Gordon Pape

May 16: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

May 16, 2022

End RRIF mandatory withdrawals, RRSP end dates, and create national RRSP: Pape

Well-known financial author Gordon Pape has been observing the Canadian investment and retirement savings system for many decades, and has come up with a four-point plan to make retirement more effective for Canada’s greying population.

Writing in the Globe and Mail, Pape observes that there are now seven million Canadians aged 65 and over.

“This has the makings of a massive demographic crisis,” he writes. “Where are the future workers going to come from? Who is going to support our rapidly aging population? What will happen to the tax base as people leave the work force and reduce their spending?”

He then suggests that one way to address the problem would be to encourage more Canadians to work past age 65, a plan that would “require a massive overhaul of our retirement system,” but that is “doable.”

As a starting point, he notes that the trend towards more working at home, born from our experiences with the pandemic, may be a good “carrot” for encouraging older Canadians to keep working. Working from home is preferable for most, he says.

But other carrots are needed as well, he writes.

Eliminate mandatory RRIF withdrawals: Currently, he writes, registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) must be “wound up by Dec. 31 of the year in which you turn 71,” and are then mostly converted into registered retirement income funds (RRIFs). With RRIFs, he explains, you are required to withdraw a minimum amount annually, an amount that grows until you are 94 and must withdraw 20 per cent of the RRIF.

“RRIF withdrawals are a huge disincentive to work after age 71. Added to regular income, the extra RRIF money can quickly push you into a high tax bracket,” Pape writes.

“The solution is legislation to end mandatory withdrawals entirely. Let the individual decide when it’s time to tap into retirement savings and how much is needed. The government will still get its tax revenue. It will just be delayed a few years,” he posits.

End RRSP wind up at 71: A second “carrot,” he writes, would be to change the age that RRSPs must be closed, currently age 71. Why, asks Pape?

“RRSP contributions are tax deductible. Making RRSPs open-ended would therefore create an incentive to continue saving in later years, when people may have more disposable income (no mortgage, kids moved out). That would result in more personal savings, which should result in fewer people requiring government support in later years,” he writes.

Create a national RRSP: Pape proposes that a national RRSP – to be run by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board – be created. “It would provide Canadians with first-rate management expertise, at minimal cost,” Pape writes.

This idea is needed, Pape says, because many people don’t know how to invest in their RRSPs and lack the advice they need to do so.

Allow CPP and OAS to be deferred longer: His final idea would be to allow people to start their Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security later than the current latest age, 70. Again, this is to accommodate folks who want to work longer and don’t need the money as “early” as 70.

These ideas all make a lot of sense if the goal is to help people working longer. The idea of being able to withdraw RRIF funds as needed rather than based on a government mandatory withdrawal table is sensible. After all, who wants to withdraw money – effectively selling low – when markets are down? And if one is working into one’s 70s, why take away the effective tax reduction lever of RRSP contributions?

Let’s hope policy makers listen to some of Pape’s ideas. Gordon Pape spoke to Save with SPP a while ago, and he knows his stuff. He also spoke with our friend Sheryl Smolkin in an earlier Save with SPP column.

If you don’t have a workplace pension plan, investing on your own for retirement can be quite daunting, especially in times like these where interest rates are rising and markets are falling. Fortunately, there is a way to have your money professionally invested at a low cost by money managers who know their way around topsy-turvy conditions – the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. You’ll get professional investing at a low cost, and over time, your precious retirement nest egg will grow and be converted to an income stream when the bonds of work are cut off for good. Check them out today!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

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.


Pape’s book provides solid groundwork for a well-planned retirement

March 4, 2021

Gordon Pape has become a dean of financial writers in Canada, and his book Retirement’s Harsh New Realities provides us with a great overview of our favourite topic.

There’s even a shout-out to the Saskatchewan Pension Plan!

While this book was penned last decade, the themes it looks at still ring true. “Pensions. Retirement age. Health care. Elder care. Government support. Tax breaks. Estate planning,” Pape writes. “All these issues – and more – are about to take centre stage in the public forums.”

