CRA

Your retirement income may flow from many different streams: Sheryl Smolkin

July 29, 2021

We got a chance to catch up recently with Sheryl Smolkin, the original Save with SPP writer who has had a long career as a pension lawyer, a magazine editor, and a freelance writer/blogger.

Speaking over the phone from her Toronto home, Sheryl explains that because she worked at a variety of jobs over her working years, her retirement income comes from a variety of different streams.

She was Canadian Director of Research and Information at a global consulting firm for 18 years. Later, she became editor of Employee Benefit News magazine for four years, and subsequently she turned her talents to freelance writing. Sheryl played a pivotal role in setting up the Saskatchewan Pension Plan’s (SPP) social media efforts, including the Save with SPP blog that she pioneered.

When she left consulting, she received a defined benefit pension and retiree health insurance, she explains. As a result, she and her husband have retirement income from an employment pension, government benefits, and other registered and un-registered savings, including SPP. They have been “drawing down” income from various streams since their mid-50s.

Sheryl says she regularly transferred $10,000 annually from her RRSP to SPP over the years. When she reached 71, she looked at her SPP options and decided on the prescribed registered retirement income fund (PRRIF) to draw down her savings. With that option, she will cash out the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) required minimum amount from her account each year.

So, she says, while some folks (including this writer) might think that 71 is a sort of magic age when all retirement savings gets converted to retirement income, that’s probably not the case for many people.

“My recommendation is always this,” she explains. “Everybody worries about having enough money in retirement; but the real worry is, are you going to have enough time” to spend it. “Enjoy spending the money – there are very few people who actually run out of money.”

She’s been busy since she wrapped up her writing work for SPP back in 2018. In the pre-COVID era, she took courses at Ryerson University, took care of her aging mom who passed away in 2019, visited the kids and her granddaughter in Ottawa, and went to every sort of live theatre, music performance or other show on offer. “We were having a lot of fun before COVID,” she says, and that will resume now that the pandemic appears to be winding down.

Her husband, a “serial hobbyist,” has not slowed down on his woodworking during the pandemic. She has taken advantage of the quiet period to catch up on her reading.

Sheryl does not hanker for a return to the workforce. When she left her consulting position in 2005, she notes, “I was NOT ready for retirement, but by 2018, it was time.”

She says however, that occasionally she does “miss the satisfaction of producing a piece of work, and seeing it online or in print – creating.” With her job at the magazine, there were a lot of conferences and travel, which she liked – but recalls that at one conference, she also agreed to produce a daily newspaper which was particularly hectic.

Fun is a central theme in talking to Sheryl. She says it is very important to have fun in your retired life. “Everyone has something they want to do, but the beauty of it (retirement) is that you don’t HAVE to do anything, if you don’t want to,” she says.

These days, she is anticipating getting involved “in the rhythm of the year” again through visits with friends and family. She looks forward to resuming “long distance travel” again once things are safe. Until then, “I’m excited to be able to go back to Stratford, back to the Shaw Festival, and other Canadian destinations.”

Sheryl says retirement really consists of three phases – the early stage, the mid-stage, and the later stage.

“Don’t be afraid to spend money in the earlier, more active stage of retirement,” she advised. “There will be less travel and shopping as you get older.”

She is glad that the SPP has provided one of her retirement income streams. “I think it’s a very good program,” she says. “For us, SPP is part of a bigger overall plan, which has both registered and unregistered components.”

So retirement income is a river fed by multiple income streams – we thank Sheryl for that lovely, and very evocative image. She says hi to everyone at SPP in Kindersley, and we all thank her very much for her time and wish her continued happiness in her life after work.

Need to add a good stream to your future retirement river? Consider joining the SPP. It can augment the income you’ll receive from workplace and government plans, and the best part is that you can now contribute up to $6,600 a year – and can transfer in up to $10,000 a year from other RRSPs. Be sure to check out SPP 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, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


OAS still doing the job, says CCPA economist Sheila Block

May 27, 2021

Recent changes to the federal Old Age Security (OAS) program, including two one-time extra payments of $500, and a plan to increase the program’s payout by 10 per cent for those 75 and over, shouldn’t impact Ottawa’s ability to sustain the program.

