Tag Archives: Manulife

About one-third of Canadians lack an emergency fund – here are some tips to get you started

According to a recent article in MoneySense nearly two-thirds of Canadians have built an emergency fund. That’s great, but means that one-third of us have not.

For those of us is in that bottom third, an emergency fund is designed to cover “unexpected expenses, such as urgent major repairs (not renovations) to your home or car, unexpected medical expenses not covered by universal healthcare or insurance, or lack of income due to job loss,” MoneySense explains.

As many of us are finding out during this bizarre year 2020, without an emergency fund, these unexpected expenses are being covered “with a credit card… payday loans, or heavily using your unsecured line of credit,” the article continues. All of these are high-interest options, and the interest piles up if you can’t pay the money back in full.

Some folks also raid their retirement savings to pay the bills, a strategy that can backfire at tax time or in the distant future when you’re trying to leave the workforce – more about that later.

MoneySense recommends we all set aside enough money to cover “three to six months’ worth of fixed expenses.” OK, so we know the what and the why – let’s turn to the how.

An emergency fund, the article suggests, should not be set up like a retirement savings account. “Saving for an emergency isn’t about long-term goals, increasing your wealth, or planning for retirement, it’s about having immediate access to cash,” the site advises.

MoneySense recommends that you first create a budget to see how much you can set aside each month. That amount should be invested in either a TFSA or a high-interest savings account, the article notes. “Disconnect the account from your debit card so you won’t spend it,” the article advises. Automate payments so you don’t “forget” to make them, MoneySense says. “Pay yourself first.”

At Manulife’s website, the advice is similar. An additional idea on how to build the emergency fund is to cut back on costs – “think about how much you spend on coffee, lunches out, and other impulse purchases. Give up one or two things and week and stash that money into your savings,” the site suggests.

They also reiterate the idea of making savings automatic – treat your emergency fund “like a bill… the sooner it’s saved, the less time you will have to spend it.” Manulife also warns against the dangers of analysis paralysis – start small, say $10 a week or so, and ratchet things up as you go along.

Sun Life covers much of the same ground, but warns against using debt as an emergency fund or tapping into retirement savings.

“All withdrawals from RRSPs (except for education and home purchases, under the Lifelong Learning Plan and the Home Buyers’ Plan, respectively) are subject to income tax and will result in the permanent loss of contribution room – that is, once you’ve taken it out, you can’t put it back in. Any withdrawals from your RRSP are immediately subject to withholding tax,” Sun Life explains.

“If you withdraw up to $5,000, the withholding tax rate is 10 per cent. If you withdraw between $5,001 and $15,000, the withholding tax rate is 20 per cent, and more than $15,000, the rate is 30 per cent. These tax rates apply in all provinces except Quebec, where provincial tax rates apply on top of the federal withholding tax,” the Sun Life article warns.

So to recap – create a savings account that isn’t hooked up to any of your cards, and automatically transfer money into it regularly. Keep the money in some sort of high-interest savings account so that it remains liquid, and ready to spend when an emergency arrives. You don’t want to risk losses here.

Think of it as an obligation, like a bill, that you have to pay each month. Then set it and forget it, until the next emergency comes along.

And if you’re busily automating your emergency fund savings, think about doing the same thing for your Saskatchewan Pension Plan retirement account. Have a pre-set amount earmarked for retirement automatically withdrawn from your bank account every payday. That way, just as is the case for a well-designed emergency fund, you’re paying your future self first.

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 13: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

Pandemic a bigger challenge to retirement saving than Great Recession: report

Unless all your retirement savings are invested in low-risk securities like GICs or government bonds, you’ve probably spent a lot of time watching the pendulum swings in the market since March.

A new report from Fidelity Investments Canada says it’s clear that today’s pandemic-influenced markets are worse for savers than the shaky markets of the “2008-2009 Great Financial Crisis.”

