It’s abundantly clear to most of us that Canadians aren’t able to save much money for the long-term, given the high costs of housing, historic levels of household debt, the lack of workplace retirement savings programs, and many other factors. A new research paper, The Canada Saver’s Credit, suggests a solution.
Supported through the coalition behind the Common Good Retirement Initiative and published jointly by Common Wealth and Maytree, the paper’s authors Jonathan Weisstub, Alex Mazer and André Côté ask: Why not have the government match dollars contributed to a TFSA by qualifying moderate and low-income earners? Save with SPP talked about the research with one of the study’s authors, André Côté.
The Canada Saver’s Credit (CSC) concept is fairly simple, he explains. Those whose income qualified them for the program would receive a dollar-for-dollar match by the federal government for every dollar they contributed to a TFSA, with the maximum match of $1,000.
“We wanted it to be as simple as possible for the consumer,” Côté explains. “Processing would be done by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The definition is that if you are eligible for things like the GIS or the GST/HST credit, you similarly would be eligible for this; CRA would determine eligibility when you file your taxes.”
The government would provide the match (up to $1,000) based on the TFSA contributions the tax filer made in that tax year, and the money would appear in your account. Côté agrees that it would be similar to how the government matches, in part, contributions made to a Registered Education Savings Plan.
In drafting the report, Côté says recent research by Richard Shillington found that the average Canadian in the 55 to 64 age range had just $3,000 in retirement savings.
“It’s a stunningly low level of preparedness,” he says. As for causes, he says it is “particularly hard to save for modest to lower incomes, there are certainly… changes in pension coverage, people tend not to have retirement plans (at work), and the private retirement savings model isn’t well oriented toward moderate and lower income people.”
In designing CSC, Côté and his co-authors considered whether or not to make the program locked-in, meaning funds can only be accessed for retirement. But in the end, the “open” nature of the TFSA was preferred, he explains.
“The question is if you encourage longer-term savings … is locked-in any better? There is a paternalistic aspect to the policy that puts constraints around peoples’ money; a non-locked in TFSA offers liquidity and flexibility,” explains Côté. The CSC, he says, will offer a way to save for the long term that also can be accessed if there’s a hole in the roof or other financial crisis along the way.
These days, he notes, there is “asset poverty” among Canadians, meaning basically that many people owe more than they own, and thus lack long-term savings for emergencies. Research shows that many Canadians are “unbanked,” a term that refers to their total lack of savings. CSC can address both problems, he explains.
The authors based their proposal in part on the US Saver’s Credit, introduced in the early 2000s. The program offered a compelling model, but “never reached maximum effectiveness,” he says, because the core savings components the US policy-makers wanted were “removed or watered down.”
The paper was also heavily informed by the work of a number of leading Canadian experts in retirement savings and income security, including John Stapleton and Richard Shillington who first advocated for a TFSA matching model a decade ago.
While the authors of course take full responsibility for their work, Côté notes that the Canada Saver’s Credit proposal benefitted immensely from the amazing group of expert reviewers from Canada and the United States.
We thank Andre Côté for taking the time to talk with SPP.
Retirement saving can be difficult and daunting. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan is a useful tool for your own savings efforts, you can start small and ramp up your efforts over time. At the end, SPP offers an easy way to automatically turn your savings into a lifetime income stream.
|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|