guaranteed income supplement

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.

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.


Now is the time to act on boosting retirement security: C.A.R.P.’s VanGorder

January 14, 2021

For those of us who aren’t yet retired, it’s difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of a retiree and imagine what issues they may be facing.

Save with SPP reached out recently to Bill VanGorder, Chief Policy Officer for C.A.R.P., a group that advocates for older adults, to find out what it’s like once you’re no longer working.

For a start, says VanGorder, all older people aren’t set for life with a good pension from their place of work. In fact, he says, “65 to 70 per cent of those reaching retirement age don’t have a (workplace) pension.”

As a result of that, most people are getting by on income from their own retirement savings, along with government benefits like the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS), and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS).

“Politicians don’t understand what it’s like to live on a fixed income,” VanGorder explains, adding that any unexpected expenses hit those on a fixed income really hard. Right now in Nova Scotia C.A.R.P. is trying to stop plans to end a longstanding cap on property taxes – a move that would hit fixed-income folks the hardest.

In removing the cap, the province has suggested it would “look after” low-income seniors, but VanGorder points out that retirees at all levels of income are on fixed income. “It’s not just low-income earners… everyone would be hit by this,” he says.

It’s an example of how older Canadians seem to be overlooked when the government is writing up new public policies, VanGorder says. When the pandemic struck, all that older Canadians were offered was a one-time $300 payment, plus an extra $200 for the lower income group, he notes. Meanwhile younger Canadians were eligible for Canada Emergency Response Benefit payments of $2,000 per month, there were wage subsidies and rent subsidies for business, and more.

Older Canadians “feel they’ve seen every other part of the country get more economic assistance,” he explains. That’s because there’s a misconception that older Canadians “are already getting stuff… and are being looked after.”

“Their cost of living has gone up exponentially,” VanGorder says, noting that many services for seniors – getting volunteer drivers, or home support visits – have been curtailed for health reasons. These changes lead to increased costs for older Canadians, he explains.

C.A.R.P. is looking for ways to keep more money in the pockets of older people. For example, he notes, C.A.R.P. feels that there should be no minimum withdrawal rule for Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs). “It’s unfair to force people to take their money out once they reach a certain age,” he explains. “A lot of people are retiring later (than age 71).” He notes that since taxes are paid on any amount withdrawn anyway, the government would always get its share eventually if there was no minimum withdrawal rule.

Another argument against the minimum withdrawal rule is the increase in longevity, VanGorder says. Ten per cent of kids born today will live to be over 100, he points out. “We’re adding a year more longevity for every decade,” he says.

C.A.R.P. is also pushing the federal government to move forward with election promises on increasing OAS payments for those over age 75, and to increase survivor benefits. While the feds did improve the CPP, the improvements will not impact today’s retirees; instead they’ll help millennials and younger generations following them.

Another area of concern to C.A.R.P. on the pension front is the rights of plan members when the company offering the pension goes under. “C.A.R.P. would like to see the plan members get super-priority creditor status,” he explains. That way, they’d be first in line to get money moved into their pensions when a Nortel or Sears-type situation occurs.

He notes that Canada is the only country with government-run healthcare that doesn’t also offer government-run pharmacare.

VanGorder agrees that there aren’t enough workplace pensions anymore. “Canada doesn’t mandate employers to offer pensions, making (reliance) on CPP and OAS more critical than it is in other countries,” he explains. The solutions would be forcing companies to offer a pension plan, or greatly increasing the benefits offered by OAS and CPP, he says.

“If we don’t start fixing it now, we are going to end up with a horrible problem when the millennials start to retire,” VanGorder predicts. Now is the time to act on expanding retirement security, he says. “They always say the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago,” he says. “But the second-best time is today.”

We thank Bill VanGorder for taking the time to speak to Save with SPP.

