MoneySense

How you can set up a “Pay Yourself First” plan

September 9, 2021

By now, practically all of us have heard about “pay yourself first” as a savings strategy.

The general idea is to put away some percentage of your earnings, and then live on the rest. It sounds simple in theory, but in practice, less so. To that end, Save with SPP took a look around the Interweb to get some ideas about how to actually get going on a “pay yourself first” plan.

The folks at MoneySense see several simple steps you need to take to put your plan into action.

First, they suggest, “zero in on your savings goals.” What are you paying yourself first for – to build an emergency fund, or save up for a down payment, or a wedding or (our favourite) retirement, the article asks.

There has to be a reason why you are directing money away from your normal, bill-paying chequing account, MoneySense tells us.

Next, they recommend, take pen to paper and figure out how much you actually can pay yourself first. Make a list of your monthly “must spends,” like “shelter, food, electricity/heat, phone, transportation, etc.,” the article says. What’s left over is “discretionary” money, which can be spent or saved, the article adds.

If you are saving for more than one thing, you need to figure out how much each month to put away for each category. Then comes the actual “doing” part – automating your savings plan.

MoneySense recommends setting up an automatic transfer each month that moves money from chequing into savings. This amount can be increased when you get a raise, the article notes. Savings should be directed to either a tax-free savings account (TFSA), a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP), or a combination of both, the article concludes.

The Oaken Financial blog notes that guaranteed investment certificates (GICs) can be a good place to stash savings. GICs are locked in for a time, but pay a set amount of interest for a fixed term, the blog notes. High-interest savings accounts pay good interest but allow you to make withdrawals at any time, the blog notes.

The Golden Girl Finance blog says there are apps that take the difficult thinking part out of the saving equation. Wealthsimple, the blog notes, allows you to round up your credit card purchases, so you are actually paying a little extra, with that money being directed to your savings account. So you save a little as you spend, the blog notes.

Save with SPP notes that similar arrangements – where you pay a little extra on debit card purchases, or where a money-back credit card deposits the cashback directly to your savings account – exist at other Canadian banks.

Other ideas that have flashed across the screen of late:

  • Banking your raise. You were paying off the bills OK before you got the raise, so why not stick the difference between your former pay and your new pay into savings, and live off the rest? You were the day before the raise!
  • Banking your cost of living adjustment. Same concept, but for us lucky pensioners who get cost of living increases, why not direct the increase to savings and continue to live on what you were getting prior to the increase?
  • Starting small. You may not stick with a pay yourself first plan if it is overly ambitious. Uncle Joe always said bank 10 per cent and live on the 90 per cent; he did, and he did well, but Joe was a very disciplined spender. Better to start smaller, maybe two or three per cent, and phase it up.

So to recap – you either need to know how much you spend each month to figure out how much you save, or you need to just pick an affordable percentage of your earnings and set it aside. Once you have automated the process, you won’t miss the saved amount, which will grow happily in a savings account, a retirement account, or perhaps the Saskatchewan Pension Plan.

Celebrating 35 years of operations, the SPP permits automatic contributions. They can set it up for you, or you can set up SPP as a bill on your bank website and set up the automation yourself. Either way, the money you direct to SPP will be put away for your future, invested professionally, and – grown – will await you after you get home from the retirement party!

Written by Martin Biefer

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


May 24: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

May 24, 2021

TFSAs are great, but may not be ideally suited for retirement savings: MoneySense

Writing in the Toronto Sun, MoneySense writer Joseph Czikk opines that the rise of the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) may spell trouble for the venerable Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP).

He writes that the TFSA has been “a huge hit” since its inception in 2009, with more than two-thirds of Canadians now the proud owners of accounts.

“But,” he writes “there’s reason to suspect that the TFSA’s popularity is growing at the expense of the RRSP, and if that’s true, it should lead many Canadians to rethink how they plan to invest for retirement.”

Before 2009, he explains, the RRSP was the chief retirement savings tool for Canadians.

“RRSP contributions aren’t taxable, which incentivizes people to top up the accounts every year. The more money you put into your RRSP, the less tax you’ll pay,” the article notes.

