Employment insurance

No “magic formula” for decumulation, but frugality and realism help retirees: Dr. John Por

April 29, 2021

Recently, Save with SPP got an opportunity to speak with long-time pension expert Dr. John Por, whose 40-year career in pensions includes consulting work with large U.S. and Canadian pension boards and offering expertise on pension risk policy. He has also researched the tricky “decumulation” stage in which savings are turned into retirement income.

Our far-ranging interview covered decumulation, spending in retirement, frugality, advice on saving for retirement, and annuities.

Decumulation

Dr. Por says common mistakes with decumulation – the stage where retirement savings are used to provide retirement income – can include problematic asset allocation, lack of appropriate goal setting, high investment costs and, often, setting a withdrawal rate that’s too high or taking out too much money early in retirement.

So is there a correct withdrawal rate?

“At one point in time, maybe 20-25 years ago, four per cent was said to be the right withdrawal rate,” he explains.

Decumulation “depends on future interest rates, the stock markets, inflation, life expectancy and income needs,” says Dr. Por. A “correct” rate “is therefore unknowable.”

“It depends on the reigning circumstances, both personal and market,” he explains. “Who could have predicted, even five years ago, the current existing zero or the negative real rate of bond returns?”

“The problem is, though we desperately want to find a magic formula, how can you do this – we don’t know how it will be (in the future); no one knows.”

Noting the volatility in the stock markets in just the last couple of years, he notes that “even a Nobel Prize winner professed not knowing where the markets will go in the next 10 years, or how to invest your money after retirement.”

“This, of course, has not kept the retirement or investment industry from providing copious, and often prudent, advice, it simply means that looking for a, or the, magic bullet, or the infallible sage, will not be successful,” he adds.

Spending in retirement

While decumulation carries a lot of unknowns, much more is known about how much retirees actually need, Dr. Por says.

He says research by noted pension actuary Malcolm Hamilton shows that people need far less “replacement income” in retirement than the 75 per cent figure bandied about by the industry. 

Hamilton has for many years said the research suggests not everyone needs to save “heavily” for retirement, because of the existence of government income programs for retirees and lower costs once you are retired. (Here’s a link to a Globe and Mail interview with Malcolm Hamilton.)

Dr. Por agrees, calling an overall 75 per cent rule “misguided.”

“While this may be true for low-income people, they are supported by the above-mentioned government programs, so for them the 75 per cent is not a stretch, people at higher income levels are not likely to need 75 per cent of their earned income to pursue an age-appropriate lifestyle,” he says.

“One of the most important steps to understanding (retirement spending) is… knowing how much money you need to survive,” Dr. Por explains.

Rather than going through “painful” pre-retirement budget forecasting, he recommends a simpler approach.

“How much do you save in a month? If the answer is zero, your retirement budget will be what you spend now, minus what you won’t have to pay in retirement.” This can include things like your mortgage, tax savings when you earn less, childcare and education expenses, Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance, and so on. 

It’s a common-sense issue, he says. Individuals must decide “how much is necessary (spending) versus how much you would like to have.”

This knowledge is crucial for retirees, who have extremely limited options in dealing with income shortfalls, he explains. 

Working Canadians needing more money could “work harder – get a job that pays better, spend less, save more, take more investment risks, etc.… but when you are retired, you don’t have the same tools,” he explains.

 “Lifestyle becomes the main tool, you can cut back on your lifestyle (to save money), which is difficult,” he says. “Another tool still at your disposal is taking on more investment risk in retirement, but, if you’re not successful, it would easily lead to a further diminished lifestyle,” Dr. Por adds.

Frugality 

At 74, Dr. Por says he is “still engaged” and “living frugally.”

In this context, he defines frugality as bringing your lifestyle and realistic earning capability (and not your hoped-for future earnings) into a healthy balance. 

Living frugally is a key way to make your money last longer, and also that when in financial trouble, the cutback would be smaller thus less painful. Big expenses in the early years of retirement should be avoided, he says, because you may need your retirement savings for decades. “

While at age 65 it is hard to envisage how long you may live” he explains, “you may easily live beyond age 90.”