Don’t have a pension plan at work? Not sure how to save on your own? The experts at the Saskatchewan Pension Plan can help you get your savings on track. SPP offers a well-run, low-cost defined contribution plan that invests the money you contribute, and provides you with the option of a lifetime pension when work’s in the rear-view mirror. An employer pension plan option is also available. See if they’re right for you!

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 27: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

July 27, 2020

Life without savings “difficult, but not impossible,” experts say

Like many things in life, such as quitting smoking or losing weight, saving for retirement – even though it is good for us – is often difficult to do.

Jobs aren’t as plentiful these days, household debt is at record highs, and there just isn’t always a lot of cash for putting aside long term.

But what kind of retirement will people who can’t or didn’t save face when they’re older?

According to a recent article in MoneySense, life without retirement savings (or a workplace plan) is “difficult, but not impossible.”

Canadians who have worked and paid into the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) can, in 2020, expect a maximum annual pension of “$1,176 per month – that’s $14,112 per year,” the article notes. However, the writers warn, not all of us will have worked long enough (and made enough contributions) to get the maximum.

“The average CPP retirement pension recipient currently receives $697 per month, or $8,359 per year. That’s only about 59 per cent of the maximum,” reports MoneySense

You can start getting CPP as early as 60 or as late as 70, and the longer you wait, the more you get, the article notes.

All Canadian residents – even those who don’t qualify for CPP – can qualify for Old Age Security (OAS). If you don’t remember paying into OAS, don’t worry – you didn’t directly pay for it via contributions. Instead, the OAS is paid from general tax revenues.

“A lifetime or long-time Canadian resident may receive up to $614 per month at age 65 as of the third quarter of 2020, which is $7,362 annualized. OAS is adjusted quarterly based on inflation,” MoneySense reports. 

There’s another government program that’s beneficial for lower-income retirees, MoneySense notes. The Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) “is a tax-free monthly benefit payable to OAS pensioners with low incomes. Single retirees whose incomes are below $18,600 excluding OAS may receive up to $916 per month, or $10,997 per year, as of the third quarter of 2020.”

What’s the bottom line? Someone qualifying for any or all of these programs can receive up to $23,721 per year, with “little to no tax required” per the rules of your province or territory.

The article notes that those saving $10,000 before retirement could add $25 to $33 a month to that total. Those saving $50,000 could see an additional $125 to $167 a month, and those putting away $100,000 will have $250 to $330 more per month.

The takeaway from all of this is quite simple – if you are expecting a generous retirement from CPP, OAS, and GIS, you may be in for a surprise. It’s not going to be a huge amount of income, but it’s a reasonable base.

If you’re eligible for any sort of retirement benefit from work, sign up. You won’t miss the money deducted from your pay after a while and your savings will quietly grow.

If there is no retirement program at work, set up your own using the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Start small, with contributions you can afford. Dial up your contributions every time you get a raise. With this “set it and forget it” approach, you’ll have your own retirement income to bolster that provided by government, which will give you a little more security in life after work.

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.


Time to use realistic yardstick to measure senior poverty: John Anderson

May 7, 2020

It’s often said that Canadian seniors are doing fairly well, and that the rate of senior poverty experienced back in the pre-Canada Pension Plan days has dropped considerably.

However, says Ottawa-based union researcher John Anderson, the yardstick used to measure senior poverty levels needs to be updated to international standards. He took the time recently for a telephone interview with Save with SPP.

Currently, says Anderson, a “Market Basket Measure” (MBM) system is used to measure the cost of living, a “bizarre” system that factors in the cost of housing, clothing, food and other staples by province and region. By this old system, it is reckoned that 3.5 per cent of Canadian seniors live in poverty, although recent tweaks to the measurement process will see this number jump to 5.6 per cent.

The intricate MBM system – unique to Canada — goes into arcane details such as “what clothes you should have, how many pairs of long underwear, what kind of food you should buy, how many grams of butter. And there’s a sort of built-in stigmatization of rural living; it’s assumed that you don’t need as much money to live in a rural area as you do to live in Toronto,” Anderson says. The opposite is often true, he points out.

