Retirees age 55-64 face greatest barriers to filling prescriptions

By Sheryl Smolkin

If you haven’t seriously thought about the possible impact of health care costs on your retirement budget and lifestyle, you may find recent research from the University of British Columbia as disturbing as I did.

The study reveals that one in 12 Canadians age 55 and older skipped prescriptions due to cost in 2014, the second-highest rate among comparable countries. The ten years before provincial drug plans kick in for most seniors at age 65 is the period of time when the highest percentage of older people can’t afford the drugs they need to stay healthy.

In order to “stretch” their drugs some people skip doses, while others may split pills or try to manage their conditions without drugs. “When patients stop filling their prescriptions, their conditions get worse and they often end up in hospital requiring more care which in the long run costs us more money,” says Steve Morgan, senior author of the study and professor in UBC’s school of population and public health.

The research draws on the 2014 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults (persons aged 55 years or older) in 11 high-income countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Among countries with publicly-funded health-care systems, Canada is the only one without coverage for prescription medications.

In an analysis of survey responses from all 11 countries, the researchers found that Canada had the second-highest prevalence of skipped prescriptions due to cost, at
8.3%.  Access was worse only in the United States, where 16.8% of respondents reported such financial barriers to filling prescriptions. In contrast, fewer than 4% of the populations in most other comparable countries reported skipping prescriptions due to cost.

In a separate analysis of the Canadian survey responses, researchers found that Canadians aged 55 to 64 face the greatest barriers to filling their prescriptions. One in eight Canadians aged 55 to 64 reported that they did not fill prescriptions because of cost in 2014, in comparison to one in 20 Canadians aged 65 and older – who, by way of age, qualify for comprehensive public drug coverage in many provinces.

Morgan points to gaps in drug coverage available to Canadians as a problem. Unlike other countries with universal public health care, public drug plans in Canada generally only cover select groups, such as social assistance recipients and people over age 65. Other Canadians may receive drug coverage from private insurance through their workplaces or none at all.

The survey found that Canadians who did not have insurance were twice as likely to report not filling prescriptions because of cost. It also showed that low-income Canadians were three times more likely to report financial barriers to filling prescription medicines than high-income respondents.

Morgan said the 2014 findings were consistent with studies that date back a decade, indicating affordability of prescription drugs is still a public health issue in Canada.

“Our problem hasn’t gone away. Financial barriers to prescription drugs are still high, both in absolute terms and relative to our peer countries.”

The research was described in two studies published in BMJ Open and CMAJ Open.

Mar 27: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

It’s that time of month again. Here are a series of personal finance videos for your viewing pleasure.

Rob Carrick at the Globe and Mail says an overlooked way to prepare for retirement is to establish the groundwork for working beyond age 65 when you are still in your 40s and 50s.

Another interesting Globe and Mail video offers valuable advice on avoiding financial fraudsters including how to protect your computer and online passwords.

Bridget Casey from Money after Graduation posted three ways to spring clean your finances last April, but her suggestions are still relevant a year later. She says one of the first things you should do is get your free credit report.

Former gambler turned personal finance coach Beau Humphreys shares his journey from drowning in debt to financial freedom with Jessica Moorhouse in her Mo’ Money podcast.

In this video from CBC The National, Christine Burak and Natalie Kalata report that Canadians are living longer healthier lives but they are having more difficulty saving for a longer period of retirement.


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.

What’s new on your 2016 tax return: Sale of a principal residence

By Sheryl Smolkin

For many Canadians, the family home is the most valuable asset they own and an important factor when they are planning their retirement. When you sell your principal residence, any increase in value is not subject to capital gains tax. However, if you sold your principal residence in the last year, there is a new form you will need to complete for the first time when you file your 2016 income tax return.

Your principal residence can be any of the following types of housing units:

  • A house
  • A cottage
  • A  condominium
  • An apartment in an apartment building
  • An apartment in a duplex, or
  • A trailer, mobile home, or houseboat.

For one of the above to qualify as a principal residence you must have owned it alone or jointly with another person. In addition, you, your current or former spouse or common-law partner, or any of your children must have lived in the home at some time during the year.

You are only allowed to designate one home as your principal residence for a particular year. If you are unable to designate your home as your principal residence for all the years you owned it, a portion of any gain on sale may be subject to tax as a capital gain. The portion of the gain subject to tax is based on a formula that takes into account the number of years you owned the home and the number of years it was designated as your principal residence.

