Tag Archives: Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald

Apr 27: Best from the blogosphere

The pros and cons of allowing emergency access to retirement funds

It’s been a grim time for all of us, coping with this pandemic, and Save with SPP and everyone at the Saskatchewan Pension Plan hopes everyone is staying safe.

With businesses closing, and the jobless rate rising, some experts are suggesting that raiding the retirement cookie jar be allowed – penalty-free – to help people access savings during the emergency.

Interviewed by Benefits Canada, noted pension expert and actuary Malcolm Hamilton was asked what he thought about a plan by Australia to allow folks there to withdraw up to $10,000 a year from their superannuation plans this year and next.

““It looks to me very creative and very sensible,” Hamilton, also a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute, told the magazine. The magazine notes that the withdrawal option Down Under is open only to people “who are unemployed or who have had their working hours reduced by 20 per cent or more.”

“Telling people you’ve got to leave your money in your pension plan so you have enough money later, when you don’t have enough money now, is really stupid… who, given a choice, would elect to be hungry now instead of hungry later? You have to deal with the immediate needs first,” Hamilton tells Benefits Canada.

Other experts, the magazine reports, agree. Financial author Fred Vettese also sees the Australian policy as a good idea.

“Why not do this? What they’re doing is simply giving people access to their own money sooner. I don’t see anything wrong than that. And they’re not giving them all their money; it’s fairly limited and it’s also under fairly strict conditions,” he tells the magazine.

Other experts see downsides to allowing an early withdrawal of retirement savings.

Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald of Ryerson University’s National Institute on Ageing tells the magazine she is concerned that allowing emergency access to retirement funds might be “short-sighted.” (Here’s a link to an earlier Save with SPP interview with her.)

“The idea is that this will pass and, if we can get beyond it without tapping into our nest egg, then that’s the better approach because life will need to go on,” she tells the magazine.

And Hugh O’Reilly, a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute, says people who take their money out now, at the peak of a crisis, will be effectively selling low, and will miss out when markets rebound. “I think it’s going to do it much more rapidly than in a typical bear-market scenario,” he tells Benefits Canada.

There are already a few allowable reasons – making a down payment for a home, or paying for education – where Canadians can tap into their Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) early. But in both cases, the money is supposed to be repaid, and those who don’t repay are taxed annually on what they should have repaid. And if you just withdraw RRSP money, there’s a withholding tax followed by a possible second tax hit when you file your income tax.

That all said, we have never seen times like these. Maybe the government will decide to permit withdrawals with some sort of repayment option down the road. Save with SPP worries about people taking money out of their retirement savings for other purposes and then not being able to afford to replace it, because that could lead to hardship when they are older.

One great thing about being a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan is that it is an open plan. You can decide how much to put into your account, and when times are tough, you can choose to reduce or even stop contributing until better times return.

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, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Feb 10: Best from the blogosphere

If you’re going to live longer, you’ll need more savings

Writing in the Globe and Mail, John Ibbotson flags a new and somewhat concerning problem for Canadians – we’re living a lot longer than anyone expected.

The oldest boomers, he writes, are about to turn 75. And, he continues, “the boomers are living inconveniently long lives.” It is expected that over the next three decades, the number of Canadians over age 85 will increase three-fold.

In the story, McMaster geroscientist Parminder Raina (click here to see his recent interview with Save with SPP) is quoted as saying the big spike in older folks is a big problem. “The rapidity of aging is the real issue for policy makers,” he tells the Globe.

What are the problems with having more old people?

The article identifies a few issues. First, the article notes, “the boomers haven’t saved enough. Which means looking after them will cost younger generations a great deal of time and money.”

Next, “the boomers were also the first generation to stop having enough children to replace themselves, there are fewer young people available to look after the old,” the article reports.

The article notes that “when the pensions and health-care systems that Canadians rely on today were first put in place in the 1960s,” men were expected to live until age 69, four years after retirement began. Now, the article warns, men will live on for another 19 years, and women, 22 years, after reaching age 65.

And with a birthrate of just 1.5 children per couple, Ibbotson writes, Canada’s population would actually decline were it not for immigration.

You’d think that those of us who are nearing retirement might have read that we could live for 20 years, into our 80s or 90s, after retirement, and started putting away a few extra bucks for retirement. Not so, the article tells us – “half of Canadians approaching retirement age do not have a workplace pension. The median level of savings for these people is $3,000. No, there isn’t a missing zero.”

As for not having as many kids, the article quotes Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald of the National Institute on Ageing (click here for Save with SPP’s interview with her) predicts that lower fertility rates mean “that services that have traditionally been provided by the family – namely women – will still need to be paid for.”

So we’re not saving enough and aren’t having enough kids, so there will be little money to spend on our care and no family to provide it free.

Are there solutions? The article lists a few – raising the retirement age, perhaps, or forcing older people to “unlock the wealth accumulated by older Canadians” in their real estate and other holdings. Rather than giving seniors discounts, they should be paying a premium for services, the article suggests. Such measures might be political suicide, Ibbotson admits, so maybe things like long-term care insurance should be promoted.

The bottom line, he writes, is “if we are to live well, we must care for one another, however old we are and whatever we may need.”

The lack of a workplace pension is a serious issue for many Canadians. Workplace pensions are usually a sort of “forced savings,” where money comes off your paycheque and is later returned to you in the form of income. While some people want to spend all of their paycheque, few with pensions or retirement plans at work complain when they can draw on that retirement income. If you don’t have a workplace pension plan, you need to save on your own for retirement. A great way to do this is through the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. They’ll grow your savings with professional investing at very low fees, and when it’s time to finally start collecting your savings, they can pay it out to you in the form of a lifetime pension – monthly payments that continue for as long as you live. 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, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22