For example, he adds, if you are married, “the probability that either you or your spouse will live to age 93 is about 50 per cent. You can live for a very, very long time.” 

Working after retirement is a way to support your retirement spending and to keep your mind active, he says.

“Some people still work part-time after they stop working full time. You don’t realize how important your work is … not that many people spend their time well in retirement,” he says.

“Apart from the income work provides, it also structures your day, can add meaning to your existence after retirement (admittedly not everybody needs it), and equally important, it helps you maintain your links with the outside world and friends,” he says. His observation is that most people (especially men) form the majority of their extra-family relationships through work, and once they retired such contacts tend to fade away over time,” he says.

Dr. Por recommends that everyone consider living frugally at any age; he sees it as a great lifetime habit to get into.

Saving for retirement

While some people suggest you should save for retirement from early in life until the end of your career, Dr. Por says that view isn’t usually realistic.

“You can’t save in your 30s and 40s – you are paying for your kids’ education, your mortgage. So, save what you can, if you can, but (know) you may not be able to,” he advises. “No heroism is called for, as you also have to live a reasonable life.”

The optimum time to save “is in your 50s, and then, you can save 20 to 40 per cent,” he says. By then, “your children will be out in the world, your mortgage is paid… you can save.”

For savers, equities add the most value, but of course, it depends on the environment you happen to fall into. Bonds don’t provide as much income and growth, Dr. Por explains.

Pay close attention to investment fees, he advises. “With exchange-traded funds (ETFs), you can control costs – the management expense ratios are low.” However, financial advisers may not suggest this investment because they can make higher commissions on other products, Dr. Por says.

“Even a fee of one percent can, over 30 years, reduce your available assets significantly,” he says.

What you want to avoid is being forced to sell securities when the market is down, thus Dr. Por likes the concept of having a cash reserve to tide you through periods of market decline. 

“If you take on extra risk… by putting more money into equities, you should also have a cash reserve fund worth three to five years of spending,” he says. If equities perform well, you may wish to extend such cash reserves to cover longer periods. Overall, Dr. Por says, a chief problem with retirement saving is that most people “look at it as an investment issue,” and become focused on today’s investment risks, interest rates, equity return rates, and so on. Instead, you should be thinking about the income your investments will generate when you stop working. 

What’s going on today with investment risks and other factors “is not relevant 30 to 50 years out,” when you will be drawing income from your investments, he advises. Your focus should be on that long term, and not on volatility or return rates in a given year, Dr. Por says.

Annuities

Dr. Por talked about the “annuity paradox”. While financial experts like annuities, most people refuse to follow such advice. Most people shy away from the idea of taking a large lump sum of money – say $1.5 million – and turning it into an annuity that pays $60,000 a year. He noted that when he mentioned the concept to his wife (a highly educated professional, an MD), she refused the idea saying that “… if we die soon for whatever reason the children will get nothing.”

Also, retired people want to have cash available for future expenses, and, not always unreasonably, are afraid of inflation, and the potential extinction of the financial institution, which issued the annuity. 

But, he added, “annuities later in life is a good idea”. When you are getting too old to run your money – say by your late 70s or 80s – that’s the time to consider an annuity, he says. The older you are when you convert to an annuity, the cheaper the annuity is to buy. And today’s low interest rates make the conversion to annuities expensive. “The interesting phenomenon is though”, he added, “that when interest rates were exceptionally high, say in the late 1990ies, people still did not buy annuities, nor did the advisers promote the idea.”

Finally, he noted the importance of discipline. He speaks from experience, and says that had he followed all the major precepts mentioned in this piece, he would be now in a much better financial position himself. “Know your needs, be prudent in your expectations, live frugally, create a plan or direction and stick to it while making adjustments, if needed,” he advises.  

We thank Dr. Por for taking the time to speak with us.

Celebrating 35 years of operations, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan is a full-service retirement plan. SPP will invest the money you contribute, and at the time you retire, gives you the option of converting your invested savings into a lifetime annuity. Why not 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.