The principal residence exemption calculation formula is:

The extra year in the top of the equation (the “one-plus rule”) means that when a person moves, both the old home and the new home will be treated as a principal residence in the year of the move, even though only one of them can actually be designated as such for that year.  However, for dispositions occurring after October 3, 2016, the “one-plus” factor applies only where the taxpayer is resident in Canada during the year in which they acquire the property.

In years prior to 2016, there was no need to report the sale on your tax return if the entire gain was eliminated.  However, on October 3, 2016 the federal government announced that, starting with the 2016 tax year, the sale of a principal residence must be reported on Schedule 3 of the tax return in order to claim the principal residence exemption.  This change applies also for deemed dispositions, such as a deemed disposition due to change in use of the property.

The purpose for the new reporting requirement is two-fold. The federal government wants to ensure that Canadian residents only claim the capital gains exemption for principal residences in appropriate circumstances. In addition, under the new rules, foreign buyers who were not residents at the time a home was bought will no longer be able to claim a principal residence exemption.

There are two other major changes to the Income Tax Act (ITA) regarding the reporting of the disposition of a principal residence:

  • Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) can, according to new ITA s. 152(4)(b.3), reassess a taxpayer outside of the normal reassessment period, if the taxpayer does not report a disposition.  Normally for individuals the reassessment period is three years from the date of the initial notice of assessment, with some exceptions.
  • If the disposition of the principal residence is not reported on the tax return as required, a late-filing penalty can be imposed @ $100 per month x the number of months late, to a maximum of $8,000.  New ITA s. 220(3.21) is added to this effect.

For a more in depth assessment of how changes to the principal residence exemption may impact you, contact your accountant or other tax advisor.

Mar 20: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

This issue of Best from the Blogosphere draws on the work of several of the over 60 personal finance bloggers/experts who belong to the Canadian Money Bloggers Facebook Group. While many are old friends, today we introduce you to several bloggers who are new to us that we have recently started reading.

Alyssa Davies on Mixed up Money writes about Why She Still Avoids the Mall 1 Year After Becoming Debt Free. In order to pay off $10,000 in debt arising out of a shopping addiction she had to quit cold turkey. Even going to the mall was too much temptation. She rewarded herself with a new $80 wallet when she paid off her debt, but since then she prefers to shop for clothing online as a form of damage control.

11 Ways to Lower Your Power & Utility Bills by Dan on HowToSaveMoney.ca is a very topical piece for any season. Dan suggests that to conserve water you use low flow toilets and make sure you have no leaky taps. Energy efficient blinds and window upgrades can help keep the cold out and the heat in. And weatherstripping, adding solar panels and smart thermostats are other options for better managing utility bills.

We’ve read a lot lately about Sean Cooper’s book Burn Your Mortgage. In fact I recently posted a podcast interview with him on this site. But FIRECracker chats with Cooper for the Millenial Revolution about what it actually takes to publish a book. Instead of finally relaxing after paying off his mortgage, he spent 3-5 months writing the book; 4 months editing and re-writing it; plus 6-8 months working with a publicist and literary agent on marketing. In addition, he put $20,000 of his own money into the project.

The blogger and founder of Family Money Plan Andrew Daniels says part of his plan to become financially free involves making more money. Taking surveys is one side hustle that is helping him reach this objective. There are a lot of different survey companies out there and each of them compensates differently. But if he is waiting for an oil change or for his kids’ activities to wrap up, he pulls out his smartphone and earns while he would otherwise be just killing time.

CPA Robin Taub frequently blogs for Tangerine Bank’s website Forward Thinking. In How someone stole my identity to commit fraud and what I did about it she tells a compelling story about Janice who was the victim of identity theft and fraud like 20,611 other people in 2014. It took her months to get her credit rating cleared so she could be approved for a mortgage and purchase a home. “To this day, I’m still not sure how my Social Insurance Number was compromised since I didn’t physically misplace or lose the card. But I’m much more vigilant now about protecting myself,” Janice told Taub.


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.

Déjà-Boom: boomerang kids collide with retirement goals of boomer parents

By Sheryl Smolkin

Do you remember the American romantic comedy film Failure to Launch? The film focuses on a 35-year-old man who lives in his parents’ home and shows no interest in leaving the comfortable life Mom and Dad have made for him there.

Well, kids staying at home longer is no longer just an urban myth. The boomerang effect is in full swing as many millennials continue to lean on the boomer generation for financial support, according to a recent TD survey. At a time when the older generation should be preparing for retirement, many instead are experiencing a “déjà-boom” effect, as children or grandchildren return to the family home or need financial assistance.

