RRSP

Pape’s book provides solid groundwork for a well-planned retirement

March 4, 2021

Gordon Pape has become a dean of financial writers in Canada, and his book Retirement’s Harsh New Realities provides us with a great overview of our favourite topic.

There’s even a shout-out to the Saskatchewan Pension Plan!

While this book was penned last decade, the themes it looks at still ring true. “Pensions. Retirement age. Health care. Elder care. Government support. Tax breaks. Estate planning,” Pape writes. “All these issues – and more – are about to take centre stage in the public forums.”

He looks at the important question of how much we all need in retirement. Citing a Scotiabank survey, Pape notes that “56 per cent of respondents believed they would be able to get by with less than $1 million, and half of those put the figure at under $300,000” as a target for retirement savings. A further 28 per cent thought they would need “between $1 million and $2 million.” Regardless of what selection respondents made, getting that much in a savings pot is “daunting,” the survey’s authors note.

Government programs like the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) help, but the benefits they provide are relatively modest. “If we want more than a subsistence-level income, we have to provide it for ourselves,” Pape advises.

He notes that the pre-pandemic savings rate a decade ago was just 4.2 per cent, with household debt at 150 per cent when compared to income. Debt levels have gone up since then. “Credit continues to grow faster than income,” he quotes former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney as saying. “Without a significant change in behaviour, the proportion of households that would be susceptible to serious financial stress from an adverse shock will continue to grow.” Prescient words, those.

So high debt and low savings (they’ve gone up in the pandemic world) are one thing, but a lack of financial literacy is another. Citing the report of a 2011 Task Force on Financial Literacy, Pape notes that just 51 per cent of Canucks have a budget, 31 per cent “struggle to pay the bills,” those hoping to save up for a house had managed to put away just five per cent of the estimated down payment, and while 70 per cent were confident about retirement, just 40 per cent “had a good idea of how much money they would need in order to maintain their desired lifestyle.”

One chapter provides a helpful “Retirement Worry Index” to let you know where your level of concern about retirement should be. Those with good pensions at work, as well as savings, a home, and little debt, have the least to worry about. Those without a workplace pension, with debt and insufficient savings, need to worry the most.

If you fall anywhere other than “least worried” on Pape’s list, the solution is to be a committed saver, and to fund your own retirement, he advises. He recommends putting away “at least 10 per cent of your income… if you’re over 40, make it a minimum of 15 per cent.” Without your own savings, “retirement is going to be as bleak as many people fear it will be.”

Pape recommends – if you can — postponing CPP payments until age 70, so you will get “42 per cent more than if you’d started drawing it at 65.” RRSP conversions should take place as late as you can, he adds. This idea has become very popular in the roaring ‘20s.

Pape also says growth should still be a priority for your RRSP and RRIF. “Just because you’ve retired doesn’t mean your RRSP savings need to stagnate,” he writes. And if you find yourself in the fortunate position of “having more income than you really need” in your early retirement needs, consider investing any extra in a Tax Free Savings Account, Pape notes.

Trying to pay off debt before you retire was once the norm, but the idea seems to have fallen out of fashion, he writes. His other advice is that you should have a good idea of what you will get from all retirement income sources, including government benefits.

In a chapter looking at RRSPs, he mentions the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. The SPP, he writes, has a “well diversified” and professionally managed investment portfolio, charges a low fee of 100 basis points or less, and offers annuities as an option once you are ready to retire.

This is a great, well-written book that provides a very solid foundation for thinking about retirement.

If you find yourself on the “yikes” end of the Retirement Worry Index, and lack a workplace pension plan, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be the solution you’ve been looking for. If you don’t want to design your own savings and investment program, why not let SPP do it for you – they’ve been helping build retirement security for Canadians for more than 35 years.

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.


Research suggests many should take CPP, QPP later – and use RRSPs to bridge the gap

February 25, 2021

Are Canadians doing things backwards when it comes to rolling out their retirement plans?

New research from Dr. Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald of the National Institute on Ageing at Ryerson University suggests that in some cases, we are putting the cart before the horse when it comes to our Canada Pension Plan (CPP) or Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) benefits.