He looks at the important question of how much we all need in retirement. Citing a Scotiabank survey, Pape notes that “56 per cent of respondents believed they would be able to get by with less than $1 million, and half of those put the figure at under $300,000” as a target for retirement savings. A further 28 per cent thought they would need “between $1 million and $2 million.” Regardless of what selection respondents made, getting that much in a savings pot is “daunting,” the survey’s authors note.

Government programs like the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) help, but the benefits they provide are relatively modest. “If we want more than a subsistence-level income, we have to provide it for ourselves,” Pape advises.

He notes that the pre-pandemic savings rate a decade ago was just 4.2 per cent, with household debt at 150 per cent when compared to income. Debt levels have gone up since then. “Credit continues to grow faster than income,” he quotes former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney as saying. “Without a significant change in behaviour, the proportion of households that would be susceptible to serious financial stress from an adverse shock will continue to grow.” Prescient words, those.

So high debt and low savings (they’ve gone up in the pandemic world) are one thing, but a lack of financial literacy is another. Citing the report of a 2011 Task Force on Financial Literacy, Pape notes that just 51 per cent of Canucks have a budget, 31 per cent “struggle to pay the bills,” those hoping to save up for a house had managed to put away just five per cent of the estimated down payment, and while 70 per cent were confident about retirement, just 40 per cent “had a good idea of how much money they would need in order to maintain their desired lifestyle.”

One chapter provides a helpful “Retirement Worry Index” to let you know where your level of concern about retirement should be. Those with good pensions at work, as well as savings, a home, and little debt, have the least to worry about. Those without a workplace pension, with debt and insufficient savings, need to worry the most.

If you fall anywhere other than “least worried” on Pape’s list, the solution is to be a committed saver, and to fund your own retirement, he advises. He recommends putting away “at least 10 per cent of your income… if you’re over 40, make it a minimum of 15 per cent.” Without your own savings, “retirement is going to be as bleak as many people fear it will be.”

Pape recommends – if you can — postponing CPP payments until age 70, so you will get “42 per cent more than if you’d started drawing it at 65.” RRSP conversions should take place as late as you can, he adds. This idea has become very popular in the roaring ‘20s.

Pape also says growth should still be a priority for your RRSP and RRIF. “Just because you’ve retired doesn’t mean your RRSP savings need to stagnate,” he writes. And if you find yourself in the fortunate position of “having more income than you really need” in your early retirement needs, consider investing any extra in a Tax Free Savings Account, Pape notes.

Trying to pay off debt before you retire was once the norm, but the idea seems to have fallen out of fashion, he writes. His other advice is that you should have a good idea of what you will get from all retirement income sources, including government benefits.

In a chapter looking at RRSPs, he mentions the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. The SPP, he writes, has a “well diversified” and professionally managed investment portfolio, charges a low fee of 100 basis points or less, and offers annuities as an option once you are ready to retire.

This is a great, well-written book that provides a very solid foundation for thinking about retirement.

If you find yourself on the “yikes” end of the Retirement Worry Index, and lack a workplace pension plan, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be the solution you’ve been looking for. If you don’t want to design your own savings and investment program, why not let SPP do it for you – they’ve been helping build retirement security for Canadians for more than 35 years.

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

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.


Start early and work the tax system in your favour, says Gordon Pape

October 1, 2020

Gordon Pape is one of Canada’s best-known authors and commentators on investing, retirement and tax issues. Save with SPP reached out to him by email to ask a few questions about our favourite topic – saving for retirement.

Q. What are the three most important tips you can provide on saving for retirement?

A. Create a savings plan and stick to it. To do that, make sure it’s realistic. To maximize the odds of success, set up an automatic monthly withdrawal at your financial institution, with the proceeds going directly into a pension plan, Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) or Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA).

