Tag Archives: National Post

Old Age Security reform has come full circle in the past decade or so

Most Canadians understand the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) – we pay into it, as does our employer, and we can start collecting a lifetime pension from it as early as age 60. But what about the other “pillar” of the federal government’s retirement income program, Old Age Security (OAS)?

The federal government says OAS is available to any Canadian who has lived in our country for 40 years after reaching age 18. If you don’t meet those conditions, you may still qualify under complex “exception” rules.

Currently, the maximum OAS payment  is $613.53 per month, for life. It starts at age 65, but you can choose to defer it for up to 60 months after reaching that age – and if you do, you will receive a payment that is 36 per cent higher.

There is, of course, a big catch to this. If you make more than $75,910, the government will charge what they call an “OAS recovery tax,” or clawback. If you make more than $123,386, you have to pay back all of your OAS payments for the year.

The “conditional” yet “universal” benefit has prompted many to come up with ideas on how to fix it, particularly during the Stephen Harper years.

Back then, a Fraser Institute opinion column in the National Post explained one key problem with OAS. “Unlike the CPP, there is no dedicated fund to pay for OAS,” the column notes. “Benefits are funded with current tax revenues.” Put another way, everyone who pays taxes contributes to OAS, but not everyone gets it – and should higher income earners get it at all, the column asks.

The Fraser Institute recommended lowering the income at which OAS begins to be cut off to around $51,000, with the full clawback moving to $97,000. This, the article suggests, would save the government $730 million per year, since fewer people would receive the full amount.

Another solution – the one that the Conservatives planned to implement – was moving the starting age for OAS to 67 from 65. However, the current Liberal government reversed that decision in 2016, notes Jim Yih’s Retire Happy blog.

But in the intervening years, we have seen debt levels increase dramatically, preventing many of us from saving for retirement. So there are now some arguing for an expansion of the existing system, on the grounds that it doesn’t provide seniors with sufficient income. Indeed, the Liberals campaigned last year on a plan to increase old age security “by 10 per cent once a senior reaches age 75,” reports Global News.

Without getting political, it appears we have come full circle from talk of reforming the OAS and making it harder to get, to talk of increasing its payout for older seniors. Let’s hope governments take a longer-term view of the problem, and focus on ways to better fund OAS – perhaps creating an OAS investment fund similar to what CPP has, one that would make this benefit more sustainable and secure for those who rely on it.

If you are one of the many hardworking people who lack a workplace pension plan, there is a do-it-yourself option that you should be aware of. It’s the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP). They’ll grow the money you contribute to the plan over time, and when it’s time to retire, can pay it out to you in the form of a “made-by-you” lifetime pension. The SPP also has options for your employer to use this plan as an employee benefit.  Check them out today.

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

Is low unemployment actually a sign that boomers aren’t retiring?

Politicians all over the continent like to point to our low levels of unemployment as a sign that our economy is booming and recovering.  And perhaps it is. A recent Bloomberg article notes that the Canadian labour market has seen “a decade-low unemployment rate” and “some of the fastest job gains on record.”

That high level of employment, the article adds, boosted “the average weekly earnings for Canadian workers… 3.4 per cent in May from a year earlier, to $1,031.” There were a whopping 32,600 jobs added that month, Bloomberg reports, citing Statistic Canada figures.

Reading these positive numbers, one might include that things look great for our younger workers – low unemployment and a high level of job creation.

Not so fast, reports Livio Di Matteo of the Fraser Institute, writing in the National Post. Sure, the story notes, we can expect that “in coming years employment and the labour force in Canada will continue growing,” but it will be “at a diminished rate, with employment growing slightly faster than the labour force.”

And the reason why, Di Matteo explains, is that low unemployment rates are “due largely to our aging population and the expected decline in labour force participation rates. Overall labour force participation in Canada has declined over the past decade in Canada, but interestingly has grown among people aged 55 and older.” In plainer terms, there are more older people in the workforce than before, meaning those at or nearing retirement age are continuing to work.

Di Matteo suggests that there will be more opportunities for younger workers when boomers begin to fully retire. In 2016, “people aged 55 and over accounted for 36 per cent of Canada’s working age population,” Di Matteo notes, adding that this figure should rise to 40 per cent by 2026. When the boomer cohort finally begins to retire, Di Matteo predicts higher demand for younger workers in “healthcare, computer system design… support services for mining, oil and gas extraction, social assistance, legal, accounting… and entertainment,” among others.

It’s a similar story south of the border, reports Market Watch. There, unemployment is “at a half-century low,” but a reason why is that there aren’t as many new entrants in the job market, the report notes.

“The U.S. doesn’t need to create as many new jobs to absorb a slower growing population of working-age Americans. Economists figure the U.S. needs to add less than 80,000 new jobs a month to hold the unemployment rate near its remarkably low rate,” the article states.

Experts are split on whether boomers are working late into life because they want to or because they have to. Sure, many love the social contacts and engagement of working – or want to travel more now that they are semi-retired. But those still saving for retirement may not be hitting their savings targets.

A report from RBC, covered in Yahoo! Finance Canada, says those boomers with “investable assets” of $100,000 or more planned on saving $949,000 for retirement, and “are falling $275,000 short.” Those with less than $100,000 saved have lesser goals, but are much farther away from them, the report states.

It will be interesting to see how the trend towards boomers hanging on to their jobs plays out, as it ultimately must.

