Tag Archives: Registered Retirement Savings Plan

Planning critical in The 5 Years Before You Retire

We all know we should start thinking hard about retirement at some point.  But when?

Emily Guy Birken, author of The 5 Years Before You Retire, believes that your last 60 months at work is the best and most realistic time to polish off your retirement plans. That’s because those last five years represent “the point at which it really hits home to most people that they’re actually going to retire in the foreseeable future.”

Things, she writes, have changed. Fifty years ago, she writes, “most workers took retirement at age 65, and life expectancy for men was a mere 66.6 years of age – meaning that most retirees only enjoyed just over a year and a half of leisure.” That shorter lifespan made generous pensions more affordable for employers, because “they didn’t expect to pay them for very long.”

Now, she writes, only about 22 per cent of American workers (the book is aimed at a U.S. audience) are “offered a traditional defined benefit pension,” meaning most have to save on their own via capital accumulation plans (here, this means defined contribution plans and RRSPs).  As well, they can expect to live much longer.

So if you are saving on your own, are there things you can do in the last five years of work that will help you? Birken suggests downsizing your home, paying off or reducing your mortgage, taking in roommates or boarders, moving somewhere that is cheaper, going down to one car and cutting back on restaurants and entertainment. Those steps can really help you free up money for retirement savings, she notes.

She writes that drawing down the savings is tricky. “Determining how much you can afford to withdraw each year is more complicated than simply dividing your nest egg by the number of years you hope to live,” Birken notes. A good rule of thumb, she writes, is the so-called “four per cent method,” where your goal is to withdraw up to four per cent of your savings while reinvesting the other 96 per cent.

Another good strategy is an annuity, idea for those “who struggle with money discipline.” An annuity will give you lifetime monthly income, but she says they are not all the same so you should explore all annuity options before choosing the one that is best for your situation.

Birken says that if you possibly can, pay off your mortgage before you retire, because it is “likely your largest monthly expense.” However, these days houses cost more so about 40 per cent of us do carry mortgages into retirement.

Any debt in retirement is a burden, she writes. Yet in the US and Canada, most retirees still have debt. If you have five years to go before you retire, she advises, “prioritize your payment strategy to destroy high-interest debt, such as credit cards and car loans, first.”

There are lots of great tips in here, and although much of the health insurance and government programs part is not relevant to Canadians, this book can give you some good ideas on how to maximize your last years of full-time earnings.

And remember – any money saved in the 60-month run-up to retirement can easily be added to your Saskatchewan Pension Plan account, and the plan does offer a variety of annuity options. Check out the options available.

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

Aug 20: Best from the blogosphere

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

Using “behavioural science” to help boost retirement planning
For far too many of us, the words “retirement planning” conjure up a frustrating jumble of spreadsheets, calculations, application forms and sums of money we don’t have. Easier, we think, to change the channel and worry about something else.

Recently the Ontario Securities Commission researched these “barriers to retirement” and came up with a new idea – the use of behavioural science tactics to aid the planning process. The OSC’s research is featured in a recent article in Benefits Canada.

It’s more of a “nudge approach.” One idea the report suggests is scheduling a retirement planning meeting at work. The individual must then choose to opt out of the meeting or just go with the flow and attend, the article notes. Another similar approach is to bring the future closer by showing people a variety of retirement activities and asking them to choose their favourite one.

“Keeping people from being overwhelmed or feeling other negative emotions is also important to the planning process,” the article notes.

One suggestion not touched on in the article might be to make your retirement savings automatic. Rather than rounding up dollars at the RRSP deadline, why not have a pre-set amount deducted each payday? That sort of automated savings approach is possible with the Saskatchewan Pension Plan; check out their website for full details.

A toast to the better days ahead
We’ve all been to lots of retirement parties. Here are some great retirement toasts, courtesy of the Public Speaking Advice blog, that you may be able to make use of at the next “farewell to work” event you attend.

“We don’t know what we’ll do without him but we’re about to find out.”

“May we always part with regret and meet again with pleasure.”

