Tag Archives: Tax Free Savings Accounts

About one-third of Canadians lack an emergency fund – here are some tips to get you started

According to a recent article in MoneySense nearly two-thirds of Canadians have built an emergency fund. That’s great, but means that one-third of us have not.

For those of us is in that bottom third, an emergency fund is designed to cover “unexpected expenses, such as urgent major repairs (not renovations) to your home or car, unexpected medical expenses not covered by universal healthcare or insurance, or lack of income due to job loss,” MoneySense explains.

As many of us are finding out during this bizarre year 2020, without an emergency fund, these unexpected expenses are being covered “with a credit card… payday loans, or heavily using your unsecured line of credit,” the article continues. All of these are high-interest options, and the interest piles up if you can’t pay the money back in full.

Some folks also raid their retirement savings to pay the bills, a strategy that can backfire at tax time or in the distant future when you’re trying to leave the workforce – more about that later.

MoneySense recommends we all set aside enough money to cover “three to six months’ worth of fixed expenses.” OK, so we know the what and the why – let’s turn to the how.

An emergency fund, the article suggests, should not be set up like a retirement savings account. “Saving for an emergency isn’t about long-term goals, increasing your wealth, or planning for retirement, it’s about having immediate access to cash,” the site advises.

MoneySense recommends that you first create a budget to see how much you can set aside each month. That amount should be invested in either a TFSA or a high-interest savings account, the article notes. “Disconnect the account from your debit card so you won’t spend it,” the article advises. Automate payments so you don’t “forget” to make them, MoneySense says. “Pay yourself first.”

At Manulife’s website, the advice is similar. An additional idea on how to build the emergency fund is to cut back on costs – “think about how much you spend on coffee, lunches out, and other impulse purchases. Give up one or two things and week and stash that money into your savings,” the site suggests.

They also reiterate the idea of making savings automatic – treat your emergency fund “like a bill… the sooner it’s saved, the less time you will have to spend it.” Manulife also warns against the dangers of analysis paralysis – start small, say $10 a week or so, and ratchet things up as you go along.

Sun Life covers much of the same ground, but warns against using debt as an emergency fund or tapping into retirement savings.

“All withdrawals from RRSPs (except for education and home purchases, under the Lifelong Learning Plan and the Home Buyers’ Plan, respectively) are subject to income tax and will result in the permanent loss of contribution room – that is, once you’ve taken it out, you can’t put it back in. Any withdrawals from your RRSP are immediately subject to withholding tax,” Sun Life explains.

“If you withdraw up to $5,000, the withholding tax rate is 10 per cent. If you withdraw between $5,001 and $15,000, the withholding tax rate is 20 per cent, and more than $15,000, the rate is 30 per cent. These tax rates apply in all provinces except Quebec, where provincial tax rates apply on top of the federal withholding tax,” the Sun Life article warns.

So to recap – create a savings account that isn’t hooked up to any of your cards, and automatically transfer money into it regularly. Keep the money in some sort of high-interest savings account so that it remains liquid, and ready to spend when an emergency arrives. You don’t want to risk losses here.

Think of it as an obligation, like a bill, that you have to pay each month. Then set it and forget it, until the next emergency comes along.

And if you’re busily automating your emergency fund savings, think about doing the same thing for your Saskatchewan Pension Plan retirement account. Have a pre-set amount earmarked for retirement automatically withdrawn from your bank account every payday. That way, just as is the case for a well-designed emergency fund, you’re paying your future self first.

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.

What do millennials think about retirement?

It’s clear to most of us – especially older Canadians – that younger people have a very different way of doing things. So that said, what do they think about retirement?

Save with SPP spoke recently to David Coletto, founding partner and CEO of research firm Abacus Data. His firm has carried out a lot of research on millennials – indeed, he has a book in the works – and he has noticed quite a few things about how younger people approach money and saving.

“No one young Canadian is going to be the same,” he says. As well, he adds, the current COVID-19 situation was not yet a factor when he carried out his research. However, he notes that the data suggests that some millennials are “as well off as the previous generation,” but others, less so. It really comes down to whether or not they live somewhere where they can afford a home, he explains.

