Old Age Security reform has come full circle in the past decade or so

Most Canadians understand the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) – we pay into it, as does our employer, and we can start collecting a lifetime pension from it as early as age 60. But what about the other “pillar” of the federal government’s retirement income program, Old Age Security (OAS)?

The federal government says OAS is available to any Canadian who has lived in our country for 40 years after reaching age 18. If you don’t meet those conditions, you may still qualify under complex “exception” rules.

Currently, the maximum OAS payment  is $613.53 per month, for life. It starts at age 65, but you can choose to defer it for up to 60 months after reaching that age – and if you do, you will receive a payment that is 36 per cent higher.

There is, of course, a big catch to this. If you make more than $75,910, the government will charge what they call an “OAS recovery tax,” or clawback. If you make more than $123,386, you have to pay back all of your OAS payments for the year.

The “conditional” yet “universal” benefit has prompted many to come up with ideas on how to fix it, particularly during the Stephen Harper years.

Back then, a Fraser Institute opinion column in the National Post explained one key problem with OAS. “Unlike the CPP, there is no dedicated fund to pay for OAS,” the column notes. “Benefits are funded with current tax revenues.” Put another way, everyone who pays taxes contributes to OAS, but not everyone gets it – and should higher income earners get it at all, the column asks.

The Fraser Institute recommended lowering the income at which OAS begins to be cut off to around $51,000, with the full clawback moving to $97,000. This, the article suggests, would save the government $730 million per year, since fewer people would receive the full amount.

Another solution – the one that the Conservatives planned to implement – was moving the starting age for OAS to 67 from 65. However, the current Liberal government reversed that decision in 2016, notes Jim Yih’s Retire Happy blog.

But in the intervening years, we have seen debt levels increase dramatically, preventing many of us from saving for retirement. So there are now some arguing for an expansion of the existing system, on the grounds that it doesn’t provide seniors with sufficient income. Indeed, the Liberals campaigned last year on a plan to increase old age security “by 10 per cent once a senior reaches age 75,” reports Global News.

Without getting political, it appears we have come full circle from talk of reforming the OAS and making it harder to get, to talk of increasing its payout for older seniors. Let’s hope governments take a longer-term view of the problem, and focus on ways to better fund OAS – perhaps creating an OAS investment fund similar to what CPP has, one that would make this benefit more sustainable and secure for those who rely on it.

If you are one of the many hardworking people who lack a workplace pension plan, there is a do-it-yourself option that you should be aware of. It’s the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP). They’ll grow the money you contribute to the plan over time, and when it’s time to retire, can pay it out to you in the form of a “made-by-you” lifetime pension. The SPP also has options for your employer to use this plan as an employee benefit.  Check them out today.

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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