When Canadians stop working, the article explains, they “generally convert their RRSP balance to a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF), which they then draw from to cover expenses.” Money coming out of the RRIF is taxable, but “the idea… is that you’ll probably be in a lower tax bracket in retirement than you were in your career, meaning you’ll get to keep more of the money than you otherwise would have.”

Then, Czikk notes, “along came the TFSA,” which works opposite from an RRSP. No tax break for putting money into a TFSA, but no taxation when you take it out, the article adds.

There are tax penalties for robbing your RRSP savings before retirement, but with the TFSA, not so much.

“You can see how such an account — which could be drawn upon like any bank account and which sheltered capital gains — would become popular,” he writes.

“And so it went. Just eight years after TFSAs came on the scene, their aggregate value rocketed to match 20 per cent of RRSPs, RRIFs and Locked-In Retirement Accounts (LIRAs).”

But, the article says, there are unintended negative consequences with the TFSA.

Quoting The Canadian Tax Journal, the article notes that $4 of every $10 that would otherwise have gone to an RRSP are now going to TFSAs. The number of Canadians contributing to RRSPs is in decline. And, the article says, that’s a problem.

Research from BMO suggests that Canadians need about $1.5 million in retirement savings to retire comfortably, the article says. And while for some a TFSA could get you there, the fact that there are no withdrawal rules is posing problems, the article says.

Prof. Jonathan Farrar of Wilfrid Laurier University is quoted in the article as saying “we’re seeing that … a lot of people are not using it for retirement. People are using the TFSA as a bank account instead of an investment account, from which you make a very rare withdrawal.”

“Part of the genius of the RRSP is how it disincentivizes people from taking money out before retirement. The TFSA lacks that aspect,” the article adds.

If you rob your retirement nest egg before hitting the golden handshake, the article concludes, you’ll have to rely more on government income programs like the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security. The government is thinking about creating a TFSA that has withdrawal rules more like an RRSP to address this problem.

Save with SPP once spoke with some Australian colleagues. There, everyone gets put in a mandatory defined contribution pension plan where their employer makes all the contributions. But, as with a TFSA, there aren’t any strict rules on withdrawals – so you could take all the money out and buy a house, for instance. In a strange paradox, a country with one of the highest rates of pension plan coverage has experienced senior poverty and a heavy reliance on the means-test Age Pension – and the lack of withdrawal rules may be to blame.

TFSAs are awesome, for sure, but perhaps not ideally suited for retirement savings. The tried and true approach may be a better path. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan operates similarly to an RRSP, but has the added feature of being a locked-in plan. You can’t crack into your SPP early, meaning there will be more there for you when you don’t have a paycheque to rely on.  Be sure to check out SPP – delivering retirement security for 35 years – 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.


Should we still be savers after we retire?

March 11, 2021

The mental image most of us have of the retirement process is quite clear – you save while you work, and then you live on the savings while retired.

But is this a correct view of things? Should people be adding to their savings once they’ve stepped away from a long life of endless meetings, emails, Zoom or conference calls, and annoying performance reviews? Or not?

Save with SPP decided to scout this out on the good old Interweb.

What we notice is that when you query about “saving after retirement,” you’ll find lots of advice about how to save by spending less. For example, U.S. News & World Report suggests things like asking for senior discounts, shopping “for cheap staples online,” downsizing your home or hobbies, etc.

You’ll also find general advice on saving that can apply to folks of any age – Yahoo! Finance points out that you need to “spend less than you earn,” and “grow and invest your money.”

The type of advice we’re looking for is more along the “pay yourself first” rule that our late Uncle Joe lived by until almost age 90; and Yahoo! Finance does have a bit of that.

“When people say `pay yourself first,’ they mean you should take your savings out of your paycheque as soon as it hits your chequing account to make sure you save something before you spend it all on bills and other expenses. The key to saving successfully is to save first, save a lot — 10 per cent to 20 per cent is often recommended — and save often,” the article states. Uncle Joe would endorse this thinking.

But it’s not clear this article is aimed at retirees – so is putting money systematically away when retired even a thing?

Maybe, but perhaps not quite in the way Uncle Joe might have envisioned.

MoneySense notes that Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) are a great savings tool for older, retired Canadians.

The article suggests that if you are retired, and don’t need to spend all the income from your Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) or other sources, like a pension, a great home for those dollars is the TFSA.