Save with SPP spoke by telephone with Dr. MacDonald to find out more about her research.

In her paper, titled Get the Most from the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans by Delaying Benefits, Dr. MacDonald notes that “95 per cent of Canadians have consistently taken CPP at normal retirement age (65) or earlier,” and that a mere one per cent “choose to delay for as long as possible, to age 70.”

This, she writes in the paper, can be a costly decision. “An average Canadian receiving the median CPP income who chooses to take benefits at age 60 rather than at age 70 is forfeiting over $100,000 (in current dollars) of secure lifetime income.”

She tells Save with SPP that tapping into your (registered retirement savings plan) RRSP and other savings first, as a bridge to a higher CPP or QPP later, can make a lot of sense. “Rather than holding on to the RRSP, why not use the RRSPs sooner and CPP later,” she explains.

Even waiting one year – taking CPP or QPP at 61 instead of 60 – means you will get nearly 12 per cent more pension for life, she says. The longer they wait to start CPP, the more they get – about 8.2 per cent more for each year after age 65, Dr. MacDonald explains.

If you go the other route, and take your government pension at 60, “you don’t know what your savings will look like at 70,” she notes. As well, those savings may be harder to manage when you are older, especially if you are “drawing down” money from a registered retirement income fund (RRIF).

Many people, she notes, worry that taking government benefits at 70 is too late, and that they will potentially die before getting any benefits. Most people who are in good health will live long beyond age 70, she says; the data shows that only a small percentage of Canadians don’t make it past their 60s.

Dr. MacDonald notes as well that the retirement industry tends to help people save, but doesn’t help them on the tricky “decumulation,” or drawdown phase. It would be akin to having an adviser set you up with skis, boots, poles and bindings, and deliver you the top of the ski hill – where you would be on your own to figure out how to get to the bottom, she says.

While “Freedom 55” was a popular concept in decades past, the data shows that the retirement age is creeping back up to age 65 and beyond, she says.

“Finances… are part of the reason why people are retiring later,” she explains. Pension plans are less common these days, and not all of them still offer an early retirement window. Few offer incentives to late retirement, she adds.

Her paper concludes that Canadians – and the financial industry that advises many of them – need to rethink the conventional idea of taking CPP or QPP as soon as possible in retirement, and then hanging onto RRSPs until it is time to RRIF them up the road.

“Despite wanting and needing greater income security, Canadians are clearly choosing not to delay CPP/QPP benefits, thereby forfeiting the safest, most inexpensive approach to get more secure retirement income,” she writes. By showing, through the Lifetime Loss calculation, that Canadians can lose out on $100,000 of secure retirement income, the hope is that the industry and policymakers will begin to rethink how they present retirement strategies to Canadians, the paper concludes.

We thank Dr. Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald for taking the time to speak with Save with SPP.

Celebrating its 35th year, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) has a long tradition of building retirement security. SPP is flexible when it comes to paying out pensions – you can start as early as 55 or as late as 71. Check out SPP, it may be the retirement solution you are looking for.

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.


Are there some new ideas on how to keep us all safe from COVID?

February 18, 2021

We’ve all been told, repeatedly, about the various public health and safety measures we can follow to try and reduce the risk of catching COVID-19. Up to now, it has been physical distancing – staying two metres apart – plus masks, hand sanitizing, and staying at home as often as possible.

Some folks say these steps are causing other problems, particularly the idea of isolation.

Writing in the Toronto Sun, columnist Sue-Ann Levy asks “if Ontario residents are distressed and frustrated by the latest lockdown, think of what a living hell it must be for seniors confined to their rooms in long-term care and retirement homes for now what is going into our 11th month of pandemic restrictions.”

The article notes that isolation is particularly harmful for the mental health of seniors. It’s not great for the rest of us, warns an article in the Sarnia-Lambton (Ontario) Journal. Public health officials in the Southwestern Ontario city say they are seeing a rise in domestic abuse there.

“Social isolation, financial instability and reduced access to friends and family has increased both the level of violence and its intensity,” the article reports, quoting Ange Marks, executive director of the Women’s Interval Home in the area.