LIM system a better comparator

Anderson says the rest of the world uses a different measurement, one that’s much simpler, Anderson explains. The low income measure (LIM) scale defines poverty as being “an income level that is less than 50 per cent of the median income in the country,” he says. “This gives you a very clean comparison.”

By that measure, a startling 14 per cent of Canadian seniors are living in poverty, which is more than triple that figure that MBM currently quotes. “When you think about it, it means they are making less than half of what the average Canadian earns,” he explains. “They are not earning a lot.”

Why are today’s seniors not doing so well? Anderson says there has been a decline in workplace pensions over the years. “The numbers are way down,” he says. As recently as 2005, there were 4.6 million Canadians who belonged to defined benefit plans through work. By 2018, that number had dropped to 4.2 million, “at a time when we have seen a significant increase in the population, and more seniors than ever before.”

Defined benefit plans are the kind that guarantee what your monthly payment will be. About two million Canadians belong in defined contribution plans, which are more like an RRSP – money contributed over a working person’s career is invested and grown, and then drawn down as income in retirement.

“Only 25 per cent of workers have defined benefit plans now. And only 37 per cent have any kind of registered pension plan. Most have nothing,” says Anderson. This lack of pensions in the workplace, and the tendency towards part time and “gig” work that offers no benefits, is a primary reason why senior poverty is on the upswing, he contends.

“The kinds of jobs people are in today have changed,” Anderson explains. “People are working more non-standard jobs, gig jobs, contract work. Many are not even contributing to the CPP.” They tend not to be saving much on their own with these types of jobs, so it means that “when they retire, if they work that way, they don’t get much of a pension.”

That will leave many people with nothing in retirement except Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, Anderson says. Neither the OAS or the GIS has “really kept up” with increases in living costs. The most anyone can get from these two programs is about $1,500 a month, for a single person, he says. “These major government pension plans have not yet taken a leap forward,” he says. “The government has improved the Canada Pension Plan, and people will benefit from that (in the future),” he explains, but these other two pillars should get a look too.

Looking forward

Anderson says by moving to a LIM-based measurement of poverty, governments could have a more realistic basis on which to make program improvements.

“We already have a form of universal basic income for seniors through the OAS and the GIS,” he says. “The monthly amounts these pay out need to be raised.”

The goal should be to raise income for seniors to the LIM target of 50 per cent of Canada’s median income which is $30,700 per person based on median after tax income for 2018.

He also thinks that the OAS should be an individual benefit, rather than being designed for couples or singles. “You get less per person with the couples’ benefit; people should get the same amount,” he explains.

He says seniors today face an expensive retirement, with possible time spent in costly long-term care homes. “Can I survive when I retire – this isn’t a question that our seniors should have to worry about,” he explains.

Anderson remains optimistic that the problem will be addressed. The Depression prompted governments of the day to begin offering OAS; experience during and after the Second World War led to the introduction of EI and the baby bonus. CPP benefits started following a serious period of senior poverty in the 1950s. “We have to do better, but maybe there’s a silver lining with the COVID-19 situation, and maybe government will take a closer look at this issue again,” he says.

We thank John Anderson for speaking with Save with SPP. John Anderson is the former Policy Director of the federal NDP and now a union researcher.

If you don’t have access to a workplace pension, consider becoming a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. It’s an open defined contribution plan – once you’re a member, the contributions you make are invested and grown over time, and when you retire, you have the option of turning your savings into a lifetime monthly pension. Check them out today.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Sep 30: Best from the blogosphere

September 30, 2019

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

After the saving comes the tricky part – turning savings into income

Writing in the Regina Leader-Post, noted financial commentator Jason Heath saves that while most people agree saving is a great idea, “how much to set aside and how to set your targets are up for debate.”

He notes that when RRSPs were first rolled out back in 1957, you were allowed to contribute up to 10 per cent of your earnings, to a maximum of $2,500, each tax year.