  • Start as early as possible. Let the magic of compounding work for you for as many years as you can. If you invest $1,000 for 20 years with a five per cent average annual return, it will be worth $2,653.30 at the end of that time. After 40 years, the value will be $7,039.99.
  • Use the tax system to your advantage. All RRSP and pension contributions within the legal limit will generate a deduction that will lower your tax bill. Contributions to Tax-Free Savings Accounts are not deductible, but no tax is assessed on withdrawals.

Q. Given today’s markets, are there any things you think people should be doing differently with their retirement investments?

A. This is a very difficult environment in which to invest because of the uncertainty related to the pandemic and the time it will take the economy to recover. In these circumstances, I advise caution, especially with retirement money. Aim for a balanced portfolio (typically 40 per cent bonds and cash, 60 per cent equities). Dollar-cost average your stock or equity fund investments over time. Always have some cash in reserve to deploy in market corrections.

Q. Given what seems to be a lack of workplace pension plans in many job categories, is saving for retirement more important than ever before?

A. It has always been important but it’s especially so if you do not have a pension plan (most people in the private sector do not). Few people want to scrape by on payments from the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS). To enhance your retirement lifestyle, you’ll need your own personal retirement nest egg – and the larger, the better.

Q. Do you think we’ll see more people working beyond traditional retirement age – and if yes, why do you think that is?

A. Absolutely. We’re already seeing that trend. In some cases, the motivation is financial – people simply don’t have the savings needed to quit work. But in other cases, people keep working because they want to. I’m in my 80s and still work full-time. I enjoy what I do and don’t intend to stop until health forces me to. I know a lot of people that feel the same way.

We thank Gordon Pape for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to check out his website for more great information.

If you don’t have a workplace pension, or are looking for a way to top up what you are already saving, consider the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. It’s a one-shop, personal retirement plan that you can set up for yourself or your employer can offer it as part of a benefit package. Once you are a member, your contributions are grown via risk-controlled, low-cost investing, and when it’s time to receive the gold watch, you can choose from a variety of retirement income options including life annuities. Consider checking them out today.

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

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.


What are the best ways to teach your kids about saving?

July 23, 2020

Many of us boomers were good at ignoring the great financial advice given to us by our more successful parents. That meant we had to learn about personal finance in the School of Hard Knocks, and may explain why most of us now owe $1.70 for every dollar we earn.

Great steps are being taken to ensure the upcoming set of young Canadians get schooled a bit about money; CNN recently reported on Ontario’s plans for financial literacy classes in the primary grades.

Save with SPP had a look around the “information highway” for some thoughts on what the top things we parents should be tell our kids and grandkids about managing money.  The folks at the Homeownership.ca blog offers a few tips from noted financial author Gordon Pape. First, Pape tells the blog, talk about money, and be open about it with the kids. Why let them grow up “in a world of ignorance” when you can instead honestly answer their money questions? The second tip is to avoid trying to teach them things you don’t know about, and to make the learning fun – make it more of a game.

Yahoo! Finance Canada adds a few more ideas. “Encourage teens to get jobs and earn money,” the site advises. “Help your children open a bank account. Show your kids how to map out a budget.” Other ideas here include using a glass jar as a piggy bank, so the young ones can see their savings grow, and talking to kids about how credit cards work.

The federal government has some ideas to share about money also (no snickering). Lead by example and use your own credit wisely, the site suggests. “If your teens see you using credit wisely, they may be more likely to follow your example,” the site adds. The key messages for younger credit users is that credit is not income – it is borrowed money that has to eventually be paid back. As well, the site notes, “if they repay the full amount they spent each month, they won’t need to pay interest.”

These last points are key, and something many of us either don’t know or don’t really want to hear. A line of credit or a credit card is a convenient way of borrowing money from a lender. While you can access money from these sources just as you would from a bank account – you can tap to pay, you can pull bills out of a machine – what is less visible is the cost of that borrowing.

Years ago, the federal government mandated credit card companies to show how many years it would take to pay off a credit card if you pay only the minimum amount. That’s another good thing to show the younger set!

