Tax Free Savings Account

Nov 22: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

November 22, 2021

New retirement plan’s goal is to “coast” into retirement

Writing in the Toronto Star, Lesley-Anne Scorgie reveals a new variation on the “financial independence, retire early” or FIRE plan.

This new variant, she tells us, is called the Coast FIRE plan.

But let’s backtrack. What exactly is the basic FIRE plan?

Scorgie writes that the FIRE movement was born in the late 1990s.

“These people were obsessed with early retirement and were willing to sacrifice just about anything to contribute significant sums of money to their nest egg as quickly as possible so that they could quit their jobs generally before age 50 and start to ‘live,’” she explains.

But, she says, for many this FIRE plan meant “going without vacations, eating beans daily and just being a cheapskate.” The idea was that foregoing the “extras” in life would allow one to put away thousands a month until having enough money to retire completely by age 50.

“I have two major issues with the concept,” she writes. “Firstly, the lifestyle of ultra-frugality is not appealing. Secondly, banking many thousands of dollars every month throughout your 20s, 30s and 40s is pretty unattainable for most people living in just about any city in Canada. The cost of living and debt are major preventative barriers.”

She goes on to point out “also, who retires at 50? You could have a whole other life, career and so on at that age!”

This is where Coast FIRE puts a different spin on the plan.

There is still an emphasis on financial independence, writes Scorgie, but “you steadily build up your nest egg until it reaches a point where it can grow independently through the power of compound interest and reinvested returns to the ultimate nest egg size you want, without you having to save another dime after you get to that initial savings point.”

So rather than having a hard stop to work, this variant of the plan has you basically creating a significant wealth creation nest egg that allows you to bolster your retirement income significantly when it’s time to log off for a final time.

And that’s the significant difference – the frugality and penny-pinching ends when your nest egg has reached its target amount.

“Once you reach the point where you no longer need to add another dollar to your retirement portfolio, you can have loads more freedom to do what you want like — work part-time or at a different job you like better, enjoy more cash flow for vacations and fun because you no longer have to tuck away 20 per cent of your income into your registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) and tax free savings account (TFSA),” she writes.

To figure out this retirement math, you need to have a general idea of when you want to retire (age) and the approximate money you will need for financial independence at that age. Scorgie says there are many Coast FIRE calculators out there to help you figure out your numbers, but key to the calculation is “current age, desired retirement age, a safe withdrawal rate… and an inflation-adjusted growth rate.”

This is a great column, and Scorgie’s views make a lot of sense. Many of us, for instance, only put away enough money in RRSPs to get us a tax refund each year. Not putting away enough when you are young makes it harder to catch up later.

Scorgie concludes by recommending that we all get some financial advice to ensure our savings plan is sound, also a wise suggestion.

If you are looking for a retirement savings vehicle that can generate steady growth and good returns during the time between now and the time to “coast” into retirement, consider the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. While past performance is not an indicator of future growth, the plan has averaged returns of eight per cent since its inception in 1986. That’s helped many of us build our retirement nest eggs. Check out SPP today.

Written by Martin Biefer

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


Navigating the complexity of the golden years: The Boomers Retire

August 26, 2021

The concept of retirement “has grown increasingly more sophisticated,” begin authors Alexandra Macqueen and David Field in their new book, The Boomers Retire.

“Canadians preparing for retirement,” they write, “have been able to contemplate a variety of highly personalized approaches – from early (or even very early) retirement, to phased retirement, working retirement, and more.”

This thorough book covers all matters retirement and boomer with clear, concise explanations, tables, charts, and focus.

Early, we learn about three “realities” in today’s retirement world – the amount of time we are retired is “increasingly longer,” that retirement is much more diffuse than the old “retire at 65” days of the past, and that funding retirements that may last longer than one’s working years is “increasingly complex.”

Workplace pensions aren’t as common as they were in the past, especially in the private sector, so many of us have to rely on government benefits, the authors explain. But Canada Pension Plan and Quebec Pension Plan maximum benefits are just over $1,200 a month, and worse, the “average benefit amount for new recipients is $710.41 per month, or about 60 per cent of the maximum.”

Old Age Security provides another $7,384.44 annually, but is subject to clawbacks, the authors observe. Lower-income retirees may qualify for the Guaranteed Income Supplement, we are told.

Those without a workplace pension plan (typically either defined benefit or defined contribution) will have to save on their own.

In explaining the difference between two common do-it-yourself retirement savings vehicles, the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) and the registered retirement savings vehicle (RRSP), the authors call the TFSA “a nearly perfect retirement savings and retirement income tool” since growth within it is free of tax, as are withdrawals. They recommend a strategy, upon withdrawing funds from an RRSP or registered retirement income fund (RRIF) of “withdrawing more than needed… and instead of spending that extra income, move it over to the TFSA.”

Our late father-in-law employed this strategy when decumulating from his RRIF, chortling with pleasure about the fact that he received “tax-free income” from his TFSA.

The book answers key timing questions, such as when to open a RRIF. Planners, the authors write, used to advise waiting “until the last possible moment” to move funds from an RRSP to a RRIF, at age 71. “The problem with this approach,” they tell us, “is that it sometimes results in low taxable income between retirement and age 71.” If you are in that situation, be aware that you don’t have to wait until 71, and can RRIF your RRSP earlier, they note.

A section on annuities – a plan feature for SPP members – indicates that they address the concern of running out of money in retirement, as annuities are generally paid for life. The trade-off, of course, is that you don’t have access to the funds used to provide the annuity.

Other retirement options, like continuing to work, taking a reverse mortgage, and starting your own business, are addressed. There’s a nice section on investing that looks at the pros (security) and cons (low interest rates) of bonds, how to treat dividend income, index exchange-traded funds, and more.

An overall message for this book, which is intended for both planners and individuals, is a focus on having an individualized strategy, rather than relying on various “rules of thumb.”

“Aiming for a smooth, even withdrawal over a retiree’s lifetime will often be the optimal approach,” the authors say. That’s complicated if, as our friend Sheryl Smolkin told us recently, your retirement income “river” comprises many different registered and non-registered streams. The authors say that a withdrawal rate of four per cent from your various retirement income sources is generally a good target.

Tax tips include remembering to claim medical expenses – many of us forget this category and miss out on tax savings – claiming the disability amount if you qualify, and taking advantage of income splitting. There’s a chapter on being a snowbird (there can be some unexpected downsides with it) and going the rental route in your latter years, when “the future is now.”

This clear, detailed, and very helpful book is a must for your retirement library.

If you’re a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, you’ll have the option at retirement to choose from a variety of great annuity products. Some offer survivor benefits, including the Joint & Survivor option where your surviving spouse will continue to receive some (or all) of your pension after you are gone. It’s a solid part of the SPP’s mandate of delivering retirement security, which it has done 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.


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.