Similarly, an opinion article in the Chicago Sun-Times warns that remote learning also has downsides for the kids.

“Evidence from the first year of the pandemic in the United States suggests that the social isolation created by school closures has exacerbated an ongoing childhood mental health crisis,” warn five doctors from the Chicago area.

Even the masks themselves are getting into the headlines. Is one sufficient, a report in the National Post, or should we wear two?

“If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” states Dr. Anthony Fauci in the Post article.

That’s a lot to take in. Are there other approaches we can take that might be a little easier to handle?

Well, yes, people are hard at work on new approaches.

In Malaysia, reports Bernama, researchers are working on a new method to detect the virus using DNA and fibre optic sensors.

In Nova Scotia, reports Global News contract tracing will soon be much easier thanks to a new app that tracks restaurant patrons all over the province.

Up to now, the work of contract tracing has been done with dozens of different methods, but mostly pen and paper. “It is our hope that contact tracing will assist in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and help get us one step closer to a pandemic-free future,” states Gordon Stewart of the province’s Restaurant Association in the Global article.

Other research is being carried out on whether air purifiers might have a role to play in lessening the risk of COVID-19 infections, according to a second Global News report. The kinks of this approach are still being worked out, but it is believed that an air purifier with a HEPA filter, if correctly positioned, can help “remove viruses and germs from the atmosphere.”

We’ve all read about the various (and numerous) vaccines that are being rolled out, and administered across Canada.

Putting all this together, yes, the distancing and masking and isolation are tough medicine. But humans are an innovative bunch, and the same innovation that led to the rapid development of new vaccines is helping with new treatment approaches. That allows all of us to take a moment, now and then, to think of life after the pandemic.

The post-pandemic world, for many of us, will represent the run-up to retirement. If you don’t have a plan for retirement, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan could be a plan for you. Once you’ve joined up, you can contribute at any rate you choose, up to $6,600 per year (subject to available RRSP room). The SPP will invest that money (they’ve averaged an annual return of eight per cent since the plan’s inception 35 years ago) and, when work is done, can turn your invested cash into a lifetime income stream. Why not 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, 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.


The Sleep-Easy Retirement Guide takes some of the surprises out of life after work

December 31, 2020

If there’s one thing that working Canadians can’t quite grasp with their imagination, it’s what things will be like when they step away from full-time work.

David Aston’s The Sleep-Easy Retirement Guide is a great and refreshingly Canadian-focused look at what lies ahead – and what you need to think about to ensure you make the best of it.

The book begins by noting that the old days of “full-stop” retirement at 65 are gone. “You can retire much earlier than 65 or much later. You can leave work full-stop, or you can work in a second career, or you can work as little or as much as you want or need to with part-time employment or on contract,” he writes. You can also start a business or just go for “the traditional retirement of leisure.”

So saving, Aston writes, is a bit tricky, because you normally start saving “many years ahead of when you will have a clear picture of what your financial demands will be in retirement.”

Aston sees three “paths” for retirement savings. The “Steady Eddie” approach involves saving “at a constant rate throughout your working life.” If a 25-year-old put 10 per cent of his or her salary into retirement savings annually for 40 years, there would be $1 million in the nest egg at age 65.

Other approaches give you the same result – a “gradual ramp up” means you start at six per cent per year and increase to 30 per cent for the 25 years before age 65. Or, there’s the “mortgage first, save later” approach where, after mortgage is done, you save 35 per cent of income for the 13 years left to retirement.

If working part-time, or at something different, is part of your “life after full-time work” plans, Aston provides a handy list of tips for older job-hunters, who may not have looked for work for a while. Among the tips are getting familiar with today’s more tech-focused approach to human resources, such as the use of Skype or FaceTime for interviews, and LinkedIn for shopping your resume around.

The book has many great chapters focused on decision points. Maybe you’re at age 65 with a reasonable stash of money in your RRSP. Aston’s detailed charts show how retiring at 68 instead can boost your annual cash flow by an impressive $11,360, thanks in part from holding off on withdrawals from savings and taking Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security benefits later.

