10 Top Productivity Tips for Telecommuters

By Sheryl Smolkin

In recent years technology has made working remote for all or part of the week a practical option for a broad spectrum of employees ranging from customer service representatives to travel agents to professionals such as lawyers and accountants.

CBC News reported last year that more than 1.7 million paid employees — those not self-employed — worked from home in 2008 at least once a week, up almost 23% from the 1.4 million in 2000, according to the latest Statistics Canada figures released in 2010.

While the ability to more easily juggle work and family responsibilities may make telecommuting attractive for many people, the fact is that individuals who work from home must have the right tools and be able to minimize distractions in order to effectively do their job.

Here are 10 tips for to help you be more efficient working from home.

  1. Keep regular working hours
    The advantage of working from home may be that you can set your own hours. But even if you have to work “the night shift” after your kids are in bed, you will accomplish more if you establish a regular routine and stick with it.
  2. Dress for success
    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting heels and a business suit. But get out of your pajamas, shower, shave and brush your teeth. When you sit down to work you will feel more wide awake and focused.
  3. Remind people you are working
    Tell friends and neighbours you are working from home and not available for coffee klatches and other social get-togethers during your work day. Also, if you have young children, arrange full or part-time childcare to ensure you have the uninterrupted time you need to do your job.
  4. Optimize your work space
    Not everyone has the luxury of a dedicated home office. However working at the kitchen table or sitting on the couch with your lap top and papers spread out around you are not in the long run conducive to good posture or good work habits. If at all possible set up a dedicated desk or table in a corner of your bedroom or another available nook.
  5. Have the right tools
    A cell phone, a lap top and the internet are all most people need to work anywhere these days. But there are lots of other tech tools and apps can make your life easier. For example, I couldn’t possibly function without a headset. Dropbox allows me to both store files in the cloud and share them with work colleagues and external clients. Google drive is a free resource I use to create documents and spreadsheets that I can give clients and associates permission to access and edit.
  6. Stay in touch
    Depending on the nature of your job, stay in touch and communicate frequently with colleagues and clients. Always Skype or call in for important meetings. Inform co-workers and supervisors of your core working hours and availability. Make sure you understand what your manager expects and consistently deliver on those expectations.
  7. Make a list
    I am a huge fan of “To Do” lists both at home and at work. If you are working offsite it is particularly important to keep a revolving list so you can prioritize and track multiple requests from co-workers who are also working remote or in the office. By keeping your lists (paper or digital) even after you have checked things off, you have a record of what you have actually accomplished each day.
  8. Take a break
    I have found that often I work harder and longer at home because there are fewer interruptions. Get up every hour. Move around. Take time to go to the gym or participate in a yoga class. While pjs may not be acceptable work-at-home wear, a track suit and running shoes are fine, particularly if they facilitate fitting a workout into your day.
  9. Human contact
    Working alone at home without any other adult contact day in and day out can be detrimental to your mental health. Telephone people instead of always sending emails. For a change of scenery take your lap top to a local coffee shop or library. If you are self-employed you might benefit from a co-working space which will provide you with shared resources like meeting rooms and networking events.
  10. Manage food intake
    Access to a fully-stocked kitchen can be both a pro and a con for telecommuters. If you shop wisely and prepare yourself a healthy lunch each day, then working from home can improve both your health and your bank account. But if you are constantly raiding the refrigerator or the pantry, you may discover the great outfit you bought on sale at the end of last season no longer fits.

April 24: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

It’s show time again! For your viewing pleasure, in this monthly feature we present links to a selection of personal finance videos.

For students who may be filing an income tax return for the first time (and there is still one week left), CRA offers a series of 10 short videos. For example, Segment 2: Do I have to file is geared towards helping Canadian students determine whether or not they need to file an income tax and benefit return.

Globe and Mail columnist Rob Carrick shares four steps for millennials to get started as  investors, including where to put savings for a home down payment and where not to invest  savings.

Preet Bannerjee, author of Stop Over-Thinking Your Money: The Five Simple Rules of Financial Success (Portfolio Penguin, 2014) offers five simple rules of financial success. Rule #1 is to “disaster-proof” your life.

And finally, a video from the Canada Deposit and Insurance Company interviews three couples about their financial hopes and dreams and ways that they are protecting their hard-earned money.


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.

April 17: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

In a guest post for the Financial Independence Hub, Certified Financial Planner Gennaro De Luca writes that based on his experience, men and women approach taxes and investing differently. For example, he says nine times out of 10 it is the woman who takes the bull by the horns to get the family’s taxes done. Women tend to be more involved and are much more apt to ask questions of their accountant or tax preparer about tax credits and government benefits the family may be eligible for.

Robb Engen on Boomer & Echo discusses which accounts to tap first in retirement with Jason Heath,  a fee-only financial planner. Heath says it may make sense for people who retire early to withdraw funds from their RRSPs first and defer CPP and OAS until age 70.

