Tag Archives: GIS

Pension-income splitting rules can reduce total tax bill

By Sheryl Smolkin

I retired from my corporate job with a defined benefit pension before I turned 55 and I opted to begin receiving my CPP at age 60. And by starting my own business as a workplace journalist I also created another significant income stream.

In contrast, when my husband retired at age 65 he did not have a pension and he elected to defer receipt of CPP and OAS for a year. He also decided not to convert his RRSP into a RRIF until he is required to do so at age 71. Therefore, other than withdrawing funds from our unregistered investment account, he had no source of income.  As a result, when it came to filing subsequent income tax returns, the disparity in our income made us ideal candidates to benefit from pension-income splitting which has been available since 2007.

The way it works is that if you are receiving income that qualifies for the pension income tax credit you’ll be able to allocate up to half of that income to your spouse or common-law partner (and vice versa) each year. You don’t actually have to write a cheque because pension income-splitting is merely a paper transaction done via your tax return.

The type of pension income that qualifies for the pension income tax credit of up to $2.000/year and that is eligible for pension splitting differs depending on whether you were 65 or older in the year.

  • If you were under 65 as of December 31, 2016, “qualifying pension income” includes life annuity payments out of a defined benefit or defined contribution pension plan and certain payments received as a result of the death of your spouse or common-law partner.
  • If you were 65 or older in 2016, other defined payments such as lifetime annuity payments out of your RRSP, DPSP or RRIF also qualify for the pension credit. Qualifying pension income doesn’t include CPP, OAS or GIS payments.
  • It is worthwhile noting that pension payments from SPP qualify for the pension income tax credit.

The extent to which pension income-splitting will be beneficial will depend on the marginal tax bracket of you and your spouse or common-law partner, as well as the amount of qualifying income that can be split. In many cases, the optimal allocation will be less than the allowable 50% maximum.

If you opt to pension split, a special election form (Form T1032) must be signed by the parties affected and filed with the CRA. If you file your return electronically, you should keep the election form on file in case the CRA asks for it. Another result of pension splitting is that the income tax withheld from your pension income will be reported on your spouse or common-law partner’s return, proportional to the amount of income being split.

Pension income splitting may also reduce the Old Age Security claw back while transferring income to your spouse who is taxed at a lower tax rate. In addition, your spouse can access the pension income credit of up to $2,000 for federal tax purposes and $1,000 for BC tax purposes, which would otherwise be unavailable without pension income.

The pension income splitting rules do not make spousal RRSPs obsolete, since spousal plans still have income splitting benefits for the years before you turn 65 or if you have not yet converted your RRSP to a RRIF or annuity. In addition, taking advantage of spousal RRSPs can increase your potential for withdrawals under the Home Buyers’ Plan and the Lifelong Learning Plan.

In 2014 and 2015 the Family Tax Cut credit provided a version of income splitting that allowed an individual to notionally transfer up to $50,000 of income to his or her lower-income spouse or partner, provided they have a child who was under 18 at the end of the year. The credit was capped at $2,000 annually. However, that form of income-splitting was abolished by the new Liberal government for 2016.

Other permitted forms of income splitting with family members are described here.

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.

How spending declines with age

By Sheryl Smolkin

A recently retired actuary I once met at a conference told me that retirees worry primarily about their health and their money. Even retirement savings that seemed perfectly adequate when you hand in your office keycard for the last time seem to be eroded by the unrelenting drip, drip of inflation.

That’s why the lucky few who have indexed or partially indexed defined benefit pensions (most common in the public sector) are the subject of “pension envy” by the 80%-85% Canadians who do not have access to any form of workplace pension.

But according to a new C.D. Howe research paper by actuary Fred Vettese, retirees actually spend less on personal consumption as they age. He says, “This decline in real spending, which typically starts at about age 70 and accelerates at later ages, cannot be attributed to insufficient financial resources because older retirees save a high percentage of their income and, in fact, save more than people who are still working.”

Vettese cites evidence showing that compared to a household where the head is age 54, the average Canadian household headed by a 77-year-old spends 40% less. None of this drop in spending is attributable to the elimination of mortgage payments because they are not considered consumption. Much of the fall in spending at older ages was traced to reduced spending on non-essential items such as eating out, recreation and holidays.