“Unlike Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and RRIFs you can keep contributing new money into TFSAs after age 71. Even if you live to celebrate your 101st birthday – as my friend Meta recently did – you can continue to pump (the TFSA annual maximum) to your TFSA, as Meta has been doing,” the article explains.

“In contrast, you can no longer contribute to RRSPs after the year you turn 71 (or after the year the youngest spouse turns 71), and even then this depends on either carrying forward RRSP room or earning new income,” MoneySense tells us. So the TFSA is a logical savings account, and is still open to older folks.

Our late father-in-law gleefully directed money from his RRIF (after paying taxes) to his TFSA, so that he could continue to invest and save.

The TFSA has many other benefits, including the fact in can be transferred tax-free to a surviving spouse. An article in the Globe and Mail points out a few other interesting TFSA facts – investments must be Canadian, you can re-contribute any amounts you cash out, and your contribution room carries forward, the article notes.

It would appear then, that “saving” after retirement means two things – it means budgeting and bargain hunting to make your income last longer, and it means using savings vehicles like TFSAs to manage taxation. That’s probably the answer – when you’re working, taxes are simple to manage. You get a T4, your employer is usually deducting the correct amount of taxes, so filing income tax is simple. It’s more complicated for retirees with multiple income streams and chunks of withdrawn RRIF money.

You will have a greater opportunity to save when you are retired if you put away some cash now, before they give you the gold watch. The less retirement income you have, the tighter your future budget will be. If you haven’t got too far yet on the retirement savings trail, why not have a look at the Saskatchewan Pension Plan? You can set up a “pay yourself first” plan with SPP, which allows contributions via direct deposit. Money can be popped into your retirement nest egg before you have a chance to spend it – always a good thing. Be sure to check out SPP, celebrating 35 years of delivering retirement security in 2021!

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.


Feb 1: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

February 1, 2021

Canadians have socked away nearly $300 billion in Tax Free Savings Accounts

It’s often said that high levels of household debt, compounded by the financial strains of the pandemic, make it difficult for Canadians to save.

However, a report in Wealth Professional magazine suggests that Canadians – once again – are indeed a nation of savers. According to the article, which quotes noted financial commentator Jamie Golombek, as of the end of 2018, we Canucks had stashed more than $298 billion in our Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs).

“[A]s of Dec. 31, 2018, there were 20,779,510 TFSAs in Canada, held by 14,691,280 unique TFSA holders with a total fair market value of $298 billion,” Golombek states in the article.

Again looking at 2018, the article says Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) data shows 8.5 million Canadians made TFSA contributions in ’18, with “1.4 million maxing out their contributions.” In fact, in 2018, the average contribution to a TFSA was about $7,811 – more than that year’s limit of $5,500 – because of the “room” provisions of a TFSA, the article explains.

The reason that people were contributing more than the maximum is because they were “making use of unused contribution room that was carried forward from previous years,” Wealth Professional tells us.

Another interesting stat that turns up in the article is the fact that TFSA owners tend to be younger. “Around one-third of TFSA holders were under the age of 40; two-fifths were between 40 and 65, and those over 65 made up about 25 per cent,” the article explains.

“This is not overly surprising since the TFSA, while often used for retirement savings, is truly an all-purpose investment account that can be used for anything,” Golombek states in the article.

However, there is a reason older Canadians should start thinking about TFSAs, writes Jonathan Chevreau in MoneySense.

“Unlike your Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), which must start winding down the end of the year you turn 71, you can keep contributing to your TFSA for as long as you live,” he writes – even if you live past 100.

He also notes that a TFSA is a logical place to put any money you withdraw from a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) that you don’t need to spend right away.

While tax and withdrawal rules for RRIFs must be followed, “there’s no rule that once having withdrawn the money and paid tax on it, you are obliged to spend it. If you can get by on pensions and other income sources, you are free to take the after-tax RRIF income and add it to your TFSA, ideally to the full extent of the annual $6,000 contribution limit,” Chevreau writes.

This is a strategy that our late father-in-law used – he took money out of his RRIF, paid taxes on it, and put what was left into his TFSA, where he could invest it and collect dividends and interest free of taxes. He always looked very pleased when he said the words “tax-free income.”