Retire Happy veteran blogger Jim Yih outlines the top 5 new retirement trends and how they will affect your retirement. For example: retirement is not about stopping work; many people are “phasing into retirement.” Furthermore, long term care is an essential component in a retirement plan.

10 simple ways to save money at the gas pump was recently posted by Tom Drake on the Canadian Finance Blog. Who knew that avoiding unnecessary weight in your car; using cruise control on highways and driving under 100 km/hour could save you money?

And Sean Cooper recounts the story of his unexpected $1,300 furnace repair bill in the depths of a Canadian winter. Luckily, he is mortgage-free, so he had the necessary money sitting in his savings account. But his experience shines a spotlight on the importance of saving up an emergency fund in advance.


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.

Pension-income splitting rules can reduce total tax bill

By Sheryl Smolkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 10: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Last week I couldn’t resist buying bright yellow forsythia, pussy willows and stalks of purple iris from the florist at one of my favourite grocery stores. It will be a few weeks before the flowering trees in my neighbourhood burst into bloom, but when I walked the dog this morning I heard the rata-tat-tat of industrious woodpeckers and crocuses were already pushing through the damp earth on the sunny side of the street.

If it’s spring, Alan Whitton aka the Big Cajun Man says its time to revisit the idea of a spring financial cleaning. A few of his ideas include:

  • Think about rebalancing if you are a Couch Potato investor.
  • Clean out and shut down any superfluous bank accounts.
  • Consider how many credit cards you really require and close extra accounts you don’t need.
  • Is your mortgage about to be renewed? Time to go shopping for a better rate.

Minimalist blogger Cait Flanders decided to move to back to her hometown in Squamish this spring. Although her rented condo is not small, she says she is living small in her not-so-tiny home. To Flanders that means living below her means with less stuff and making do, mending and prioritizing her life. Her list also includes getting involved in and supporting her local community.

“Living small is essentially not chasing ‘more’, but  learning to find the more in less,” she  notes. “It’s about utilizing the space you have, shrinking your carbon footprint and being an active member in your community (whatever that looks like for you).”

Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox says our accomplishments are not just a matter of luck whether they be saving enough for the down payment on a house, paying down debt or scoring the winning goal in a soccer game. She reminds readers that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” and urges each one of us to own our successes and accept the kudos we deserve.

Why it’s NOT okay to be in debt when approaching Retirement by Douglas Hoyes was recently posted on the Financial Independence Hub. In the most recent Joe Debtor report issued two years ago by his firm Hoyes, Michalos & Associates Inc., the company reported that seniors are the fastest growing risk group for insolvency and that’s still the case today.

Hoyes says if you have more debt than you can handle, talk to a Licensed Insolvency Trustee about filing a consumer proposal or personal bankruptcy.  In most cases, you can keep your RRSP even if you go bankrupt.  Also, he suggests that if you own a home, you should discuss a consumer proposal as a viable alternative to bankruptcy. Both solutions will allow you to eliminate your debt, and preserve your RRSP.

And finally, on My Own Advisor, Mark Seed explores whether Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) is right for him. He reviews the financial and social implications for his family of retiring significantly earlier than his current target date of age 50 (which is still pretty early) and concludes that he and his wife are not ready to make any radical changes.

In his early 40s now, he concludes that more time and freedom would be great but instead of rushing towards this, they are more or less inching in that direction.


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.

Changes you need to know about on your 2016 Income Tax Return

By Sheryl Smolkin

If your financial affairs are fairly straightforward and the only income you receive is from employment, you should have already received all of your tax slips and you may have already filed your income tax return, although it is not due until midnight on Monday, May 1st.

But tax slips for mutual funds, flow-through shares, limited partnerships and income trusts only had to be sent out by March 31st, so if you have multiple, more complex sources of income you are likely among the group of Canadians who are under the gun this month to finalize and file your returns.

Here are some of the things that have changed since last year that individuals and families should be aware of when they are assembling documentation and preparing their returns.

GENERAL/ADMINISTRATIVE
MyCRA: A mobile app from the Canada Revenue Agency now allows you to view your notice of assessment, tax return status, benefit and credit information, and RRSP and TFSA contribution room.

Auto-fill: If you use electronic software to do your taxes, the CRA will fill in many of the boxes for you. You sign into CRA MyAccount and agree to a download that will include information on your RRSP contributions, plus information from T4s, T4As and T5s. Users are advised to double-check the CRA’s data before they file.

INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES
Canada child benefit (CCB): As of July 2016, the CCB has replaced the Canada child tax benefit (CCTB), the national child benefit supplement (NCBS), and the universal child care benefit (UCCB). For more information see Canada child benefit.

Child-care expenses: The amount parents can claim for child-care expenses has increased by $1,000 annually, per child, to $8,000 for a child under six and $5,000 for a child aged between seven and 16 years old. For more information see line 214.