JUL 20: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

July 20, 2020

Canucks doing better than we think at retirement saving: report

It’s somewhat rare to see a headline saying Canadians are on track for retirement saving, but that’s the key point of new research from HEC Montreal’s Retirement and Savings Institute.

The study, funded by the Global Risk Institute, was featured in a recent Benefits Canada article.

The positive news – “more than 80 per cent of Canadians aged 25 to 64 are prepared for retirement and the vast majority have a high probability of being prepared,” the magazine notes.

According to the research, which was conducted featuring a large sample of more than 17,000 Canadians, those who are the best prepared are those whose household earnings are below the national median, and “those covered by pension plans,” Benefits Canada notes.

Those who are in the worst shape – somewhat surprisingly – are “upper-middle earners without retirement savings,” the magazine reports, adding that CPP and QPP improvements may benefit that segment of the population down the road.

The authors of the study used what they called a “new stochastic retirement income calculator,” which unlike many calculators, models “the evolution of private savings, accounting for individual and aggregate risk; taxation of savings, including capital gains; employer pensions; a realistic stochastic modelling of work income; the value of housing; and debt dynamics.”

So for those, like us, who got lost at “stochastic,” it seems that this calculation takes into account risk, taxation, future work income, housing prices and levels of debt when calculating what one actually needs to maintain the same standard of living in the life after work.

That calculation showed that on average, participants would have 104.6 per cent of the net income they need, once they are retired, to maintain their pre-retirement living costs.

We can share a personal experience here. When the head of our household decided to get an estimate of what her pension from work would be, she was at first a little dismayed to see that the gross annual pension income – despite 35 years of membership in her workplace plan – was lower than what she was making at work. But when she looked at the net, after-tax income, or take-home pay, it was actually higher. It’s because she’s paying less income tax, no longer making pension contributions, and no longer paying into CPP and EI. That all makes a big difference on the bottom line.

So, the authors of the study conclude, “on average, if (Canadians) retire at the age they intend to, maintain their saving and debt payment strategies and convert all of their financial wealth into income, Canadians have net income in retirement which is higher than their pre-retirement income.”

The reason for the high numbers may be that for those making at or below the median income  “are well covered by the public system even if they have no savings or [registered pension plan] coverage,” the authors of the report state in the Benefits Canada piece. It’s those with income above the median and who also lack workplace pensions – about 15 per cent of Canadians – who need to worry, the article concludes.

If you don’t have a retirement program through work, and don’t really want to take on saving and investing on your own, an excellent option is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. The plan will invest your contributions at a very low investment cost, thanks to the fact the SPP is not operated on a “for profit” basis. Since its inception in the late 1980s the SPP has grown the savings of its members at an average annual rate of eight per cent. And when the time come for you to convert those savings into a lifetime income, the SPP has flexible annuity options to turn your hard-saved dollars 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, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


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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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.

Best from the Blogosphere: 2018 Federal Budget Edition

March 5, 2018

SOURCE: 2018 FEDERAL BUDGET, P. 47

What I find most interesting about budgets are the provisions that are often buried in the fine print and don’t make the front page of the newspaper. You will find links below to some widely-reported features of the 2018 Federal Budget and others you may not yet be aware of.

The graphic above illustrates how the new EI parental-sharing benefit will operate. The Investment Executive reports that in an initiative that was widely-anticipated in the lead-up to the February 27th budget, the Liberal government introduced a new Employment Insurance (EI) parental sharing benefit that will provide extended EI parental benefits when both parents agree to share parental leave. The proposed “use-it-or-lose-it” benefit will increase the duration of EI parental leave by up to five weeks for parents who share a standard 12-month parental leave, or up to eight weeks for parents who share an extended 18-month leave. This incentive is expected to be available starting June 2019.

And while details are sketchy, MPs may finally be entitled to long over-due maternity and parental leave. According to the Budget Papers (p.52):

“The Government is supportive of, and will work with Parliament on, the recommendations put forward in the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs entitled Support for Members of Parliament with Young Children. This includes…improving work-life balance, providing access to child care and designated spaces for the use of Members with infants and children, and a change to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons to allow an infant being cared for by a Member of Parliament to be present on the floor of the House of Commons. The Government will also bring forward amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act to make it possible for Parliamentarians to take maternity and parental leave.”

