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|