 

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.

Aug 14: Best of savewithspp.com summer blogs

SHUTTERSTOCK

This second installment of the best of savewithspp.com focuses on some of my favourite summer blogs.

By late August, the “getting out of school for the summer” euphoria has worn off and both kids and their parents are looking for inexpensive things to do.  Summer activities for kids on a budget has lots of great ideas from a community parks tour to an all day pajama party to backyard camping.

Staying on budget can be a challenge at any time of year. But when souvenirs and snacks beckon on vacation or the hotel you booked ends up being much more than you expected, your bottom line may suffer an unexpected hit.

A 2016 study from BMO  reports that as temperatures soar so does our spending, and while many don’t feel guilty about enjoying the season, half (52%) admit that their summer habits have negative long-term effects on their savings.

Back to school shopping: A teachable moment was posted in 2013. It highlights that getting ready for the new school term is an ideal time for you to help your child learn the difference between “needs” and “wants.” It is also an opportunity to teach them basic financial literacy skills like budgeting and managing their money.

In September of the same year we featured Your kid’s allowance: Financial Literacy 101.  According to The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, exactly what you need to teach kids about money depends on the ages of the children. We include their suggestions on what financial lessons are appropriate for different age groups.

And finally, How Not To Move Back In With Your Parents reviews Rob Carrick’s book written in 2014. But the message still holds true. I said it then and I’ll say it again now. Every new parent should get a copy when they leave the hospital with their precious bundle of joy and beginning at a young age children should be taught the basic principles of financial literacy outlined in the book.


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.

Employees less satisfied with workplace health programs

As the battle continues south of the border to create a viable program that will allow the majority of Americans to access some form of health care insurance, Canadians continue to rejoice in the foresight of Saskatchewan’s Tommy Douglas, the father of Medicare in this country.

But many elements of health care like drugs, dental care and para-medical practitioners (i.e., physiotherapists and psychologists) are not universally covered by government programs. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), total health expenditures were expected to amount to $6,299 per Canadian in 2016, with about 30% of these expenditures coming from the private sector.

Employer-sponsored plans fill a significant portion of that gap. That’s why employee perceptions of their workplace supplementary health plans and how companies juggle priorities to meet these expectations is so significant.

The 20th Anniversary of Canada’s premier survey on health benefit plans, The Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey reveals surprising facts. According to a press release released by the company, the 2017 study highlights that barely half (53%) of employees say their health benefit plan meets their needs extremely or very well, down from 73% in 1999 when the question was first asked.

Surveyed employees would also like more flexibility in their benefit plans, and strongly support coverage for products or services that typically are not covered today, such as screenings to determine personal health risks, coaching sessions from health experts and adult vaccinations.

A clear majority (70%) — up from 58% just a year ago — would also consent to their benefit plan’s insurance carrier accessing their personal claims data (for instance, the drugs they are taking) in order to receive personalized information to help them manage their health (for example, information about their personal conditions). 

Traditional versus flex 
Currently, 77% of employees report having traditional benefit plans, which define what is covered and the levels of coverage. However, 54% of employees would prefer a flex plan, where employees can choose types and levels of coverage. Health spending accounts (HSAs), which provide employees with a certain amount of dollars every year to spend as they wish on allowable health-related items or services, are another way to bring some flexibility into benefit plans.

Employees with HSAs are more likely to agree that their plans meet their needs very or extremely well (60% versus 50% among those without HSAs). Currently, 31% of employers offer health spending accounts, increasing to 47% among employers with 500 or more employees.

“Today’s challenge is to find the balance between flexibility and complexity in an environment where more flexibility is being demanded,” notes Jonathon Avery, Director of Product, Group Benefits, Manulife Survey Methodology. “Technology has simplified doing business in virtually every industry, and has the power to make suggestions for plan members and guide their actions based on previous interactions and personal claims behaviour.” 

Chronic disease gaps and personalized treatment
Year after year, employers significantly underestimate the presence — and therefore likely the impact — of chronic disease in the workplace. More than half of surveyed employees (57%) report having at least one chronic disease or condition (such as depression or high blood pressure), climbing to 72% among those aged 55 to 64. Yet plan sponsors estimate that just 32% of their employees have a chronic condition.

More than a third (37%) of employees with chronic conditions take three or more medications on a regular basis and are therefore the most frequent users of drug benefits plan. A convincing 73% of them would be interested in coaching from a pharmacist to learn more about their medications and conditions, if this were covered by their benefit plan.

While the science is still in early development, 67% of employees are interested in a simple form of genetic testing (using a cheek swab) to help doctors prescribe drugs that are the most likely to work for them. This increases to 76% among those taking three or more medications.

Interest levels are high to participate in the following health risk screenings: for cancer (83%), heart disease (80%) and diabetes (71%). As well, employees are likely to take advantage of coverage for vaccinations to prevent disease, particularly for tropical diseases associated with travel (79%) and shingles (68%).

