Why people aren’t saving – an interview with Doug Hoyes

As co-founder of Hoyes and Michalos, a debt relief firm, and a commentator on personal finance, Doug Hoyes has seen it all when it comes to debt.

And he has a straightforward view on why Canadians aren’t saving much for retirement, telling Save with SPP that these days, “people don’t save for anything.”

The savings rate, he notes, was as high as 15 per cent in 1980 and has plunged to “less than one per cent” today. In other words, people are saving less than a penny of every dollar they earn.

“People don’t save anything; it’s just not a thing we do anymore,” he explains. “I think the cost of living is high and job security is low.” The old “job for life” days are long gone, and people now expect to have multiple jobs through their working career, he explains.

“You are seeing sporadic employment, contract work – it is hard for people to put down roots and save. And house prices are rising sharply, and everything costs more. We’re not able to save, and we are seeing more people using debt to make ends meet,” he says.

Those who do try to save tend to be punished for their efforts – savings account and GICs pay interest in the low single digits, and if savers look to invest in mutual funds “there are high fees, and they take on risk,” he explains. Since low-interest lines of credit are so prevalent, for many people, debt has replaced savings, a practice that Hoyes says just isn’t sustainable in the long term.

Save with SPP asked how this lack of saving affects retirement plans.

“It’s become uncommon to have a pension plan (a traditional defined benefit plan) at work,” he says, “unless you work for the government. It’s just not a thing newer companies offer.” He says that from an employer’s point of view, “it is a hassle to set them up, and there is a potential for liabilities that need to be funded, and more money needing to be put in.” Sears and Nortel show the potential downside for employees and DB pensioners if the parent company runs into financial trouble, he notes.

So traditional pension plans in the private sector have generally been replaced with things “like a group RRSP, where there is zero risk (for the employer).” Employees are satisfied with a group RRSP because they “know they are not going to be there, at the same employer, for 50 years,” and a group RRSP is portable and easy to transfer, Hoyes explains.

With more and more working people dealing with debt, it’s not surprising to Hoyes that more seniors are retiring with debt, a situation he says can lead to disaster.

“In retirement, your income goes down, and while some of your expenses that were related to work go down, others will go up,” he explains. “Your rent doesn’t go down when you retire, so your cost of living is about the same.”

Retired seniors, living on less and still paying down debt, face other problems, he says. It’s more common for retirees to divert savings to “helping their adult kids.” Examples of this might include a divorced child moving home, or college and university graduates, unable to find work, staying home instead of moving out. So the seniors may use up their savings or borrow to help the children, “as any parent might,” but that drives them into a financial crisis, he explains.

With debt to pay and possibly little to no workplace pension, many seniors are heading back to work. Others, Hoyes notes, are starting to have to file for insolvency.

“Maybe you only have CPP and OAS coming in, and you have a $50,000 debt that you can’t service – you may need to file for bankruptcy and make payments through a trustee,” he explains.

We thank Doug Hoyes for speaking to Save with SPP.

If you don’t have a pension plan at work, consider opening a Saskatchewan Pension Plan account. It’s like setting up a personal pension plan. The money you set aside is invested for you at a low fee, and when you are ready to collect it, it’s available as a lifetime pension with several survivor benefit options.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

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