Another set of tables looks at what couples and singles spend in retirement. For an average couple, here’s what goes out: $44,000 a year for shelter, mortgage, vehicles, groceries, health and dental, home and garden, clothing, communication, financial services and transportation. But wait, there’s more – they’ll spend a further $16,400 on “the extras,” which include recreation and entertainment, restaurants and alcohol, a second home, travel, pets, gifts and charities, and miscellaneous perks.

Aston says an important concept is to have a “sustainable withdrawal rate” from savings, so that you don’t run out. He recommends taking four per cent out of your savings each year, if you start at age 65. The four per cent figure assumes “a blend of both investment returns and drawdown of principal.”

If you don’t want to risk running out of savings, Aston says an annuity may be for you. “An annuity gives you the opportunity to purchase your own defined-benefit pension plan,” he explains. They “are an ideal product for many middle-class Canadians who are concerned about outliving their wealth,” Aston adds.

This well-written, thorough and very informative book ends with some very good advice. “Behind the goal of a life well lived,” writes Aston, “it helps to have the support of finances well-managed.”

Did you know that Saskatchewan Pension Plan members have the option of receiving their savings in the form of a lifetime annuity? The annuity delivers you a payment that stays the same, and lands in your bank account every month for the rest of your life. And, depending on what annuity option you pick, it can continue on to your surviving spouse. Not an SPP member yet? Check their website and find out how you can sign up!

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.


Dec 28: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

December 28, 2020

Retirement income will come from many different buckets – so be aware of tax rules

When we are working full time, taxes are fairly straightforward. Our one source of income is the only one that gets taxed. Very straightforward.

It’s a far different story, writes Dale Jackson for BNN Bloomberg, once you’re retired. Income may come from multiple sources, he explains.

“Think of your retirement savings as several buckets with different tax consequences: registered retirement savings plan (RRSP), spousal RRSP, workplace pension or annuity, part-time work income, tax-free savings account (TFSA), non-registered savings, Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security benefits (OAS), and home equity lines of credit (HELOC),” he explains. 

“The trick is to take money from the buckets with the highest tax implications at the lowest possible tax rate and top it off with money from the buckets with little or no tax consequences.” Jackson points out.

A company pension plan is a great thing, he writes, but income from it is taxable. “If you are fortunate enough to have had a company-sponsored pension plan – whether it is defined contribution or defined benefit – or an annuity, you have the misfortune of being fully taxed on withdrawals in retirement,” he explains.

It’s the same story for your RRSP – it’s fully taxable. Both pension income and RRSP income may be eligible for income splitting if you qualify, Jackson notes.

He explains how a spousal RRSP can save you taxes. “If one spouse contributes much more than the other during their working life, they can split their contributions with the lower-income spouse through a spousal RRSP. The contribution can be claimed by the higher-income spouse and gives the spouse under 65 a bucket of money that will be taxed at their lower rate,” Jackson writes.

CPP and OAS benefits are also fully taxed, and the latter can be clawed back in whole or in part depending on your other income, he notes.

Other buckets to consider include part-time work. “More seniors are working in retirement than ever,” Jackson writes. While income is taxable, he recommends that you talk to your financial adviser – there may be work-related expenses that are tax-deductible. And you can always work less if you find your other sources of income are increasing!

Interest from non-registered investments like Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs) or bonds is taxable. Dividends on non-registered investments are also taxable, but dividend tax credits are available. You will be taxed on half of the gains you make on investments like stocks (again, if they are non-registered) when you sell, Jackson explains. There’s no tax on interest, dividends or growth for investments that are in a RRSP, a Registered Retirement Income Fund, or a TFSA, Jackson notes.

Tax-free income can come from TFSAs or reverse mortgages and HELOCs, but Jackson warns that “a HELOC is a loan against your own home… you will pay interest when the house is sold or the owner dies.”

The takeaway from all this great advice is this – be sure you’re aware of all your sources of post-work income and the tax rules for each. That knowledge will making managing the taxes on all these buckets a little less stressful.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan is celebrating its 35th year of operations in 2021. Check out their website 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.