So says Sheila Block, chief economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), Ontario branch.

On the phone to Save with SPP from Toronto, Block notes that unlike the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), OAS isn’t funding through contributions and investment returns like a private pension plan – it’s a government program, paid for through taxation. So, she says, if planned changes go ahead there is “absolutely… the capacity for the government to afford it.”

While OAS is a fairly modest benefit, currently about $615.37 per month maximum, Block notes that it has an important feature – it is indexed, meaning that it is increased to reflect inflation every year.

“This acknowledges that a lot of retirees’ pension plans are not indexed,” she explains, or that they are living on savings which diminish as they age. An indexed benefit retains its value over time.

Many people who lack a workplace pension and/or retirement savings will receive not only the OAS, but also the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), which is also a government retirement income program. OAS and GIS together provide about $16,000 a year, which is helpful in fighting poverty among those with lower incomes, she explains.

“OAS was not designed to support people on its own,” she explains. “And the GIS is an anti-poverty measure that supplements OAS. As we see fewer people with defined benefit pensions or adequate retirement savings, there is an argument to increase OAS, for sure.” But, she reiterates, the OAS is more of a supplement than it is a program designed to provide full support.

As well, she notes, many getting OAS and GIS also get some or all of the CPP’s benefits.

Save with SPP noted that much is made about the OAS clawback in retirement-related media reports. But, Block notes, in reality, the threshold for clawbacks is quite high. The OAS “recovery tax” begins if an individual’s income is more than about $78,000 per year, and you become ineligible for OAS if your income exceeds about $126,000, she says.

A 2012 research paper by CCPA’s Monica Townson, which made the case then that OAS was sustainable, noted that only about six per cent of OAS payments were clawed back.

Citing data from the Canada Revenue Agency, Block notes that today, only about 4.4 per cent of OAS payments are “recovered” through the recovery tax.

We thank Sheila Block for taking the time to talk with Save with SPP.

Retirement security has traditionally depended on three pillars – government programs, like CPP and OAS, personal savings, and workplace retirement programs. If you don’t have a workplace pension plan, you’re effectively shouldering two of those pillars on your own.

A program that may be of interest is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. This is an open defined contribution program with a voluntary contribution rate. You can contribute up to $6,600 per year, and can transfer up to $10,000 from your registered retirement savings plan to SPP. They’ll invest the contributions for you, and when it’s time to retire, can help you convert your savings to income, including via lifetime annuity options. 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, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


Feb 1: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

February 1, 2021

Canadians have socked away nearly $300 billion in Tax Free Savings Accounts

It’s often said that high levels of household debt, compounded by the financial strains of the pandemic, make it difficult for Canadians to save.

However, a report in Wealth Professional magazine suggests that Canadians – once again – are indeed a nation of savers. According to the article, which quotes noted financial commentator Jamie Golombek, as of the end of 2018, we Canucks had stashed more than $298 billion in our Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs).

“[A]s of Dec. 31, 2018, there were 20,779,510 TFSAs in Canada, held by 14,691,280 unique TFSA holders with a total fair market value of $298 billion,” Golombek states in the article.

Again looking at 2018, the article says Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) data shows 8.5 million Canadians made TFSA contributions in ’18, with “1.4 million maxing out their contributions.” In fact, in 2018, the average contribution to a TFSA was about $7,811 – more than that year’s limit of $5,500 – because of the “room” provisions of a TFSA, the article explains.

The reason that people were contributing more than the maximum is because they were “making use of unused contribution room that was carried forward from previous years,” Wealth Professional tells us.