“Data shows Canadians near and in retirement are more negatively impacted by COVID-19 than the Great Financial Crisis,” states Peter Bowen, Vice-President, Tax and Retirement Research in a media release from Fidelity. “However, we are in this together and there is help. By seeking financial advice and writing down an action plan, Canadians can feel better and navigate the uncertainty,” he states in the release.

The data was gathered for Fidelity Canada’s annual Retirement 20/20 survey, which gathered data from Canadians “already in and approaching retirement.”

Here are some of the key findings mentioned in the media release:

  • 40 per cent of retirees reported “a negative outlook on their life in retirement,” the worst score in this category since 2014.
  • 40 per cent said their earnings had decreased owing to the pandemic, and 50 per cent said that fact, in turn, means they are “reducing the amount of money they are able to save.”
  • Those (80 per cent of pre-retirees and 92 per cent of retirees) with a written financial plan felt “positive about their (future) life in retirement.”
  • Eighty-five per cent of those with a plan said they worked with an advisor.

What’s different about this market rollback from the 2008-09 crisis?

According to Nicolas Samaan of Manulife, interviewed by Wealth Professional, this crisis has a different element to it.

“You’ve seen on LinkedIn people posting about losing their job and people helping each other,” Samaan tells Wealth Professional. “You see that human interaction, not just financially but in general, people making sure others are okay.

“It’s more about wellness – that is so much more important. I’ve always said to people, if you don’t have the health to do your (personal projects), it’s not going to work. In that sense, this crash was very different than what we’ve seen in the past,” he states in the article.

Samaan is right. The last crisis was scary but on a strictly economic basis – will banks fail, will the economy tank? This one has the overlay of a worldwide health crisis – will we find a way to cope with, or become immune from, this virus, and will the economy be able to hold on until that happens?

Picking stocks when markets are uncertain is not something for the faint of heart. Having professionals handle the investing is especially valuable at times like these. It’s nice to realize that the Saskatchewan Pension Plan has averaged an eight per cent rate of return since its inception in the 1980s, a period of time that included the Tech Wreck in 2000-2001 and the Great Financial Crisis a decade or so ago. The pros can make adjustments when markets take an unexpected turn, and can look at alternative ways to grow your money. Check out the SPP today.

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

Why are we so comfortable to live in debt?

A recent headline shouted out the fact that an eye-popping 40 per cent of Canadians “think they’ll be in debt forever.”

The article by Anne Gaviola, posted on the Vice website, cites data from Manulife. The article goes on to note that the average Canuck has $71,979 in debt – up from $57,000 five years ago. These figures, the article says, come via Equifax.

It wasn’t always like this, was it? Why are all willing to live with debt levels that are approaching record highs?

Save with SPP had a look around for answers – why are we so comfy carrying heavy debt loads?

According to the Advisor, it may simply be that paying the way with debt has become so common that no one gets worked up about it anymore.

“Living with debt has become a way of life for both Generation X… and baby boomers as the stigma of owing money is gradually disappearing,” the publication reports, citing Allianz Life research originally published by Generations Apart.

The research found that “nearly half (48 per cent) of both generations agree that credit cards now function as a survival tool and 43 per cent agree that ‘lots of smart, hardworking people who are careful with spending also have a lot of credit card debt,’” the article reports. Having debt is making people plan to work indefinitely – the article notes that 27 per cent of Gen Xers, and 11 per cent of boomers “say they are either unsure about when they plan to retire or don’t plan to retire at all.”

Why the comfort with debt? The Gen Xers got credit cards earlier than their boomer parents, and half of Gen Xers (and nearly a third of boomers) never plan to pay anything more than the minimum payments on them, the article notes.

“Over the last three decades, there has been a collective shift in how people view debt – it’s now perceived as a normal part of one’s financial experience and that has fundamentally altered the way people spend and save,” states Allianz executive Katie Libbe in the article. “If Gen Xers continue to delay saving for retirement until they are completely out of debt, their nest egg is clearly going to suffer. For Gen Xers who are behind on saving, better debt management, with a focus on credit card spending, should be the first issue they address to get back on track,” she states.

