Tag Archives: Global news

Nov 20: Best from the blogosphere

I finally found time to clean out the 700+ emails in my in box and here are some of the gems from both the mainstream media and the blogosphere I found hiding there.

The federal government has announced expanded parental leave and new caregiver benefits that will come into effect December 3rd. Eligible new parents will be able to spread 12 months of employment insurance benefits over 18 months after the birth of a child. However, the government will not increase the actual value of employment insurance benefits for anyone who takes the extended parental leave.

The change in leave rules will automatically give the option of more time off for federally regulated workplaces, which include banks, transport companies, the public service and telecoms, and is likely to spur calls for changes to provincial labour laws to allow the other 92% of Canadian workers outside of Quebec access to similar leave. Anyone on the 35 weeks of parental leave before the new measures officially come into effect won’t be able to switch and take off the extra time.

How do you know when it’s the right time to retire? Retire Happy’s Jim Yih advises boomers considering retirement to have a plan that includes both lifestyle issues and money issues.  He says, “Too often the retirement plan focuses only on the financial issues. You can have all the money in the world but if you don’t know how to spend it or have good people around you or you don’t have your health, what good is the money?”

In the Globe and Mail, Morneau Sobeco actuary Fred Vettese says Few Canadians are destined to hit their retirement income ‘sweet spot’. What is an adequate income level to retire? According to Vettese for most people, it means having enough income to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living for the rest of their lives. “Put another way, spendable income in retirement would be 100% of what it was during one’s working years,” he says. “We’re unlikely to hit the 100% target every time, so let’s consider anything between 85% and 115% to be in the “sweet spot.”

If you sometimes get discouraged reading about “wunderkind” who save millions and retire super early, FIREcracker, writing on Millenial Revolution says Don’t Let Comparisons Derail Your FIRE (financial independence, retire early) Journey. “Don’t compare your beginning with someone’s middle or end. Instead of comparing yourself to other people, look back at your own journey and see how far you’ve come, she says. “And remember, even though there are hordes of people in front of you, there are also hordes behind you. They would switch places with you in an instant.”

And finally, make sure your retirement savings plan includes adequate amounts for health care. Health spending in Canada will likely hit $242 billion in 2017, says a report from the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI). CIHI calculates that health spending in Canada is expected to reach $6,604 per capita this year – or about $200 more per person compared to last year. The report also says total health spending per person is expected to vary across the country, from $7,378 in Newfoundland and Labrador and $7,329 in Alberta to $6,367 in Ontario and $6,321 in British Columbia. The public private split remains fairly constant with 30% covered by private out of pocket payment or private insurance and 70% by the public purse.

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.

June 12: Best from the blogosphere

In the mid-1990s when I obtained my Master of Laws (LLM) from University of Leicester via a distance degree I traveled back and forth to Europe for five extended study weekends. That’s when I first got an Aeroplan number and a CIBC Aeroplan Visa and began aggressively collecting points.

As a result we were able to get almost free flights to many wonderful places including South America, Italy and the U.K. But recently convenient flights have cost more points and additional fees have increased so it has become more and more difficult to use up Aeroplan points in a cost-effective way.

Therefore, several years ago I traded in my Aeroplan VISA for a Capital One MasterCard that offers two points for every dollar spent and travel rewards of $1 for each 100 points accumulated.  I haven’t looked back since then.

But many of you who have stuck with Aeroplan through thick and thin will be affected by the announcement that beginning June 30, 2020. Aeroplan will no longer be the loyalty program for Air Canada.  Instead Air Canada has decided to launch its own loyalty program upon the expiry of its commercial agreement with Aimia, the operator of Aeroplan.

Many details of how the program will be phased out remain unclear, but the collection of media articles and blogs below may answer some of your questions.

A two-part series on Rewards Canada explores what we know now and questions that remain outstanding.

  1.  Air Canada to launch own loyalty program in 2020! Aeroplan should continue to be a partner includes excerpts from the Aeroplan news release and questions whether the new Aeroplan will have access to Star Alliance members’ award inventory or if it will become exclusive to Air Canada’s new program.
  2. Further thoughts, insight and tips on the split between Air Canada and Aeroplan suggests that perhaps Air Canada will pad their loyal flyers account with some miles to begin with, or they may put in place some sort of transfer option. However it seems from the news provided by both Aeroplan and Air Canada there will be no way to transfer between the two programs, at least for the time being.

The Globe and Mail’s Rob Carrick explores rewarding replacements for those of you who are bailing on Air Canada. He says, “Figure out which program works best for you and start watching for special introductory offers to lure new clients. Competition between programs will heat up as we move closer to Air Canada’s departure from Aeroplan.”