There are reasons why housing affordability is an issue for millennials, he notes. For starters, housing prices in Canada’s major cities are near all-time highs. As a group, millennials do tend to have debt, and “the debt levels are much higher” than those of older generations, he explains. Dealing with heavy debt from student days, or the cost of raising kids, tends to “delay key milestones” for millennials.

“So much of their experience is different,” he says, “that it is difficult for them (millennials) to think of retirement when they are still focused on today. About one-third of this generation is struggling more than their parents did, and they will be less well off as a result.”

Abacus recently did some research with the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan that found, among other things, that 80 per cent of respondents would take a job that paid less money if it offered a pension.

Job security isn’t what it once was, Coletto explains. “There’s more freelance work, more part-time work – what we call precarious work, and less pensions available.”

When there’s no workplace pension, the onus for retirement saving falls on the individual. “It’s lower on the list for them, and saving (for retirement) is difficult to do,” he explains. “They are having to manage a lot of other expenses. And we are talking about the pre-COVID era, here.”

“It’s a big chunk that has to go to savings for a down payment, or to pay for a mortgage,” he says.

And it’s not just the workplace that has changed. Millennials are dealing with “a climate change crisis that is existential.” Some “are putting off having a family” over climate concerns, he says.

Millennials therefore tend to want to do things now, while they still can, instead of deferring life experiences and grand trips until they are older. “If the experiences won’t be there, or are not possible, what’s the point of trying to save? Especially when you can’t afford to,” asks Coletto.

Statistics show that only “one in four millennials put any money into an RRSP, and even those that do don’t have a lot of equity in them,” Coletto explains. And while Tax Free Savings Accounts are more attractive to younger people (due to the fact they aren’t locked in) take-up is pretty low there as well.

Absent personal savings, Coletto is concerned that the gap between those with pensions – such as their parents – and those without will create a real split. “There’s an inequality there which will continue to grow,” he predicts.

A way to avoid that scenario might be for Canada to adopt the Australian model for retirement savings, he explains. There, a percentage of every worker’s salary is automatically placed into retirement savings, no matter where you work. The money is then invested by large funds offering pooling and low-cost investing. Moving to an Australian model is “something that needs to be seriously discussed,” he says.

A final piece of advice from Coletto for millennials is this – look at what your parents did for their retirement, and see what you can learn from them.

We thank David Coletto for taking the time to speak with us.

There’s no question that access to a workplace pension is a great benefit for an employer to offer. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan can help. Please contact us for more details.

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

Well-written book identifies – and help fixes – retirement mistakes

A recent headline shouted out the fact that an eye-popping 40 per cent of Canadians “think they’ll be in debt forever.”

The article by Anne Gaviola, posted on the Vice website, cites data from Manulife. The article goes on to note that the average Canuck has $71,979 in debt – up from $57,000 five years ago. These figures, the article says, come via Equifax.

It wasn’t always like this, was it? Why are we all willing to live with debt levels that are approaching record highs?

Save with SPP had a look around for answers – why are we so comfy carrying heavy debt loads?

According to the Advisor, it may simply be that paying the way with debt has become so common that no one gets worked up about it anymore.

“Living with debt has become a way of life for both Generation X… and baby boomers as the stigma of owing money is gradually disappearing,” the publication reports, citing Allianz Life research originally published by Generations Apart.

The research found that “nearly half (48 per cent) of both generations agree that credit cards now function as a survival tool and 43 per cent agree that ‘lots of smart, hardworking people who are careful with spending also have a lot of credit card debt,’” the article reports. Having debt is making people plan to work indefinitely – the article notes that 27 per cent of Gen Xers, and 11 per cent of boomers “say they are either unsure about when they plan to retire or don’t plan to retire at all.”

Why the comfort with debt? The Gen Xers got credit cards earlier than their boomer parents, and half of Gen Xers (and nearly a third of boomers) never plan to pay anything more than the minimum payments on them, the article notes.

“Over the last three decades, there has been a collective shift in how people view debt – it’s now perceived as a normal part of one’s financial experience and that has fundamentally altered the way people spend and save,” states Allianz executive Katie Libbe in the article. “If Gen Xers continue to delay saving for retirement until they are completely out of debt, their nest egg is clearly going to suffer. For Gen Xers who are behind on saving, better debt management, with a focus on credit card spending, should be the first issue they address to get back on track,” she states.