The author focuses on public sector pension plans, which are fully indexed to inflation. His findings show that these plans could move to partial indexation, generating significant savings. “Given that more than 3.1 million active members are contributing to public-sector pension plans, the total annual savings could add up to billions of dollars, he says.” At the individual level, he suggests these savings would allow public-sector employees to increase current consumption or to reduce debt.

Given this phenomenon, cost-of-living indexation of workplace pension benefits could be reduced without sacrificing consumption later in life, Vettese concludes. He also notes that, “Reduced pension contributions would free up money to be spent today when families struggle to raise children and pay down mortgages on houses, thereby raising plan members’ collective economic welfare over their lifetimes.”

The average resulting reduction in required total employer/employee contributions to public-sector plans is of the order of $2,000 a year per active member. There are over three million active members in Canada’s public-sector DB pension plans, most of which provide full inflation protection or strive to do so to the extent that funding is available.

Nevertheless, Vettese says Pillar 1 (OAS/GIS) and 2 (CPP) pensions should not be subject to any reduction in benefits or contributions because these plans are generally designed to cover basic necessities, such as food and shelter. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, he believes it is reasonable to assume that spending on such necessities does not decline very much, if at all.

I have heard the three phases of retirement described as “go-go”, “slow-go” and “no-go.” My mother at 88 no longer drives a car and can’t to get out to shop very often anymore, so I am prepared to concede that many of her expenses have been reduced. However, her memory isn’t what it used to be and she has had several bad falls, so paying for 24-hour care in her own condo is a huge drain on her assets. Also taxis to multiple doctor’s appointments and medical supplies are expensive.

While Vettese suggests partially eliminated or reducing inflation-protection for indexed pension plans could allow public-sector employees to enhance current consumption and reduce debt, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a laudable or desirable objective. Mom saved and scrimped all her life and because my Dad was a disabled WW2 veteran she gets a tax-free, indexed pension for life. She also collects CPP and OAS.

I’m glad she has the additional disposable income so she can stay in her own apartment with the necessary support system as long as possible. Even though older retirees may no longer go on extended vacations or eat in fancy restaurants, they still have other equally compelling expenses in order to live out their remaining days in dignity and comfort.

Now if we could only figure out a way to help raise the bar for all seniors to be able to afford the same well-earned privilege.

How seniors can unlock home equity

By Sheryl Smolkin

Results of Manulife Bank of Canada’s Debt Survey revealed that nearly one in five homeowners expect to access home equity to supplement their retirement income with 10% of respondents planning to downsize and use the excess equity to provide retirement income.

That got me thinking about what options are available to retirees who want to unlock the value of their home to live on when they stop working.