The government has backtracked on key tax measures for small businesses. Mark Burgess at advisor.ca explains how the federal government will tie the passive income threshold to the small business deduction. He notes that the plan put forward in Tuesday’s federal budget takes a different approach to the one the government proposed last summer that received considerable blowback from business owners.

If a corporation earns more than $50,000 of passive investment income in a year, the amount of income eligible for the small business tax rate is reduced and more of the company’s active income is taxed at the general corporate rate. The $50,000 threshold originally announced in changes the government made to its proposals while under pressure from business groups in October is equivalent to $1 million in passive investment assets at a 5% return.

Julie Cazzen at Maclean’s lists 15 ways Budget 2018 will affect your wallet.  Here are a few of the interesting budget provisions she highlights:

  • The Canadian Child Benefit will be indexed to inflation starting July 2018.
  • You will be able to open an RESP and claim the $500 Canada Learning Bond grant at the same time that you apply for a birth certificate for your child. This will automatically enroll children born into low-income families for the grant.
  • Canada Student Grants and Loans has expanded eligibility for part time students, as well as full and part time students with children, and introduced a three-year pilot project that will provide adults returning to school on a full-time basis after several years in the workforce with an additional $1,600 in grant money starting Aug 1, 2018.
  • A new Apprenticeship Incentive Grant for Women will give women in male-dominated trades fields $3,000 per year of training (or up to $6,000 over two years). Almost all Red Seal trades are eligible.
  • The CPP death benefit is now $2,500 for all eligible contributors (whereas before it was pro-rated.)

Rob Carrick in the Globe and Mail discusses seven changes that could affect your finances. For example, following up on public consultations in 2016, the federal government is poised to announce improvements to Canada Deposit Insurance Corp. The consultations looked at adding registered disability savings plans (RDSPs) and registered education savings plans (RESPs) to the list of registered accounts that are covered and adding foreign currency deposits to covered products.

This would benefit snowbirds keeping large deposits in U.S.-dollar accounts. Other reforms could add coverage for guaranteed investment certificates of longer than five-year terms. Increasing the current $100,000 coverage limit for eligible deposits does not appear to be in the government’s plans.

Some other lesser known and unexpected Budget proposals reported by the Financial Post are:

  • The government will create an advisory council to begin “a national dialogue” on a national pharmacare program.
  • The government is moving to provide more support for Canadians suffering from mental health issues – including veterans – by helping them with the cost of psychiatric service dogs. Specifically, starting this year, the Medical Expense Tax Credit will be expanded to cover costs associated with the animals.

The federal government also announced in the budget that it will eventually move away from its problem-plagued Phoenix pay system – which has overpaid, underpaid or completely failed to pay tens of thousands of public servants – and invest $16-million over two years to develop a new pay system.

You can see the full document tabled in the House of Commons here.

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.

Understanding Employment Insurance changes

November 17, 2016

By Sheryl Smolkin

All employed Canadians and their employers must contribute to the federally-operated Employment Insurance plan. So if you lose your job, three of the first questions you will likely ask are:

  • How much can I expect to receive from EI?
  • How long do I have to wait?
  • For how many weeks can I receive benefits?

Generally in 2016, you get 55% of your previous income, up to a maximum of $537 per week after a two-week waiting period. You can receive EI  for 14 weeks up to a maximum of 45 weeks, depending on the unemployment rate in your region at the time of filing your claim and the amount of insurable hours you have accumulated in the last 52 weeks or since your last claim, whichever is shorter.