If you are teaching your kids about saving, and they are old enough to start a retirement savings account, a nice option is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Younger people have a huge savings advantage – they may be 40 or more years away from retirement. That’s four decades for every invested dollar to grow. So starting young on retirement savings will pay off generously farther down the line.

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

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.


MAY 25: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

May 25, 2020

Times are volatile, but there are things NOT to do with retirement savings: Gordon Pape

We’re living through a public health crisis that has undermined Canada’s economy and made the stock and bond markets go topsy-turvy.

Noted financial author Gordon Pape, writing in the St. Catharines Standard, says that this situation is particularly frightening to those among us who are living on their retirement savings.

Protecting your health, he writes, is number one. But number two should be protecting your savings, he advises.

“Some older Canadians have a significant amount of money tucked away in their retirement plans, and they don’t want to lose it,” writes Pape. “They’re depending on those RRSPs, RRIFs, and LIFs to support them in the coming years.”

He notes that the stock market “has taken a beating,” and “there’s turmoil in the bond market,” leaving many with no idea “which way to turn.”

Don’t get frightened and put everything into cash, Pape warns. “I’d prefer to have cash reserves to cover two years of expenses and invest the rest in government-issued fixed income securities, high-quality, dividend-paying stocks, and some gold funds or stocks.”

Putting your investments in cash is problematic, he writes. You won’t earn much interest. But the return of inflation could erode the spending power of your cash, notes Pape – governments are being forced to spend more than expected during the pandemic and some economists feel we could see inflation rates of up to three per cent in just a few years.

A second, albeit unlikely scenario with cash investing is bank failure. “Don’t misunderstand me here,” he stresses, “Canada’s banks are well-capitalized and among the strongest in the world.” But there have been failures among smaller institutions in years gone by.

Be sure to take advantage of the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation – you can put up to $100,000 per person in CDIC-backed savings accounts, so that in the unlikely event of bank problems, your money is insured, writes Pape.

Pape’s advice makes a lot of sense – he’s describing a balanced approach to retirement savings, with enough cash to cover your expenses for a couple of years, and then a mix of quality equities and government-backed bonds. For good measure, he also recommends a little exposure to precious metals.

There was a time, perhaps in the 1980s, when interest investing through GICs and high-interest savings accounts was seen as the right approach to retirement savings. But in those days, interest rates were far higher, at certain points of time reaching the mid-teens. Save with SPP remembers getting a $1,000 Canada Savings Bond that paid 16 per cent interest – and a car loan, from the bank, that cost 18 per cent interest! So the good old days weren’t always all that good.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan’s Balanced Fund has an asset mix (as of December 2019) that features 29% bonds, 19% U.S. equity, 18% Canadian equity, 18% per cent non-North American equity, as well as exposure to real estate (10%), infrastructure (3%), mortgages (2%) and short-term investments (1%). Members who have holdings in this SPP fund are benefitting from diversification and professional investment management, with a goal of safe, low-risk growth. 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

Jan 22: Best from the blogosphere

January 22, 2018

I don’t know about you, but on these long cold winter nights, all I want to do is curl up on the couch under a blanket and binge on Netflix. But before you do, check out our latest collection of personal finance videos, both old and new. After all, a picture is worth 1,000 words!

If like me, you still haven’t figured out what the fuss is about bitcoin and other digital currency, Bridget Casey from Money After Graduation answers these question in a three -minute crash course: What is cryptocurrency? How does blockchain work? Does cryptocurrency have a place in your long-term investment portfolio? Why are Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and all the other cryptocurrencies is so popular and what are you supposed to do with them?

Three moms (Gillian Irving, Monika Jazyk, and Rachel Oliver) who are also real estate investors bring their expertise to the table as they interview Canada’s leading experts on creating wealth and financial security through real estate investing. On this episode: guest Sean Cooper (beginning at 7:40) , best-selling author of “Burn Your Mortgage” and a personal finance expert famous for paying off his home mortgage after just 3 years discusses the pros and cons of paying off a #mortgage when interest rates are so low and how people with kids can pay off their mortgage faster.

