Tag Archives: Macleans

Jan 21: Best from the blogosphere

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

Level of debt restricting Canadians’ ability to save

Canadians, who have for decades enjoyed the low cost of borrowing, are about to face a big problem – rising interest rates.

According to an article in Maclean’s, the Bank of Canada recently raised its interest rate to 1.75 per cent, but has “mused about bringing interest rates back to normal levels, between 2.5 and 3.5 per cent,” the article notes.

The rates had been held “artificially low” by the Bank of Canada to “keep economic forces at bay” in the wake of the 2008 credit crunch. So during that period of super-low interest rates, Canadians had a debt party, the article notes. “Citizens were busy amassing debt for home renovations, new vehicles and eating out. In 2016, Canadians owed more than $142 billion in lines of credit, up from just over $35 billion in 1999—an increase of more than 400 per cent. Credit card debt and vehicle loans doubled over the same period. The total debt load of all Canadian households sits at over $2 trillion, an amount roughly equal to the country’s entire economic output,” the article notes.

What’s worse, the article notes, is that this is not a case of a few overspenders making things rough for the rest of us. “Approximately 70 per cent of Canadian households have debt, with the average indebtedness at 170 per cent of disposable income—meaning that for every dollar households earn after taxes, Canadians owe $1.70. The situation for some Canadians is even bleaker: approximately one in 10 Canadian households have debt levels of 350 per cent,” warns Maclean’s.

“It’s time for Canadians to recognize that the good times of cheap credit are coming to a close. It’s already begun—Canadian spending on renovations is down seven per cent, its lowest level in five years of explosive growth—but in 2019, Canadians are going to have to change their personal spending habits to reflect the trend toward fiscal conservatism, or risk feeling the inevitable financial burn,” advises Maclean’s.

We used to save more, years ago, when interest rates were much higher and levels of personal debts were lower. However, the twin realities of historically low interest rates – great for borrowing but less great for earning interest – and high debt levels are throttling our ability to save. According to an article in Bloomberg, Canadians’ savings rates are the lowest they have been in more than 10 years.

Canadians, on average, are saving just 1.4 per cent of their household income, Bloomberg notes, citing Statistics Canada figures. That’s the lowest rate we’ve seen since 2005, the article notes.

“It’s concerning that Canadians aren’t building up buffers and prepping for retirement like they used to,” states TD Bank’s Brian DePratto in the article.

As we begin 2019, we should definitely start getting serious about managing our debts – but we shouldn’t completely overlook saving for retirement. Are you putting away 1.4 per cent of your disposable income towards long-term saving? If not, maybe it’s time to start. Even a small start like that can add up over time, and a wonderful destination for those retirement savings dollars is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan.

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

Getting the most out of retirement

 

Retirement is unique in that it is something we can’t really imagine until it happens, yet we still are urged to prepare for it, even while we are young.

To help us all visualize what retirement is like, Save with SPP took a look around to see how people are enjoying their retirement, and why.

Over at the Love Being Retired blog, the operative concept is freedom. The blog’s author talks about “knocking out my to-do list,” compiled over many years, as well as setting one’s own pace and trying new things. “A little excitement and a little variety are in the cards for me,” the blogger notes. Other things retirement will allow are spending more time with friends and family and having time to write.

At the Boomers Next Step blog, retirement is seen as an opportunity. “The traditional concept of retirement seems to have faded and is slowly being replaced by a smorgasbord of dynamic opportunities, all offering different variations of purpose, fulfillment and freedom,” the blog states.

The smorgasbord of retirement, the blog continues, can include searching for a new, post-career job, “creating a laptop lifestyle,” (work that you can do anywhere), and then “travel adventures… (and) pursuing your passions.” A key for the blog is having the income to fund “our travel, our sailing, and our other lifestyle choices.”

A study, called Leisure in Retirement: Beyond the Bucket List, featured in the Huffington Post, found retirement to be “the most liberating and enjoyable time” of life. And, the study notes, it doesn’t always have to be about money.