“May the best of happiness honor and fortune keep with you.”

“A bad day at fishing is still better than a good day at work.”

“Here’s to your health and your family’s health. May you live long and prosper.”

That last one has a bit of a Star Trek/Mr. Spock ring to it, doesn’t it?

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

Interview with Randy Bauslaugh: The one fund solution*

 

Click here to listen
Click here to listen

Hi. My name is Sheryl Smolkin, and today I’m interviewing Randy Bauslaugh for a savewithspp.com podcast. Randy is a partner at the McCarthy Tétrault law firm, where he leads the national pensions, benefits, and executive compensation practice. He has been involved with many of the leading pensions and benefits cases over the last 30 years, and he is also a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan.

Welcome, Randy. I’m so glad you could make time for us in your busy schedule.

Thanks. I’m happy to give back to the SPP.

That’s terrific. Randy has recently written an article titled Dumb and Dumber: Individual Investment Choice in DC Plans. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. 

Q: Randy, that’s a very provocative title for an article. Tell me about the independent research supporting your thesis that giving investment choice to plan members in defined contribution RPPs is riskier from a legal perspective and a bad idea from a financial performance perspective.
A: Sure. The research comes from various sources – research institutions, academics, news articles and a lot of that relates to the financial performance side. Also, on the legal side, I had a student a few years ago take a look, and there were 3,500 class actions relating to defined contribution plans particularly in the US and those were just relating to DC plan fees.

I think you can pick up any standard textbook on pensions and it will tell you that defined benefit plans have a low legal risk but potentially fatal financial risk. That’s because they guarantee the retirement payments. However, they always say DC plans have low financial risk, because the employer just contributes a fixed amount, but very high legal risk, because there are so many different ways of getting sued.

Q: Then why do DC plan sponsors typically provide a broad range of investment options for plan members?
A: Well, I don’t really know. I have some theories. Before the mid-1980s, most plans did not provide choice, and then it sort of became trendy. I think a lot of employers just believe that choice empowers their employees, or maybe it’s just because after all, who wants just one TV channel.

I also know for a fact that aside from individual empowerment or incentives for the financial industry, there are a lot of plan sponsors out there who think either they have a legal obligation to provide choice or they are somehow reducing their legal exposure if they do provide choice when exactly the opposite is true.

Q: What legal risks does offering multiple investment options raise for DC plan sponsors?
A: Well, one thing a client once said to me is, “Well, what about the (Capital Accumulation Plan) CAP guidelines? I need to provide choice to comply with the CAP guidelines.”  Financial market regulators put out something called Guidelines for Capital Accumulation Plans. Take a look at the table of contents and you’ll find a whole lot of ways of being sued under a DC plan that offers choice. I’ve got a slide presentation that just identifies 48 different ways in which plan members have sued their employers only over fees.

The other thing people should do is read the second paragraph of those guidelines. It says it applies where you’re giving two or more choices, so it doesn’t apply if you’re not giving any choice.

Q: Is providing only one investment option, such as a balanced fund, a set-and-forget strategy for plan sponsors, or do they still have active management and monitoring responsibilities?
A: They still have the active management and monitoring responsibilities. It’s definitely not just “let’s turn it on and forget about it.” Ideally, a DC plan should be managed like a defined-benefit fund. You may do a profile of what your current particular employee group looks like and then the investments can be shaped to that group’s profile, but you still need to manage it on a regular basis.

One of the advantages of a single fund is that you get professional management of the whole fund, not members making their own investment choices for their own little pots. Once you set it up, you should still review it every month or at least every quarter just to make sure that that fund has got an appropriate mix for your group.

Q: Why is a one-fund approach less expensive from a fees perspective for both plan sponsors and plan members?
A: Well, usually you can get economies of scale that will keep the fees down, because you’ve just got one big pot and not multiple little pots. I know that recently a lot of DC fund providers have dramatically reduced their fees for, say, balanced funds and other investment vehicles but some of the other esoteric funds are still pretty expensive. When you’ve got all these little individual accounts, you still have lots of transaction and other fees that are tied to those accounts. That tends to make them a bit more expensive than a pooled arrangement.