  1. Sell high, buy low
    Of course, the most obvious alternative is to sell your home in a metropolitan area where real estate prices are high and retire to a smaller, less expensive community. For example, it will cost you a lot more to purchase or rent a house in Saskatoon or Regina than if you retire to Rosetown or Wadena.
  2. Downsize
    If you own a large suburban property with the traditional three or four bedrooms and multiple bathrooms, you may want to downsize and simplify. Again, the amount of equity you can unlock will depend on where you are currently living, where you want to move and how much smaller you are prepared to go.
  3. Rent instead
    Even if you have always owned your own home, you may be ready to let someone else worry about escalating taxes, furnace repairs, mowing the lawn and shoveling snow. Investing the proceeds of sale of your home and renting an apartment or a house can give you freedom from those responsibilities, particularly if you want to be able to just lock the door and take off on short notice for parts unknown.The downside is that you get what you pay for. Quality rental stock is in short supply in many areas and the nicer the apartment or house, the higher the rent. Furthermore, rents will increase over time and you may have to move again when your lease is up. You also will not be able to do structural renovations or decorate a rented property in the same way as your own home.
  4. Become a landlord
    Can your single family home be converted into a multi-unit dwelling? If you live in a desirable area and you do a tasteful renovation, the rental income will quickly pay for itself and leave you with a stream of income to supplement your retirement savings.The HGTV show Income Property typically focuses on young couples trying to get into their first home, but there is no reason why a similar strategy cannot work equally-well for seniors who want to age in place. An extra bonus is that if you need live-in care later in life, the apartment can be reclaimed for the use of a caregiver.
  5. Home equity line of credit
    A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, is a revolving line of credit secured by your home at a much lower interest rate than a traditional line of credit. The operation of a HELOC is discussed on ratehub.ca. In Canada, your HELOC cannot exceed 65% of your home’s value. However, it’s also important to remember that your outstanding mortgage loan balance + your HELOC cannot equal more than 80% of the value of your home.You must pay at least the interest owing every month and you can also make extra payments of principle at your discretion. We have a HELOC which came in very handy several times when family members bought and sold property and needed funds to finance a purchase before the sale of their previous homes had closed.
  6. Reverse mortgage
    A reverse mortgage is a home loan that provides cash payments based on home equity. Homeowners normally defer payment of the loan until they die, sell, or move out of the home. CHIP is the only Canadian financial institution that currently offers reverse mortgages. The Pros and Cons of a Reverse Mortgage are discussed in detail in an excellent guest blog by Tricia French on Retire Happy. Reverse mortgages allow clients over 55 to access up to 50% of their home’s value. Payments from a reverse mortgage are tax-free income, so your income-tested benefits such as OAS and GIS will not be affected.You can repay the loan at any time and the amount you owe can never exceed the value of your property. You and your beneficiaries also will not be responsible for any shortfall if interest rates increase and housing values drop.Nevertheless, interest will quickly grow on the amount you have borrowed and start up fees can be thousands of dollars. A reverse mortgage can quickly erode the money you have available when you eventually sell and therefore the size of the estate you can eventually leave to your children.
  7. Sell ‘n Stay
    I recently learned about a new concept called Sell ‘n Stay where seniors can sell their home to an investor and lease it back for 10 years or even for life. Unlike a reverse mortgage, the homeowner can access 100% of the equity in their home. The concept, developed by Real Estate Agent Saskia Wyngaard, is currently only available in Ontario.Market value of the house is determined by comparing sales of similar homes that have sold recently in the same neighborhood. The house is offered for sale through an exclusive listing without open houses or staging. Exposure is limited to buyers who are interested in purchasing an investment property with an in-place A+ tenant.The new owner pays for taxes, insurance and repairs. The previous owner pays market rent of about 5% of the value of the house, renter’s insurance and utilities. Since 2013 Wyngaard has been involved in 15 such arrangements with lease backs of 10 years.

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Whatever method you choose to unlock equity in your home to supplement your retirement, the optimum situation is to pay off your mortgage before you retire. This will give you the most flexibility to plan for life after work without the burden of paying off debt.

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

Nov 24: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Do you typically buy a fistful of gift cards for holiday gifts? Just in time to save you a bundle, Boomer & Echo’s Rob Engen writes about How To Hack Gift Cards For Big Discounts. He suggests buying gift cards with your cash back credit card, the RedFlagDeals forum dedicated to buying and selling gift cards and purchasing discounted gift cards at Costco. Who knew?

On Retire Happy, government benefits expert Doug Runchey explains that Receiving a partial OAS pension affects the amount of GIS a pensioner will receive in two ways:

  1. A pensioner receiving partial OAS will receive more GIS than someone receiving a full OAS pension, to make up for their lesser amount of OAS.
  2. A pensioner receiving partial OAS will receive GIS up to a higher income, compared to someone receiving a full OAS pension.

Jonathan Chevreau on Findependence Day Hub profiles a 28 year old Winnipeg-based investor named Saxon Funk who has a firm plan for achieving financial independence through various passive streams of income. But his real play for findependence comes through real estate. He was attracted to real estate when he discovered he could buy properties at 10% down, and he caught the Winnipeg real estate cycle at just the right time.

Do you know How Your Daily Commute Affects Your Finances? Dan Wesley from Our Big Fat Wallet reports that the average time Torontonians spend commuting is 80 minutes – the longest time in the world. In contrast, Saskatchewan Jobs says the average commute time in the province’s two largest cities is only 20 minutes. Another reason to count your blessings!

