To Rent or to Buy: That is the Question

By Sheryl Smolkin

The Canadian dream for many is to find a partner, get married, buy a house and have kids –- not necessarily in that order. With the average house price in June 2015 climbing to $639,000 in Toronto and $922,000 in Vancouver, many young people have been shut out of the housing market.

However, Saskatchewan residents are more fortunate, with the average provincial house price sitting at $303,000 province-wide and $316,000 in Regina. But if you or a family member are thinking about leaving the world of rentals behind and buying your first home, it’s still important to factor in all of the costs you will incur, and the impact possible interest rate increases will have on your monthly payments.

Here are 5 questions you should answer before you decide to leap into the housing market:

  1. How big is your down payment? While it is possible to buy a home with as little as 5% down, if your deposit is less than 20% of the purchase price your mortgage must be insured by a third party such as the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), Genworth Financial Canada or Canada Guaranty. The insurance premium will range from 0.5% and 2.75% of your total mortgage amount and add significantly to the cost of your home over time.
  2. How much house can you afford? Mortgage experts suggest no more than 32% of household income be spent on housing costs. The Mortgage Payment Calculator on ratehub.ca will allow you to model how much your monthly payments will be depending on the amount of your deposit, the term of the mortgage, interest rate and any mortgage insurance. So if you buy a house for $350,000 with 5% down, a 5-year mortgage amortized over 25 years at a fixed rate of 2.69%, your payments will be $1,576/month. In addition, you must factor in municipal taxes, utilities and annual maintenance costs. In contrast, over the past year, rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Regina ranged from $884 to $1,395.
  3. Is your job secure? Taking on a mortgage is a long-term commitment. If you are basing your ability to pay for your home on your current family income, consider whether or not you and your spouse have secure jobs. Could you afford to continue paying monthly house expenses if one of you lost your job? How long would it likely take get a new job if one of you were downsized?
  4. What are your family plans? If the next major milestone after buying a house is to start a family, that means that at least one parent may be out of the workforce for up to a year after the birth of each child. Are one or both of you eligible for EI maternity and parental leave benefits? Do either of your employers top up EI benefits to all or part of your full salary for some period of time? If not, how will you make up the difference? When both of you go back to work, will you be able to afford daycare costs on top of your mortgage payments?
  5. What if interest rates go up? Mortgage rates are at historic lows. According to ratehub.ca if you have a down payment of 20% your mortgage rate (calculated on August 17/15) you may pay as high as 2.69% for a 5-year fixed rate in Regina or as low as 1.85% for a variable rate in the same city. What if interest rates doubled or tripled? Could you still afford your mortgage payments plus all of your other family commitments?

The advantages of renting are that your costs are fixed for the term of the lease; you are not responsible for the cost of major repairs; and, if you want to leave the neighbourhood or move to another city you have much more flexibility.

While you are not purchasing an asset that will increase in value that you can cash in when you are ready to retire, if you save and invest the difference between your annual rent and the costs of running your home, you will have a nice little nest egg by age 65.But few people have the discipline to do so. And most rental properties cannot be customized or decorated to your own personal taste.

So all things considered, the decision to rent or buy may be as much an emotional decision as an economic one. Each individual or family will make a unique decision based on their stage of life, their finances and their personal priorities.

Also read:
Cheap mortgage rates don’t justify home ownership

Oct 26: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

As I write this, perhaps the most newsworthy item of the last week has been the election of the new Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But it will be weeks and months before we know what impact the change in government will actually have on our day to day lives and the Canadian economy.

So today, we go back to basics and draw on the writings of many of our favourite personal finance bloggers and mainstream media pundits who day in and day out, produce articles that help us better manage our money.

The thought of being unemployed is terrifying, but the odds are it will happen to you or a close family member at least once in your lifetime. On Money We Have, Barry Choi writes about How to Prepare for Unemployment. He suggests that you have an emergency fund; a side hustle and that you improve your skills.

Gail Vaz-Oxlade tackles Parenting on a Budget. She says the trick to not letting kids’ expenses get way out of hand is to allocate a specific amount to each child’s activities and needs, and stick with the plan. Start by listing all the things your children do for which you must lay out some of your hard-earned bucks.