Another interesting stat that turns up in the article is the fact that TFSA owners tend to be younger. “Around one-third of TFSA holders were under the age of 40; two-fifths were between 40 and 65, and those over 65 made up about 25 per cent,” the article explains.

“This is not overly surprising since the TFSA, while often used for retirement savings, is truly an all-purpose investment account that can be used for anything,” Golombek states in the article.

However, there is a reason older Canadians should start thinking about TFSAs, writes Jonathan Chevreau in MoneySense.

“Unlike your Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), which must start winding down the end of the year you turn 71, you can keep contributing to your TFSA for as long as you live,” he writes – even if you live past 100.

He also notes that a TFSA is a logical place to put any money you withdraw from a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) that you don’t need to spend right away.

While tax and withdrawal rules for RRIFs must be followed, “there’s no rule that once having withdrawn the money and paid tax on it, you are obliged to spend it. If you can get by on pensions and other income sources, you are free to take the after-tax RRIF income and add it to your TFSA, ideally to the full extent of the annual $6,000 contribution limit,” Chevreau writes.

This is a strategy that our late father-in-law used – he took money out of his RRIF, paid taxes on it, and put what was left into his TFSA, where he could invest it and collect dividends and interest free of taxes. He always looked very pleased when he said the words “tax-free income.”

2021 marks the 35th year of operations for the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. The SPP is your one-stop shop for retirement security. Through SPP, you can set up a personal defined contribution pension plan, where the money you contribute is professionally invested, at a low fee, until the day you’re ready retire. At that point, SPP provides you with the option of a lifetime pension. Be sure to check out the SPP 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, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


Jun 24: Best from the blogosphere

June 24, 2019

A look at the best of the Internet, from an SPP point of view

Be sure you don’t miss out on pension benefits from long-ago work

When this writer was a young reporter in the 1980s, it seemed that moving to a new job took place every year or two. It’s quite common, in fact, for people to have many different jobs over the course of their careers.

So it’s not that surprising that some of these folks had pension or retirement savings through their old employers that they’ve forgotten about – and that unclaimed pension money is still there, looking for them.

A recent report in Benefits Canada took a look at the size of this problem. While no one knows exactly how much unclaimed pension money is out there, “the federal government says the number could be rising with people switching jobs more often, qualifying for plans faster, retiring abroad more often and not updating their mailing address because of increased reliance on online accounts,” the magazine reports.

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, for instance, “has about 30,500 members it can’t locate,” the article says. In the UK, an estimated $682 million in unclaimed pension money is piling up in various accounts, hoping to be reunited with its owners.

When the various plans can’t reach members, they’ll try tracking them down “through Equifax, search firms, and the Canada Revenue Agency,” the story notes. Unfortunately, there are so many fake CRA calls out there now that many people don’t respond, believing it all to be a scam, the article adds.

So what should you do if you think you might have had benefits in a retirement plan of a long-ago employer?

The article recommends that you “call up the human resources or pension administrator at the old company. If the company has been taken over, gone bankrupt or is otherwise hard to find, (you) can try getting in touch with the provincial regulator.”

If you think you may be missing out on benefits from long ago, it’s a good idea to make that call.

Take a tip and help your retirement

The Retire Happy blog offers some great tips to help you plan for retirement.

First, the blog notes, “take care of your health and make fitness a priority.” As well, “prepare for the retirement process by having a good idea, in advance, of what your income will be as well as your expenses,” the blog advises. The idea here is to have no surprises.

A third great bit of advice that many retirees wish they had taken is to “pay off debts while you are still working.” The blog notes that a surprising 59 per cent of retirees are in debt, and “for 19 per cent, that debt has grown in the last year.” The blog advises “laying off the credit cards” before retirement and remembering that in nearly every case, your retirement income will be less – not more – than what you were making at work.