And if unexpected, frequent required changes to eyeglasses for family members is putting stress on your budget, you may be interested in How I saved over 50% buying eye glasses online, my recent blog on Retirement Redux.

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 with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

BOOK REVIEW: THE REAL RETIREMENT Why you could be better off than you think

By Sheryl Smolkin

7Aug-The+Real+Retirement

The Real Retirement by Morneau Shepell Chief Actuary Fred Vettese and Bill Morneau, Executive Chairman of Morneau Shepell was released and extensively reviewed by the media in 2013.

However, I decided to circle back to this book over a year later because it is much more optimistic than many of the personal finance books I have reviewed since January.

Most financial writers seem to be trying to guilt readers into forgoing consumption during their working lives in order to accumulate sufficient RRSP savings to generate 70% of pre-retirement income.

In contrast, Vettese and Morneau present well-reasoned arguments to illustrate that income replacement of 50% or even less post-retirement will result in a “neutral retirement income” (NRIT), i.e. similar patterns of consumption for retirees.

Initially, they note that there are three phases of retirement:

Phase 1: From retirement age to the mid or late 70s or even later if you are healthy you are most likely to travel to exotic locations and pursue expensive hobbies. Therefore your income requirements will be highest in this phase.

Phase 2: In the second phase of retirement you may have diminished physical or mental capabilities. If so, you will travel less and cut back on strenuous activities. Therefore you will spend less money.

Phase 3: In the last years of your life you may be more physically or mentally impaired. You may need to be in a nursing home, or if you are wealthy enough, in an upscale retirement home with nursing care.

As a result, planning to spend more in the first decade of retirement will not necessarily mean that you will run out of money before you run out of time.

I thought it was particularly interesting that when considering available resources that can generate retirement income for Canadians, unlike many other personal financial writers, the authors also factor in the value of “Pillar 4 assets” including real estate, business equity and non-registered savings.

They use the following population breakdown in their calculations:

Income Quartile Average total income (couple)
Quartile 1 $29,000
Quartile 2 $53,000
Quartile 3 $78,000
Quartile 4 $110,000
Quartile 5 $204,000

The bottom quartile is dropped out because it is assumed that government benefits such as CPP, OAS and the GIS will provide better than average income replacement.

For the most part, Quartile 5 is also excluded since a couple with an income of over $200,000 has typically saved in RRSPs and has other Pillar 4 assets that can augment retirement ravings.

Vettese presents an example of a couple in Quartile 3 with $78,000 in annual income at age 65 and assumes they saved 6.5% annually in an RRSP from age 30 until retirement, Once their RRSP balance is converted to a RRIF at age 65, including government benefits they will have an income after retirement of $48,600/year.

Although retirement income for this couple is just 62% of their pre-retirement income, they no longer make RRSP and CPP contributions; have EI deductions and other employment costs; and pay a mortgage or child-raising costs. Their income taxes are also much lower.

The net result is that they have $14,000 more in disposable income to spend post-retirement! Although each family’s financial situation differs, the authors conclude that an NRIT which equalizes consumption before and after retirement generally only requires about 50% of pre-retirement income.

A calculations using a couple in Quartile 4 ($116,000 before retirement) reveals that the NRIT is just 44%. Furthermore, they can achieve their NRIT with 35 years of RRSP contributions equal to 3.5% of household income. And in general the higher the income level, the lower the NRIT.

This book is an interesting read because it presents a different perspective on the perennial questions, “How much will I need in retirement?” and “How much do I have to save to accumulate the amount I will require?”

While Vettese and Morneau suggest the answers to these questions may be “less than you think,” it doesn’t mean you don’t have to save at all. And all of the scenarios assume you retire free of mortgage and other debt. They also presume a drop in employment expenses and taxes payable that may not apply in your situation.

But if you thought the only thing you have to look forward to is Freedom 75, reading this book will cheer you up. Retiring at age 65 may in fact be a perfectly reasonable objective and you might even be able to afford a nice annual vacation or two while you are still well enough to travel.

The Real Retirement can be purchased online from Chapters for $15.64.

Fred Vettese
Fred Vettese
Bill Morneau
Bill Morneau