Tag Archives: C.D. Howe Institute

Should the age of CPP/OAS eligibility be raised?

Results from the 2016 census show that there are now 5.9 million Canadian seniors, compared to 5.8 million Canadians age 14 and under. This is due to the historic increase in the number of people over 65 — a jump of 20% since 2011 and a significantly greater increase than the five percent growth experienced by the population as a whole. This rapid pace of aging carries profound implications for everything from pension plans to health care, the labour market and social services.

“The reason is basically that the population has been aging in Canada for a number of years now and the fertility level is fairly low, below replacement levels,” Andre Lebel, a demographer with Statistics Canada told Global News. Lebel also projects that because over the next 16 years, the rest of the baby boom will become senior citizens, the proportion of seniors will rise to 23 per cent.

Therefore, it is not surprising that a new study from the C.D. Howe Institute proposes that the age of eligibility (AOE) for CPP/QPP, Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) benefits should be re-visited. The AOE is the earliest age at which an individual is permitted to receive a full (unreduced) pension from the government.

Other countries with aging populations are raising the AOE for social security benefits. These include Finland, Sweden, Norway, Poland and the United Kingdom. In 2012, then Prime Minister Steven Harper announced plans to increase the AOE for OAS and GIS from 65 to 67 between 2023 and 2029. However, Trudeau reversed this very unpopular legislation (leaving the AOE at 65) in the 2016 budget.

In their report Greener Pastures: Resetting the age of eligibility for Social Security based on actuarial science, authors Robert Brown and Shantel Aris say their goal is to introduce an “evidence-based” analysis that can be used impartially to adjust the AOE for Canada’s social security system based on actuarial logic, not political whims.

However, they do not argue that current systems and reform plans are unsustainable. In fact, increasing life expectancy and increasing aged-dependency ratios are consistent with the assumptions behind CPP/QPP actuarial valuations. However, they suggest that if there are relatively painless ways to manage increasing costs to the programs, then they are worthy of public debate.

Their calculations assume that Canadians will spend up to 34% of their life in retirement, resulting in recommendations for a new AOE of 66 (phased-in beginning in 2013 and achieved by 2025) that would then be constant until 2048 when the AOE would shift to age 67 over two years.

Brown and Avis believe these shifts would soften the rate of increase in the Old Age Dependency Ratio, bring lower OAS/GIS costs and lower required contribution rates for the CPP (both in tier 1 and the new tier 2). This, in turn, would result in equity in financing retirement across generations and a higher probability of sustainability of these systems.

However they do acknowledge that there are some important issues that would arise if the proposed AOE framework is adopted. One of these issues is the fact that raising the AOE is regressive. For example, if your life expectancy at retirement is five years, and the AOE is raised by one year, then that is a 20% loss in benefits. If your life expectancy at retirement is 20 years, then the one year shift in the AOE is only a five percent benefit reduction.

People with higher income and wealth tend to live longer, so the impact of raising the AOE will be greater on lower-income workers than on higher-income workers. Access to social assistance benefits would be needed to mitigate this loss. The study suggests that it would be easy to mitigate the small regressive element in the shift of AOS by reforming the OAS/GIS clawback as the AOE starts to rise.

The report concludes that having partial immunization of the OAS/GIS and CPP/QPP from increases in life expectancy is  and logical and would help Canada to achieve five attractive goals with respect to our social security system:

  • Increase the probability of it’s sustainability.
  • Increase the credibility of this sustainability with the Canadian public.
  • Enhance inter-generational equity.
  • Lower the overall costs of social security; and
  • Create a nudge for workers to stay in the labour force for a little longer .

It remains to be seen if or when the C.D. Howe proposals regarding changes to the AOE for public pension plans will make it on to the “To Do” list of the current or future federal governments.

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.

Does CPP expansion help low income earners?

By Sheryl Smolkin

Low earners stand to gain little from an expanded Canada Pension Plan (CPP), according to a new C.D. Howe Institute report. In “The Pressing Question: Does CPP Expansion Help Low Earners?”, authors Kevin Milligan and Tammy Schirle show the large differences in the net payoff from the expanded CPP for lower and higher earners.

Federal and provincial finance ministers agreed in June to expand the Canada Pension Plan. Under the status quo, CPP offers a 25% replacement rate on earnings up to a cap of $54,900. The expanded CPP will add a new layer that raises the replacement rate to 33.3% up to a new earnings cap of about $82,900 when the program is fully phased in by 2025.

To pay for this, both employer and employee contributions will be raised by one percentage point up to the existing earnings cap, and by four percentage points between the old and new earning caps. This expansion will be phased in during the period 2019 to 2025 for contributions, with benefits being phased in over the next 50 years commensurate to contributions paid.

This reform will substantially raise expected CPP benefits for most young workers now entering the workforce. For lower- and middle-earning workers, the higher replacement rate will lead to an eventual benefit increase of about 33% over existing CPP benefits.

For a high-earning worker, the maximum CPP benefits will increase more than 50% over the status quo. These expansions are large enough to make a noticeable difference for the younger generation of workers as the expanded CPP matures over the coming decades.