To recap, it almost sounds like there’s a couple of generations out there who have never worried about debt.

What should people do to get out of debt?

According to the folks at Manulife, there’s a five-step process that will get you debt-free.

Manulife cites the fact that Canadians owe about $1.65 for every dollar they make. That suggests they aren’t ready to “make a budget and stick with it,” and always spending more than they earn, the article says.

In addition to getting real about budgeting, the other tips are paying off credit cards by targeting those with the highest interest rate first, considering debt consolidation, earning extra money, and negotiating with creditors.

Tips that Save with SPP can personally vouch for in managing debt include giving your credit cards to a loved one, and instructing that person not to hand them over even if you beg; paying more than the minimum on your credit cards and lines of credit; and trying to live on less than 100 per cent of what you earn, so that you are paying the rest to yourself.

While a country can perpetually run deficits and spend more than it earns – and most do – the math doesn’t work out as well for individuals. The piper eventually has to be paid. And if you only pay the minimums, that piper will get paid for many, many years.

Getting debt under control and paid off will help you in many ways, including saving for retirement. Perhaps as you gradually save on interest payments, you can direct the savings to a Saskatchewan Pension Plan retirement account, and watch your savings grow.

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

Oct 29: Best from the blogosphere

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

How to start the good habit of saving
We all know about bad habits – they are easy to start, hard to give up, and generally provide a lot of pleasure, guilty or otherwise.

But good habits – more kale, perhaps, or jumping on the elliptical, or getting out of debt – all seem harder to start. Why?

Interviewed in the Globe and Mail, Manulife’s Bob Tillman warns that with disappearing workplace pensions, the habit of retirement saving needs to start early, when couples are young.

“If people start sooner there’s more ability to make a difference,” he states in the article. “No matter how much money you make, it becomes much harder as you get older, if you haven’t been saving, to save anywhere close to what you’ll need to come close to your pre-retirement income.”

His key tip is to make the savings automatically, every pay day, before you have a chance to spend it on anything else. The earlier you start, the better, he adds.

Start small, suggests The Balance. “Focus on the fact that you’re saving something. It doesn’t have to be a big amount. $5 is better than $0, right? Not many people start their financial journey with thousands of dollars in the bank,” an article on the site states. You can ramp things up later, the article adds.

The UK-based Money Advice Service blog suggests what this writer thinks of as the Uncle Joe rule, namely, that you should always live on something less than your full paycheque. Uncle Joe used to tell us to “pay ourselves first” by putting 10 per cent of every cheque away. The blog suggests five per cent.

“Think about saving once you’ve paid your main bills,” the blog advises. “If you find that you can do this, then try to save at least five per cent of your income – the more you’re able to save, the better.”

To recap – start early, make it automatic, begin with a small amount and ramp it up, and try to live on less than 100 per cent of your pay.

And the Saskatchewan Pension Plan is a great place to put away those savings. They can do automatic withdrawals from your account so that you are paying yourself – savings-wise – first.

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

 

Changing coverage for medical marijuana

Health Canada statistics reveal the number of Canadians with prescriptions for medical marijuana more than tripled between the fall of 2015 and 2016 from 30,537 people to nearly 100,000 individuals. And with legalized marijuana for recreational use slated to come into effect July 1, 2018, it is expected that use of the drug will soar.

In response to the proliferation of legal marijuana use, life and health insurance companies have had to rethink several aspects of their pricing and coverage including whether or not:

  • Individual life insurance applicants using marijuana must pay smokers’ rates
  • Benefit plans will reimburse clients for the cost of medical marijuana.

Smoker/Non-smoker rates
Until the last several years, marijuana users applying for individual life insurance had to pay smokers’ rates. For example, a man in his 30s could expect to pay about two to three times as much for a policy than a non-smoker. A smoker in his 40s could expect to pay three to four times as much.

Insurance companies charged this massive price increase because smokers have a much higher risk of death than non-smokers. In addition, smokers often have other health problems like poor diets or an inactive lifestyles.

