Great West Life pilots employer RRSP match for student loansJanuary 25, 2018
Canadians enter the workforce with an average of nearly $27,000 in student loan debt. Such high amounts of debt typically take 10 years to repay, which means many delay saving for traditional life goals like home ownership, starting a family or retirement.
“So often it’s a choice between paying down student debt or making contributions to a retirement plan, but there is only so much wallet share available and student loans have to be paid off first, “ says Great-West Life Senior VP of Group Customer Experience and Marketing Brad Fedorchuk.
That’s why in January 2018 GWL is piloting a first in Canada — a voluntary retirement and savings program with select invited employers in their distribution network and their eligible employees. As participating members pay down their Canadian and provincial government student loans, they will receive an employer-matched contribution to their group retirement savings plan. The goal of the program is to allow members to save for retirement while they focus on paying down their student debt.
Employees will send documentation verifying their outstanding student loan to GWL plus quarterly statements confirming payments have been made. “Once we have verification of student debt repayment, we’ll create a report for the employer so employer matching RRSP payments can be made, Fedorchuk says.
The level of matching (i.e. dollar for dollar; 50 cents for every dollar) and any annual cap on matching will be based on the provisions of the existing group RRSP program. He continues, “Details still have to be worked out, but we envisage this program as a self-selected alternative to group RRSP matching for employees paying down student loans.”
With Americans owing over $1.45 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers, student debt repayment is emerging as one of the most popular new employee benefits. Some U.S. employers also assist students to pay off loans faster by helping them to consolidate or refinance their loans at a lower interest rate.
Although only 4% of U.S. companies offered student debt pay as down a benefit at the end of 2016, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, and employees are typically responsible for income taxes on the assistance received, it is expected that this percentage will grow. Fidelity, PwC, Aetna, Penguin Random House, Nvidia, First Republic and Staples are notable examples of early adopters, Forbes reports.
One advantage of GWL’s Canadian program is that by matching student debt repayments in the group RRSP, contributions are tax-sheltered. Also, subject to any limitations in the group RRSP plan design, employees can withdraw funds to participate in the Home Buyers’ Plan to buy or build a qualifying home for themselves or for a related person with a disability.
Fedorchuk acknowledges that it may be a challenge to encourage students to continue saving in the group RRSP when their student loans are paid off. Nevertheless, he believes that the pool of money accumulated in their RRSPs that they would not have had absent this program will be compelling. “Hopefully we can incent employees to continue contributing and receiving the match instead of shifting their monthly payments into ‘fun money,’ he says.
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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.|
How will you spend your tax return?April 28, 2016
By Sheryl Smolkin
You have filed your income tax return and now all you are waiting for is to see your overpayment appear in your bank account. While paying too much taxes and getting it back at the end of the year really means you are giving the Canada Revenue Agency a no-interest loan, the fact is that particularly with interest rates so low, many of us look forward to a windfall every spring.
Because my husband retired in June 2015, we are getting a nice chunk of money back and we are planning to spend it on a cruise to Australia and New Zealand for our 40th anniversary this fall. But depending on your age and stage of life, there may be many better places to spend the money than taking an exotic vacation.
Here are some options for you to consider in no specific order:
Pay off high interest debt
If you have credit card or other high interest consumer debt and can only afford to make minimum payments, double digit interest rates mean the amount you owe is growing instead of shrinking. Consider consolidating your debts a lower rate of interest and paying them down with your income tax return.
Seed your emergency account
Everyone knows somebody who has lost their job or had to stop work earlier than planned due to family illness. Most financial experts suggest you have at least three months’ salary in your emergency fund. This calculator from RBC can help you figure out how much you need. Your income tax return can help you seed or top up an emergency fund.
Pay down your student loan
Canada Student Loans are interest-free for six months after you graduate or leave school. You can choose between a fixed interest rate (where the rate doesn’t change for the duration of your loan) and a variable, or “floating,” interest rate (where it can fluctuate). For Canada Student Loans issued on or after August 1, 1995:
- The fixed interest rate is prime + 5%
- The floating interest rate is prime + 2.5%
The sooner you pay off your student loan, the sooner you can free up disposable income to save for other family priorities like a house or a car.
Pay down your mortgage
The longest running personal finance debate is whether you should use an income tax return or other windfall to pay down your mortgage or contribute to an RRSP or TFSA. Typically if you are paying a higher interest rate than you are earning in a savings vehicle, paying down your mortgage is more advantageous. Also, if at all possible, try to pay off your mortgage before you retire.