However, in the March 2016 budget, the Liberal government announced some key changes  that will make collecting EI a bit easier in some situations. For example:

  1. Eliminating new entrant, re-entrant rules: The Government amended the rules to eliminate the higher EI eligibility requirements that restricted access for new entrants and re-entrants to the labour market. As of July 3, 2016 new entrants to the workforce (think young workers getting their first jobs) or re-entrants (think stay-at-home parents who are going back into the workforce) have been required to work between 420 to 700 hours over the previous 52 weeks to qualify for employment insurance, depending on labour conditions in their area of the country. That’s a reduction from the previous 910 hours.
  2. Two week waiting period reduced to one week: The EI waiting period is a period of time that must be served before a claimant can begin to receive EI benefits.  It has been set at two weeks since 1971. The reduction of the waiting period applies to regular, fishing and special benefits such as sick benefits, maternity and parental benefits. However, the number of weeks of EI benefit entitlement will not change.
  3. New Working While on Claim pilot project: Between August 7, 2016 and August 11, 2018,  EI claimants collecting regular, fishing, compassionate care or benefits for the care of critically-ill children have two options that will allow them to earn some additional income while they are on claim. Under the “default rule,” the claimant keeps 50 cents of EI benefits for every dollar earned in wages, up to a maximum of 90 per cent of his/her previous weekly earnings (or, roughly four and a half days of work).. Above this cap, benefits are reduced dollar-for-dollar. The “default rule” will automatically apply to claims. Otherwise, claimants can choose the “optional rule which allows them to keep the equivalent of up to roughly one day’s work (defined as $75 or 40 per cent of the benefit rate, whichever is greater) without any deduction from their benefits. Any amount earned above the equivalent of roughly one day’s work will be deducted dollar-for-dollar from benefits.
  4. Simplifying job search responsibilities for EI claimants: The Government reversed the 2012 changes to the EI program that strictly defined the job search responsibilities of unemployed workers and forced them to move away from their communities and take lower paying jobs. Nevertheless, long-standing requirements that claimants must search for and accept available work while on EI will continue to be upheld. This change came into effect on July 3, 2016.
  5. Extending EI regular benefits for regions affected by commodities downturn: Dramatic declines in global commodity prices since late 2014 have produced sharp and sustained unemployment shocks in commodity-based regions. In response, through Budget 2016, the Government made temporary legislative changes to extend the duration of EI regular benefits by 5 weeks, up to a maximum of 50 weeks of benefits, for all eligible claimants in the 15 EI economic regions (including Saskatchewan) that have experienced the sharpest and most severe increases in unemployment.

The Government also made legislative changes to offer up to an additional 20 weeks of EI regular benefits to long-tenured workers in the same 15 EI economic regions, up to a maximum of 70 weeks of benefits. These benefits became available for one year, beginning in July 2016, and will apply to anyone who started a claim for regular EI benefits on or after January 4, 2015, and is still unemployed.


To Rent or to Buy: That is the Question

October 29, 2015

By Sheryl Smolkin

The Canadian dream for many is to find a partner, get married, buy a house and have kids –- not necessarily in that order. With the average house price in June 2015 climbing to $639,000 in Toronto and $922,000 in Vancouver, many young people have been shut out of the housing market.

However, Saskatchewan residents are more fortunate, with the average provincial house price sitting at $303,000 province-wide and $316,000 in Regina. But if you or a family member are thinking about leaving the world of rentals behind and buying your first home, it’s still important to factor in all of the costs you will incur, and the impact possible interest rate increases will have on your monthly payments.

Here are 5 questions you should answer before you decide to leap into the housing market:

  1. How big is your down payment? While it is possible to buy a home with as little as 5% down, if your deposit is less than 20% of the purchase price your mortgage must be insured by a third party such as the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), Genworth Financial Canada or Canada Guaranty. The insurance premium will range from 0.5% and 2.75% of your total mortgage amount and add significantly to the cost of your home over time.
  2. How much house can you afford? Mortgage experts suggest no more than 32% of household income be spent on housing costs. The Mortgage Payment Calculator on ratehub.ca will allow you to model how much your monthly payments will be depending on the amount of your deposit, the term of the mortgage, interest rate and any mortgage insurance. So if you buy a house for $350,000 with 5% down, a 5-year mortgage amortized over 25 years at a fixed rate of 2.69%, your payments will be $1,576/month. In addition, you must factor in municipal taxes, utilities and annual maintenance costs. In contrast, over the past year, rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Regina ranged from $884 to $1,395.
  3. Is your job secure? Taking on a mortgage is a long-term commitment. If you are basing your ability to pay for your home on your current family income, consider whether or not you and your spouse have secure jobs. Could you afford to continue paying monthly house expenses if one of you lost your job? How long would it likely take get a new job if one of you were downsized?
  4. What are your family plans? If the next major milestone after buying a house is to start a family, that means that at least one parent may be out of the workforce for up to a year after the birth of each child. Are one or both of you eligible for EI maternity and parental leave benefits? Do either of your employers top up EI benefits to all or part of your full salary for some period of time? If not, how will you make up the difference? When both of you go back to work, will you be able to afford daycare costs on top of your mortgage payments?
  5. What if interest rates go up? Mortgage rates are at historic lows. According to ratehub.ca if you have a down payment of 20% your mortgage rate (calculated on August 17/15) you may pay as high as 2.69% for a 5-year fixed rate in Regina or as low as 1.85% for a variable rate in the same city. What if interest rates doubled or tripled? Could you still afford your mortgage payments plus all of your other family commitments?

The advantages of renting are that your costs are fixed for the term of the lease; you are not responsible for the cost of major repairs; and, if you want to leave the neighbourhood or move to another city you have much more flexibility.

While you are not purchasing an asset that will increase in value that you can cash in when you are ready to retire, if you save and invest the difference between your annual rent and the costs of running your home, you will have a nice little nest egg by age 65.But few people have the discipline to do so. And most rental properties cannot be customized or decorated to your own personal taste.

So all things considered, the decision to rent or buy may be as much an emotional decision as an economic one. Each individual or family will make a unique decision based on their stage of life, their finances and their personal priorities.

Also read:
Cheap mortgage rates don’t justify home ownership


Why you should join SPP in July

July 23, 2015

By Sheryl Smolkin

Have you noticed that your most recent pay cheque is higher than usual? That could be because you have paid the maximum in Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and (EI) Employment Insurance Premiums for the year. 

The total amount you must contribute to CPP in 2015 is:

($53,600 [maximum earnings] – $3,500 [basic exemption]) x 4.95% = $2,479.95 

This amount is matched by your employer.

Similarly, the annual Employment Insurance (EI) maximum earnings are $49,500 with an employee contribution rate of 1.88%. Therefore the maximum EI contribution you have to make this year is $930.60. Your employer must remit 1.4 times the maximum premium you pay up to $1,302.84.

These annual maximum CPP and EI contributions apply to each job you hold with different employers. So if you leave one job during the year to start work with another company, your new employer also has to deduct EI premiums without taking into account what was paid by the previous employer. This is the case even if you have paid the maximum premium amount during your previous employment.

Also, if you have several part-time jobs or a part-time job in addition to your full time position, your secondary employer is also obligated to withhold CPP and EI premiums based on your earnings regardless of how much your primary employer is deducting. If as a result, you over- contribute to either program, you will be credited with excess when you file your income tax return for the year.

That means if you earned $50,000 in the first half of the year, by early July your pay will go up by 6.83% or about $131.45 per week. If your annual salary is lower, your “Withholding Tax Freedom Day” will occur a little later in the year. But whenever it kicks in, it will feel like you suddenly got a healthy raise.

So what are you going to do with your windfall? How about joining Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) and setting up a monthly deposit equal to the amount you would have paid to the government?

Depending on your income level, you could easily contribute the $2,500 SPP max in the second half of the year. Beginning January 2016 you could elect to continue contributing at a reduced level throughout the coming year. Or in the alternative, you could take a break until later in 2016 when you have again paid the maximum CPP and EI to start saving again in SPP.

A key feature of SPP is that how much you contribute and when is completely up to you. You can change your method or level of contribution at anytime.