Within the last two years, the following insurers in Canada announced their plans to begin underwriting medical and recreational marijuana users as non-smokers, including:

  • Sun Life
  • BMO Life Insurance
  • Canada Life
  • London Life
  • Great-West Life

Sun Life is taking the most comprehensive approach, saying it will treat anyone who consumes marijuana but doesn’t smoke tobacco as a non-smoker. BMO Life Insurance is more restrained, limiting non-smoker status to people using only two marijuana cigarettes per week. Canada Life, London Life, and Great-West Life issued a joint statement which said that “clients who use marijuana will no longer be considered smokers, unless they use tobacco, e-cigarettes or nicotine products.”

This change won’t affect group benefits as coverage is not individually underwritten. An article on Advisor.ca includes a chart comparing where a series of major Canadian life insurers stand on pot use.

Drug plan coverage
So, what about coverage for medical marijuana under your benefits plan?

If your coverage includes a health care spending account (HCSA), you are in luck. Medical marijuana is an eligible expense under HCSAs because the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) allows it to be claimed as a medical expense on income tax returns. Note that only marijuana is eligible under CRA medical exempt items, not vaporizers or other items used to consume it.

However, even though physicians are prescribing cannabis and people are using it for medical reasons, it is not currently covered under almost all traditional drug benefits. That’s because Health Canada hasn’t reviewed it for safety and effectiveness or approved it for therapeutic use the way it reviews and approves all other prescription drug products.

This means marijuana hasn’t been assigned a drug identification number (DIN), which the insurance industry usually requires before a drug can be covered. Until there is research that can be reviewed by Health Canada, marijuana will remain an unapproved drug and unlikely to be covered by your plan.

However several recent events suggest that it may be only a matter of time until group and individual drug plans offer at least limited coverage for medicinal marijuana.

Jonathan Zaid, a student at the Umiversity of Waterloo is the executive director of the group Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana. He has a rare neurological condition that causes constant headaches, along with sleep and concentration problems. Zaid said he was sick for five years before even considering medical cannabis. He tried 48 prescription medications, along with multiple therapies, all of which were covered by his insurer without question – except for medical cannabis.

After eight months of discussions, the student union (who administers the student health plan) came to the conclusion that they should cover it because it supports his academics and should be treated like a medication.

Similarly, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Board ruled in early 2017 that Gordon Skinner’s employee insurance plan must cover him for the medical marijuana he takes for chronic pain following an on-the-job motor vehicle accident. Inquiry board chair Benjamin Perryman concluded that since medical marijuana requires a prescription by law, it doesn’t fall within the exclusions of Skinner’s insurance plan.

Perryman said the Canadian Elevator Industry Welfare Trust Plan contravened the province’s Human Rights Act, and must cover his medical marijuana expenses “up to and including the full amount of his most recent prescription.”

And at least one major company is covering employees for medical marijuana in very specific circumstances. In March 2017, Loblaw Companies Limited and Shoppers Drug Mart announced in an internal staff memo that effective immediately it will be covering medical pot under the employee benefit plan up to a maximum of $1,500 per year for about 45,000 employees.

Claims to insurance provider Manulife “will be considered only for prescriptions to treat spasticity and neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis and nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy for cancer patients,” said Basil Rowe, senior vice-president of human resources at Loblaw Companies Ltd., owner of Shoppers, in the memo.

“These are the conditions where the most compelling clinical evidence and literature supports the use of medical marijuana in therapy,” explained Loblaw/Shoppers spokesperson Tammy Smitham. “We will continue to review evidence as it becomes available for other indications (conditions).”

Since cannabis does not yet have a Drug Identification Number recognized by insurers, it isn’t covered under typical drug spending. However, it will be covered through a special authorization process where plan members will pay and submit their claim after, said Smitham.

The move could trickle down to other Canadian employers and their benefit plans and even set a precedent, Paul Grootendorst, an expert on insurance and reimbursement and director of the division of social and administrative pharmacy in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto told the Toronto Star.

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.