To recap, it almost sounds like there’s a couple of generations out there who have never worried about debt.

What should people do to get out of debt?

According to the folks at Manulife, there’s a five-step process that will get you debt-free.

Manulife cites the fact that Canadians owe about $1.65 for every dollar they make. That suggests they aren’t ready to “make a budget and stick with it,” and always spending more than they earn, the article says.

In addition to getting real about budgeting, the other tips are paying off credit cards by targeting those with the highest interest rate first, considering debt consolidation, earning extra money, and negotiating with creditors.

Tips that Save with SPP can personally vouch for in managing debt include giving your credit cards to a loved one, and instructing that person not to hand them over even if you beg; paying more than the minimum on your credit cards and lines of credit; and trying to live on less than 100 per cent of what you earn, so that you are paying the rest to yourself.

While a country can perpetually run deficits and spend more than it earns – and most do – the math doesn’t work out as well for individuals. The piper eventually has to be paid. And if you only pay the minimums, that piper will get paid for many, many years.

Getting debt under control and paid off will help you in many ways, including saving for retirement. Perhaps as you gradually save on interest payments, you can direct the savings to a Saskatchewan Pension Plan retirement account, and watch your savings grow.

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

Dec 16: Best from the blogosphere

First wave of retiring boomers finding retirement disappointing

Retirement has always seemed like the light at the end of the tunnel for hard-working Canucks. But new research suggests that retiring boomers are finding it a little disappointing.

Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, noted financial journalist Jonathan Chevreau reports that new research from Sun Life finds “almost three in four retirees – 72 per cent – say retirement is not what they were expecting, and not in a good way.”

The 2019 Sun Life Barometer, he notes, found 23 per cent of retirees reported life after work was a tight money environment, where they were “following a strict budget and refraining from spending money on non-essential items.”

And those not yet retired are delaying their plans, Chevreau notes. A whopping 44 per cent of Canadians “expect they’ll still be employed full time at age 66,” and it’s because they “need to work for the money, rather than because they enjoy it.”

Why the strict budgeting? Chevreau notes that about half – 47 per cent – of those still working believe “there’s a serious risk they could outlive their retirement savings.”

The article says the lack of defined benefit pensions – the type where the retiree receives a pension equal to a percentage of what they were making at work – is one of the reasons for these concerns. Everyone without such plans is either saving in RRSPs or in defined contribution plans. In both these types of savings plans, you save as much as you can, and then turn that lump sum into retirement income, normally on your own.

This tendency for retirement plans to be savings plans designed to build a lump sum is, the article says “devolving responsibility onto the shoulders of individuals,” making the RRSP unit holder or DC plan member the person handling the risk of outliving the savings, known as longevity risk in the industry.

The article offers a couple of ways people can improve their retirement security.

Be sure, the article warns, that you are fully taking part in any retirement program your work offers. “Canadians are leaving up to $4 billion on the table,” the article notes, by not taking full advantage of plans where the employer matches some or all of any extra money they put in.

There’s also a worryingly large group of people who don’t have a workplace pension and aren’t saving on their own via RRSPs or TFSAs, the article reports. That group, the article says, will probably have to work well beyond age 65, but at least they will get more income from CPP and OAS if they take them at a later age.

The article concludes by noting that running day-to-day finances is “hard enough” for Canadians, which may explain the savings shortfall.

If you have a pension plan or retirement savings benefit through your work, consider yourself lucky, and be sure you are getting the most you can out of it. Can you consolidate pension benefits from other workplaces into the plan you’re in now, rather than retiring with several small chunks of savings? Are you eligible for a match, and if so, are you signed up for it?

If you are saving on your own, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be of help. You can save on your own through SPP, much like an RRSP, except SPP has the added advantage of offering a variety of annuity products when you retire – these turn your savings into a lifetime income stream that never runs out. As well, you can often transfer pension funds from past periods of employment into your SPP account – contact SPP to find out how.