Stephen Weyman on HowToSaveMoney.ca says Aeroplan has committed to keeping your miles safe and will allow you to continue redeeming them for flights on Air Canada even after the 2020 deadline. But what could change is the cost in miles for doing so. He says, “I expect the cost will increase substantially, so if you want to fly Air Canada or Star Alliance, you should try and redeem most of your miles before 2020.” Weyman also explores which Aeroplan credit card is really the best.

And finally, read about how a family of four collected one million travel reward points in 12 months and is travelling the world on business class . Global News multimedia journalist Emanuela Campanella writes about Pedro Pla, 35, from Puerto Rico and Grace Cheng, 36, from Singapore who began their odyssey with their two toddlers in January 2017.

“We made it our family goal at the start of 2016 to collect a million air miles through travel hacking. In order to reach this goal, we had to research and plan meticulously so that we were able to maximize the earning of credit card points or miles per dollar of spending,” Pia says. “The bulk of our one million miles was earned from the ground, which means that we earned them as credit card rewards points or miles when we use our credit cards to pay for purchases.”


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.

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.

Burn your mortgage: An interview with author Sean Cooper

By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen
Click here to listen

If you think you can’t possibly afford to buy a home or that paying off your mortgage is a pipe dream, Burn Your Mortgage is the must-read book of the year. Today I’m pleased to be interviewing author Sean Cooper for savewithspp.com.

By day, Sean is a mild-mannered senior pension analyst at a global consulting firm. By night he is a prolific personal finance journalist, who has been featured in major publications, including the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and MoneySense. He has also appeared on Global News, CBC, CP24 and CTV News Network.

Thanks for agreeing to chat with us today Sean.

My pleasure, Sheryl.

Q: As a 20 something, why did you decide to buy a house?
A: Well I guess a lot of people strive for home ownership. My parents were my biggest influence. We always owned a home growing up, so I thought that owning a home was kind of the path to financial freedom.

Q: How much did your home cost, and how much was your down payment?
A: I purchased my home in August 2012 for $425,000 dollars. My down payment was $170,000, leaving me with a mortgage of $255,000. I didn’t go out and spend the massive amount the bank approved me for. I could have spent over $500,000 dollars but I found a house with everything that I needed for $425,000 and because of that I was able to pay off my mortgage in three years.

Q: How on earth did you save a down payment of $170,000 dollars? How long did it take you to save it, and how many hours a week did you have to work to do so?
A: Yes, it was definitely a sizable down payment for one person. I pretty much started saving my down payment while I was in university. I was able to graduate debt free from university and while I was there, I was working as a financial journalist. I was also working at the MBA office, and employed part-time at a supermarket. When I got my full-time job I was saving probably 75%-80% of my paycheck. I wasn’t living at home rent free. I was actually paying my mother rent.

Q: Kudos for your determination and stamina. Do you think working three jobs is actually a practical option for most people, particularly if they have young families?
A: No. As I emphasize in the book, that’s how I paid off my mortgage as a financial journalist on top of working at my full time job. While for somebody like me who is single it makes sense, it’s probably not realistic if you have a spouse and children. But there are plenty of things you can do to save money.

Q: Many people again think they would never, never be able to save up enough for a down payment. Can you give a couple of hints or tips that you give readers in your book that will help them escalate their savings?
A:
Definitely. First of all, you absolutely have to be realistic with your home buying expectations. You can’t expect to be able to buy the exact same house that you grew up in with three or four bedrooms and two stories. But you can at least get your foot in the door of the real estate market by perhaps buying a condo, or a town house, and building up equity, and hopefully moving up one day. Think about creative living arrangements. Rent a cheaper place than a downtown condo. Find a roommate.

Q: How can prospective home buyers use registered plans like their RRSP or TFSA to beef up their savings and get tax breaks?
A: If you are a first time home buyer, I definitely encourage you to use the home buyers plan. The government allows you to withdraw $25,000 dollars from your RRSP tax-free (it has to be repaid within 15 years). If you are buying with your spouse, that’s $50 000 dollars you can take out together. That’s a great way to get into the housing market. The caution I can offer is when you withdraw the money, make sure that you fill in the correct forms so you are not taxed on the withdrawal. If you’re not a first time home buyer, then I would definitely encourage you to use a Tax Free Savings Account, because it’s very flexible, and although you don’t get a tax refund, the balance in the plan accumulates tax-free.

Q: After shelter, which means mortgage and rent, food is a pretty expensive cost. How can people manage their food costs while still eating a healthy, varied diet?
A: I offer a few tips in my book. First of all, try to buy items like cereal and rice in bulk and on sale. Another tip I offer is to buy in season. I probably wouldn’t buy cherries during the winter  because they would cost me a small fortune. Try to buy apples instead, and during the summer if you enjoy watermelon, definitely buy it then. Try to be smart with your spending, and that way you can cut back on your grocery bill considerably.