“As a parent or grandparent it’s natural to want to help our kids and grandkids who may be facing financial challenges such as finding full-time employment or paying their day-to-day expenses,” says Rowena Chan, Senior Vice President, TD Wealth Financial Planning. “It’s important that this desire to help is balanced with your own goals for retirement.”

Overall, 62% of the boomer generation feels the “déjà -boom” effect is preventing them from saving enough for retirement. The survey also revealed that the trade-off between providing financial support and saving for retirement is placing boomers under a considerable amount of financial stress. It’s not surprising that more than half (58%) of boomers report feeling financially stressed and say their retirement savings are being impacted by their extended financial support of boomerang kids, as one in four Canadian boomers admit to supporting their adult children or grandchildren.

“While the déjà-boom effect may be an unexpected event in retirement planning, it is important for pre-retirees to remember that it’s not too late to plan for the future and achieve their goals. A lot can be accomplished in the 10 to 15 years before retirement and planning ahead is a key step in making the journey as smooth as possible,” Chan continues.

The added financial stress brought on by this arrangement isn’t unnoticed by millennial offspring. In fact, almost half of millennials (44%) who depend on their boomer parents or grandparents for support are aware that their financial situation will mean fewer retirement savings, while 43% of millennials admit they are willing to cut costs when facing economic difficulty before asking for financial help.

“Both generations recognize this isn’t an ideal situation, which means important conversations need to take place so everyone is on the same financial page,” says Chan. “Sitting down with someone who understands different family dynamics is a great first step to set defined goals and establish a financial action plan to best serve both generations.”

TD offers the following advice for boomer parents who are working towards retirement and boomerang kids who want to be independent:

Be Ready for Whatever Life Throws Your Way
Despite this new reality, it is important to understand that your retirement goals are still within reach. Meeting with a financial planner and doing a goals-based assessment is key to determining what your options might be for supporting your kids while keeping your plans for retirement on track.

Negotiate the Return
Discuss how everyone can contribute to the household budget and operations. For example, you may be able to cover the basics like room and board, but other living expenses like cell phone bills, car payments, or financial support for recreational activities are additional costs that your offspring could  cover independently. Also, consider having everyone pitch in on the costs of running the day-to-day operations and dividing the household chores. 

Prepare to “Relaunch”
Whether it’s your newly-married daughter, her spouse and child, or your son who recently graduated and has moved back home, there are plenty of opportunities to educate all family members on the importance of being fiscally responsible and working toward financial independence. Invite them to join in your financial conversations to discuss how to navigate their current circumstances and establish good financial habits.

Decide When to Release
As you and your offspring are mapping out financial action plans, identify a date when you will no longer be financially committed to each other. As you approach this date, set up a series of mini-goals that will allow you to free up funds to divert toward your retirement savings while ensuring that your kids are meeting the savings targets they set in their own financial plan.

Work with your planner to ensure these goals are S.M.A.R.T.: Specific, Measureable, Agreed upon, Realistic and Time-based. S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting provides the preparation, focus and motivation needed to achieve your objectives.

And watch or re-watch the movie “Failure To Launch” if you can with your boomerang kids. There is nothing like a good laugh to defuse any tension that may be associated with kids moving back home!

Mar 13: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Well another RRSP season is in the bag, but that doesn’t mean you should put saving for retirement on the back burner for another year. If you haven’t done so already, it’s a great time to review your finances and arrange to have both registered and unregistered savings deducted at source so your nest egg continues to grow even when you are busy doing things that are a lot more fun than financial planning.

This week we feature more money-saving tips from some of our favourite bloggers.

Guest blogging on Retire Happy, Tom Drake reports on 10 financial success stories from 2016 to inspire your new year. One of my favourites is how Jason Heath who blogs at  Objective Financial Partners is raising his children so they place more emphasis on experiences rather than stuff. And Brenda Hiscock from Objective Financial Partners has been energized since she took a month off to complete Yoga teacher training at an ashram in Nassau.

Robb Engen from Boomer & Echo gives his take on the “the latte factor” and how it impacts the savings habits of millennials. He says, “At the risk of offending an entire generation, here’s what’s really going on: If you’re buying coffee every day, or ordering $22 [avocado and feta cheese] toast several times a week, maybe you’re just too lazy to brew your own coffee at home and cook for yourself.”