Q: Doesn’t having one or more investments managed by several investment managers better diversify a DC plan member’s portfolio and promote better overall returns?
A: Well, you can get that in a no-choice plan, as well, because you could have many managers that are managing different parts of the bigger pool. But the difference is you now have scale, and you’ve got professional management of the money.

Most plan members are not good at investing. In fact, only 7% or so of DC members can actually beat the rate of return of the average DB plan. One of the more interesting statistics that came up in the research was that only 3% of their professional advisors can beat the average rate of return of the average DB plan.

Q: What is a default fund, and what percentage of DC plan members typically invest in the default fund?
A: About 85% of the members in DC plans don’t make any choice at all. If they don’t make a choice, they end up in the “so-called” default fund. It’s a fund that you get into in default of making an election. Employers have to keep track of who is in the default fund because it’s not really clear whether it is just as a result of a decision or simply putting off investment of their money. It may actually be the plan member’s choice to go into the default fund.

In some surveys many members have said  that they thought the default fund must be the best fund because that’s the one the sponsor set up for people who don’t make decisions. Increasingly, what we’re seeing out there today, though, is people defaulting into what’s called a target date fund.

A target date fund is based on your age when you go into it, and as you start getting close to your retirement age, it will move your portfolio from largely stocks to largely bonds. That’s not a bad idea, because once you retire, the theory is you don’t have the capacity to make more income, so a loss just before retirement is undesirable.

One of my clients actually allows employees to choose their target date funds, and  they found that a number of people were choosing three of these target date funds because they weren’t sure if they were going to retire at age 55, 60 or 65. So they put a third of their money in each in case they retire early or later, which is probably the absolute worst thing they could do.

Q: How long have you been a member of Saskatchewan Pension Plan, Randy?
A: Probably about 10 years. I was at another firm some years ago, and they had a pension arrangement, and then when I came to this firm and they don’t. I just think SPP is a great idea.

I  know a lot of people … Even my own professional financial advisor questioned how I got into the SPP and asked whether I was born in the province. No, I wasn’t. It’s open to anybody, and it works just like an RRSP. Anyway, every year I just keep moving the maximum amount from my RRSP to the SPP, and I make the maximum contribution every year. I’m glad to see it’s gone up.

*This is the edited transcript of a podcast recorded in April 2018.

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.

Part 1: Tax deductions, credits you need to know about

In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes, but as my father-in-law used to say, there is no reason why you should pay any more than you have to. A Government of Canada website provides a table with the 94 deductions and tax credits you may be able to claim to reduce the amount of tax you must pay.

You will also find information on where to claim these amounts on your income tax and benefit return or a related form or schedule. You can sort the table by line number or topic, and you can filter by key word. While your electronic tax program will prompt you to consider each of these, it is important to understand what you may be entitled to so you can find and retain the required supporting documentation.

Here are some common deductions and tax credits you should be aware of. Part 2 of this blog will be posted later this month.

  1. Line 208 – SPP, RRSP and PRPP deduction: Deductible Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP), registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) and pooled registered pension plan (PRPP) contributions can be used to reduce your tax. Any income you earn in SPP, your RRSP or PRPP is exempt from tax as long as the funds remain in the plan. However, you typically have to pay tax when you receive payments from these plans. For more information about RRSPs and PRPPs, see How much can I contribute and deduct? Members of SPP can contribute $6,000/year beginning in 2017 if they have sufficient RRSP contribution room.
  2. Line 314 – Pension income amount: You may be able to claim up to $2,000 if you reported eligible pension, superannuation, or annuity payments on line 115, line 116, or line 129 of your return. For a detailed list of eligible pension and annuity income, go to the Eligible Pension and Annuity Income (less than 65 years of age) chart or the Eligible Pension and Annuity Income (65 years of age or older) chart.
  3. Line 210 – Deduction for elected split-pension amount: If the transferring spouse or common-law partner has agreed with the receiving spouse or common-law partner to jointly elect to split his/her eligible pension income by completing Form T1032, Joint Election to Split Pension Income, the transferring spouse or common-law partner can deduct on this line the elected split-pension amount from line G of Form T1032. Only one joint election can be made for a tax year. If both you and your spouse or common-law partner have eligible pension income, you will have to decide who will act as the transferring spouse or common-law partner electing to allocate part of his/her eligible pension income to the receiving spouse or common-law partner.
  4. Line 301 – Age amount: Claim this amount if you were 65 years of age or older on December 31, 2017, and your net income (line 236 of your return) is less than $84,597.
    Remember to claim the corresponding provincial or territorial non-refundable tax credit to which you are entitled, on line 5808 of your provincial or territorial Form 428.
    If your net income was:

  5. Lines 330 and 331 – Eligible medical expenses: You can claim medical expenses paid for yourself, your spouse or common-law partner and certain related persons. Generally, total eligible medical expenses must first be reduced by 3% of your net income or $2,237, whichever is less. You can find a helpful video and a list of eligible common medical expenses here.

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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.

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.

Taxable, non-taxable employee benefits

When you are interviewing for a new a new job, perks like company-paid gym memberships, tuition reimbursement or a free cellphone may seem really attractive and influence you to accept the position. However, it is important to keep in mind that come tax time, all or part of the value of these employee benefits may be included in taxable income on your T4 slip.

Here are 10 things that may form part of your compensation and how they are viewed by CRA.

  1. Group benefits: Amounts your employer pays for your life, accident and critical illness insurance coverage are taxable benefits. But when the company pays all or part of the cost of your extended health care, dental plan, short-term disability (STD) or long-term disability (LTD) insurance you do generally not pay tax on the premiums. If you collect on your STD or LTD insurance you will pay taxes if any part of the premiums were employer-paid.
  2. Pensions/Group RRSPs: Your company’s contributions to your pension plan are not taxable. However, your employer’s contributions to your Group RRSP account are viewed as additional taxable income by CRA. But you can deduct RRSP contributions (up to $26,010 for 2017) so you will not actually have to pay taxes on Group RRSP contributions made by your employer on your behalf.
  3. Service and recognition awards: Cash, gift certificates and things like gifts of stock certificates and gold coins are always taxable benefits. However, you can receive tangible tax-free gifts or awards worth up to $500 annually in some specified circumstances, such as a wedding or outstanding service award. In addition, once every five years you can receive a tax-free, non-cash long-service or anniversary award worth $500 or less
  4. Clubs and Recreational Facilities – If your employer pays or subsidizes the cost of membership or attendance at a recreational facility such as a gym, pool, golf course, etc. it is considered a taxable benefit. But if the company provides a free or subsidized onsite facility available to all employees, it is not a taxable benefit.
  5. Tuition reimbursement: If you get a scholarship or bursary from your employer it will be a taxable benefit unless you took the program to maintain or upgrade your employment skills. For example, if you need an executive MBA to be promoted, no tax is payable on the value of company-paid tuition. Where the company gives your child a scholarship or bursary, generally neither you nor your son or daughter who gets the scholarship has to pay taxes on the amount.
  6. Transit Passes: Transit passes are a taxable benefit unless the employee works in a transit-related business (such as a bus, train, or ferry service business).
  7. Child Care Expenses are a taxable benefit unless child care is provided to all employees in the business at little or no cost.
  8. Mobile phone or internet: Charges paid by the company for the business use of your cellphone and internet are not taxable. If your phone or internet is used in part for personal reasons, that portion of the bill should be reported on your T4 as a taxable benefit. However, if the cost of the basic plan has a reasonable fixed cost and your use does not result in charges over the cost of basic service, CRA will not consider any part of the use taxable.
  9. Subsidized meals: If the company cafeteria sells subsidized meals to employees, this will not be considered a taxable benefit as long as employees pay a reasonable amount that covers the cost of food preparation and service.
  10. Discounts on merchandise: Generally, if your employer sells merchandise to you at a discount, the benefit you get is not considered taxable. A document posted on the CRA website in late 2017 suggested that CRA’s interpretation changed, but National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier subsequently announced there have been no changes to the laws governing taxable benefits to retail employees.