“The percentage limit was doubled to 20 per cent in 1972. In 1991, it was decreased to the current 18 per cent of annual earned income for the previous year, to a maximum of $26,500 for 2019. Unused RRSP room from previous years accumulates each year as well,” he explains in the article.

So, he asks, can we assume that the “right” level of savings is somewhere between the two RRSP limits of 10 and 20 per cent?

The argument for putting away 10 cents of every dollar you earn was most recently popularized by author David Chilton, Heath writes. But the World Economic Forum suggests we save “10 to 15 per cent” of earnings,” he notes.

Having a savings target – let’s say 15 per cent – is only half the battle, the article continues. When you’ve saved up all that money, how much should you be withdrawing each year as retirement income?

Heath notes that in 1994, financial planner William Bengen proposed the so-called “four per cent rule,” meaning that “four per cent was a sustainable withdrawal from a balanced investment portfolio for a 30-year retirement even if stock markets subsequently had a bad 30-year run,” Heath writes.

But a 2017 Morningstar paper suggests “three to 3.5 per cent may be more appropriate,” assuming high investment fees and today’s relatively low interest rates, both factors that weren’t the same 25 years ago.

“If you assume a 3.5-per-cent withdrawal rate, you can work backwards from retirement. For example, a 65-year-old who needs $35,000 per year of withdrawals indexed to inflation would need to save $1 million. And a 45-year-old starting from scratch to save towards that same $1-million target in 20 years would need to save about $25,000 per year indexed to inflation (assuming a return of four per cent and two-per-cent inflation),” Heath writes.

As Heath notes, the math here is somewhat head-spinning, but the concept for setting a savings target is actually fairly simple – how much income per year do you want to have? From there, do the math backwards and figure out how much to put away.

He goes to explain that there are other programs that can help. You have the newer option of saving for retirement in a tax-free savings account (TFSA), and most of us will receive money from the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, and even the Guaranteed Income Supplement to top up the income we’ve created from savings.

When people roll out this sort of stuff, it’s somewhat akin to finding out that your “ideal” weight is 100 lbs less than what you are walking around with right now. A lot of times, knowing that you will need to put a lot of effort into fitness and diet is so daunting that you take yourself out for a cheeseburger and fries to dull the mental pain. But like anything else, a long-term journey can be achieved by making many small steps. It’s the same with retirement savings. Start small, gradually increase what you save, and in a few decades you’ll be happily surprised at your balance. But start – don’t suffer analysis paralysis.

And a great place to start the retirement savings journey is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. They have everything you need to set up your own plan, make regular contributions, and watch as they are professionally invested and grown. At gold-watch time, you can get them to start making regular, monthly payments – for life – to the account of your choosing! So if you’re on the sidelines and not quite ready to put your toe in the water of retirement savings, check out SPP – the water’s fine!

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

May 6: Best from the blogosphere

May 6, 2019

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

Tax-free pension plans may offer a new pathway to retirement security: NIA

With workplace pensions becoming more and more rare, and Canadians generally not finding ways to save on their own for retirement, it may be time for fresh thinking.

Why not, asks Dr. Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald of the National Institute on Ageing, introduce a new savings vehicle – a tax-free pension plan?

Interviewed by Yahoo! Finance Canada, Dr. MacDonald says the workplace pension plan model can work well. “Workplace pension plans are a key element to retirement income security due to features like automatic savings, employer contributions, substantial fee reductions via economies of scale, potentially higher risk-adjusted investment returns, and possible pooling of longevity and other risks,” she states in the article.

Dr. MacDonald and her NIA colleagues are calling for something that builds on those principles but in a different, tax-free way, the article explains. The new Tax-Free Pension Plan would, like an RRSP or RPP, allow pension contributions to grow tax-free, the article says. But because it would be structured like a TFSA, no taxes would need to be deducted when the savings are pulled out as retirement income, the article reports.

“TFSAs have been very popular for personal savings, and the same option could be provided to workplace pension plans. It would open the pension plan world to many more Canadians, particularly those at risk of becoming Canada’s more financially vulnerable seniors in the future,” she explains.