Dec 14: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

December 14, 2020

Could we see a change in RRIF withdrawal rules?

An interesting idea that’s apparently being discussed in political circles is one of high interest to retirees – it’s the thought of doing away with minimum withdrawal rules from Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs).

According to an article on the Sudbury.com site, this idea seems to be focusing on the fact that retirees may not want to withdraw funds – or at least, less funds than the usual minimum – from their RRIFs during a time when the markets have been volatile due to the worldwide pandemic.

“Each year, seniors with registered retirement income funds have to withdraw a minimum amount from their savings, which is considered taxable income,” the article explains.

“The Liberals shifted the marker this year, dropping the minimum for each senior by 25 per cent to ease concerns raised by the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. That let those who could afford it leave more money in their tax-sheltered investments, hoping to recoup losses from the pounding the pandemic delivered to the markets,” the article continues.

The article notes that 2.1 million Canadians had RRIFs in 2018, with an average balance of $114,019. That average withdrawal, again according to the article, was $10,645 in 2018, with 41 per cent of RRIF owners withdrawing more than that.

When you’re too old to put money into a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), one of your options is to transfer the funds into a RRIF. There, your funds continue to grow tax-free, but you are taxed on a minimum amount you have to take out each year – at least under the present rules.

Your other options for the RRSP, when it ends, are to buy a life annuity (more on that later) or to withdraw it all in cash and pay taxes on the entire amount.

So what’s the deal with this new RRIF idea?

It could be a good option for those of us with RRIF savings who don’t want to “sell low,” and take money out when markets aren’t strong. But, as the Sudbury.com article tells us, if this option ever comes to pass, it carries a price tag – for Ottawa.

The Parliamentary Budget Office, the article notes, says “cutting the minimum withdrawal all the way to zero would end up costing the federal treasury $940 million next year, rising each year until hitting just over $1 billion in 2025.”  That said, presumably – even if there is no minimum withdrawal amount – some seniors will still need to withdraw money from their RRIFs and would pay some of those “waived” taxes.

RRIFs aren’t perfect. As mentioned, you (currently) have to take money out even if markets tank, a set amount each year. As well, your income from a RRIF tends to fluctuate; you generally don’t get the same amount each year because you are withdrawing funds from a declining account balance. And, you could run out of RRIF money before you run out of life.

If you’re a Saskatchewan Pension Plan member, you have an additional option when you retire. You can convert your SPP savings to a life annuity. You’ll get the same income every month – for life – regardless of whether the markets go up or down, and the longer you live the more payments you get. SPP also has options for your spouse and beneficiary to receive income upon your death. Check this important SPP benefit 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, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


Workplace pensions can ease pandemic financial worries, panelists say

December 3, 2020

A recent online event, COVID-19 and Canada’s Workforce: A Crisis of Financial Security, suggests the pandemic has thrown a wrench into the retirement plans of Canadians.

The event, hosted by the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) and Common Wealth, took a look at how the pandemic is impacting our finances.

Common Wealth’s founding partner, Alex Mazer, noted that even before COVID-19, 43 per cent of Canadians were living cheque to cheque. Forty-four per cent had less than $5,000 in emergency savings, and 21 per cent had less than $1,000, Mazer says.

On the retirement savings front, Mazer says, things are even bleaker. “The median retirement savings of near-retirement households is only $3,000,” he notes. Four of 10 Canadians have no retirement savings at all, and 10 million lack any kind of workplace pension program.

With the pandemic now impacting work and income, many Canadians “don’t feel they have the capacity to save… and that is a real problem for our society,” he warns.

Citing recent research from FP Canada, Mazer noted that worries about money impact our performance at work. That research found 44 per cent of Canadians are “stressed” about their finances, and research from the Canadian Payroll Association found we are spending “30 minutes a day worrying” about money.

“If you are worried about your finances, it’s hard to bring your full self to work,” Mazer notes.

He noted that the lack of workplace pensions, long considered a pillar of Canada’s retirement system along with government pension benefits and individual savings, is having a negative impact.

“The greatest weakness in the Canada’s retirement system is the lack of workplace pensions,” he says. Coverage levels today are at about half of what they were in the 1970s.