Q: I enjoyed the section in your book about love, money, and relationships. Can you share some hints about how couples can manage dating and wedding costs, to free up more money for their house?
A: People like to spend a fair amount on their weddings these days, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but you just have to consider your financial future, and how that’s going to affect it. Also, when it comes to dating, make sure that you and your potential partner are financially compatible and have similar financial goals. For example, one might be a saver while the other is a spender. Sit down and make sure both of you are on the same page financially, and then find common financial goals, and work towards them.

Q: How can prospective home buyers determine how much they can actually afford?
A: If you are ready to start house hunting, I would definitely encourage you to get pre- approved for a mortgage. Basically, the bank will tell you how much money you can afford on a home. That way you don’t waste time looking at houses out of your price range. However, just because the bank says you can spend $800,000 doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend that much.

Also don’t forget you will have to pay for utilities, property taxes, and home insurance plus repairs and maintenance. Come up with a mock budget ahead of time, and see how that will affect your current lifestyle. I would say if over 50% of your month income is going towards housing, that’s too much.

Try to kind of balance home ownership with your other financial goals, whether they are saving towards retirement, or even going on a vacation. That way all of your money won’t be going towards your house, and you will actually be able to afford to have fun and save towards other goals as well.

Q: You’re living in the basement and you rented the first floor. Why did you decide to do that, instead of vice versa?
A: Well I’m just one person living on my own, and upstairs there are three bedrooms and two bathrooms. I wouldn’t know what to do with all the space, so it made sense to live in the basement, because to be honest I lived in basement apartments for several years before that, so it wasn’t really much of an adjustment. I mean, personally I’d rather rent out the main floor than get a second or third job. It’s all about kind of maximizing all of the space that you have, and looking for extra ways to earn income.

Q: We rented the basement in our first house. Why did you decide to write the book?
A:
When I paid off my mortgage, a lot of people reached out to me for home buying advice. In the media, there seems to be a lot of, I guess, negativity surrounding real estate and big cities.

I always hear that the average house costs over a million dollars in Toronto and Vancouver. It seems like for millennials home ownership is really out of reach. I wanted to write a book to really inspire them and show them that home ownership is still a realistic dream, and it is still achievable if you are willing to be smart about your finances.

Q: Congratulations Sean. It’s a great book. I’m sure people reading and listening to this podcast will want to run out and buy it. Where can they get a copy?
A: They can order a copy on Amazon. It will also be available in Chapters and other major book stores across Canada.

Well that’s very exciting. Good luck.

Thanks so much.

 

 

 

 

 

You can purchase Burn Your Mortgage by Sean Cooper on Amazon.

This is an edited transcript of a podcast interview conducted in February 2017.

Apr 27: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

If you haven’t filed your income tax return yet it’s really getting down to the wire. Whether you take advantage of them this year or next, here are some tax tips that could put more money in your pocket,

Are you entitled to a tax refund for your medical expenses? by Brenda Spiering on Brighter Life draws on her experience following her son’s accident when she learned that the part of his dental bills not covered by her health insurance at work could be claimed as a tax credit along with a portion of her health insurance premiums.

Tax accountant Evelyn Jacks addresses The Mad Dash to April 30th in Your Money. Your Life. She says once you have filed your taxes, the most important question is how you will spend your tax return. Some options are: pay down debt; save in a TFSA; use RRSP room; invest in an RESP; or invest in a Registered Disability Savings Plan.

Hey last-minute tax filers: Don’t make these common, costly mistakes says Stephen Karmazyn in the Financial Post. For example, only eight percent of taxpayers are planning to claim the Canada Employment Amount (which is a credit for work-related expenses such as home computers, uniforms, supplies) even though anyone with a T4 income can make a claim.

In a timeless blog on Retire Happy, Jim Yih offers RRSP and Tax Planning Tips. He recommends that only one spouse claim charitable deductions. That’s because the credit for charitable donations is a two-tiered federal credit of 16% on the first $200 and 29% on the balance (plus provincial credits). Spouses are allowed to claim the other’s donations and to carry forward donations for up to five years. By carrying forward donations and then having them all claimed by one spouse, the first $200 threshold with the lower credit is only applied once.

And in a Global news video Smart Cookies: Last Minute Tax Tips, Kate Dunsworth shares last minute reminders for people who have been procrastinating with their taxes. She says if you are expecting a refund and you are not planning to file on time because you don’t owe anything, you are basically giving the government a tax free loan. And if you owe money, you will be penalized for every single day you file late. Also, repeat late offenders will be penalized up to double.

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.