On Let’s Talk Investing, a joint project of Globe Investor and the Investor Education Fund, Rob Carrick interviews Gordon Pape about what investments you should hold in your TFSA. Pape says it really depends on what you want to use the plan for. He says there’s nothing wrong with using it as an emergency fund and investing it in low risk securities. However if you want to use it to maximize retirement savings, Pape suggests going to a brokerage firm and setting up a self-directed TFSA.

Jessica Moorhouse quit her day job over a year ago to concentrate on building her brand and her freelance business. She talks about finding balance in that year and acknowledging her own working style when setting her schedule. She was anxious every Sunday because her podcast and blog had typically been released on Mondays, but she realized there was no reason why she couldn’t shift these posts to Tuesday and reduce her stress.

You have recently been declined for life insurance. What are your options? Lorne Marr, director of business at LSM Insurance says the first thing to find out is why you were turned down. If you were declined for a significant reason like cancer, a heart attack or diabetes, you may want to look at a no medical life insurance policy. These policies fall into two categories: guaranteed issue coverage and simplified coverage.


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.

Jan 25: Best from the blogosphere

January 25, 2016

By Sheryl Smolkin

Even on a vacation cruise in South America for the last several weeks it was difficult to avoid media reports about the plunging stock markets in both the U.S. and Canada and the drop in value of the Canadian dollar.

On the Financial Independence Hub, Ermos Erotocritou, a Regional Director with investors Group Financial Services Inc. reminds readers that it’s reasonable to monitor day-to-day events, but it’s imperative to keep in mind that daily, weekly, monthly, even quarterly market movements are often little more than noise for an investment portfolio that likely has a time horizon of many years. That’s why it’s so important to practice patience and discipline by remaining in the market, as opposed to abandoning it or believing that is the best way to preserve wealth.

Dan from Our Big Fat Wallet shares Lessons from a Financial Downturn from the perspective of an Alberta resident. First of all, he says “cash is king” because the more cash you have, the more flexibility it gives you. He also notes that with stock prices and housing prices falling in some areas, the emergency fund has suddenly taken on more importance. And finally, he acknowledges that investing is emotional but suggests that investors who are able to separate their emotions from investing have the potential to make impressive returns in a downturn.

In the Toronto Star, Gordon Pape also agrees that “cash is king” in times like these. He says it’s fine to be all-in when markets are positive, even if the growth isn’t robust. But in times of great uncertainty and high volatility such as we are currently experiencing, he likes to have some cash in reserve to cushion any stock losses and to deploy as buying opportunities appear.

It’s an economic downturn — not the Apocalypse, Alan Freeman reminds readers of iPolitics. He says, “This isn’t 2008, when we were facing the very real threat of the global financial system collapsing entirely. This is just an old-fashioned economic downturn — even if it will be quite painful for some in the short term.” Freeman comments that because Canadians depend on resources for a big chunk of our economic activity, we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re at the mercy of commodity prices. “Oil and metal prices that soar to unsustainable levels inevitably crash; they’ll recover this time around, as they have in the past, though perhaps not for a few years,” he concludes.

And finally, many people who do not have investments may be less worried about the stock market slide than the plummeting value of the Canadian dollar. In a Canadian Press article published in the National Post, Aleksandra Sagan reports that for every U.S. cent the dollar drops, food like fruits and vegetables that are imported will likely increase one percent or more in cost. While the increased costs have dealt a blow to everyone’s wallet, they have had a more pronounced effect on Canadians living on a tight budget or in remote regions, where fresh fruit and vegetables are more expensive than in more urban areas.

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 with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.


May 4: Best from the blogosphere: Federal Budget Edition

May 4, 2015

By Sheryl Smolkin

FEDERAL BUDGET

Prime Minister Harper’s 2015 pre-election budget included several goodies for both people who are saving for retirement and seniors in the deccumulation phase. As you probably know by now, annual TFSA contributions have been increased from from $5,500 to $10,000/year and seniors will be permitted to withdraw money more slowly from their RRIFs so their savings will last longer.