This chart illustrates whether taxable allowances and benefits are subject to CPP and EI withholdings. The employer’s Guide: Taxable Benefits and Allowances, including What’s New? Can be found here.

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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.

Interview: Evelyn Jacks talks taxes*

 

Click here to listen
Click here to listen

Today I’m interviewing Evelyn Jacks for SavewithSPP.com. Evelyn is the founder and president of Knowledge Bureau, a virtual campus focused on professional development of tax and financial advisors. She was recently named one of Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence. She is also one of Canada’s most prolific and best-selling authors of 51 personal tax and wealth management books, and a highly respected financial commentator and speaker.

Every year there are income tax changes and they impact individuals filing personal tax returns. First of all, I’d like to highlight some of 2017 changes that listeners should keep an eye on when they’re getting ready to complete their tax return.

Q: Evelyn, taxpayers with children are going to see a major change in tax credits for 2017. Can you bring us up to date on what these changes are? 
A: Yes, absolutely. The most notable changes found in the past are that the children’s arts amount which was the non-refundable tax credit on the Federal tax return has been eliminated and in addition, the refundable tax credit for the children’s fitness amount is gone.

On the employer’s side, the government has also discontinued a 25% investment tax credit for child care spaces of March 22, 2017. These are quite significant changes, especially because on the federal return, there are no other places, with the exception of disabled children, to claim minor children.

Q: What has happened to tax credits for tuition, education, and textbook amounts?
A: Again here, we’re seeing some significant changes. As of January 1, 2017, only the tuition credit can be claimed on the Federal tax return and then only if the total exceeds $100 in the year. What’s happened is that the finance department has removed the monthly education amount of $400 for full time students and $120 for part-time students, as well as the monthly text book amount, which was $65 for full-time students and $20 for part-time students.

However, when you look at the tax return you are still going to see references to the tuition education and textbook amount found in Schedule 11. That’s important because, students can still carry forward any unused amount from all three components of this credit from prior years.

The other thing I should mention is that the provinces all have education credits but that’s changing too, so, in Saskatchewan, for example, there has been an elimination of both the tuition and education credits as of July 1, 2017. Therefore, on the Saskatchewan provincial return you can only claim those credits for half of the year.

Q: Now, the public transit credit is also gone. What’s the effective date on that? 
A: On the Federal side, we saw that credit eliminated as of July 1, 2017. So again, it’s a situation where you’re going to have to keep your receipts and make the claim, just for half the year in 2017.

Q: In your view, what was the Liberal government’s rationale for eliminating these credits, and what did taxpayers get in return?
A: Well, the government is really undergoing quite a significant tax reform at the moment. When they came in with their first tax changes after the election, one of the first things they did was reduce the middle-income tax rate, for income between about $46,000 and about $92,000, from 22% to 20.5%. In addition,  they created an upper income tax bracket increasing the tax rate from 29%-33% on income over $202,800. The third thing they did was they introduced the more generous child benefits.

In fact, that benefit has recently been indexed for the beneficiaries starting in July 2018. If your family net income is under $35,450 then you’ll be able to receive over $500 a month for each child under the age of 6, and around $450 a month for each child age 6-17. These are quite lucrative amounts but they require the filing of a tax return and the combining of net family income.

Q: The eligibility for medical tax credits for fertility treatments has been expanded retroactively. Please explain those changes and what actions taxpayers who are impacted should take to realize the full benefit of these changes.
A: Yes, starting in 2017 and subsequent years, the expenses for medical treatments to conceive a child will be deductible even if the treatments are not required because of a medical condition, which was the criteria in the past. If the expenses ocurred in a year from 2008 forward they can still be adjusted, because we have a 10 year adjustment period that we can take advantage of.