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, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Dec 9: Best from the blogosphere

Year end – time to make sure you’re taking full advantage of employer retirement programs

The end of the year is always a highlight – the festive season, the New Year, family and friends; it’s an endless list.

But, according to a report from the Toronto Star, there’s another little item that should be on your growing year-end list – retirement, and particularly, any program you’re in at work.

“Many medium-to-large-sized employers offer some form of savings program for their staff; some with a matching component, such as the employer matches 50 per cent of the contribution that the employee makes up to a certain maximum value, while other programs are simply to facilitate savings exclusively from the employee. The draw for employees is that the funds are typically deducted right off one’s paycheque, and of course, the free money if a match is offered,” the Star notes.

You could be leaving that free money on the table if you haven’t signed up, the article warns.

Be sure, the article advises, to find out which employer-sponsored program you’ve signed up for.

“Have you enrolled in a defined benefit or defined contribution pension? Do you contribute to an RRSP or TFSA? Are you funding an RESP for your children? Is your company offering non-registered plans? Which accounts offer a company match, as these should be your priority to fund,” the Star notes.

You may have options to choose from if you are in a company retirement program – often mutual funds, ETFs, or target-date funds (or a combination of each).

Know what you’re paying into, the Star suggests. “Grab a list of what your fund options are and compare historical rate of return, risk level, the composition of the fund and read up on the fund’s objectives. In most cases, your company will be covering a large portion of the fees associated with these investments,” the article notes.

Finally, the article notes, be sure that if there is a company matching option, that you are signed up for it. The Star recommends that you “find out how to get the maximum matching dollars. For example, sometimes they scale the match up (or down) depending on how much you contribute. Simply take advantage of all the free money that’s available to you. It’s the easiest ‘return’ on your investment you’ll ever make,” the article advises.

Those without retirement programs at work must do the job on their own, the article concludes. If you are in this situation, “it’s then up to you to save independently.”

An option for that self-managed saving is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan . With SPP, your contributions are invested professionally and at a low fee. As of the end of September, 2019, the SPP’s balanced fund is up more than 10 per cent. In addition to growing your savings, SPP is equipped to offer you a multitude of ways to turn savings into lifetime income via annuities – SPP’s Retirement Guide provides full details.

There’s still time to sign up and join SPP prior to the RRSP deadline in 2020, so check them out today and make them part of your year-end to-do list.

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, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

How to Get a Down Payment For a Home in Canada

You’d like to become a homeowner one day soon, but similar to a lot of Canadians the only thing stopping you is the down payment. When taking out a mortgage, the lender will require that you make a down payment of at least five percent. This provides the lender with some reassurance that you have some skin in the game.

Coming up with the down payment is perhaps the most challenging part of homeownership. Saving a down payment can be especially challenging if your cost of living is already high. The good news is that there are various ways you can come up with your down payment. Let’s take a look at the most common ways right now.

Personal Savings

Personal savings is probably the first way that comes to mind for getting a down payment. Personal savings isn’t just your savings account. It also covers investment accounts, mutual funds, GICs and Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs). Just make sure your money is available on closing and easily accessible. Your real estate lawyer will ask for the balance of the down payment funds a day or two before closing.

Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs)

Your Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) isn’t just to fund your retirement. It can also be used towards the down payment on a home. In order to do that you need to be a first-time homebuyer. Under the Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP), you can withdraw up to $35,000 from your RRSP towards your first home (up to $70,000 if you’re a couple buying together). The best part is that you won’t pay any taxes on the withdrawals (provided the funds are in your RRSP account for at least 90 days). You’ll have to pay back the funds eventually, although you have up to 15 years to do so.

In case you’re wondering, you can’t withdraw from your Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) account for the HBP. However, contributions to the SPP can be considered as repayments to the HBP.

Gifts

It’s becoming a lot more common for first-time homebuyers to receive a part of their down payment as a gift from family. If you’re fresh out of college or university and you have a sizable student loan, it can take you years to repay it. In fact, student loans are one of the biggest barriers to entry for homeownership among younger folks. That’s where “the bank of mom and dad” can step in.