And because the money within the Tax-Free Pension Plan is not taxable on withdrawal, it would not negatively impact the individual’s eligibility for benefits like OAS and GIS, the article states.

It’s an interesting concept, and Save with SPP will watch to see if it gets adopted anywhere. Save with SPP earlier did an interview with Dr. MacDonald on income security for seniors and her work with NIA continues to seek ways to ensure the golden years are indeed the best of our lives.

Cutting bad habits can build retirement security

Writing in the Greater Fool blog Doug Rowat provides an insightful breakdown of some “regular” expenses most of us could trim to free up money for retirement savings.

Citing data from Turner Investments and Statistics Canada, Rowat notes that Canadians spend a whopping $2,593 on restaurants and $3,430 on clothing every year, on average. Canadians also spend, on average, $1,497 each year on cigarettes and alcohol.

“Could you eat out less often,” asks Rowat. “Go less to expensive restaurants? Substitute lunches instead of dinners? Skip desserts and alcohol?” Saving even $500 a year on each of these categories can really add up, he notes.

“If you implemented all of these cost reductions at once across all of these categories, you’d have more than $186,000 in additional retirement savings. That’s meaningful and could result in a more fulfilling or much earlier retirement,” suggests Rowat. He’s right – shedding a bad habit or two can really fatten the wallet.

If you don’t have a retirement plan at work, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan is ready and waiting to help you start your own. The plan offers professional investing at a low cost, a great track record of returns, and best of all, a way to convert your savings to retirement income at the finish line. You can set up automatic contributions easily, a “set it and forget it” approach – and by cutting out a few bad habits, you can free up some cash today for retirement income tomorrow. It’s win-win.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

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

April 11, 2019

It’s abundantly clear to most of us that Canadians aren’t able to save much money for the long-term, given the high costs of housing, historic levels of household debt, the lack of workplace retirement savings programs, and many other factors. A new research paper, The Canada Saver’s Credit, suggests a solution. 

Supported through the coalition behind the Common Good Retirement Initiative and published jointly by Common Wealth and Maytree, the paper’s authors Jonathan Weisstub, Alex Mazer and André Côté ask: Why not have the government match dollars contributed to a TFSA by qualifying moderate and low-income earners?  Save with SPP talked about the research with one of the study’s authors, André Côté.

The Canada Saver’s Credit (CSC) concept is fairly simple, he explains. Those whose income qualified them for the program would receive a dollar-for-dollar match by the federal government for every dollar they contributed to a TFSA, with the maximum match of $1,000.

“We wanted it to be as simple as possible for the consumer,” Côté explains. “Processing would be done by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The definition is that if you are eligible for things like the GIS or the GST/HST credit, you similarly would be eligible for this; CRA would determine eligibility when you file your taxes.”

The government would provide the match (up to $1,000) based on the TFSA contributions the tax filer made in that tax year, and the money would appear in your account. Côté agrees that it would be similar to how the government matches, in part, contributions made to a Registered Education Savings Plan.

In drafting the report, Côté says recent research by Richard Shillington found that the average Canadian in the 55 to 64 age range had just $3,000 in retirement savings.

“It’s a stunningly low level of preparedness,” he says. As for causes, he says it is “particularly hard to save for modest to lower incomes, there are certainly… changes in pension coverage, people tend not to have retirement plans (at work), and the private retirement savings model isn’t well oriented toward moderate and lower income people.”

In designing CSC, Côté and his co-authors considered whether or not to make the program locked-in, meaning funds can only be accessed for retirement. But in the end, the “open” nature of the TFSA was preferred, he explains.

“The question is if you encourage longer-term savings … is locked-in any better? There is a paternalistic aspect to the policy that puts constraints around peoples’ money; a non-locked in TFSA offers liquidity and flexibility,” explains Côté. The CSC, he says, will offer a way to save for the long term that also can be accessed if there’s a hole in the roof or other financial crisis along the way.