Time, the study found, is in abundance for the retiree. “Collectively, retirees will enjoy 126 billion — yes, BILLION — hours of leisure time this year alone. And as tens of millions of boomers move from being `time constrained’ to `time affluent’ over the next 20 years, they will collectively amass 2.5 trillion hours of leisure time,” the study notes.

“Suddenly what you want to do trumps what you have to do. It’s exhilarating to have this kind of freedom,” one focus group researcher told the study’s authors.

The last word belongs to Maclean’s, who write that retirees need to factor in new and fun things to do even as they unwind their retirement savings. “Manage spending carefully on the basics like shelter, transportation and groceries to ensure you have ample money left to spend on the non-essential activities like travel, hobbies, entertainment and helping others. It’s these extras that make for an active and rewarding retirement,” the magazine recommends.

Time and freedom will be abundant commodities when you detach yourself from your career. Savings from work will come in handy as you try new things. Think about joining the Saskatchewan Pension Plan so that those savings can be put to good use as retirement income, down the road.

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

April 2: Best from the blogosphere

With the abolition of mandatory retirement in Canada, when you opt to actually leave the world of paid work for good is your own decision. There are financial milestones that may influence you  such as when you think you have saved enough to support yourself in retirement, but when you are ready to let go is also dependent on many more intangible factors.

After all, you not only need to retire from your job or your encore career, but you have must have something to retire to. For example, in the last several years I have joined a choir, been elected to the choir board and started taking classes at the Life Learning Institute at Ryerson in Toronto. Yet I’m still not quite prepared to give up my part-time business as a personal finance writer.

I was reminded of this conundrum reading a personal column by David Sheffield in the Globe and Mail recently. He wrote, “Turning to the wise oracle of our time, Google, I search: When do you know that it is time to retire? Most answers are financially focused: ‘When you have saved 25 times your anticipated annual expenditures.’ One site tackles how to be emotionally ready to quit work: ‘The ideal time to retire is when the unfinished business in your life begins to feel more important than the work you are doing.’”

The changing face of retirement by Julie Cazzin appeared in Macleans. She cites a 2014 survey by Philip Cross at the Fraser Institute. Based on the study, Cross believes Canadians are actually financially—and psychologically—preparing themselves to retire successfully, regardless of their vision of retirement.

“The perception that they are not doing so is encouraged by two common errors by analysts,” notes Cross. “The first is a failure to take proper account of the large amounts of saving being done by government and firms for future pensions …. And the second is an exclusive focus on the traditional ‘three pillars’ of the pension system, which include Old Age Security (OAS), the Canada and Quebec Pension plans (CPP/QPP), and voluntary pensions like RRSPs.”

He notes that the research frequently does not take into account the trillions of dollars of assets people hold outside of formal pension vehicles, most notably in home equity and non-taxable accounts. Also, he says the literature on the economics of retirement does not acknowledge the largely undocumented network of family and friends that lend physical, emotional and financial support to retirees.

Retire Happy’s Jim Yih addresses the question How do you know when it is the right time to retire?  After being in the retirement planning field for over 25 years, Yih believes sometimes readiness has more to do with instinct, feelings and lifestyle than with money. “I’ve seen people with good pensions and people who have saved a lot of money but are not really ready to retire.  Sometimes it’s because they love their jobs,” he says. “Others hate their jobs but don’t have a life to retire to.  Some people are on the fence.  They are ready to retire but worry about being bored or missing their friends from work.”

If you are still struggling with how to finance your retirement, take a look at Morneau Shepell partner Fred Vettese’s article in the March/April issue of Plans & Trusts. Vettese reports that few people are aware it can be financially advantageous to delay the start of CPP benefits. In fact, less than 1% of all workers wait until the age of 70 to start their CPP pension. However, doing so can increase its value by a guaranteed 8.4% a year, or 42% in total. And by deferring CPP, he notes that workers can transfer investment risk and longevity risk to the government.