 Choose from any of the following methods:

  • in person or by telebanking at your financial institution
  • by phone using your credit card (1-800-667-7153)
  • directly from your bank account on a pre-authorized contribution schedule (PAC)

Contributions to SPP are permitted up to an annual maximum of $2,500, subject to your  available RRSP room. And because SPP contributions (like contributions to an RRSP) are tax deductible, if you are making regular contributions, you could file a Form T1213 Request to Reduce Tax Deductions at Source so your employer remits a lower amount of income taxes during each pay period.

That means that while you can not only build a retirement nest egg in your SPP account once you no longer have to contribute to the CPP and EI programs, you will actually have more disposable income every month.


How much will I get from CPP?

January 29, 2015

By Sheryl Smolkin

A pension from the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) is an important foundation on which most Canadians will build their retirement income. Therefore it is important to understand how much you will be entitled to at retirement.[i]

The maximum monthly amount you can receive if you retire at age 65 in 2015 is $1,065. Service Canada reports that in October 2014 the average pension for new beneficiaries was $610.57. That’s because applicants only got a full pension if they contributed the maximum amount up to the Yearly Maximum Pensionable Earnings (YMPE) for at least 40 years between ages 18 and 65.

The YMPE in 2014 was $52,500 and it increased to $53,600 in 2015. Therefore this year the maximum CPP contribution for both employers and employees is $2,479.95. Self-employed people must remit up to $4,959.90. If you earn more than the YMPE you will notice a “salary bump” part way through the year once you have made maximum CPP (and Employment Insurance) contributions.

CPP offers protection against periods where you had reduced or zero earnings for general reasons (up to eight years) or child-rearing  by automatically dropping a number of months of your lowest earnings when calculating your CPP benefit. You can start collecting CPP at age 60 but your annual pension will be reduced by .58% per month prior to age 65 (rising to .6% per month in 2016). If you take an early CPP pension and go back to work, you must continue to pay into the plan until at least age 65. CPP contributions for working Canadians over age 65 are optional until age 70.

When you are already receiving a CPP pension, contributions between ages 60 and 70 increase your benefit by a lifetime Post-Retirement benefit (PRB). The maximum annual PRB you can earn in 2015 is $319.56 and it will be added to your benefit payments in the next year.

CPP uses a Statement of Contributions to keep a record of your pensionable earnings and your contributions to the Plan. The Statement of Contributions can assist you in your retirement planning.

Your statement shows your total CPP contributions for each year and the earnings on which your contributions are based. If you contributed the maximum there will be a letter “M” beside the year. In addition, it provides an estimate of what your pension or benefit would be if you and/or your family were eligible to receive it now.

You can view and print a copy of your Statement of Contributions online. You will need to request a Personal Access code that will be sent to you by mail.

You can also request a hard copy of your statement from:
Contributor Client Services
Canada Pension Plan
Service Canada
PO Box 9750 Postal Station T
Ottawa ON K1G 3Z4

Table 1: CPP Contributions and Benefits

CPP 2014 2015
CONTRIBUTION AND BENEFIT LEVELS
Year’s Maximum Pensionable Earnings $52,500.00 $53,600.00
Contribution Rate – Employee/Employer 4.95% 4.95%
Maximum Contribution – Employee/Employer $2,425.50 $2,479.95
Year’s Basic Exemption $3,500.00 $3,500.00
Pensionable Earnings* $49,000.00 $50,100.00
RETIREMENT BENEFIT MAXIMUM
Monthly pension on retirement during the year at age 65 $1,038.33 $1,065.00
OTHER BENEFIT MAXIMA
Monthly Survivor’s Benefit
Spouse age < 65 $567.91 $581.13
Spouse age = 65 $623.00 $639.00
CPP Flat Rate Component:
Survivor’s Benefit
$178.54 $181.75
Monthly Disability Benefit
Maximum $1,236.35 $1,264.59
Flat rate component $457.60 $465.84
Lump Sum Death Benefit $2,500.00 $2,500.00
Deceased/Disabled Contributor’s Child Benefit $230.72 $234.87
INDEXATION RATE 0.9% 1.8%

* This figure represents the Year’s Maximum Pensionable earnings minus the Year’s Basic Exemption.