Save with SPP has an additional tip to add to these excellent suggestions, and that is this – start saving early. The earlier you start saving for retirement, the more you’ll have when work is a fading memory. You can start small and grow your contributions to savings when you get a raise or a bonus. A terrific tool for your retirement savings program is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan; be sure to 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

Research paper suggests government-matched TFSA Saver’s Credit for mid- to low-income earners

April 11, 2019

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

What to do with your tax return

May 3, 2018

  1. Before you start reading this blog, I’m warning you that it does not contain typical financial advice. After all, at this time of year personal finance writers and bloggers wax lyrical about all of the important things you should do with your income tax return, like reduce debt; contribute to your RRSP, TFSA or your kids RESP; or pay down your mortgage. I know. I’ve already written that article.
  1. According to Tim Cestnick at the Globe and Mail, CRA pegs the average Canadian tax refund is about $1,400. I agree with him that if you receive a $1,400 tax refund each year for 25 years and invest that refund at 8% (which may appear on the high side but is realistic over a 25-year time horizon), you’d have $102,348 at the end of that time.
  2. But what if once, just once, you blow it all on one or more items on your personal wish list? Maybe the memories you buy with that windfall will ultimately turn out to be an excellent investment or satisfy a greater need than a few extra dollars in the bank when you retire.
  3. So continuing on this heretical tangent, here are some ideas to think about.
  4. Take a vacation:  Whether renting a cottage for a week with the family or jetting off to Disneyland, you will be buying the gift of time with your loved ones and a break from workplace stress.
  5. Replace energy-inefficient appliance: Investing in a new washing machine can save you $415 dollars over the 11 year life of the appliance. Throw in a clothes dryer and energy savings will amount to another $160. And if you don’t have to go to the laundromat and pay a repairman every time one of these appliances conks out, you’ll save time and time is money.
  6. Home repairs: You need a new roof. Or, you’ve been meaning to upgrade your kitchen and bathroom. Investing your tax return in your home will increase your enjoyment and it may enhance the value of the property.
  7. Hire household help: Divorces are expensive. We have been married for 41 years and I intend to stay that way. I attribute my stable marriage in part to a regular cleaning lady. My husband and I both hate cleaning and I hate clutter. Bringing in a pro is one of the best investments we ever made.
  8. Get a pet: We have gone from a sheltie to two Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers to a tiny cockapoo in the course of our marriage. They get us off the couch and walking which is good for our health. And there isn’t a day that goes by when they don’t make us laugh. Our succession of cats has been more sedentary but they were always good for a therapeutic cuddle.
  9. Seek financial advice: A financial plan is a road map for life and retirement. You get what you pay for. Invest your tax return in a consultation with a well-reputed independent financial advisor who can help you develop a strategy and a timeline to reach your goals.
  10. Support sports or the arts: Join the museum or the art gallery. Get seasons tickets for a theatre company. Take your kids to a rock concert or a football game. Learning is not only done in school and bonding with your family while you cheer for your favourite team can’t be beat.
  11. Pamper yourself: Depending on the size of your return, spend it on you. Get a new haircut. Have a spa day. Buy a new outfit. With your updated look you will have the confidence to face another day at work or maybe even look for a new, better-paying job.
  12. You get the idea. By all means pay off your student loan, save for the down payment on a house and get rid of credit card debt. But every now and then if you can afford it, spend your tax return on yourself and your family. After all, you’ve earned it.

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Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Part 2: Tax deductions, credits you need to know about

April 19, 2018

If you are anticipating a large tax return you may have filed your income tax return as early as possible once you received all of your tax slips. The deadline for filing is April 30, 2018, but for Canadians who ran a business, or whose spouses ran a business, during the 2017 fiscal year, the tax deadline is pushed out to June 15.

However, for those of you who are still wading through the piles of paper on your desk to assemble the documentation you need to complete your 2017 income tax return, we present Part 2: Tax deductions, credits you need to know about. You can find Part 1 here.