Many parents may be willing to lend their adult children a helping hand in the form of a gift. Gifting your adult child part or all of their down payment is pretty straightforward. All you’ll need to do is sign a gift letter stating that you’re gifting them the funds rather than it being a loan.

Another way parents can help you out is by gifting their children home equity. If you’re selling the family home to your adult child, you can gift your child home equity. For example, if the home is worth $600,000 and your child has saved up $80,000, you may be willing to gift your child $40,000 in equity, so that they’ll have a 20 percent down payment and can avoid paying mortgage default insurance.

The Bottom Line

These are just a few ideas for ways to come up with your down payment. You can use one of them or all of them. It’s all about figuring out which options makes the most sense for you and putting it into action.

 About the Author
Sean Cooper is the bestselling author of the book, Burn Your Mortgage: The Simple, Powerful Path to Financial Freedom for Canadians. He bought his first house when he was only 27 in Toronto and paid off his mortgage in just 3 years by age 30. An in-demand Personal Finance Journalist, Money Coach and Speaker, his articles and blogs have been featured in publications such as the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Financial Post and MoneySense. Connect with Sean on LinkedInTwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Sep 9: Best from the blogosphere

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

Three things we can all do to boost our savings: Motley Fool

If you’re just getting on the Retirement Savings train – or if you’re packing up your desk for the last time and getting ready for the main event of retirement – the Motley Fool Canada offers three tips on how you can improve your retirement savings.

According to an article posted on Yahoo! Finance Canada, the tips are billed as something “every single Canadian can do to help prepare themselves for a smarter, happier, and richer life in retirement.”

The writers at Motley Fool point out a fact that many of us tend to ignore – “the only way to consistently save money is by spending less, on average, compared to what you earn.” So if you are, for instance, earning $2,500 a month but spending (thanks to credit cards or lines of credit) $3,000 a month, you are in trouble.

The article says that the best way to ensure you are running your ship of state in the black is by preparing a budget, and sticking to it. The budget should not only include your usual repeat monthly items like rent, light, heat, gas, and other bills, but should factor in money for your vacation and other one-time events, the article says.

With budget in hand, the article recommends, you can follow savings tip number one – to “set aside at least 10 per cent to pay yourself at the end of every month or after each paycheque.”

By paying yourself first, you will grow your savings quickly and efficiently, the Motley Fool observes.

The second tip on offer is to “use Canada’s tax-incentivized savings programs to your benefit,” the article states.

The article cites the availability of the RRSP program, pointing out that contributions to such programs are tax-deductible. As well, money within an RRSP grows tax-free until that future time when you crack into it for retirement.

The article also notes the existence of TFSAs. While you don’t get a tax break on money you put into these savings vehicles, there’s no tax on investment returns and growth, “including capital gains and dividend or interest income,” the writers note.

The last tip from the Motley Fool Canada is a good one for those of us who invest in stocks.

“By investing in the stocks of high-quality businesses in which you possess a firm understanding — those run by experienced and competent management teams that companies that consistently pay their shareholders a regular monthly or quarterly dividend — investors can go a long way toward avoiding the mistakes that so often challenge those just starting out,” the article states.

Recapping the article, it’s important to include a strong commitment to savings in your budget, to take advantage of tax-sheltered savings programs, and to keep quality in mind when investing for the long term.

A nice addition to your retirement toolkit would be a Saskatchewan Pension Plan account. The contributions you make are, just like RRSP contributions, tax-deductible. You can “pay yourself first” by setting up automatic contributions that go from your account directly to SPP. And the money you earmark for savings is invested at a low fee by a highly competent plan with a strong track record of growth. Win-win-win.

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, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Jun 17: Best from the blogosphere

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

A new retirement worry – the cost of healthcare as you age

They say the best things in life are free – however, the cost of healthcare, particularly for older Canadians, does carry a price tag.

And, according to recent Ipsos poll, conducted for the Canadian Medical Association and reported on by the CBC in Prince Edward Island, the cost of future care may prompt some Canadians to delay their retirement.

According to the polling, “58 per cent believe Canadians will have to delay retirement to afford health care. The poll also found that 88 per cent of respondents are worried about the growing number of seniors requiring more health care,” the CBC story reports.

Why are people concerned?

