Tag Archives: Home equity lines of credit

Guaranteed income even more valuable in times of market chaos: Alexandra Macqueen

Save with SPP recently had a chance to ask retirement expert Alexandra Macqueen, co-author of Pensionize Your Nest Egg  and a frequent financial blogger, for her thoughts on the state of retirement in Canada.

Q: Can you expand a bit about why annuities may start looking more appealing to retirees and and those who are soon to be retired? Is it because the markets are so volatile and negative due to the pandemic? And the idea that you have a steady lifetime income (with an annuity)?

I have two reasons for thinking annuities might start looking more appealing to today’s and tomorrow’s retirees ­– one practical and one more theoretical.

The first, practical reason is just that when markets decline precipitously – like we’re seeing now with the COVID-19 pandemic – then the value of a secure, guaranteed income that is protected from market risk is more appealing.

My own feeling is that over time, the economic effects from the COVID-19 pandemic will be viewed differently than the last big market event, the global financial crisis.

The 2008-09 financial crisis was much more constrained to a single (albeit big) sector: “finance.” The pandemic, in contrast, stands to upend so much more than the financial world and I think that, over the long term, it could reorient how we think about income and risk in retirement. Of course, it’s easy to make predictions; only time will tell!

The second, more theoretical reason is that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed what you might call the “volatility of longevity” – and somewhat counterintuitively, if longevity is MORE uncertain, people should be willing to pay MORE to hedge that risk.

If your house was at increased risk of burning down, for example, you would pay more for fire insurance – but you would also value that insurance more, because you know you were at increased chance of actually needing it!

So even though the COVID-19 pandemic might actually “decrease” life expectancy “on average,” it also increases the range of possible outcomes (I might live fewer years than before the pandemic, and the uncertainty about how long I may live has increased).

In theory (but maybe not in practice), this means people “should” be more willing to “insure” against the uncertainty, and annuities are the most efficient way to do so.

Q. Do you think people may stay away from equities and look more at bonds, GICs, and that sort of thing for the same reasons – fear of market volatility?

Yes, but with rates near zero – and potentially going even below zero – it’s hard to make bonds and GICs work for retirement income. You get security, but very, very low yields.

For people who are risk-averse (many of us!), the solution isn’t to load up on more equities. What are the alternatives? If you’re looking at products with similar guarantees to GICs, then annuities again should be on your radar screen – and annuity yields, especially at more advanced ages, compare very favourably to GICs.

Q. The ideas in your recent MoneySense article about people working later, and being less likely to retire early, were great. Do you feel work will be harder to find, jobs harder to keep, so it’s less likely that folks will leave at 55 because they may have nothing to go back to in this market? Could you expand a bit on why you think folks won’t retire the way they have been?

Here, what I’m thinking about is that for years I’ve heard people say, “if my retirement doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to work in some capacity.” But what if you’re not able to “go back to work,” because there’s no work to go back to?

It will take a long time for the effects of the pandemic to be felt in all areas of society, including work – but my thinking is that the “easy” fallback of “I’ll find work” will no longer be available. And if that’s the case, people may think longer and harder about leaving the work situations they’ve got. More uncertainty – about work, about income, about home values, about longevity – equals fewer changes and less risk-taking.

Q. We love the idea of more focus on debt, and less assumption on “harvesting” the value of the house. Hopefully this won’t lead to more reverse mortgages, but do you think we are seeing the end of the tendency for boomers to fund their lives with home equity lines of credit (HELOCs)? 

It feels like all eyes are on “what will happen with home values” right now!

There are two ways that “funding our lives with HELOCs” might end: home values might drop, so that the value isn’t there to “harvest,” and lending standards might tighten, so that HELOCs aren’t available even if the value theoretically is.

I’ve been hearing about tightening lending standards for HELOCs in recent weeks – meaning lenders may be “calling” the loan, or “tightening” the lending terms (often this looks like reducing the amount of available credit).

There doesn’t seem to be any consensus about the future direction of home prices. I feel as though for every article I read suggesting values will drop, I read another saying values will hold steady. And keep in mind that in Canada’s large markets, even a reasonably large “drop” in value will just take prices back a few years.

The rise in home values that we’ve seen in the last decade or so – particularly in the GTA and the GVA – have no historical precedent. I don’t think we, as a society, have collectively grappled with how to integrate what economists might call this “shock” into our personal financial plans. The growth in home equity is a positive shock, but a shock nonetheless! In this area, like in so many others, I think we will need to wait and see what trends emerge. It may be that lenders make the decision for homeowners to put an end to using your house “like an ATM.”