    1. Line 212 – Annual union, professional dues: Claim the total of the following amounts related to your employment that you paid (or that were paid for you and reported as income) in the year:
      • Annual dues for membership in a trade union or an association of public servants.
      • Professional board dues required under provincial or territorial law.
      • Professional or malpractice liability insurance premiums or professional membership dues required to keep a professional status recognized by law.
      • Parity or advisory committee (or similar body) dues required under provincial or territorial law.
    2. Line 214 – Child care expenses: Canadian taxpayers can claim up to $8,000 per child for children under the age of 7 years at the end of the year, and $5,000 per child for children aged 7 to 16 years. For disabled, dependent children of any age who qualify for the disability tax credit, the amount to claim for that child is $11,000. More details about what expenses qualify, who can claim expenses and for whom expenses may be claimed can be found here.
    3. Line 219 – Moving expenses: To qualify, your new home must be at least 40 kilometres (by the shortest usual public route) closer to your new work or school. You can claim eligible moving expenses if you moved:
      • And established a new home to work or run a business at a new location; or
      • To be a student in full-time attendance in a post-secondary program at a university, college or other educational institution.
    4. Line 229 – Other employment expenses: Most employees cannot claim employment expenses. You cannot deduct the cost of travel to and from work, or other expenses, such as most tools and clothing. However, you can deduct certain expenses (including any GST/HST) you paid to earn employment income.You can do this only if your employment contract required you to pay the expenses and you did not receive an allowance for them, or the allowance you received is included in your income.If you are filing electronically, keep all your documents in case CRA asks to see them at a later date. If you are filing a paper return, you must submit a completed Form T777, Statement of Employment Expenses with your return. Keep all your other documents in case CRA asks to see them at a later date, including a completed copy of Form T2200, Declaration of Conditions of Employment signed by your employer.
    5. Lines 230 and 220 – Support payments made: If you are claiming deductible support payments, enter on line 230 of your tax return the total amount of support payments you paid under a court order or written agreement. This includes any non-deductible child support payments you made. Do not include amounts you paid that are more than the amounts specified in the order or agreement, such as pocket money or gifts that you sent directly to your children.
    6. Line 313 – Adoption expenses: As a parent, you can claim an amount for eligible adoption expenses related to the adoption of a child who is under 18 years of age. The maximum claim for each child is $15,670. You can only claim these incurred expenses in the tax year including the end of the adoption period for the child.
    7. Line 319 – Interest paid on your student loans: You may be eligible to claim an amount for the interest paid on your loan in 2017 or the preceding five years for post-secondary education if you received it under:

      Only you can claim an amount for the interest you, or a person related to you, paid on that loan in 2017 or the preceding five years.

      You can claim an amount only for interest you have not already claimed. If you have no tax payable for the year the interest is paid, it is to your advantage not to claim it on your return. You can carry the interest forward and apply it on your return for any of the next five years.

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Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Taxable, non-taxable employee benefits

March 29, 2018

When you are interviewing for a new a new job, perks like company-paid gym memberships, tuition reimbursement or a free cellphone may seem really attractive and influence you to accept the position. However, it is important to keep in mind that come tax time, all or part of the value of these employee benefits may be included in taxable income on your T4 slip.

Here are 10 things that may form part of your compensation and how they are viewed by CRA.