As you pull together the documentation to file your 2016 income tax return, you may be looking forward to a big tax return. Mark Seed, author of My Own Advisor says, “When it comes to tax planning my advice is: Don’t assume a big fat tax refund every year is good. If you’re always looking forward to the juicy refund it simply means the government kept some of your money and you could have had it working for you instead throughout the year.”

Big Cajun Man Alan Whitton admits to being a bit of a pack rat which creates clutter and can can lead to hoarding. So in this Lent season he is trying something new. For each day of Lent he is going to fill a bag (of any size) with things he no longer uses and donate the contents to charity. Other ideas for Lent are pay with cash for all 40 days or go for at least a one mile walk every day.

And finally, Barry Choi who blogs at Money We Have shares 6 things he bought used (and you should too). They include a three year old Subaru Impreza Hatchback ($18,000 instead of $30,000 new), a re-sale condo (stable maintenance fees and more space) and used video games online for about 25% less.


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.

Home insurance myths you need to know about

By Sheryl Smolkin

If you’ve have ever had a fire or theft, you know how important home insurance is. But you may have had a shock when you learned that the policy did not cover the full replacement cost of your home or that you would not be reimbursed for the antique car stored in your garage when the house went up in smoke.  That’s why it’s important to clear up some home insurance misunderstandings, so you are fully aware of what your policy does and does not cover.

Insureye has compiled a comprehensive list of home insurance myths.  Here are 10 of my favourites:

1. You must have home insurance. Unlike auto insurance, home insurance has not been made mandatory by the government. however, if you own the property and have a mortgage on it, often, your bank or lender will require that you hold an active home insurance policy and name them on that policy. If you do not own the property but are renting it, your landlord may require insurance coverage.
2. If I have a home insurance policy, I am protected against sewer backup. Sewer backup damage occurs when the sanitary and storm sewer systems cannot handle high volumes of water, which causes water to back up into your home through toilets and drains.

As is the case with freshwater flood protection, most providers offer some sort of OPTIONAL sewer backup protection, but just a few providers include it in their standard default home insurance policies.

3. If I am away on vacation, my house is covered. If you simply leave for vacation without taking precautions, you are not always covered. Thus, if you go away during the “usual heating season” then you usually need to either:

  • Shut off the home’s water supply and empty all pipes;
  • Take steps to ensure the home’s heating is maintained.

If you don’t take one of these two precautions, then you may not be protected against water damage resulting from frozen pipes that burst.
Check with your provider to determine what length of vacation requires you to take extra precautions, such as somebody visiting your place on a regular basis in your absence. Different policies may require different frequency of those visits, but in general it is every 3-7 days.

4. If I have valuables, they are covered. A standard home insurance policy covers your personal property and most valuables up to the selected limit of insurance. It’s important to note that sub-limits often apply to specialty property, like jewellery or furs. For these items, you have the option of adding coverage to your policy. Often, you will need to provide proof of value (e.g. an appraisal or a receipt).
5. Home insurance covers the market value of my house. Home insurance does not cover market value, only the rebuilding or replacement value of your house. If your house burns down, the purpose of home insurance is to cover the costs required to re-build the house as it was before the loss. Rebuilding value is typically lower than market value because it does not include the value of the land.

An insurance policy can often include costs to clean up the debris, such as after a fire.

6. Home insurance automatically covers upgrades to the home or condo. Home insurance will not automatically cover your kitchen, washroom or other upgrades. Typically, you must advise your insurance provider of these upgrades when they happen. You need to find out how your policy treats upgrades and, eventually, add them to the policy.
7. It is fine to overstate the value of the damage. Overstating the value of damage is a dangerous thing to do. That’s because your insurance provider will conduct their own assessment/ investigation to check your claim. If they determine that you were overstating your claim, your entire claim can be denied and your policy can be cancelled. You risk ruining your credibility and your ability to get home insurance elsewhere.
5. Condominium corporations provide insurance that covers my condo. Condominium corporation insurance will cover the overall building structure, its exterior finishes, roof, windows and common areas like elevators and hallways. It does not cover the contents of your condo, its upgrades and 3rd party liability should you cause damage to other condo units (e.g. flooding).
9. If my dog bites and injures someone, my home insurance will not protect me. I need a special insurance policy. As long as you properly answered any questions relating to your pets in the application and investigation process, then your policy will cover costs associated with your dog biting and injuring a third party.
10. My belongings, left in a storage locker that I rent, are protected by my home insurance. Not necessarily. Most insurance providers specifically exclude personal property left in a rented storage locker (unless that locker is in the basement of the apartment building that you live in).

 

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.