These days, he notes, there is “asset poverty” among Canadians, meaning basically that many people owe more than they own, and thus lack long-term savings for emergencies. Research shows that many Canadians are “unbanked,” a term that refers to their total lack of savings. CSC can address both problems, he explains.

The authors based their proposal in part on the US Saver’s Credit, introduced in the early 2000s. The program offered a compelling model, but “never reached maximum effectiveness,” he says, because the core savings components the US policy-makers wanted were “removed or watered down.”

The paper was also heavily informed by the work of a number of leading Canadian experts in retirement savings and income security, including John Stapleton and Richard Shillington who first advocated for a TFSA matching model a decade ago.

While the authors of course take full responsibility for their work, Côté notes that the Canada Saver’s Credit proposal benefitted immensely from the amazing group of expert reviewers from Canada and the United States.

We thank Andre Côté for taking the time to talk with SPP.

Retirement saving can be difficult and daunting. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan is a useful tool for your own savings efforts, you can start small and ramp up your efforts over time. At the end, SPP offers an easy way to automatically turn your savings into a lifetime income stream.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Is senior poverty linked to a lack of retirement saving or workplace plans?

March 14, 2019

An interview with Chris Roberts of the Canadian Labour Congress 

These days, it’s pretty common knowledge that many of us don’t save enough for retirement, and/or don’t have a savings plan at work. Save with SPP reached out to Chris Roberts, Director of Social and Economic Policy for the Canadian Labour Congress, to see how this lack of retirement preparedness may connect to seniors having debt and poverty problems.

Is the shortage of workplace pension plans (and the move away from defined benefit plans) in part responsible for higher levels of senior poverty/senior debt?

“Certainly old-age poverty rates and indebtedness among seniors have risen over the past two decades, while pension coverage has fallen (and DB coverage in the private sector has collapsed). Seniors’ labour-market participation has also doubled over those time period.

“It’s clear (from research by the Broadbent Institute) that falling pension coverage and inadequate retirement savings more broadly will deepen the financial insecurity and even poverty of many seniors. But while there’s been considerable research linking stagnant wages and rising household indebtedness, studies linking falling pension coverage with rising poverty and indebtedness among seniors are relatively scarce.

“Both rising poverty rates and growing indebtedness among seniors have several causes. Canada’s public pensions, especially Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), provide a minimum level of income in retirement for individuals without private pensions or other sources of income. Part of the rise in the low-income measure of old-age poverty has been due to the fact that OAS is indexed to the consumer price index rather than the average industrial wage, causing seniors’ incomes to lag behind median incomes. Unattached seniors, especially women, are at particularly high risk of poverty, but so are recent newcomers to Canada who are eligible for only a partial OAS benefit.

“With respect to rising indebtedness, a declining number (according to Stats Can data) of senior-led households are debt-free. More Canadians are taking debt (especially mortgage debt) into retirement, and they’re shouldering more debt in retirement as well. At the same time, the total assets of senior-led families have also risen, and their net worth has grown even as debt levels rose. Indebtedness and net worth seems to have grown fastest (again according to Stats Can data) among the top 20 per cent of families ranked by income.

“So I think we have to be somewhat careful to avoid seeing rising senior household debt levels as driven solely or even primarily by financial hardship caused by declining pension coverage. There is certainly ample evidence (according to research by Hoyes Michalos) of a significant and growing segment of seniors that are struggling with debt and financial pressure. But rising debt levels among higher-income senior households likely have other causes besides financial hardship.”

Is a related problem the lack of personal retirement savings by those without pension plans?

“Richard Shillington’s study for the Broadbent Institute demonstrated that a retirement savings shortfall for those without significant private pension income will be a major problem for many current and future retirees. This shortfall has also been documented in the United States (see a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College). While retirement contributions as a share of earnings have been rising (even as the household saving rate fell), these additional contributions have gone toward workplace pension plans; contributions to individual saving plans have declined, suggesting that those without a pension have not been able to save independently to compensate for not having an actual pension (see this article from Union Research for an explanation).”