  1. Group benefits: Amounts your employer pays for your life, accident and critical illness insurance coverage are taxable benefits. But when the company pays all or part of the cost of your extended health care, dental plan, short-term disability (STD) or long-term disability (LTD) insurance you do generally not pay tax on the premiums. If you collect on your STD or LTD insurance you will pay taxes if any part of the premiums were employer-paid.
  2. Pensions/Group RRSPs: Your company’s contributions to your pension plan are not taxable. However, your employer’s contributions to your Group RRSP account are viewed as additional taxable income by CRA. But you can deduct RRSP contributions (up to $26,010 for 2017) so you will not actually have to pay taxes on Group RRSP contributions made by your employer on your behalf.
  3. Service and recognition awards: Cash, gift certificates and things like gifts of stock certificates and gold coins are always taxable benefits. However, you can receive tangible tax-free gifts or awards worth up to $500 annually in some specified circumstances, such as a wedding or outstanding service award. In addition, once every five years you can receive a tax-free, non-cash long-service or anniversary award worth $500 or less
  4. Clubs and Recreational Facilities – If your employer pays or subsidizes the cost of membership or attendance at a recreational facility such as a gym, pool, golf course, etc. it is considered a taxable benefit. But if the company provides a free or subsidized onsite facility available to all employees, it is not a taxable benefit.
  5. Tuition reimbursement: If you get a scholarship or bursary from your employer it will be a taxable benefit unless you took the program to maintain or upgrade your employment skills. For example, if you need an executive MBA to be promoted, no tax is payable on the value of company-paid tuition. Where the company gives your child a scholarship or bursary, generally neither you nor your son or daughter who gets the scholarship has to pay taxes on the amount.
  6. Transit Passes: Transit passes are a taxable benefit unless the employee works in a transit-related business (such as a bus, train, or ferry service business).
  7. Child Care Expenses are a taxable benefit unless child care is provided to all employees in the business at little or no cost.
  8. Mobile phone or internet: Charges paid by the company for the business use of your cellphone and internet are not taxable. If your phone or internet is used in part for personal reasons, that portion of the bill should be reported on your T4 as a taxable benefit. However, if the cost of the basic plan has a reasonable fixed cost and your use does not result in charges over the cost of basic service, CRA will not consider any part of the use taxable.
  9. Subsidized meals: If the company cafeteria sells subsidized meals to employees, this will not be considered a taxable benefit as long as employees pay a reasonable amount that covers the cost of food preparation and service.
  10. Discounts on merchandise: Generally, if your employer sells merchandise to you at a discount, the benefit you get is not considered taxable. A document posted on the CRA website in late 2017 suggested that CRA’s interpretation changed, but National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier subsequently announced there have been no changes to the laws governing taxable benefits to retail employees.

This chart illustrates whether taxable allowances and benefits are subject to CPP and EI withholdings. The employer’s Guide: Taxable Benefits and Allowances, including What’s New? Can be found here.

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Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

What you need to file your income tax return

March 15, 2018

When you file your income tax return you want to make sure you have all the receipts and income records you need to make sure you get every tax receipt and deduction you are entitled to.

By the end of February T4 (income from employment), T4A (pension and other income) and T5 (statement of investment income) slips you require to complete and file your income tax return must be in the mail. However, unlike most other tax slips, Canadian T3 tax slips, or Statement of Trust Income Allocations and Designations (income from mutual funds in non-registered accounts) and T5013 slips (Statement of Partnership Income) do not have to be sent out until the last day of March in the year after the calendar year to which these tax slips apply.

So even if you are anxious to get your income tax return off your desk and see your tax return deposited to your account, wait an extra week or two to ensure you have all the slips you need before filing or you may have to pay additional taxes later on when your tax return is assessed or re-assessed. Many financial institutions provide a check list so you can check off slips as you receive them.

However, if you have to file a return for 2017, file it on or before April 30, 2018 even if some slips or receipts are missing. You are responsible for reporting your income from all sources to avoid possible interest and/or penalties that may be charged.

If you have not received, or have lost or misplaced a slip for 2017 ask your employer, or the issuer of the slip, for a copy. If you know you will not be able to get a slip on time to file your return, or you do not receive it and you are registered for the CRA My Account for Individuals service, you may be able to view your tax information online. Otherwise, attach a note to your paper return stating the payer’s name and address, the type of income involved, and what you are doing to get the slip.

Use your pay stubs or statements to estimate the income to report and any related deductions and credits you can claim. Attach a copy of the pay stubs or statements to your paper return and keep the original documents. If you are filing electronically, keep all of your documents in case CRA asks to see them later.

You can also obtain Old Age Security (OAS), Employment Insurance (EI) and Canada Pension Plan (CPP) tax slips electronically for current and prior years. This secure service can be accessed found by visiting Service Canada.