If you are already a senior, you will be happy to know that Rob Carrick at the Globe and Mail characterized seniors as the runaway winners in the Budget. You got more elbow room to manage withdrawals from your RRIFs and a new tax credit to make your homes more accessible. Older Canadians are also major beneficiaries of the new $10,000 annual contribution limit for tax-free savings accounts and there is some financial help for people who look after gravely ill relatives

One of the sources of controversy after the budget was passed is whether it is safe to go ahead and top up your TFSA for 2016 before the budget is actually passed by Parliament. My take was that this is a majority government and there is no way the budget provisions will not become law. Jonathan Chevreau quoted me in Experts: go ahead and make that extra $4,500 TFSA contribution now: I just did.

And  since then Canada Revenue Agency has clarified the timeline of new TFSA limit. In a statement, they said:

“This proposed measure is subject to parliamentary approval. Consistent with its standard practice, the CRA is administering this measure on the basis of the budget announcement. Financial institutions may immediately allow existing and new account holders to contribute up to the proposed maximum.”

In a Maclean’s article, Stop pretending the TFSA expansion won’t be felt until 2080 Kevin Milligan notes that the most important feature of TFSAs is that room accumulates through time, starting at age 18. The annual limit started at $5,000 in 2009, moved to $5,500 in 2013, and the budget has now moved the limit to $10,000 from 2015 forward.

This means that 10 years from now in 2025, every Canadian who is age 34 or older will have full possible contribution room of $141,000. For a couple, that would be $282,000. The net result he believes is that very few people in the future will have any need to pay much tax on investment income as TFSAs will provide almost total coverage of assets.

Finally, Gordon Pape says in his Toronto Star column: RRIF withdrawal changes – it’s about time. His preference would have been for Ottawa to eliminate the minimum withdrawals entirely. After all, everything in an RRIF will eventually be taxed when the plan holder or the surviving spouse dies. The feds will get their share sooner or later — they always do. But he will take what he can get!

We will discuss the RRIF changes in more detail in a future blog on savewithspp.com.

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 with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

 


How to save for retirement (Part 2)

July 31, 2014

By Sheryl Smolkin

31Jul-RetsavingsPt2jarsSee Part 1 .

Every family has multiple financial priorities. If you have small children and a big mortgage it is often daunting to think about saving for anything more than a family night out at a local fast food restaurant.

But one way to manage your money is to pay yourself first by allocating specific amounts to savings and having these amounts moved into different jars (or accounts) as soon as your paycheque is deposited into your account.

In Part 2 of the series “how to save for retirement” we will focus on several of the tax-assisted or tax–deferred savings plans available to you and some tips for using them effectively.