Is debt itself a key problem (i.e., idea of people taking debt into retirement and having to pay it off with reduced income)?

“I think rising debt levels in retirement do pose risks, even if the challenges vary significantly with income. For low- and modest-income seniors, some forms of debt (e.g. consumer credit, payday lending) can be onerous and even unconscionable. For home-owners, even if mortgage debt is accompanied by rising home values and rising net worth, servicing debts while managing health-related and other costs on fixed incomes can be challenging for seniors. Debts acquired at earlier stages of the life-cycle will likely become a mounting problem in Canada, as, for instance, the student debt of family members (see article from Politico) and seniors themselves (see coverage from CNBC) is becoming an urgent problem in the United States.”

Apart from things like CPP expansion, which seems a good thing for younger people, can anything be done today to help retirees to have better outcomes?

“Increasing GIS but especially improving OAS will be important to improving financial security for seniors. For the reason discussed above, OAS will have to be expanded or indexed differently in order to stabilize relative old-age poverty. But in my view, there are also good reasons to expand it. Current as well as future seniors would benefit. OAS is a virtually-universal seniors’ benefit (about seven per cent of seniors have high enough incomes that their OAS benefit is clawed back by the recovery tax), and it’s particularly important to low- and modest earners, women, Indigenous Canadians, and workers with disabilities. It isn’t geared to employment history or earnings, so it’s purpose-built for a labour-market increasingly characterized by precarity, and atypical employment relationships (e.g. “self-employment,” independent contractors, etc). Modest income-earners with pensions would benefit from a higher OAS; these workers earn only a small workplace pension benefit, and unlike increases to CPP, their employers would be unlikely to try to offset the costs of a higher (tax-funded) OAS benefit. While growing along with the retirement of the baby-boom cohort, the cost of OAS (as a share of GDP) is projected to peak around 2033 before declining. And at a time when workplace pension plans, individual savings plans, and even the CPP increasingly depend on uncertain and sometimes volatile investment returns, the OAS is funded through our mostly progressive income tax system.”

We thank Chris Roberts for taking the time to talk to Save with SPP.

Given the scarcity of workplace pensions, more and more Canadians must be self-reliant and must save on their own for retirement. An option worth consideration is opening a Saskatchewan Pension Plan account; your money is invested professionally at a very low-cost by a not-for-profit, government-sponsored pension plan, and at retirement, you have the option of converting your savings to a lifetime income stream. Check it out today at saskpension.com.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Jan 14: Best from the blogosphere

January 14, 2019

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

Blogger sees CPP expansion as helping hand for retirement saving

While many politicians and financial think-tanks like to refer to Canada Pension Plan (CPP) contributions as a tax – one they say is being increased through expansion of the program – at least one blogger sees it as a positive step towards retirement saving.

The Michael James on Money blog recently took a look at the issue of CPP expansion.

In his post, James notes that many observers say CPP expansion is “unnecessary,” and cite average saving figures as proof that a bigger CPP is not needed.

“But averages are irrelevant in this discussion,” writes James. “Consider two sisters heading into retirement. One sister has twice as much money as she needs and the other has nothing. On average, they’re fine, but individually, one sister has a big problem. CPP expansion is aimed at those who can’t or won’t save on their own.”

And while there are many programs – CPP, Old Age Security, and the Guaranteed Income Supplement – designed to ensure “we don’t… see seniors begging for food in our streets,” the CPP is something that working Canadians and their employers pay into, rather than a taxpayer-funded program, he explains.

He makes the point that CPP should not be an optional savings program, like an RRSP. “If CPP were optional, too many of those who need it most would opt out. The only way CPP can serve its purpose well is if it’s mandatory for everyone,” he writes.