2021 marks the 35th year of operations for the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. The SPP is your one-stop shop for retirement security. Through SPP, you can set up a personal defined contribution pension plan, where the money you contribute is professionally invested, at a low fee, until the day you’re ready retire. At that point, SPP provides you with the option of a lifetime pension. Be sure to 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.


Aug 31: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

August 31, 2020

How much is the right amount to withdraw from retirement savings?

OK, so you’ve managed to squirrel away a nice chunk of money in your retirement fund. Now you’re ready to start taking the money out and you know, living off it.

But is there a sensible rule of thumb to employ so that you don’t run out of savings before you run out of life?

According to the Daily Mail in the U.K., there is a new idea making the rounds.

Investment company Vanguard says there’s a way to help make sure your money will last the 35 years or so that you may need it to last, the Daily Mail reports.

“The firm suggest savers determine their income by multiplying their portfolio by five per cent, then comparing it with the previous year and adjusting how much they remove accordingly,” the article says.

“If the fund is higher than the previous year, retirees should withdraw up to five per cent while if the portfolio has depreciated in value, income should be decreased by roughly two per cent.”

Simply put, don’t take out the same amount every year. Take out up to five per cent if your savings have gone up in value, and take out less, say three per cent, if it has not.

The conventional withdrawal rule that has been bandied about for years in the industry is that you can safely withdraw four per cent from your savings annually.

The new Vanguard formula flies in the face of that wisdom, and the four per cent rule was recently questioned by financial author Jason Heath in a MoneySense article.

“Over the half decade I’ve written this column and attempted to practice what it preaches, a central pillar has been the so-called 4 Per Cent Rule,” he writes.

“Problem is, with `lower for longer’ interest rates and the spectre of negative interest rates, is it still realistic for retirees to count on this guideline? Personally, I find it useful, even though I mentally take it down to three per cent to adjust for my own pessimism about rates and optimism that I will live a long, healthy life,” he writes.

He goes on to cite other experts who say four per cent “is a reasonable rule of thumb” for non-registered savings, but once RRSPs are converted into RRIFs, higher withdrawal amounts are mandated by the government anyway, making the withdrawal formula “moot.”

Let’s digest all this. You’ve got savings, you want to live on those savings. But up until now you have never had to live on a lump sum amount that gets smaller every year – you are used to getting a paycheque. Whether you take out two, three, or four percent (or some other mandatory percentage) of your savings every year, there will likely be less money in the piggy bank each year you get older, particularly at a time when interest rates are so low.

Do we want to be pre-occupied with withdrawal rates and decumulation strategies while we are trying to hit golf balls onto the fairway? Surely not.

But wait – if you’re a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan there’s a solution to this problem. SPP offers a variety of annuities for its members. When you come to retirement, you can convert any or all of your SPP savings into a monthly income payment – a lot like your old paycheque – that comes to you in the same amount for the rest of your life. You can never run out of money, no matter how long you live or what markets and interest rates do. Security is guaranteed. 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, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


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

August 20, 2020

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 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.


A little planning today will benefit your loved ones when you’re gone

July 16, 2020

We often focus most of our planning on things like building wealth, paying off debt, transitioning to retirement, and taking care of ourselves physically and mentally.

All these worthy projects should be joined by another – estate planning. It’s important to think about what your loved ones will need once you’re gone.

Save with SPP took a look around the Interweb to see what the experts advise about estate planning for Canadians.

At the Advice for Investors blog, the main tips are having an updated will, naming powers of attorney and jointly holding assets.  The blog cites a recent RBC study that found that only half of Canadians had a will and “one in three had done nothing at all to prepare for passing on wealth to the next generation.”

Without a will, the blog warns, “provincial bureacrats will determine how the estate is distributed,” rather than you. Having powers of attorney in place for legal/financial matters and health will be of critical importance should you suddenly lose the ability to manage your own affairs, the blog notes.

And when you make your assets joint with your spouse, “the interests of a deceased owner automatically gets transferred to the remaining surviving owners,” the blog notes.

The MoneySense blog adds in a few more ideas – life insurance, the idea of giving away money to family while you are still alive and setting up trusts for kids and grandkids.