Krystal Yee has been vegetarian for almost two years now. She shares on Give me back my five bucks her one month experiment moving from vegetarian to vegan. She anticipates higher than normal grocery bills and that it will be tough to change her habits, but she is hoping that one month will turn to two months and the result will be a new lifestyle.

If you wonder where your money goes, you’ll enjoy The crunch years: Where the money goes by Matt McCleern on MoneySense. McCleern tracked every cent he spent digitally, over the last 12 years. He says transportation and daycare were real budget busters, but the best financial decision he ever made was to aggressively pay down his mortgage.

And in the Huffington Post, Pramod Udiaver discusses five major trends that will affect how you retire. They are increasing longevity; the lower return environment; fewer defined benefit pension plans; and growing health care costs.

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.

Cheap, Clever Halloween Costumes

By Sheryl Smolkin

In October 2014, Hollie Shaw at the Financial Post reported on the $1-billion fright economy. Apparently Canadians have become so wild about Halloween we now spend more per capita on costumes, candy and décor than our U.S. counterparts do, with holiday-related spending that is second only to Christmas.

“In the past three years, the Halloween holiday has just gone viral in Canada — we have just seen it shoot up,” said Diane Brisebois, the Retail Council’s president and CEO told Shaw. “Adults have really, really gotten into it. Now it’s adults and their pets. In Canada, it has become so popular that people are pretty much decorating anything.

Far be it from me to rain on anyone’s parade, but if you are having trouble making ends meet, or if you are trying to come up with ways to better afford a retirement savings plan, minimizing your expenditures at Halloween might be a good start.

Here are some helpful hints on some cheap, clever costumes, whether you and/or your children are planning to trick or treat close to home or attend a Halloween party.

  1. Princess costume: A sparkly crown from the dollar store, last year’s Christmas dress, make up and costume jewelry will go a long way to turn your pre-schooler into a princess. You don’t have to spring for the last Disney confection that in late October weather will probably be covered by a coat
  2. Doctor, lawyer: I am a lawyer and still have my court gowns, tabs and shirt. I can’t tell you over the years how many times I or my children have appeared as lawyers or judges on Halloween. The tools and “uniforms” of any other profession or trade can become a costume.
  3. Orange is the new black: If you can get your hands on orange scrubs (or dye some) and lots of fake tattoos you can masquerade as this hit Netflix show. A group can also select different characters in the show and add hairdos, make up or cheap wigs to enhance their look.
  4. Bag of jelly beans: I love this kooky costume. All you need is a bunch of colourful balloons, a piece of ribbon, a clear garbage bag and the ingredients list to write on the back. You cut two holes in the bottom of the bag, fill it with balloons and tie a bow around your neck. Voilà, you are a bag of jelly beans.
  5. Rubik’s cube: This costume requires that you be a bit crafty. The raw materials are a square cardboard box, coloured squares of construction paper and black electrical tape. The completed box is worn over a black top and pants or leggings.
  6. Superhero Underoos: I remember when my kids were little, superhero underoos were a highly coveted reward when they finally left diapers behind. Guess what – new superhero underoos for adults are not only functional, they can form the basis of a great costume for the comic book geek in your life.
  7. Sports: Whatever sports equipment and typical garb you have on hand can be used to dress you or your child as an athlete. For example, a tennis player will wear all white and carry a racket. A yoga instructor will wear yoga pants, a headband and carry a rolled up yoga mat. A golf pro will have plaid pants, a golf shirt, golf shoes, a sun visor and a putter.
  8. Olympic/Pan Am medalist: Did you buy sweats or other outfits from The Bay after the last Olympics or Pan Am games? Well get them out of the bottom drawer. Then fashion as many gold, silver and bronze medals as you like and hang them on ribbons around your neck. You can even put the name of your favourite world class athlete on the back of your jacket.
  9. Second-hand stores: If you have a good imagination, Value Village or other second-hand stores can be a great place to pick up costume components. An oversized sports jacket and a used fedora can turn your child into a detective or an investigative reporter. Old wedding or prom dresses are the stuff from which fantasies are made.
  10. Freebies and deals: The day after Halloween is over, stores bring out the Christmas paraphernalia. That means they need to free up floor space fast. If you have storage space and can guess-timate what size your kids will wear next year, you may be able to pick up ready-made costumes at greatly-reduced prices.