Q. Do you have any other thoughts?

My main thought is that it’s really important to recognize the diversity of situations that people entering retirement are in.

It’s very tempting to provide generalized advice based on preconceptions about what retirement is and what “retirees” are like. But retirees and soon-to-be retirees are an incredibly diverse group, with varying views on what they need and want in life, and retirees enter the retirement stage of life with highly varied situations, from their health status to their expectations about how long they’ll live and what they’ll do in retirement.

“Retirement” as we know it is a fairly young concept, and so much has changed since the idea of retirement was first introduced. We’ve collectively never been here before, with so many people transitioning into the retirement phase – which is itself changing under our feet. Thinking about and digging into what “retirement” means is what gets me up in the morning! I’ll never get tired of wondering what life has to offer.

We thank Alexandra Macqueen very much for taking the time to answer Save with SPP’s questions!

If you haven’t thought about including annuities in your retirement plans, a fact to be aware of is that if you are a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, you will be able to choose from a number of life annuity options when it’s time to turn your savings into income. 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. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Sept 18: Best from the blogosphere

In early September the Bank of Canada raised its key interest rate by another .25% up to one percent from .75%. This decision followed the first hike in July and could be just the second in a string of increases, some economists have predicted in light of the announcement.

In this issue of Best from the Blogosphere, we sample several interesting media articles and blogs that will help you understand how rising interest rates will impact your both ability to manage debt and carry a mortgage.

Robert McLister, mortgage columnist at the Globe and Mail offers 10 things to ponder now that the Bank of Canada has put every mortgage lender on alert. He says adjustable-rate borrowers (whose mortgage payments float with prime rate) will see their payments jump about $12 a month for every $100,000 of mortgage balance.

He also notes that variable rates can still make sense for strong borrowers with a financial cushion or those who might need to break their mortgage early (since variable-rate penalties are usually lower).

But to justify the risk of a variable mortgage, McLister suggests that you look for a rate that’s at least two-thirds of a percentage point less than your best five-year fixed option. That buys you insurance against three more rate hikes.

Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox discusses 6 ways an interest rate hike affects your finances. For example, variable-rate mortgages, or adjustable-rate mortgages, will see an increase as financial institutions increase their lending rates. Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) and lines of credit will cost more. Student loan interest rates can be either fixed or variable (floating). As with mortgages, Taylor says those repaying a variable-rate student loan will see their interest rate go up immediately, while those on fixed rates won’t see a jump until it is time for renewal.

In MoneySense, Martin MacMahon and Denise Wong consider What the latest rate hike means for you. Economist Bryan Yu with Central 1 Credit Union told the authors that people carrying a lot of debt on their credit card will probably start to notice higher interest charges. “They’re going to be facing the quarter-point increase on terms of that debt for their servicing… That’s a quarter point on an annual basis. So, it is going to be a bit of a pinch going forward, ” he says. “In these circumstances people should be looking at paring back some of that debt over time.”

The Globe and Mail’s David Berman explores why even though interest rates are rising, your savings account isn’t growing. Many financial institutions have already passed along this week’s central bank quarter-percentage-point hike to borrowers, raising their prime lending rates to 3.2% on Thursday – but you may need a powerful microscope to see any increase in your savings rates. “Why? The simple reason is because lenders can get away with it,” Berman says.

James Laird, co-founder of Ratehub.ca and president of CanWise Financial mortgage brokerage believes at some point, as rates in Canada continue to rise, there will be an adjustment to all deposit and savings products.  “But it just seems to be that [financial institutions] just don’t look at it as closely as they do on their lending side,” he concludes.

The bank’s decision to raise its key lending rate to one per cent on September 6th, from 0.75 per cent, apparently surprised the markets, which sent the loonie soaring. The Canadian dollar, which had been trading around 80.5 cents U.S. in the morning, spiked by more than a cent to around the 82-cent mark immediately after the Bank of Canada’s announcement. It’s the highest level the currency has seen since June 2015.

So If you have invested in U.S. stocks or have American dollars socked away in a bank account for your next vacation south of the border, the spike in the value of the loonie as a result of the interest hike is bad news. But the soaring loonie as a result of the Bank of Canada’s interest rate announcement is great news if you are planning a U.S. vacation that is priced in American dollars. However, a higher loonie could also slow Canada’s economic momentum, as it will make exports more expensive.


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.