These are excellent arguments. The days when everyone had a pension plan at work, and the CPP was a sort of supplement to it, are long gone. According to Statistics Canada, the number of men with registered pension plan coverage dropped from 52 per cent to 37 per cent between 1997 and 2011. For women, coverage increased to from 36 per cent to 40 per cent during the same period. That means more than 60 per cent of us don’t have a pension at work.

CPP expansion helps fill that coverage void. If workplace pension plans were on the increase, certainly CPP expansion wouldn’t be necessary – the statistics show that’s simply not the case.

If you don’t have a pension plan at work, you can self-fund your retirement through membership in the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Any Canadian can join and contribute up to $6,200 annually to an SPP account. When you retire, SPP takes the headaches out of the process for you and converts your savings into a lifetime income stream. You can start small and build your contributions as your career moves forward.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer, hopeful darts player and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Sheltie, Duncan, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Feb 12: Best from the blogosphere

February 12, 2018

One of the perennial questions that comes up in the first two months of every year is whether individuals should first contribute to a tax-free savings account (TFSA) or a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP), particularly if they cannot afford to max out contributions to both types of plans. And since 2009 when TFSAs first became available, every top personal finance writer has offered their opinion on the subject.

Chris Nicola on WealthBar created  WealthBar’s ultimate TFSA vs RRSP calculator. He says saving for your retirement income using your RRSP will beat saving in a TFSA for most people as long as your marginal tax rate when you are saving is higher than your average tax rate when you withdraw the funds, since the RRSP lets you defer paying tax until retirement.

The Holy Potato TFSA vs RRSP Decision Guide allows you to work through the steps to see which savings plan is best for you. This infographic illustrates that RRSPs can only beat TFSAs if you are making RRSP contributions pre-tax (i.e. contributing your refund so more goes in the RRSP). If you fritter away your refund, go straight to the TFSA.

Maple Money’s Tom Drake also presents an RRSP vs. TFSA Comparison Chart. Drake cites the recently released C.D. Howe Institute study entitled Saver’s Choice: Comparing the Marginal Effective Tax Burdens on RRSPs and TFSAs. The report notes:

“Especially for lower income Canadians, the Marginal Effective Tax Rate (METR) in retirement may actually exceed the METR during an individual’s working years because of the effects of clawbacks on income-tested programs like the Old Age Supplement (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). At various income levels, these benefits are reduced. If most of your retirement income is from fully taxable sources like CPP, RRSPs, company pensions, and OAS, your METR will be higher than if you mix in some tax-prepaid investments like TFSAs.”

The Wealthy Barber David Chilton sees the fact that you can take money out of a TFSA in one year and replace it in a future year as both a positive and a negative. Thus Chilton says:

“I’m worried that many Canadians who are using TFSAs as retirement-savings vehicles are going to have trouble avoiding the temptation to raid their plans. Many will rationalize, “I’ll just dip in now to help pay for our trip, but I’ll replace it next year.” Will they? It’s tough enough to save the new contributions each year. Also setting aside the replacement money? Colour me skeptical. After decades of studying financial plans, I am always distrustful of people’s fiscal discipline. And even if I’m proven wrong and the money is recontributed, what about the sacrificed growth while the money was out of the TFSA? Gone forever.”

Young and Thrifty’ Kyle Prevost’s TFSA vs RRSP: Head to Head Comparison (updated to 2018) has lots of colourful pictures. He believes the RRSP and the TFSA are like siblings. Not twins mind you – but siblings with different personalities. In some ways he says they are almost mirror opposites and the inverse of each other.  Both options share the trait that let you shelter your investments from taxation – allowing your money to grow tax free using a wide variety of investment options.  Each have their time and place, and are fantastic tools in their own way, but depending on your age and stage of life, one probably deserves more of your attention than the other.

His take when it comes to the TFSA vs RRSP debate is: “Yes… DO IT.”  Prevost believes the real danger here is paralysis by analysis.  Picking the “wrong” one (the better term might be “slightly less efficient one”) is still much better than not saving at all!

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.