Mazer is a proponent of giving more Canadians access to pension programs; he says the most efficient types are “large scale pooled plans, or large Canada model (defined benefit) plans.” Both types feature retirement saving at low fees, professional investing, and risk pooling, he explains.

Elizabeth Mulholland, CEO of Prosper Canada, says 47 per cent of people working in the non-profit sector work freelance or part time, and face lower pay. “Insecurity is a way of life for our sector,” she says.

She notes that 28 per cent of Canadians have raided their registered retirement savings plans or Tax Free Savings Accounts due to the pandemic. “They have depleted their already inadequate retirement savings, and are now further behind due to COVID,” Mulholland says, adding that the pandemic has been “a wakeup call for the financial vulnerability of Canadians.”

Pension plans should consider automatic enrolment – an “opt out” feature rather than “opt in” – and need to be flexible for part-time workers. She says support for workers with general financial literacy would help them make the most of their retirement benefits.

Bell Canada Vice-President, Pension & Benefits and Assistant Treasurer Eleanor Marshall says her company’s pension plan is appreciated by employees. “Eighty per cent strongly value the pension plan,” she explains.

When COVID hit, she says, “there were a couple of responses from our employees.” Top priority, she says, was health and safety and social distancing. Next was job security. But the third concern was their pension plan and its investments.

Marshall says there needs to be more emphasis on individuals building emergency savings for situations – such as during the pandemic – when they need to “bridge the gap” for a period of job loss.

Pension plans, she adds, are important “for attracting and retention.” While younger employees don’t worry much or think about their pensions, they “will eventually appreciate having a pension plan” once they get older.

In general, Marshall said, there’s a link between financial wellness and mental wellness, and delivering a retirement system for employees is a positive measure on both fronts.

Renee Legare, Executive Vice-President and Chief Human Resources Officer at The Ottawa Hospital, says that during the pandemic, the worry for hospital workers wasn’t so much job security but definitely “their health and wellness.” She says healthcare workers feel lucky to have a good workplace pension.

She says portability – the ability to continue with the pension when you move from one job to another – is a solid feature of the plan. “It’s a major benefit for healthcare workers; they can move from one employer to another without losing their (pension) investment,” she explains.

The event was chaired by Ivana Zanardo, Vice President of Client Services at HOOPP. Save with SPP would like to thank James Guezebroek of HOOPP for directing us to the presentation.

If you’re among the many millions of Canadians who don’t have a workplace pension plan, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be the savings program for you. It features low-cost, professional investing and pooling, and since it is a member-directed savings program you can continue to belong to SPP even if you change jobs. SPP can also be offered as a workplace pension. Why not check out it 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.


Oct 19: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

October 19, 2020

Watch out for these 20 mistakes retirement savers are making

The journey between the here and now of work, and the imaginary future wonderworld of retirement, is a peculiar one. We all imagine the destination differently and no one’s super clear on the route!

The folks over at MSN have a great little post about 20 pitfalls we need to avoid on the retirement journey.

The first, and probably most obvious pitfall, is “not having enough savings.” The blog post notes that “32 per cent of Canadians approaching retirement don’t have any savings,” citing BNN Bloomberg research. “Middle-aged and older Canadians should start saving as early as possible,” the post warns.

If you’re already a saver, are you aware of the fees you are paying on your investments? “High fees can eat up huge amounts of your savings over time if you’re not careful,” the post states.

Many of us who lack savings say hey, no problem, I’ll just keep working, even past age 65. The post points out that (according to Statistics Canada), “30 per cent of individuals who took an early retirement in 2002 did so because of their health.” In other words, working later may not be the option you think it is.

Are you assuming the kids won’t need any help once you hit your gold watch era? Beware, the blog says, noting that RBC research has found “almost half of parents with children aged 30-35 are still financially subsidizing their kids in some way.”

Another issue for Canucks is taking their federal government benefits too early. You don’t have to take CPP and OAS until age 70, the blog says – and you get substantially more income per month if you wait.