Tim Stobbs, the long-time author of Canadian Dream Free at 45 attained financial independence and left his corporate position several months ago. In a recent blog he discusses how his focus has shifted from growing his net worth to managing his cash flow. His goal is to leave his capital untouched and live on dividend, interest and small business income from his wife’s home daycare. He explains how he simulates a pay cheque by setting up auto transfers twice a month to the main chequing account from his high interest savings account.

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.

Group vs Individual RESPs: What’s the difference ?

The “holy trinity” of tax-assisted savings plans available to Canadians are TFSAs, RRSPs and RESPs. RESPs (Registered Educational Savings Plans) are primarily designed to help families to save for post-secondary education.

Each year, on every dollar up to $2,500 (to a life time maximum of $50,000) that you contributed to an RESP for a child’s education after high school, a basic amount of the Canada Education Savings Grant of 20% may be provided. Depending on the child’s family income, he/she could also qualify for an additional amount of CESG on the first $500 deposited, which means $100 more if the 2017 net family income was $45,916 or less and up to $50 if the 2017 net family income was between $45,916 and $91,831.

In total, the CESG could add up to $600 on $2,500 saved in a year. However, there is a lifetime CESG limit of $7,200. This includes both the basic and additional CESG. Lower income families may also be eligible for the Canada Learning Bond (CLB) that could amount to an additional $2,000 over the life of the plan.

Contributions to RESPs are not tax deductible, but the money in the account accumulates tax-free. Contributions can be withdrawn without tax consequences and when your child enrolls in a university or college program, educational assistance payments made up of the investment earnings and government grant money in the RESP are taxable in the hands of the student, generally at a very low rate.

When our children were young, we purchased Group RESPs for them and their grandparents also purchased additional units. I was so impressed with the program that I even took a year before transitioning from family law to pension law and sold RESPs.

Each child collected about $8,000 from the plan over four years of university, which helped them to graduate debt free. Fortunately, both my daughter and my son took four straight years of university education so there was no problem collecting the maximum amounts available to them minus administrative fees.

However, I’ve come to realize the potential downside of Group RESPs so we started contributing $200/month to a self-administered plan with CIBC Investor’s Edge for our granddaughter soon after she was born. She is now 5 ½ and as I write this, there is already $22,000 in the account.

Our decision to self-administer Daphne’s RESP was influenced in part by what I learned from other personal finance bloggers about the potential downside of group plans.

Robb Engen notes that group plans tend to have strict contribution and withdrawal schedules, meaning that if your plans change – a big possibility over 18 plus years – you could forfeit your enrollment fee or affect how much money your child can withdraw when he/she needs it for school.

With a Group RESP, contributions, government grants and investment earning for children the same age as yours are pooled and the amount minus fees is divided among the total number of students who are in school that year. Typically the pool is invested in very low risk GICs and bonds.

In contrast, there are no fees in our self-administered plan other than $6.95 when we make a trade. The funds are invested in a balanced portfolio of three low fee ETFs. We can easily monitor online how the portfolio is growing and as Daphne gets closer to university age we can shift to a more cautious approach.

Macleans recently reported that the total annual average cost of post-secondary education in Canada for a student living off-campus at a Canadian university is $19,498.75 and it will be much higher by the time your child or grandchild is ready to go off to college. So learn as much as you can about RESPs, get your child a social insurance number, set up a program and start saving.

However, as Engen suggests before you choose a group or individual RESP provider make sure you read the fine print and ask about:

  • Fees for opening an RESP;
  • Fees for withdrawing money from a RESP;
  • Fees for managing the RESP;
  • Fees for services and commissions;
  • What happens if you can’t make regular payments;
  • What happens if your child doesn’t continue his or her education; and
  • If you have to close the account early, do you have to pay fees and penalties; do you get back the money you contributed; do you lose interest and can you transfer the money to another RESP or different account type.

****

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.