Also read:

Halloween on the cheap

Oct 19: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

One of the ways many of us try to stretch our dollars further is by taking advantage of rewards programs ranging from cash back or travel rewards on credit cards to points cards from your local supermarket or drug store.

I have been a big fan of travel rewards ever since I did a distance Master of Law degree in the UK in the mid 1990s that required me to travel to Europe half a dozen times in two years. But I have a collection of other loyalty cards in my wallet including a punch card from a bakery that rewards me with a free dozen bagels every time I’ve purchased ten dozen in total.

A September 2015 report from Montreal-based Aimia Inc., which operates Aeroplan and other customer-loyalty programs says of the 89% of Canadians enrolled in a loyalty program, 59% have done so with supermarkets, 22% have signed up with banks and 18% with restaurants.

On itbusiness.ca Brian Jackson reported in March 2015 on a research study conducted by Yahoo Inc. The average Canadian has four loyalty program cards in their wallets, the study found. More than half of consumers say they frequently use those cards to accumulate points and miles. Two-thirds of them go online to calculate the value of the loyalty program, and six out of 10 choose loyalty programs that come free-of-charge.

On Robb Engen’s say-so, I replaced my CIBC Aeroplan VISA with a Capital One Aspire Travel World MasterCard about 18 months ago. This week I was delighted to get an email from the company describing how their program has been enhanced by elimination of the the tiered redemption program and the introduction of partial redemptions. Read all about the changes on RewardsCardsCanada and why with these changes, Capital One has further cemented its status as the best value rewards card for everyday travelers.

If unlike your jet setting neighbours, you travel infrequently, you may be interested in the blog on familyfuncanada.com about the best loyalty programs for infrequent travelers. Helen Early says Airmiles can bring you plenty of rewards. According to Early, the best thing about the Airmiles program is that you can earn points almost anywhere, through activities that you probably already do. She also notes that hotel chains like Faimont, Starwood, Best Western and Hilton offer great deals and discounts for even the lowest tier of members.

Krystal Yee wrote a sponsored post on Give Me Back My Five Bucks about how you can be rewarded for everyday purchases when using your debit card. She reports that while there are very few debit rewards in Canada, Scotiabank offers three.

  • The SCENE Debit Card allows you to earn accelerated points through Cineplex online and in person (5x based on purchases) as well as at a few other select locations including Sport Chek, Milestones and East Side Mario’s. You will also earn one point for every five dollars spent in other locations.
  • With the Moneyback Debit Card you can earn 1% on every purchase you make – up to a maximum of $300 per year. Those that open up an account before October 31st will earn double the rewards – $600 – through to that day.
  • With every purchase made on a ScotiaHockey NHL® debit card, you will be entered to win grand prizes including four 2016 NHL® All-Star Game packages, four 2016 Stanley Cup® Final packages, four 2016 Molson Canadian NHL Face-Off™ packages as well as 45 monthly prizes.

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.

Three Top Retirement Realities

By Sheryl Smolkin

If you are just starting to consider retirement you may be more focused on planning for the financial implications of leaving the world of work. But if you think you will get to pick the ideal day to walk off into the sunset without any regrets, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

According to the 2015 RBC Retirement Myths & Realities Poll, already-retired Boomers (aged 50+) identified three retirement realities that contradict the expectations of their counterparts who have not yet retired:

It’s not all about money: Retirees don’t miss their pay cheques from work as much as pre-retirees expect to, by a margin of almost two-to-one (26% compared to 49%).  What retirees do miss most is their social time with colleagues at work (51%).

Time is of the essence: While simply taking time for myself is how the majority of retirees (72%) report they are actually spending their time, travel tops the “expect to do in retirement” list for a similar majority of pre-retirees.

Choosing the date: Close to half (43%) of retirees didn’t get to choose their retirement date, in contrast to the 80% of pre-retirees who expect to have that choice. Retirees cited several reasons why they left their working lives behind before they were ready to do so, including health, the need to provide care to someone else and their employer’s request.