Q: What, if any, other surprises might tax payers have when they start filling out their 2017 tax return?
A: Well, there are a lot of things that change every year including indexing of various tax credits, tax rates and claw back zones. But I think the one big change that I’d really like to point out is the caregiver credit. It’s new for 2017, and it replaces three credits from the past: the family caregiver tax credit, the caregiver tax credit, and the tax credit for infirm dependents. So now one caregiver can get credit.

The second thing is that there are two different amounts: one that I call a mini-credit of $2,150, and one that I’m going to call the maxi-credit of $6,883. So on the mini-credit side you must claim this. It’s the only credit you can claim for an infirm or disabled minor child. But not necessarily one who receives a disability tax credit, but someone who is infirm as it relates to normal development of other children on both a physical or a mental basis.

A person that can claim this mini-credit is someone for whom you are a claiming a spousal amount or an equivalent to spouse amount. Now, the maxi-credit generally is claimed for an eligible dependent who is over the age of 18. But in some cases, if you have a spouse with a low income, you can claim a top-up credit of up to $1,683.

So you’re going to have to take a close look at Schedule 5 on the tax return and at net income allowance, particularly for low income earning spouses, to make a complicated tax calculation. What you need to remember is that your dependents no longer need to live with you. You cannot claim this amount for someone age 65, who is healthy, which is what you could do before under the caregiver amount.

Q: It sounds very complicated. Can taxpayers typically rely on their tax software to guide them and ensure they get all the credits and deductions they are entitled to? In what circumstances do you think that they should seek professional advice?
A: Well, you know, I’m a big fan of tax software because these programs, first of all, take the worry out of the math for you, and some of the math calculations, particularly as you are calculating federal and provincial taxes is very complicated. But the tax program is not necessarily going to prepare the tax return to your best advantage. There are lots of ways to do the math correctly. What you are aiming for is to calculate to your family’s overall benefit, and to do some tax planning as well.

For example, there are a number of carry-forward provisions that people may not be aware of, or they don’t enter properly. You can carry forward charitable donations to up to five years. You can carry forward capital losses in stock market investments indefinitely to offset capital gains in your future.

The other thing is that starting in 2017, you absolutely have to file the refund titled T2091, a designation of principle residence form, even if you sell a tax-exempt principle residence. Anyone who sells property starting in 2017 has to fill in this complicated form. The tax software may or may not tell you about that, and if you miss it you could be issued a penalty of up to $8000. That could really hurt.

Q: What are the most frequent errors or omissions tax payers typically make when completing or filing their income tax return?
A: Any expense that is discretionary, so, I’m thinking of child care expenses and other kinds of expenses where people have out-of-pocket costs. Moving expense are really lucrative, for example. Also, missed medical expenses are very common.

Q: If you had three pieces of advice to offer tax payers to help ensure they file a correct tax return, and get all the credits and deductions they are entitled to, what would they be?
A: The first thing is to catch up on any delinquent filed returns. The option to benefit from the long available disclosure program is actually changing and it will close for some people, effective March 1, 2018. So if you chronically ignore your filing obligations, not only will you be unable to avoid tax-evasion policies, you may not be able to avoid interest relief in some harsher cases. That’s really important. Catch up if you’re behind.

The second thing is to make a RRSP contribution by March 1st this year because that RRSP contribution will reduce your family net income, which will increase things like your child’s health benefits, your GST credit or other refundable or non-refundable tax credits. The RRSP contribution is your ticket to bigger benefits or bigger tax refunds.

The last thing I would say, the average income tax refund in Canada is $1,735, which is a lot of money. That’s just your overpayment of taxes. Most people don’t realize that’s an interest-free loan that you give to the government. Turn that around, and put that money to work for you. Invest it in a TFSA because that’s going to allow you to earn tax- free investment savings for your future, or if you have children in the family, why not take advantage of the lucrative Canada Education Savings Grants and the Canada Learning Bonds by investing in an RESP. There’s lots of ways for people to leverage the money that they pre-paid to the tax department.

That’s really helpful Evelyn. Thank you very, very much. It was a pleasure to chat with you today.

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity.

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This is an edited transcript of an interview recorded 2/07/2018.

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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.