  1. Government benefits: Every working Canadian must pay into the Canada Pension Plan or the Quebec Pension Plan until age 65. In addition, Old Age Security is payable to Canadians or legal residents living in Canada who lived in the country at least 10 years before age 65 and Canadians or legal residents living outside Canada who lived in the country at least 20 years before age 65. Lower income OAS recipients may also be eligible for the Guaranteed income Supplement (GIS). But changes to government benefit programs mean you can take benefits later or in some cases earlier (with a penalty). When developing a retirement savings plan you should understand how these programs work and the benefits you can expect to receive. You also need to decide when it makes the most financial sense for you to start collecting CPP and OAS.
  2. Saskatchewan Pension Plan: The Saskatchewan Pension Plan is a defined contribution pension plan open to all Canadians with registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) room. You can contribute up to $2,500/year or transfer in up to $10,000/year from another unlocked RRSP. Low fees (one percent/year on average) and consistent returns (average of 8.13% over 28 years since inception) make SPP an excellent investment. The program is very flexible because how much you contribute and when is up to you. Funds are locked in until your selected retirement date, between ages 55 and 71.
  3. Registered Retirement Savings Plan: In 2014 you can contribute 18% of your previous year’s income to a maximum of $24,270 to your RRSP minus specified amounts contributed to other registered savings accounts. Unused contribution room can be carried forward. You can find your RRSP limit on line (A) of the RRSP Deduction Limit Statement, on your latest notice of assessment or notice of reassessment from the Canada Revenue Agency.
  4. RRSP withdrawals: One weakness of an RRSP as a retirement savings vehicle is that you can withdraw money at any time. If you do withdraw RRSP funds you will pay tax on withdrawals at your normal tax rate, the contribution room is lost and you lose the benefit of future tax-free compounding. However, the Home Buyers’ Plan and the Lifelong Learning Plan permit you to withdraw amounts from your RRSP in specific circumstances without triggering a tax bill and require you to repay the money, usually over 15 years. 
  5. Tax deductible: Contributions to SPP, RRSPs and other registered pension plans are tax deductible. If you participate in one or more of these plans and have not already arranged to have less tax taken off at source, you may get a hefty income tax return. There are lots of ways to spend this windfall including taking a vacation or paying down debt. However, in his book The Smart Debt Coach, author Talbot Stevens says reinvesting your tax returns into an RRSP is the best way to get the full benefit of compounding in the plan. 
  6. Deferring tax deduction: There is no minimum age for an RRSP. In order to make contributions to an RRSP account, a minor needs to have earned income the previous year and have filed an income tax return. If a thrifty young person or anyone with a low income makes RRSP contributions, deferring taking the tax deduction until they are in a higher tax bracket means they will get a bigger bank for their savings bucks. The last RRSP contribution a taxpayer can make is in the year they turn 71.
  7. Tax Free Savings Account: A Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) allows you to currently save $5,500 a year. Contributions are not tax deductible, but investment earnings accrue tax free in the account. If you withdraw money, you can re-contribute the amount to the account in the next or subsequent years without any penalty. You can only begin making contributions at age 18 but there is no upper age when you have to stop contributing. How do you decide if a TFSA or an RRSP is best for you? Gordon Pape says TFSAs are better for short-term savings goals and if you don’t want to undermine possible eligibility for government benefits like the GIS. But if your income will be lower in retirement he suggests saving in an RRSP.
  8. Automatic withdrawal: Whether you participate in a company pension plan, SPP, RRSP, TFSA or a combination of all or some of the above, set up automatic withdrawal so a specified percentage of your income is moved into these accounts every payday. David Chilton made “pay yourself first” a popular mantra in The Wealthy Barber, first published in 1989. If savings are skimmed off the top, you will learn to live on less while you get on with the business of day-to- day living. And when you do retire, you will have a significant part of the nest egg you need to live on.
  9. Automatic escalation: To find out how much you need to save for retirement, you need a financial plan. But in a recent column in the Globe and Mail, personal finance expert Preet Banerjee suggests that in the absence of a plan, the rule of thumb should be at least 10% or as much as you can save. In other words, you are not going to have enough if you keep saving a flat dollar amount each year. But if you select a percentage of income and ensure you increase your contributions every time you get a raise, it is more likely that you will reach your retirement savings goal.
  10. Consider insurance: Nobody expects to become disabled or die young, but it happens more often than you think. Regardless of how much you are saving for retirement, an unexpected loss of income can derail all of your short and long term goals. You may have some life insurance, disability insurance and maybe even critical illness insurance at work. Review your coverage with a financial advisor to determine if you need more individual coverage or if you can afford to self-fund the risk. 

In Part 3 of this series we will focus on some basic investment principles that will help you grow your retirement savings. 

Also read:
Retirement savings alphabet soup
SPP or TFSA?


Book Review: RRSPS THE ULTIMATE WEALTH BUILDER

February 13, 2014

By Sheryl Smolkin

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If an alien parachuted into Canada in the first two months of the year and needed to quickly understand the what, when, why and how of registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs), there is no better source of information than Gordon Pape’s new book RRSPs The Ultimate Wealth Builder.