Positive ripple effect of wellness
More than four out of five (86%) employees say they work in environments that encourage wellness are satisfied with their jobs, compared to 62% among employees working in environments that do not encourage wellness. Employees in wellness-oriented work environments are also much more likely to agree that their health benefit plan meets their needs extremely or very well (62% versus 43%).

However, barely half of employees (53%) agree their current work environment or culture encourages health and wellness, down from 62% in 2012. For their part, 64% of employers feel their corporate culture encourages wellness, down significantly from 90% in 2012, and 51% report offering specific wellness programs (such as onsite flu shots) or policies (such as flexible work hours). Just 31% of employers plan to invest more in health education or wellness in the next year, down from 51% in 2012 and 68% in 2011.

Danielle Vidal, Director of Business Development, SSQ Financial Group says, “With results that are clearly more favourable in workplaces that encourage health and wellness, it’s disappointing to see a decrease in the number of organizations that encourage wellness.” Vidal also questions whether employers are taking a sufficiently holistic view.

You can download the executive summary and full report here.

 

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.

Saskatchewanians who made their mark

I am proud to say that my Canada includes Saskatchewan. Not that I’ve actually spent a lot of time there. I’ve been to a couple of pension conferences in Saskatoon and Regina and in June 2011 I spent a memorable couple of days in Kindersley getting to know the folks at Saskatchewan Pension Plan.

But over the past six years since I started writing for SPP, the province has rarely been out of my thoughts for more than a day or two because I’m always planning my next blog. So when I was watching a recording of the Governor General’s Arts Awards on a rainy July 1st afternoon it occurred to me that Tommy Douglas couldn’t be the only Saskatchewanian who has made a major contribution to our country in the arts, sports, business or politics.  With a little research, I found the online magazine Virtual Saskatchewan and a series of by freelance writer David Yanko:

Saskatchewan’s Own 1
Saskatchewan’s Own 2
Saskatchewan’s Own 3

Each of these pieces lists 25 individuals who have made their mark on both the national and international stage. I have picked only five to profile, but take a look all three of these articles to learn more about the accomplishments of many of the best and brightest who at one time or another have called Saskatchewan home. 

Brent Butt (born August 3, 1966) is a Canadian actor, comedian, and writer. He is best known for his role as Brent Leroy on the CTV sitcom Corner Gas, which he developed. It was set in the fictional town of Dog River, Saskatchewan. The show averaged a million viewers per episode. Corner Gas received six Gemini Awards, and was nominated almost 70 times for various other awards. In addition, Butt created the hit TV show Hiccups and the 2013 film No Clue. At our place we never missed an episode of Corner Gas, so I’m happy to report that an animated version is in the works.

Brian Dickson was appointed a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada on March 26, 1973, and subsequently appointed the 15th Chief Justice of Canada on April 18, 1984. He retired on June 30, 1990. Dickson’s tenure as Chief Justice coincided with the first wave of cases under the new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which reached the Supreme Court from 1984 onwards. He wrote several very influential judgments dealing with the Charter, and laid the groundwork for the approach the courts have since used to interpret the Charter. Through law school and when I practiced law, I read and cited a number of his important decisions.

Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, responsible for hits such as Both Sides Now and Big Yellow Taxi, was born on November 7, 1943, in Fort MacLeod, Alberta and grew up in Saskatoon. In 1968, she recorded her first, self-titled album. Other highly successful albums followed. Mitchell won her first Grammy Award (best folk performance) for her 1969 album, Clouds. She has won seven more Grammy Awards since then, in several different categories, including traditional pop, pop music and lifetime achievement. To this day, folk music is my favourite genre and songs like Chelsea Morning and Circle Game have become the soundtrack of my life.

Sandra Schmirler was a Saskatchewan curler who captured three Canadian Curling Championships and three World Curling Championships.  Schmirler also skipped her Canadian team to a gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics, the first year women’s curling was a medal sport. Schmirler sometimes worked as a commentator for CBC Sports, which popularized her nickname “Schmirler the Curler” and claimed she was the only person who had a name that rhymed with the sport she played. Schmirler’s accomplishments caught my imagination and that of the whole country. Sadly, she died in 2000 at 36 of cancer, leaving a legacy that extended far beyond her sport.

It may seem arbitrary to mention two folk singers in an ad hoc selection of notable sons and daughters of Saskatchewan. But Buffy Sainte-Marie is so much more. This Canadian legend is 76 and still going strong. She is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, educator, social activist, philanthropist and visual artist, born February 20, 1941 on Piapot Reserve, SK.

She was an important figure in the Greenwich Village and Toronto folk music revivals in the 1960s, and is perhaps best known for her 1964 anti-war anthem Universal Soldier, which was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. On the eve of Canada Day I had the privilege to hear this diminutive giant sing Universal Soldier plus many of her newer releases in person, at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. She and her music never seem to grow old.

 

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.