Insurance, notes Lorne Marr of LSM Insurance in the MoneySense blog, “may be used as an estate planning tool – an opportunity to leave a legacy or pay taxes so your heirs don’t have to.” The article suggests insurance is best taken out at a young age, when your health is at its best. You should buy enough insurance to cover all your debts and replace what you earn, the article notes.

Giving gifts to adult children while you are still alive “may reduce the overall tax burden on your estate when you die,” notes Lawrence Pascoe, an Ottawa attorney, in the MoneySense article. “Gifting money is a good way to help out your kids while you’re still alive and can watch them enjoy it,” he states in the article.

For younger kids, the article notes, you can set up a trust account that provides them with income at a later age. “You can stipulate what the funds can be used for, such as educational expenses, a new home, retirement savings,” the article notes.

The Manulife Financial website devotes an entire web page to one thing – beneficiary designation for insurance and/or a retirement plan.

If you don’t name a beneficiary – or name minor children as one – your estate may get tied up in probate, the article warns. In some provinces your spouse is automatically your beneficiary – check before you sign, the article suggests. If there’s a way to name a contingent beneficiary – someone to pay out the assets to if your chosen beneficiary dies before the payout – do so. And be sure to review your beneficiary designations regularly, the article concludes.

If you’re a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan you can look after your survivors in several ways. Your SPP beneficiary will receive any assets in your account if you die before collecting a pension and a variety of different options are available for your spouse and beneficiary upon your death after retirement. 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, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


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

June 11, 2020

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

JUN 8: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

June 8, 2020

Will pandemic make us rethink our retirement plans?

Financial author Alexandra Macqueen, writing in MoneySense magazine, notes that we’ve always planned for retirement based on the assumption that things will be pretty much stable between the “now” of working and the “then” of retiring.

But, she asks, how will things change when the “now” is totally thrown into chaos by the pandemic?

Up until recently, she writes, we have thought about early, late, or part-time retirement. “All of these variations on the retirement theme have been built on a relatively steady set of economic conditions and assumptions: that housing and financial markets will remain stable, the economy will continue to function, and Canadians will continue to pay the Canada Pension Plan premiums and income taxes that keep CPP and Old Age Security payments flowing,” she explains.

But, she writes, the global pandemic and its “resulting economic fallout… could reshape retirement in Canada.”

First, she says, the idea of early retirement has always been associated with the idea that there are “fallbacks” if things don’t go smoothly – “returning to paid employment, harvesting home equity or counting on continued asset growth.”

But if jobs are scarce, property values drop and “markets tumble,” Macqueen notes, “these backup plans may not be available. As a result, more Canadians may opt to remain in their paid employment (if they’re employed) longer.”

As well, Canadians may find work hard to come by generally, and if they work part-time or via “gigs,” retirement savings will also be difficult to come up with, another reason Macqueen gives for seeing fewer early retirements going forward.

The next big change Macqueen predicts is that of Canadians finally coming to terms with their debt.

“The economic fallout from COVID-19 also means that many highly indebted Canadians will need to take a fresh look at the spending that got them where they are, because the security of the income or assets they expected to use to retire the debt has diminished or even disappeared,” she explains.

With no investment returns to pay down debt with, and with housing prices uncertain, Canadians may be forced to downsize their primary residence purely to save on mortgage costs, cut back on big vacations and fancy home renovations, or in extreme cases enter “a consumer proposal or bankruptcy proceedings to resolve outstanding debt,” she warns.

Finally, the COVID-19 era and its volatile market may result in a return to simpler and less risky retirement finances, such as guaranteed investment certificates (GICs) and annuities.

GICs carry almost no risk – they pay out a set amount of interest depending on the term of the certificate.

“A life annuity is a financial product, sold by an insurance company, that pays a guaranteed monthly income to the annuitant(s) for as long as they are alive—sort of like a “DIY version” of a defined-benefit pension,” notes Macqueen, co-author of a book on the subject, Pensionize Your Nest Egg.

Summing it up – we may need to work longer to have enough savings to retire on, or to pay off debt first before retiring, and when the wonderful day arrives, we might want to convert savings into a guaranteed lifetime income via annuities and GICs.

If you’re a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, the idea of converting your retirement savings into a guaranteed lifetime income stream is already part of your retirement tool kit. SPP has a variety of annuity options available that will ensure you get a monthly cheque for as long as you’re alive. Check it out today.

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