The prolific writer has authored and co-authored over 20 books with down-to-earth investment advice, many of which have become best sellers. And this one is definitely another winner.

RRSPs were created by Louis St. Laurent’s Liberal government and have been around since 1959. Of course as Pape explains, there have been many important tweaks along the way.

  • Contribution levels have jumped from 10% of earned income (maximum of $2,500) to 18% of the previous year’s earned income (maximum of $24,270 in 2014.)*
  • Since 1996, unlimited carry-forwards of unused contribution room have been permitted.
  • Contributions can be made until age 71. The maximum age was reduced to age 69 as part of the government’s austerity program in 1997, but raised back to 71 in the 2007 budget. Now there is growing demand to bump it up further to age 73.
  • Registered retirement income funds (RRIFs) were added to the program in the 1970s, allowing taxpayers to further tax-shelter funds after retirement subject to mandatory minimum withdrawals.

Early chapters of the book set the scene with an extensive RRSP vocabulary (Chapter 2) and the rules relating to contribution levels, deadlines, carry-forwards and spousal plans (Chapter 3).

In Chapter 4 Pape says the most common mistake people make is to walk into their bank and say, “I want to buy an RRSP.” “You invest in an RRSP so the type of RRSP you select will have a huge impact on how your money will grow over the year,” he says.

If you are a regular RRSP contributor, you may think you have little to learn about the subject. But here are a few interesting tidbits I picked up that you may not be aware of:

  • You can contribute in one year and defer your tax deduction to a later year when your earnings are higher and the deduction is worth more.
  • If you don’t have sufficient cash but you have a self-directed RRSP, you can make a contribution “in kind” of another qualified investment at its fair market value. For example you can contribute a $5,000 GIC maturing in three years.
  • If you receive a retiring allowance or severance pay it can be transferred directly to your RRSP without withholding tax even if you do not have contribution room. You can transfer in $2,000 times the number of years or part years you were with the employer up to and including 1995 without withholding tax. You can also make an additional tax-free contribution of $1,500 for each year or part year prior to 1989 in which no money was vested for you in a pension plan or deferred profit sharing plan.

Pape also shares important details about making RRSP withdrawals for buying a home or returning to school and the complex RRSP mortgage and repayment rules.

For example, did you know that if your RRSP funds are used to invest in a mortgage for you or your children, interest payments have to be made at market rates?

In addition, non-arm’s length RRSP mortgages must be administered by an approved lender under the National Housing Act and insured either through Canada Mortgage and Housing or a private company like Genworth MI Canada.

Chapters 12, 13 and 14 thoughtfully address the perennial questions: RRSP or mortgage pay down? RRSP or debt pay down? RRSPs or Tax-free savings accounts.

The one area where I disagree with Pape is on the merits of an employer-sponsored Group RRSP. He says they are often not a great deal because employers can’t contribute to them directly; Group RRSP contributions reduce your total contribution level for the year; and Group RRSPs frequently offer a limited number of investment options.

In my experience working as Canadian Director of Research for a global actuarial consulting firm, smart employers view their Group RRSP as an important attraction and retention tool. They generally incent employee participation by grossing up salary to match or partially match employee contribution levels.

In addition, fees are often lower than individual RRSPs opened with retail financial institutions and there is a large (but not too large) selection of diversified investment funds for employees to choose from. Interactive websites plus in person and online education are also frequent valuable group RRSP add-ons.

What I do not disagree with is that RRSPs can be a powerful machine for creating wealth that you ignore at your peril! RRSPs The Ultimate Wealth Builder can be purchased online from Indigo books for $13. An e-reader version is also available for $13.99 from the Kobo bookstore.

*Contributions to the Saskatchewan Pension Plan of up to $2500/year form part of your RRSP contribution limits. You can also transfer $10,000 from your RRSP to SPP each year until you are 71 without tax consequences. In 2013 the SPP balanced fund earned 15.77%.

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