Certain slips such as T2202As for tuition deductions, T5008s for capital gains and losses and RRSP contributions are not always processed by the CRA. While the rules differ across the various types of tax forms, some slips can be generated independently and don’t have to go through the CRA’s system first.

In that case you will have to track them down from the source provider since the CRA won’t have them on file. For example, if you know you’re meant to receive a tuition credit, call the school to request your form. If you’ve made some stock trades in the year, call your bank to obtain a gains and losses report.  Unfortunately there’s no fool-proof way to know that you’ve got all these types of slips – you’ll just need to remember!

If you missed a significant slip that the CRA does not have on file such as a tuition slip, you can file an adjustment to your return down the road if you’re able to track it down. Before you file your return, double checking that you’ve got all your slips covered will mean a faster refund, no interest and less stress.

You can find a checklist of other slips, receipts and documentation you may require to file your return here.

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Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

SPP contribution levels rise, says General Manager Katherine Strutt*

February 5, 2018

 

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Click here to listen

Today, I’m very pleased to be talking to Katherine Strutt, general manager of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. She has some exciting news to share with us about enhancements to the program, including an increase to the SPP maximum annual contribution level effective immediately for the 2017 tax year.

SPP is the only plan of its kind in Canada — a retirement savings plan, which does not require an employee/employer relationship. As a result, it can be of particular benefit to individuals with little or no access to a pension plan.

Welcome, Katherine.

Thank you, Sheryl.

Q: For the last seven years the maximum annual contribution SPP members with RRSP contribution room could make was $2,500. How has that changed?
A: As you indicated, the maximum annual contribution limit was increased to $6,000 effective January 29, 2018, and it can be used for the 2017 tax year. However, members must still have available RRSP room in order to contribute the full $6,000 but the limit is now indexed as well, starting in 2019.

Q: If a member contributes $6,000 until age 65 how much will his or her pension be?
A: We estimated that someone contributing for 25 years and retiring at age 65 can end up with a pension of about $2,446 a monthbased on an 8% return over the period. However, we encourage people to use the wealth calculator on our website because they can insert their own assumptions. And if they want a more detailed estimate they can call our office.

Q: Can a spouse contribute for his or her partner if that person doesn’t have earned income and how much can the contribution be?
A: The SPP is a unique pension plan in that spousal contributions are acceptable. So, for instance, my spouse has to be a member. But I can contribute to his account and my account up to $6,000 each if I have the available RRSP room. If I’m making a spousal contribution, the money goes into his account, but I get the tax receipt. Other pension plans don’t offer that option. You could have a spousal RRSP, but with SPP you can actually have a spousal pension plan.

Q: Oh, that’s really fantastic. So actually, in effect, in a one-income family, the wage earner would get $12,000 contribution room for the year.
A: Yes, as long as they have available RRSP room, that’s for sure.

Q: That’s a really neat feature. And to confirm, members can contribute the full $6,000 for the 2017 tax year?
A: Yes, they can. Because we’re in the stub period right now, any contribution made between now and March 1st can qualify for the 2017 tax year.

Q: Have you had any feedback on the increased contribution level? If members are just finding out about the increase now, how much of an uptake do you expect given that, you know, maybe they haven’t saved the money or they haven’t allowed for it?

A: We’ve already had some members that have done it. I can’t tell you how many, but I was checking some deposits yesterday, and I saw that some people have already topped up their contributions. We anticipate that people who contribute on a monthly basis will start increasing their monthly contributions because they have an opportunity to do so. But it will be really hard to know until after March 1st how many people actually topped up their 2017 contributions.

The response has been very, very positive from members. They have wanted this for a long time. The new indexing feature is also very attractive as the $6,000 contribution will increase along with changes to the YMPE (yearly maximum pensionable earnings) every year.

Q: How much can a member transfer into the plan from another RRSP? Has that amount changed?
A: No, that amount has not changed. That remains at $10,000. But the board is continuing to lobby to get that limit raised.