Some savers don’t invest, the blog says. “While it may seem risky to rely on the stock market, the real risk is that inflation will eat up your savings over time, while investments tend to increase in value over long periods of time,” the MSN bloggers tell us.

Raiding the RRSP cookie jar before you retire is also a no-no, the blog reports – the tax hit is heavy and you lose the room forever. Conversely, there are also penalties for RRIF owners if they fail to take enough money out, the blog says.

Other tips – expect healthcare costs of $5,391 per person in retirement each year, avoid retiring with a mortgage (we know about this one), be aware of the equity risks of a reverse mortgage, and don’t count on your house to fully fund your retirement.

The takeaway from all of this sounds very straightforward, but of course requires a lot of self-discipline to achieve – you need to save as much as you can while eliminating debt, all prior to retirement. And you have to maximize your income from all sources. That’s how our parents and grandparents did it – once there was no mortgage or debt they put down the shovel and enjoyed the rest of their time.

If you have a workplace pension, congratulations – you are in the minority, and you should do what you can to stay in that job to receive that future pension. If you don’t have a pension at work, the onus for retirement savings is on you. If you’re not sure about investments and fees, you could turn to the Saskatchewan Pension Plan for help. They have been growing peoples’ savings since the mid-1980s, all for a very low investment fee, and they can turn those savings into lifetime income when work ends and the joy of retirement begins.

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.


The age old question – should you pay off debt or save for retirement

October 15, 2020

As a society, we are inundated with advertising on TV, social media and traditional newspapers that urge us all to save for retirement. We see a similar number of headlines, tweets and news items warning us that Canadians have record levels of household debt.

We are told to save for retirement, but also to pay off our debts. Is there a correct answer to the question of which comes first, retirement saving or debt reduction? Save with SPP clicked around to see what people are saying about this topic.

CTV British Columbia notes that the question for any leftover money at the end of the month is typically “spend it or save it.”

In the CTV report, Penny Wang of Consumer Reports proposes doing both. “It’s difficult to tackle two financial goals at once, but if you take a two-pronged approach, you can save for retirement and pay down your debt at the same time,” she tells the broadcaster.

Wang says you need to start by creating a basic budget to see where your money is going. This can help free up more for debt reduction and saving, she advises. Make your own coffee and cook at home, she suggests.

Take that extra money and put some on debt, targeting “high interest debt like credit cards first,” and lower interest debt later. For long-term savings, the article suggests setting up some sort of automatic withdrawal plan so the cash is gone before you have time to spend it.

The MoneyTalks News blog comes down a little more on the side of retirement saving.

“While living debt-free is a great goal, accumulating a pile of cash is critical, especially for those approaching retirement,” states MoneyTalks News founder Stacy Johnson in the article.

Debts like mortgages, he explains, can be dealt with by selling off your house and renting, but when you are entering retirement, “cash is king.”

He advises people to save “as much as possible” inside and outside retirement accounts, and once a “comfortable cushion” is achieved, you can turn your attention to putting extra money on debt, including mortgages.

So let’s put this together. At a time when the pandemic has many of us off work and/or receiving government help, we’re dealing with two problems – high household debt and low retirement savings. We know how much debt we have. According to the Motley Fool blog notes the following:

“To understand whether your registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) measures up, it helps to look at how other Canadians are doing with theirs. There are ample studies out there to help you find that out. One such study from the Bank of Montreal revealed the average Canadian’s RRSP balance.

The amount? $101,155.

At an average portfolio yield of 3.5%, that pays about $3,500 a year.

A nice income supplement, but nothing you can retire on.

Clearly, you’ll need more than that to retire comfortably. The question is, how much more?”

So, for those of us with debt, and without sufficient retirement savings, any road will take us to Rome. Whether you decide to save for retirement first and deal with debt later, or go with the two-pronged approach, succeeding in managing debt and growing savings will deliver you a lot more security once you’re retired.

If you’re in the market for a retirement savings plan, you may want to consider the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP). The SPP allows you to contribute in many different ways – you can have money directly transferred from your bank account on a monthly basis, or you can set up SPP as an online bill and transfer in money now and then. That flexibility can help you ratchet up savings even as you chip away at debt.

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.