Contribute to a TFSA
In 2016 you can contribute $5,500 to a tax-free savings account. Contribution room from previous years can be carried forward. There is no tax deduction for contributions but your principle and any interest accumulates tax free and there is no tax on withdrawals. Also, if you take money out your TFSA contribution room is restored. Using your tax return to contribute to a TFSA allows you to accumulate money for retirement or other major purchases in the years prior to retirement. It is also a good place to park your emergency fund.
Contribute to an RRSP
Are you one of those people who scrambles to come up with a registered retirement savings plan contribution in February every year? By contributing your tax return to your RRSP you will get a head start on this year’s contribution and reach your retirement goals much sooner.
Contribute to an RESP
Tuition fees alone for Canadian undergraduate programs are currently about $6,000/year and they will be much higher before your young children graduate from high school. College tuition is lower but by the time you add books, living expenses and transportation costs these programs also cost thousands of dollars a year. If you use your income tax return to contribute to a Registered Educational Savings Plan, the money will accumulate tax free and taxes will be paid by the student who will likely have to pay little or no taxes. Also, an annual contribution of up to $2,500 will attract a government grant of up to $500/year to a lifetime maximum of $7,200.
Give to charity
If you donate all or part of your tax refund to an approved charity, you will not only benefit others, but you will get a non-refundable tax credit. If it is the first time you have made a charitable donation you may be eligible for the first-time donor’s super credit which supplements the value of the charitable donations tax credit by 25%. The FDSC applies to a gift of money made after March 20, 2013, up to a maximum of $1,000, in respect of only one taxation year from 2013 to 2017.
Upgrade your education
You want to upgrade your skills to put you in line for a promotion. You are bored with your current job and want to train part-time for another one. You’ve always wanted to fix your own car or learn a new language. You can use your income tax return to upgrade your education and you may also be entitled to tax credits for the tuition paid.
Invest in your health
Your dental plan does not cover the braces your child needs. You need a new pair of glasses that cost way more than the $150 every two years paid by your medical plan. You want buy training sessions at your gym to reach your fitness goals faster. Your income tax return can be used to invest in you or your family’s health and wellness.
May 18: Best from the blogosphereMay 18, 2015
By Sheryl Smolkin
Over the last few weeks, the Globe & Mail has featured an interesting series on debt, and how it is affecting both individuals and the economy. If you haven’t been following it, take a look at some of the stories below:
I particularly like Rob Carrick’s article There’s no such thing as good debt. Mortgages, investment loans and student loans have traditionally been characterized as “good” debt. Carrick agrees borrowing for each of these purposes can be a rational thing to do and you may end up wealthier as a result. But he concludes there are too many pitfalls today for any one of them to qualify as a no-brainer financial decision.
Big Cajun Man (Alan Whitton) on the Canadian Personal Finance lists several articles about the evils of debt among his personal favourites. In 2008, he wrote Debt is like Fat. He says that just like his weight gain occurred a little at a time over 14 years, if you are not careful, debt build up can occur slowly without your noticing it.
If you are facing a mountain of debt and don’t know where to start, take a look at How I Paid Off $30,000 of Debt in Two Years, The Blog Post I’ve Been Waiting to Write and What a Year of Being Debt-Free Has Taught Me by Cait Flanders, who blogs at Blonde on a Budget.
In 2013, Krystal Yee at Give me back my five bucks wrote How do you fight debt fatigue?. Debt fatigue is a mental state that can happen when you’ve been in debt for so long that you think you’ll never dig yourself out of the hole you’ve created for yourself. She quotes financial expert Gail Vaz-Oxlade who often tells people on her television shows to try and make a plan to get out of debt in 36 months or less – because anything more than three years, and you’ll likely suffer from some form of debt fatigue.
And finally, in a guest post on the Canadian Finance blog, Jim Yih from Retire Happy wrote that Debt Can Be A Problem For The Baby Boomers’ Retirement Plans. He says baby boomers who are getting ready for retirement need to get serious about planning for the best years of their lives. Part of getting serious is addressing debt head on and taking the necessary steps to develop good habits around debt. His five tips on how boomers can deal with the debt epidemic are: stop overspending; increase your income; get support; focus on you before your kids; and, take one step at a time.
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.