However, the C.D. Howe study authors note two important shortcomings of the new package hamper its effectiveness, both related to low earners.

First, low earners are already well covered by the existing suite of public pension benefits – many now receive more income when retired than when working. Why expand coverage where it is not needed? As a contributory pension, the CPP risks worsening the balance of income between working and retirement years for low earners.

Second, the income-tested withdrawal of some government-program benefits wipes out much of the impact of extra CPP benefits for many low-earners. Around one-third of Canadian seniors currently receive the income-tested Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), so concerns about interactions with income-tested benefits have a broad base.

In order to be eligible for the GIS in 2016, a single, widowed or divorced pensioner receiving a full OAS pension cannot have over $17,376 individual income. Where a couple each receives a full OAS pension they will not be eligible for the GIS if their combined income exceeds $22,944.

To summarize these issues: expanding CPP for low earners risks making some Canadians pay for pension coverage they don’t need. To make matters worse, extra contributions may reduce the living standards of low earners today for modest net rewards in retirement tomorrow.

The CPP agreement-in-principle reached by the finance ministers may address some of these concerns by offering an improvement to the Working Income Tax Benefit alongside the CPP expansion. It is possible that an expanded WITB could effectively counteract increased CPP contributions by some low earners, but no details of the WITB expansion have been provided to date. Nevertheless, low earners would still face the problem of CPP-GIS interactions that undercut the impact of expanded CPP benefits.

In a Globe and Mail article, authors Janet McFarland and Ian McGugan also note that expanded CPP does not do much to help people who do not collect CPP in the first place. That describes many senior women who spent most of their lives as homemakers and so earned little or nothing in CPP benefits. About 28% of single senior women over 65 live in poverty, according to a study this spring for the Broadbent Institute by statistician Richard Shillington of Tristat Resources.

In addition they say the planned CPP changes will also do only a limited amount to help affluent savers because the maximum amount of income covered by the plan will increase to only about $82,800 by 2025. Therefore, those with six-figure incomes will still have to save on their own if they want a retirement income that will replace a considerable portion of their incomes above the expanded limit.

2015 Changes to RRIF Withdrawal Schedule Not Enough, says C.D. Howe

By Sheryl Smolkin

A new report from the C.D. Howe Institute says that the lower mandatory draw downs from RRIFs and similar vehicles introduced in the 2015 budget are better than the old rules but this file should nevertheless remain open.  If real yields on the types of securities a prudent retiree should hold do not rebound considerably, and if life expectancy continues to rise, authors William B.P. Robson and Alexandre Laurin say the risk of outliving tax-deferred savings will continue to be material.

By the time new withdrawal limits were announced this year, the draw down rules established in 1992 were badly outdated. Lower yields on safe investments and longer lives had put many Canadians at risk of outliving their savings. The new smaller minimums reduce that risk.

With real investment returns of 3%, as assumed in the budget illustrations, C.D. Howe projections suggest relatively constant minimum RRIF draw downs up to age 94, and a lower risk of living to see a badly depleted RRIF account balance. However, real returns on safe investments are currently negative. Re-running the projections with zero real returns suggests that most seniors still face a material risk of outliving their tax-deferred savings.

The motive for forcing holders of RRIFs and other similarly treated tax-deferred assets to draw down their savings is to accelerate the government’s receipt of tax revenue, and likewise bring revenue from income-tested programs such as Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) forward.  These payments will occur eventually – notably on the death of the account holder or her/his spouse or partner – so they amount to an implicit asset on governments’ balance sheets. The draw downs do not affect their present value; they simply make them happen sooner.

The minimum withdrawals are not a serious problem for those who, perhaps because they do not expect to live long, want to draw their tax-deferred savings down fast. Others, willing and able to work and replenish their savings after age 71, will get by. Couples can gear their withdrawals to the younger spouse’s age. High-income seniors whose incremental withdrawals do not trigger OAS and GIS clawbacks will find the burden of paying ordinary income taxes on them tolerable. Higher TFSA limits will also let more seniors reinvest unspent withdrawals in them, avoiding repeated taxation.

For others, however, forced draw downs make no sense: those whose withdrawals – reinvested in TFSAs or not – trigger claw backs; those daunted by tax planning and investing outside RRIFs; those unable to work longer; and those facing sizeable late-in-life expenses such as long-term care. The more future seniors have ample assets to finance such needs as health and long-term care, as well as the enjoyments of retirement, the better off Canada will be.

Therefore, the report says the 2015 changes should be a down payment on further liberalization. In the alternative, if more regular adjustments to keep the withdrawals aligned with returns and longevity are impractical, it is suggested that eliminating minimum withdrawals entirely may be the best way to help retirees enjoy the lifelong security they are striving to achieve.

Robson and Laurin conclude that government impatience for revenue should not force holders of RRIFs and similar tax-deferred vehicles to deplete their nest-eggs prematurely. While the 2015 budget’s changes are a step in the right direction, they say retirees need further changes to these rules if they are to enjoy the post-retirement security they are striving to achieve.

Also read:
What the new RRIF withdrawal rules will mean for you

RRIF rules need updating: C.D. Howe