Canada Apprentice Loan: Students in a designated Red Seal trade program can now claim interest on their government student loans. For more information see line 319.

Northern resident’s deductions: The basic and additional residency amounts used to calculate the northern residency deduction have both increased to $11 per day. See Form T2222, Northern Residents Deductions. For more information see line 255.

Children’s arts amount: The maximum eligible fees per child (excluding the supplement for children with disabilities), has been reduced to $250. Both will be eliminated for 2017 and later years. For more information see line 370.

Home accessibility expenses: You can claim a maximum of $10,000 for eligible expenses you incurred for work done or goods acquired for an eligible dwelling. This deduction typically applies to home renovations to improve accessibility for individuals eligible for the disability tax credit for the year or for qualifying seniors over 65. For more information see line 398.

Family tax cut: The Family Tax Cut allowed eligible couples with children under the age of 18 to notionally split the income of the spouse with higher earnings, transferring up to $50,000 of taxable income to the lower income spouse in a taxation year. The family tax cut has been eliminated for 2016 and later years.

Children’s fitness tax credit: The maximum eligible fees per child (excluding the supplement for children with disabilities) has been reduced to $500. Both will be eliminated for 2017 and later tax years. For more information see lines 458 and 459.

Eligible educator school supply tax credit: If you were an eligible educator, you can claim up to $1,000 for eligible teaching supplies expenses. For more information see lines 468 and 469.

INTEREST AND INVESTMENTS
Tax-free savings account (TFSA): The amount that you can contribute to your TFSA  every year has been reduced to $5,500.

Dividend tax credit (DTC): The rate that applies to “other than eligible dividends” has changed for 2016 and later tax years. For more information see lines 120 and 425.

Labour-sponsored funds tax credit: The tax credit for the purchase of shares of provincially or territorially registered labour-sponsored venture capital corporations has been restored to 15% for 2016 and later tax years. The tax credit for the purchase of shares of federally registered labour-sponsored venture capital corporations has decreased to 5% and will be eliminated for 2017 and later tax years. For more information see lines 413, 414, 411, and 419.

April 3: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

It’s almost two weeks since the 2017 federal budget was tabled, so there is lots of “second day” commentary in the mainstream media to draw on for this issue. Saskatchewan also tabled a budget including some provisions that will impact your bottom line.

In the lead up to the federal budget trial balloons were floated regarding making employer-paid premiums for health insurance taxable benefits and changing the taxable rates for capital gains, but none of these dire predictions came to pass.

In the Ottawa Citizen, Kate McInturff, a senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives wrote that the budget is a first step to better the lives of women in Canada. She reports that the government will spend $100.9 million over five years to establish a National Strategy to Address Gender-Based Violence — a problem that has directly affected more than one million women in the past five years.

Erin Anderssen at the Globe and Mail offers seven things to know about Canada’s new parental benefits. Once the provinces pass job protection legislation, parents will be able to stretch their leave out for 18 months, but this will mean stretching benefits at a lower rate. The government is expected to move quickly, but the changes may not happen until next year.

Contrary to pre-budget expectations, Lee Berthiaume notes in a Canadian Press article that life-long pensions for veterans were not included in the Liberal government’s second budget. Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s new fiscal plan did contain new spending for veterans and their families, specifically $725 million in promised additional benefits over five years. Still, as welcome as the new money will be, the big question for many veterans is how the government plans to bring back life-long pensions as an option for those injured in uniform.

Hello Uber tax, goodbye transit credit says CBC News. The proposed levy on Uber and other ride-hailing services will for the first time impose GST/HST on fares, in the same way they are charged on traditional taxi services. The non-refundable public transit tax credit — a so-called boutique tax credit introduced by the previous Conservative government — will be phased out on July 1. The credit enabled public transit users to apply 15% of their eligible expenses on monthly passes and other fares toward reducing the amount of tax they owe.

And closer to home, the Saskatchewan budget hikes provincial sales tax to 6% and for the first time, the tax will apply to children’s clothes. CBC presents an analysis of how the PST hike will hit you in the pocketbook.

The government will also wind down the government-owned Saskatchewan Transportation Company, which it says would have required require an anticipated subsidy of $85 million over the next five years.

There were 574 layoff notices attached to this budget, including cleaners in government buildings and workers at the Saskatchewan Transportation Company.

Other notable provincial budget measures include:

  • The exemption for the bulk purchase of gasoline is being scrapped and a tax exemption for diesel fuel is being reduced to 80% of the amount purchased.
  • So-called sin taxes on booze and cigarettes are going up.
  • Various tax credits — including for education and tuition expenses — are being eliminated.
  • Effective July 1/17saskatchewan will apply provincial sales tax to life, accident and health insurance premiums.
  • The Saskatchewan government says it will offset some of the tax increases by reducing income taxes by a half-point on July 1, 2017 and by the same amount on July 1, 2019.


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.