Through its annual poll and a separate research study, RBC also explored retirement income expectations of three specific groups of Canadians who are not yet retired: single women (not married, separated/divorced or widowed), business owners and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.

As pre-retirees, single women and business owners were equally concerned (41% each) that they would not have enough money to live well and do what they want when they retire. In a separate RBC-sponsored LGBT retirement study, conducted by the University of Waterloo’s RBC Retirement Research Centre, 30% of LGBT pre-retirees shared similar worries, stating they expected their funds would be inadequate or barely enough to achieve the retirement they have in mind.

“Each of these realities has retirement planning implications for Canadians, including how they will affect the lifestyle they hope to achieve when they are no longer working,” noted Yasmin Musani, head of Retirement and Successful Aging Strategies, RBC. “They raise important questions for Boomers to consider about their life goals and priorities as they approach retirement. For example, ‘What social network will you have in retirement?’ and ‘How will you spend your time?'”

More detailed survey results comparing national and Manitoba/Saskatchewan responses are presented in the tables below.

TABLE 1
MISS MOST ABOUT WORK
(Canadians aged 50+)
NAT’L MB/SK
Socializing/interacting with colleagues
Retired 51% 50%
Not retired 53% 51%
Not a thing
Retired 30% 29%
Not retired 15% 13%
A regular pay cheque
Retired 26% 23%
Not retired 49% 49%
Being mentally busy
Retired 20% 14%
Not retired 38% 30%
Getting out of the house
Retired 14% 15%
Not retired 30% 21%
Health benefits
Retired 12% 11%
Not retired 29% 30%
Being physically busy
Retired 12% 11%
Not retired 20% 16%
Having goals to work towards
Retired 9% 8%
Not retired 18% 17%
TABLE 2
SPENDING TIME IN RETIREMENT
(Canadians aged 50+)
NAT’L MB/SK
Taking time for myself
Retired 72% 73%
Not retired 64% 61%
Travel
Retired 62% 64%
Not retired 70% 86%
TABLE 3
NO CHOICE OF RETIREMENT DATE
(Canadians aged 50+)
NAT’L MB/SK
NET “NO CHOICE”
Retired 43% 38%
Not retired 31% 34%
Health reasons
Retired 14% 11%
Not retired 11% 13%
Employer’s request
Retired 13% 9%
Not retired 5% 2%
Reached mandatory retirement age
Retired 5% 9%
Not retired 11% 11%
Required as caregiver for someone
Retired 5% 6%
Not retired 1% 3%
Other
Retired 10% 11%
Not retired 6% 9%
SOURCE: 2015 RBC Retirement Myths & Realities Poll Selected National, Regional Findings

Also read:

Will you be working at 66?

Oct 12: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

I recently returned from travelling in Europe to glorious fall colours, shorter days and a chill in the air. Although we saw beautiful things in wonderful places, as we landed I couldn’t help thinking that we have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, right here at home.

Whoever is elected as the next Prime Minister, Canadians will continue to enjoy considerable peace and prosperity. There are poverty and income inequality issues we definitely need to address, but unlike refugees from war-torn countries, most of us have a roof over our head and food on the table.

Here are a few interesting blogs and media stories that appeared in my absence you may find informative when you’ve had enough turkey and pumpkin pie.

If you have been putting off joining SPP or increasing your RRSP contributions, take a look at Create a Money Machine: The Effect of Compounding by Billy Kadeli from RetireEarly.com on the Financial Independence Hub. He tells young people how they can create their own “personal money machine” by investing early and taking advantage of compounding.

Blonde on a Budget’s Cait Flanders suggests you can Choose Your Own Financial Adventure. When faced with financial options at a key milestone or crossroads in your life, pick the smarter choice to protect your financial future instead of ending up in debt or even bankrupt.

In July, Sean Cooper wrote Take Car Insurance into Consideration When Buying Vehicles. Car insurance costs vary depending on the type of vehicle you choose. Before test driving vehicles and falling in love with one, he recommends that you get car insurance quotes for each model. By making car insurance part of your new car decision, it will give you a clearer idea about the total cost of ownership.

And on the election front….

Adam Mayers at the Toronto Star writes that Your Vote Gets a Better CPP or a bigger TFSA, but not both. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and his Conservatives support a $10,000 TFSA limit. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau do not. But the quid pro quo is that the parties vying to defeat Harper agree on an expanded CPP.

