By Sheryl Smolkin
See Part 1 .
Every family has multiple financial priorities. If you have small children and a big mortgage it is often daunting to think about saving for anything more than a family night out at a local fast food restaurant.
But one way to manage your money is to pay yourself first by allocating specific amounts to savings and having these amounts moved into different jars (or accounts) as soon as your paycheque is deposited into your account.
In Part 2 of the series “how to save for retirement” we will focus on several of the tax-assisted or tax–deferred savings plans available to you and some tips for using them effectively.
- Government benefits: Every working Canadian must pay into the Canada Pension Plan or the Quebec Pension Plan until age 65. In addition, Old Age Security is payable to Canadians or legal residents living in Canada who lived in the country at least 10 years before age 65 and Canadians or legal residents living outside Canada who lived in the country at least 20 years before age 65. Lower income OAS recipients may also be eligible for the Guaranteed income Supplement (GIS). But changes to government benefit programs mean you can take benefits later or in some cases earlier (with a penalty). When developing a retirement savings plan you should understand how these programs work and the benefits you can expect to receive. You also need to decide when it makes the most financial sense for you to start collecting CPP and OAS.
- Saskatchewan Pension Plan: The Saskatchewan Pension Plan is a defined contribution pension plan open to all Canadians with registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) room. You can contribute up to $2,500/year or transfer in up to $10,000/year from another unlocked RRSP. Low fees (one percent/year on average) and consistent returns (average of 8.13% over 28 years since inception) make SPP an excellent investment. The program is very flexible because how much you contribute and when is up to you. Funds are locked in until your selected retirement date, between ages 55 and 71.
- Registered Retirement Savings Plan: In 2014 you can contribute 18% of your previous year’s income to a maximum of $24,270 to your RRSP minus specified amounts contributed to other registered savings accounts. Unused contribution room can be carried forward. You can find your RRSP limit on line (A) of the RRSP Deduction Limit Statement, on your latest notice of assessment or notice of reassessment from the Canada Revenue Agency.
- RRSP withdrawals: One weakness of an RRSP as a retirement savings vehicle is that you can withdraw money at any time. If you do withdraw RRSP funds you will pay tax on withdrawals at your normal tax rate, the contribution room is lost and you lose the benefit of future tax-free compounding. However, the Home Buyers’ Plan and the Lifelong Learning Plan permit you to withdraw amounts from your RRSP in specific circumstances without triggering a tax bill and require you to repay the money, usually over 15 years.
- Tax deductible: Contributions to SPP, RRSPs and other registered pension plans are tax deductible. If you participate in one or more of these plans and have not already arranged to have less tax taken off at source, you may get a hefty income tax return. There are lots of ways to spend this windfall including taking a vacation or paying down debt. However, in his book The Smart Debt Coach, author Talbot Stevens says reinvesting your tax returns into an RRSP is the best way to get the full benefit of compounding in the plan.
- Deferring tax deduction: There is no minimum age for an RRSP. In order to make contributions to an RRSP account, a minor needs to have earned income the previous year and have filed an income tax return. If a thrifty young person or anyone with a low income makes RRSP contributions, deferring taking the tax deduction until they are in a higher tax bracket means they will get a bigger bank for their savings bucks. The last RRSP contribution a taxpayer can make is in the year they turn 71.
- Tax Free Savings Account: A Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) allows you to currently save $5,500 a year. Contributions are not tax deductible, but investment earnings accrue tax free in the account. If you withdraw money, you can re-contribute the amount to the account in the next or subsequent years without any penalty. You can only begin making contributions at age 18 but there is no upper age when you have to stop contributing. How do you decide if a TFSA or an RRSP is best for you? Gordon Pape says TFSAs are better for short-term savings goals and if you don’t want to undermine possible eligibility for government benefits like the GIS. But if your income will be lower in retirement he suggests saving in an RRSP.
- Automatic withdrawal: Whether you participate in a company pension plan, SPP, RRSP, TFSA or a combination of all or some of the above, set up automatic withdrawal so a specified percentage of your income is moved into these accounts every payday. David Chilton made “pay yourself first” a popular mantra in The Wealthy Barber, first published in 1989. If savings are skimmed off the top, you will learn to live on less while you get on with the business of day-to- day living. And when you do retire, you will have a significant part of the nest egg you need to live on.
- Automatic escalation: To find out how much you need to save for retirement, you need a financial plan. But in a recent column in the Globe and Mail, personal finance expert Preet Banerjee suggests that in the absence of a plan, the rule of thumb should be at least 10% or as much as you can save. In other words, you are not going to have enough if you keep saving a flat dollar amount each year. But if you select a percentage of income and ensure you increase your contributions every time you get a raise, it is more likely that you will reach your retirement savings goal.
- Consider insurance: Nobody expects to become disabled or die young, but it happens more often than you think. Regardless of how much you are saving for retirement, an unexpected loss of income can derail all of your short and long term goals. You may have some life insurance, disability insurance and maybe even critical illness insurance at work. Review your coverage with a financial advisor to determine if you need more individual coverage or if you can afford to self-fund the risk.
In Part 3 of this series we will focus on some basic investment principles that will help you grow your retirement savings.