Q: Another change announced at the same time is that work is beginning immediately on a variable pension option at retirement. Can you explain to me what that means and why it will be attractive to many members?
A: We have a lot of members who want to stay with us when they retire, but they’re not particularly interested in an annuity because annuity rates are low, and they do not want to lock their money in. They prefer a variable benefit type of option, but until now their only way of getting one has been to transfer their balance out of the SPP to another financial institution.

The new variable benefit payable directly out of our fund will be similar to  prescribed registered retirement income funds, to which people currently can transfer their account balances.

It will provide members with flexibility and control over when and how much retirement income to withdraw, and investment earnings will continue to grow on a tax-sheltered basis. Those members who want to stay and get the benefit of the low MER and the good, solid returns I think will be attracted to this new option.

Some members may wish to annuitize a portion of their account and retain the balance as a variable benefit. This will ensure they have some fixed income, but also the flexibility to withdraw additional amounts for a major expense like a trip, for instance.

Q: Now, what’s the difference between contributing to an RRSP and SPP?
A: In some respects, they’re very similar in that contributions to the SPP are part of your total RRSP contribution limit. One of the biggest advantages I think that SPP has is it is a pure pension plan. It’s not a temporary savings account. It’s meant to provide you income in your retirement.

All of the funds of the members, are pooled for investment purposes, and you get access to top money managers no matter what your account balance is or how much you contribute. Typically those services are only available to higher net worth individuals, but members of SPP get that opportunity regardless of their income level.

And the low MER (management expense ratio) that in 2017 was 83 basis points, or 0.83 is a significant feature of SPP. Solid returns, and the pure pension plan, I think those are things that make us different from an RRSP. We are like a company pension plan, if you are lucky enough to have access to a company pension plan. That’s what we provide to people regardless of whether or not their employer is involved.

Q: If a member still has RRSP contribution room after maxing out SPP contributions, can he or she make additional RRSP contributions in the same year?
A: You bet. Your limit is what CRA gives you, and how you invest that is up to you. So for instance, people that are part of a pension plan might have some additional available RRSP room left over. They can also then contribute to the SPP and get a benefit from their own personal account, in addition to what they are getting from their workplace pension.

Q: MySPP also went live in late January. Can you tell me some of the features of MySPP, and what member reaction has been to gaining online access to SPP data?
A: The reaction from members has been very positive. They’ve been asking for this for a while, and we did a bit of a soft roll out the end of January with a great response. Then members are going to be getting information with their statements, and we expect an even bigger uptake.

Once they’ve set up an account, they can go in and see the personal information we have on file for them, who they’ve named as their beneficiary, when the last time was that they made a contribution and what their account balance is. Furthermore, if they’ve misplaced a tax receipt or can’t find their statement, they can see those things online.

Retired members can get T4A information and see when their pension payments went into their accounts. So it’s a first step, and we think it’s a really positive one, and we’re getting some really good feedback from our members.

Q: Finally, to summarize in your own words, why do you think the annual increase in the SPP contribution level, introduction of a variable benefit and MySPP makes Saskatchewan Pension Plan a better pension plan than ever for Canadians aged 18 to 71?
A: Well, I think that by having an increased contribution limit that is indexed, the program might be more relevant to people. It certainly will be a bonus I think to employers who wanted to match their employee contributions but were running up against the old limit. This will give them more opportunity to do so.

It will also improve the sustainability of SPP over the long term as people are investing more. The variable benefit we’ve introduced will give retiring members more options, and it will allow them to keep going with this tried and true organization well into their retirement.

MySPP  allows members access to their account information whenever they wish, 24/7 on all their devices. That will be attractive to younger prospective members.

Exciting times. Thank you, Katherine. It’s been a pleasure to chat with you again.

Thanks so much, Sheryl.

*This is an edited transcript of an interview recorded 1/31/2018.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.