If you or a family member have student debt, you will be interested to know that Liberal platform includes student debt relief. If elected, Trudeau would increase the Canada Student Grant for low-income students by 50% to $3,000 a year for full-time students and $1,800 for part-time students. As well, graduates would be required to start paying their debts only after they’re earning at least $25,000 a year.

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.

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

Actuary Karen Hall: Turning DC savings into an income stream

By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen
Click here to listen

Today I’m interviewing actuary Karen Hall for savewithspp.com. Prior to her recent retirement, she was a vice president at the consulting firm Aon Hewitt, based in Vancouver. In addition to enjoying her retirement, she is continuing to explore cost effective and easy ways to create a steady income out of defined contribution (DC) pension savings.

Karen has 35 years of professional experience in the areas of pension actuarial consulting, flexible benefits consulting, senior management and HR leadership. She is also the author of the book, Risk Management Strategies for an Aging Workforce available on Amazon. Thanks so much for joining me today, Karen.

 

Q: Most Canadians in the private sector today have defined contribution pension plans. Tell me how a DC plan works.
A: Well, Sheryl, defined contribution means the contributions going in are defined or fixed. The member and her employer each contribute to the plan. The member often chooses how the money is invested from a number of investment options provided by the plan. Then, when the member comes to retire, she has a lump sum amount saved.

Q: On retirement, the conversion of DC assets into retirement income is for the most part left up to retirees. Why is that a problem?
A: If you buy an annuity you don’t get much in income for the amount you saved. The only other alternative is doing it yourself, that is, choosing investments, deciding how much to withdraw and figuring out how to make the money last for your lifetime. If you rely on advisers for any of this, you’re typically paying a substantial fee of at least 2% of your assets every year. The average person is just not equipped to make these decisions. I find it complicated enough and I’ve been living and breathing pensions for 35 years.

Q: Frequently, insurance companies or other DC or Group RRSP carriers, have group registered retirement income funds that retiring members of client group retirement plans can move their money into at retirement. Do these plans resolve some of these issues of high retail fees and poor financial literacy that you identified in our last question?
A: I don’t think they do. It would depend, of course, on the deal. But, often the fees are still quite high, near 2%, and the individual is still making all of the decisions I just mentioned.

Q: So how common are Group RRIF’s established for retirees of just one employer and what are the pros and cons of these types of arrangements?
A: Based on my experience, they aren’t that common. I can see why plan sponsor companies don’t want the ongoing administration. But I do think it would be great if the retiree could basically just stay in the plan and get the same investment options and fee deals as when they were active.

What I do see more often is where the insurance company that is the record keeper for the plan will have options for the member to transfer into their individual RRIF products, perhaps with a modest reduction in fees as compared to a retail purchase.

Q: How much clout do individual DC plan sponsors have in negotiating fees for their former members in rollover plans or single organization Group RRIF’s?
A: Well, as with everything, it depends on the size of the employer and on how much the employer wants to push for such a service. I do know of large employers who have negotiated such services.

Q: How should investment options be structured in rollover plans and single company Group RRIFs to maximize value from a DC plan in the decumulation phase?
A: In my view, the same options as when the member was active should generally be fine. The plan could add a target date type option for accounts and payments. But I think the typical choice of a range of balance funds and funds with conservative to moderate risk. You are going to live a fair number of years in retirement, so your time horizon isn’t that short.

Q: Saskatchewan and several other provinces, plus federal pension legislation, now allow payment of a variable pension from a DC plan – that means a stream of income that tries to simulate a defined benefit pension. Could you briefly explain to me how it works?
A: Well, it does depend on the plan and the legislation how they set it up, but very generally such an arrangement would allow the plan to provide payments to retirees. Like you said, it would simulate a defined benefit type of pension. There would generally be monthly payments and the amount of each payment would vary depending on plan experience.

For example, one client I know determines the amount of the monthly payment once a year. The amount is leveled for the year, so it’s paid every month at a level amount, but then it gets recalculated every January and depends on how well the fund did in the previous year. Generally – hopefully – it usually goes up or slightly or stays about the same. However, if it was a really bad year like 2008, the monthly pensions would likely be reduced.