For those of us who are still slogging away in the workforce, all these stats underline the importance of directing some of your income towards long-term savings for retirement. An excellent tool for this purpose is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, which offers a flexible way for your savings to be invested, grown, and ultimately paid out to you as a lifetime pension in the future. It may be better to pay into your own retirement now, rather than having to work later in life to fund it.

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

“Canadian dream” far more difficult to achieve for younger Canadians

“Canadian dream” far more difficult to achieve for younger Canadians 

For boomers, the “Canadian dream” more or less echoed the dream our parents had – education, work, a house, a family, maybe even a cottage, and then a well-deserved retirement.

Research (using 2015 data) shows there is a serious flaw in this narrative for our millennial children. According to research from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), featured in a National Post article, millennials are “less likely to reach middle-income levels in their 20s than their baby boomer parents.”

Why aren’t our kids making it to the middle class?

The research suggests “the middle class is shrinking — squeezed by high housing and education costs, displaced by automation and lacking the skills most valued in the digital economy.” The middle class is defined, for a single person in Canada, as requiring an income level of 75 to 200 per cent of the national median income, the article reports. For single Canucks, that’s $29,000 to about $78,000, the story notes.

One of the unfortunate aspects of this so-called dream is that in order to advance upwards, you have to achieve each step of the ladder. Education costs have skyrocketed in the last few decades, forcing younger people to have to take out huge education loans. Wages from work, the article notes, aren’t keeping up with the real cost of living. According to the OECD research, “between 2008 and 2016 real median incomes grew by an average of just 0.3 per cent per year,” compared to 1.6 per cent annually in the mid-1990s to 2000s.

So the wages from work aren’t sufficient for housing, with middle-income earners having to spend “almost a third of their income on accommodation,” the report states. In the 1990s, that figure was more like 25 per cent.  That’s why our millennials struggle to get to the “getting a house” stage, and if they can afford to start a family, is there anything left over for that dream cottage and longish retirement?

According to the Seeking Alpha blog, the answer is probably no. “At 1.1%, the Canadian saving rate is today near all-time lows, while Canadian debt is at all-time highs,” the blog notes. There’s an obvious reason – wages haven’t kept up with the cost of housing, so the younger folks are straining just to cover the mortgage. There’s less left for saving.

Research by Richard Shillington has found that even boomers aren’t awash in savings as they approach retirement. His study found that 47 per cent of Canadians aged 55 to 64 have “no accrued pension benefits,” and that for this age group, the median level of retirement savings was a paltry $3,000.

There’s still time to turn this ship around. Policy makers should continue to look at ways to help new people enter the housing market, and perhaps old ideas like housing co-operatives – popular when high interest rates restricted people from owning homes – should be revisited. Ways to make education less costly would be a huge help. Improved government pension benefits are a help, but why not continue to develop new workplace pension plans – or continue to encourage private employers to join publicly-run plans? Any policy that helps Canadians move up that middle class ladder is worth exploring.

If you’re among the many Canadians lacking a pension plan at work, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan is designed with you in mind. You determine how much you want to save, and they do the rest, investing your money through your working years and arranging to pay you a monthly lifetime pension at the finish line. Even a small start can make a big difference down the road.

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

Jan 25: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Even on a vacation cruise in South America for the last several weeks it was difficult to avoid media reports about the plunging stock markets in both the U.S. and Canada and the drop in value of the Canadian dollar.

On the Financial Independence Hub, Ermos Erotocritou, a Regional Director with investors Group Financial Services Inc. reminds readers that it’s reasonable to monitor day-to-day events, but it’s imperative to keep in mind that daily, weekly, monthly, even quarterly market movements are often little more than noise for an investment portfolio that likely has a time horizon of many years. That’s why it’s so important to practice patience and discipline by remaining in the market, as opposed to abandoning it or believing that is the best way to preserve wealth.

Dan from Our Big Fat Wallet shares Lessons from a Financial Downturn from the perspective of an Alberta resident. First of all, he says “cash is king” because the more cash you have, the more flexibility it gives you. He also notes that with stock prices and housing prices falling in some areas, the emergency fund has suddenly taken on more importance. And finally, he acknowledges that investing is emotional but suggests that investors who are able to separate their emotions from investing have the potential to make impressive returns in a downturn.

In the Toronto Star, Gordon Pape also agrees that “cash is king” in times like these. He says it’s fine to be all-in when markets are positive, even if the growth isn’t robust. But in times of great uncertainty and high volatility such as we are currently experiencing, he likes to have some cash in reserve to cushion any stock losses and to deploy as buying opportunities appear.

It’s an economic downturn — not the Apocalypse, Alan Freeman reminds readers of iPolitics. He says, “This isn’t 2008, when we were facing the very real threat of the global financial system collapsing entirely. This is just an old-fashioned economic downturn — even if it will be quite painful for some in the short term.” Freeman comments that because Canadians depend on resources for a big chunk of our economic activity, we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re at the mercy of commodity prices. “Oil and metal prices that soar to unsustainable levels inevitably crash; they’ll recover this time around, as they have in the past, though perhaps not for a few years,” he concludes.

And finally, many people who do not have investments may be less worried about the stock market slide than the plummeting value of the Canadian dollar. In a Canadian Press article published in the National Post, Aleksandra Sagan reports that for every U.S. cent the dollar drops, food like fruits and vegetables that are imported will likely increase one percent or more in cost. While the increased costs have dealt a blow to everyone’s wallet, they have had a more pronounced effect on Canadians living on a tight budget or in remote regions, where fresh fruit and vegetables are more expensive than in more urban areas.

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 with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.