Also read How to Calculate Your CPP Retirement Pension

[i] Disability benefits and survivor benefits are also payable from CPP. See Table above.


BOOK REVIEW: THE REAL RETIREMENT Why you could be better off than you think

August 7, 2014

By Sheryl Smolkin

7Aug-The+Real+Retirement

The Real Retirement by Morneau Shepell Chief Actuary Fred Vettese and Bill Morneau, Executive Chairman of Morneau Shepell was released and extensively reviewed by the media in 2013.

However, I decided to circle back to this book over a year later because it is much more optimistic than many of the personal finance books I have reviewed since January.

Most financial writers seem to be trying to guilt readers into forgoing consumption during their working lives in order to accumulate sufficient RRSP savings to generate 70% of pre-retirement income.

In contrast, Vettese and Morneau present well-reasoned arguments to illustrate that income replacement of 50% or even less post-retirement will result in a “neutral retirement income” (NRIT), i.e. similar patterns of consumption for retirees.

Initially, they note that there are three phases of retirement:

Phase 1: From retirement age to the mid or late 70s or even later if you are healthy you are most likely to travel to exotic locations and pursue expensive hobbies. Therefore your income requirements will be highest in this phase.

Phase 2: In the second phase of retirement you may have diminished physical or mental capabilities. If so, you will travel less and cut back on strenuous activities. Therefore you will spend less money.

Phase 3: In the last years of your life you may be more physically or mentally impaired. You may need to be in a nursing home, or if you are wealthy enough, in an upscale retirement home with nursing care.

As a result, planning to spend more in the first decade of retirement will not necessarily mean that you will run out of money before you run out of time.

I thought it was particularly interesting that when considering available resources that can generate retirement income for Canadians, unlike many other personal financial writers, the authors also factor in the value of “Pillar 4 assets” including real estate, business equity and non-registered savings.

They use the following population breakdown in their calculations:

Income Quartile Average total income (couple)
Quartile 1 $29,000
Quartile 2 $53,000
Quartile 3 $78,000
Quartile 4 $110,000
Quartile 5 $204,000

The bottom quartile is dropped out because it is assumed that government benefits such as CPP, OAS and the GIS will provide better than average income replacement.

For the most part, Quartile 5 is also excluded since a couple with an income of over $200,000 has typically saved in RRSPs and has other Pillar 4 assets that can augment retirement ravings.

Vettese presents an example of a couple in Quartile 3 with $78,000 in annual income at age 65 and assumes they saved 6.5% annually in an RRSP from age 30 until retirement, Once their RRSP balance is converted to a RRIF at age 65, including government benefits they will have an income after retirement of $48,600/year.

Although retirement income for this couple is just 62% of their pre-retirement income, they no longer make RRSP and CPP contributions; have EI deductions and other employment costs; and pay a mortgage or child-raising costs. Their income taxes are also much lower.

The net result is that they have $14,000 more in disposable income to spend post-retirement! Although each family’s financial situation differs, the authors conclude that an NRIT which equalizes consumption before and after retirement generally only requires about 50% of pre-retirement income.

A calculations using a couple in Quartile 4 ($116,000 before retirement) reveals that the NRIT is just 44%. Furthermore, they can achieve their NRIT with 35 years of RRSP contributions equal to 3.5% of household income. And in general the higher the income level, the lower the NRIT.

This book is an interesting read because it presents a different perspective on the perennial questions, “How much will I need in retirement?” and “How much do I have to save to accumulate the amount I will require?”

While Vettese and Morneau suggest the answers to these questions may be “less than you think,” it doesn’t mean you don’t have to save at all. And all of the scenarios assume you retire free of mortgage and other debt. They also presume a drop in employment expenses and taxes payable that may not apply in your situation.

But if you thought the only thing you have to look forward to is Freedom 75, reading this book will cheer you up. Retiring at age 65 may in fact be a perfectly reasonable objective and you might even be able to afford a nice annual vacation or two while you are still well enough to travel.

The Real Retirement can be purchased online from Chapters for $15.64.

Fred Vettese
Fred Vettese

Bill Morneau
Bill Morneau