Q: And how do they draw down funds in terms of various funds or investments the members are invested in or cash or whatever is actually sitting in the member’s account?
A: Well, in this particular one, when you retire and choose a variable pension, you have a lump sum amount and that lump sum amount gets translated into a number of units in the fund. Then, the fund pays a pension based on a dollar amount per unit, so the dollar amount per unit times the number of units you have, that’s what you get.

And what’s happening in this one is they’re insuring the mortality, so you don’t actually see your lump sum getting drawn down, you’re guaranteed to get that amount however long you live, and then the mortality is spread amongst the group.

Q: Oh, that’s really interesting. So it’s not just a matter of investments being sold and your money being distributed once a year, like if you had your own individual RRIF.
A: Right. So the plans can offer an individual RRIF and in those circumstances you’d see your money getting drawn down. But these variable pension ideas are to do with pooling the mortality risk.

Q: So to what extent have employers taken advantage of their ability to pay variable pensions to enhance the value of their DC plans to plan members in this all important decumulation phase?
A: As far as I know, not many have done so. Well, I know the one I gave in my example, but I don’t know of any other examples.

Q: And why do you think that’s the case?
A: Well, I think that it’s just new, right? CAP Guideline Number 8 says that plan sponsors should help members transition, but it’s new and sponsors are still considering their options. They are watching to see what others will do.

Q: Is there a real cost or a potential liability to employers that take on this responsibility?
A: That’s the big issue. For example, if you don’t have a big enough group, it’s hard to pool the mortality risk. The other thing is I’m not sure members are clamoring for variable pensions. Plan sponsors will pay attention when it affects active members and their appreciation of the benefit. I know there are plans that are interested in designing this and we’ll probably see how it develops in the next few years .

Q: Do you think it will be more of interest to public sector or private sector?
A: I think the public sector will have more ability to implement these and I think that union groups without a defined benefit plan might be interested.

Q: How important is effective employer communications in adding value to DC benefits for retirees in the decumulation phase?
A: Some employers are doing more to help members understand their options and prepare for retirement in the decumulation phase. For example, they provide one to three day retirement preparation seminars that can help considerably. I do still think, however, that individuals are not equipped to make many of these decisions. And you can put design features into DC plans that would help members better with the decision making.

Q: Could you give me an example of one or two of those?
A: Auto enrollment, auto escalation, and the design feature that we were just talking about — variable pensions — that would assist members with decision making in the decumulation phase would help.

Q: What role can annuity purchases play using all or part of the money in the plan members, DC account or RRIF to enhance the orderly draw down funds after retirement?
A: Annuities are expensive when the person is first retiring. However, I would definitely consider purchasing an annuity after about my mid 70’s. At that point, the insurance element becomes more interesting and significant because you don’t know if you’re going to live a few more years or a couple of more decades.

And the financial impact of living 2 or 20 years more is huge. The security that an annuity can give becomes much more worthwhile. So one strategy could be to separate your savings into two buckets: A: the amount you will need at age 80 saved via the annuity and B: the RRIF or the amount you’re going to spend between now and age 80. This is a bit easier to deal with, because the time frame’s better defined.

Q: That’s interesting. So do you have any other comments or suggestions that people are approaching retirement with a DC pensions or group/individual RRSPs to think about?
A: Well, focusing on just the DC pension is helpful, but I do think it’s also an incomplete solution. If the person has properly saved for retirement, he/she doesn’t have just one DC or Group RRSP account.

Even if they combine savings from previous employers, the spouse probably has registered savings, both spouses might have their own tax-free savings account and they probably have non-registered money too.

All these sources of income must be coordinated so the individual can meet their retirement and personal financial goal. Either the person has to educate themselves to manage on their own or they need help in finding an appropriately qualified financial adviser to assist them.

Right now in Canada, the price of such assistance is, in my view, unreasonably high. I also feel that many financial advisers do not have much experience with effective decumulation of retirement savings. Individuals have to look hard to find the right person.

Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate that you spoke to us today, Karen.

You are very welcome. It’s a pleasure, Sheryl. Thank you for asking me.


This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted by telephone in July 2015.