In the article, the CMA’s president Dr. Gigi Osler explains what people worry about.

“Our current health care system is already strained and already not able to meet the needs of our seniors, and will be even more strained in the coming years,” she states. “As our population ages, not only are people going to have to pay more for those services it’s going to cost our already strained health care system more in the coming years.”

Those concerns certainly seem to impact the thinking of older Canadians, the article notes. “Older Canadians (55 and over) are most concerned about how health care costs may affect their wallets. The survey found 77 per cent of those 55 and over were worried about the financial burden of health care costs, compared to 70 per cent of those 35-54 and 58 per cent of those 18-34,” the article reports.

The takeaway here is to be aware that costs of care can be fairly significant, particularly if you live to a long age and require some form of long-term care. Perhaps we all need to factor those future and often unexpected costs into our savings plans.

Another retirement thorn – carrying a mortgage after you’ve left work

The Financial Post runs a cautionary tale about a couple – who appear to have been great savers and investors – who are running into problems in retirement due to a “late life mortgage.”

“The couple has a late-life mortgage because they sent their children, now in their mid-20s, to private schools and paid their university costs. As a result, the kids have no education debts — but the parents have a big debt in retirement. On top of that, the kids are still living at home,” the article notes.

The couple are having cash flow problems, despite owning a $1.5 million home, having more than $500,000 in RRSPs and $100,000 in TFSAs, and a further $20,000 of investments, the article adds.

The solution from the Post is for the couple to sell their home and downsize. The article quotes Derek Moran, of Smarter Financial Ltd. In Kelowna, as saying that “more cash and less house” would give the couple more financial security. “Moreover, selling the house would give the kids a nudge to move out,” he states. “They should have independent lives.”

You can’t fault these parents for helping out their kids, but putting themselves behind the eight ball impacts their retirement and limits their ability to help the kids further.

If you’re still a long time away from retirement, and haven’t yet begun to put money away, a great choice for you is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Those savings will add to your income when you retire, allowing you to roll with the punches should health or family issues arise. A nice little extra chunk of income is never a bad thing when you’re too old to work.

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, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

May 6: Best from the blogosphere

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

Tax-free pension plans may offer a new pathway to retirement security: NIA

With workplace pensions becoming more and more rare, and Canadians generally not finding ways to save on their own for retirement, it may be time for fresh thinking.

Why not, asks Dr. Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald of the National Institute on Ageing, introduce a new savings vehicle – a tax-free pension plan?

Interviewed by Yahoo! Finance Canada, Dr. MacDonald says the workplace pension plan model can work well. “Workplace pension plans are a key element to retirement income security due to features like automatic savings, employer contributions, substantial fee reductions via economies of scale, potentially higher risk-adjusted investment returns, and possible pooling of longevity and other risks,” she states in the article.

Dr. MacDonald and her NIA colleagues are calling for something that builds on those principles but in a different, tax-free way, the article explains. The new Tax-Free Pension Plan would, like an RRSP or RPP, allow pension contributions to grow tax-free, the article says. But because it would be structured like a TFSA, no taxes would need to be deducted when the savings are pulled out as retirement income, the article reports.

“TFSAs have been very popular for personal savings, and the same option could be provided to workplace pension plans. It would open the pension plan world to many more Canadians, particularly those at risk of becoming Canada’s more financially vulnerable seniors in the future,” she explains.

And because the money within the Tax-Free Pension Plan is not taxable on withdrawal, it would not negatively impact the individual’s eligibility for benefits like OAS and GIS, the article states.

It’s an interesting concept, and Save with SPP will watch to see if it gets adopted anywhere. Save with SPP earlier did an interview with Dr. MacDonald on income security for seniors and her work with NIA continues to seek ways to ensure the golden years are indeed the best of our lives.

Cutting bad habits can build retirement security

Writing in the Greater Fool blog Doug Rowat provides an insightful breakdown of some “regular” expenses most of us could trim to free up money for retirement savings.

Citing data from Turner Investments and Statistics Canada, Rowat notes that Canadians spend a whopping $2,593 on restaurants and $3,430 on clothing every year, on average. Canadians also spend, on average, $1,497 each year on cigarettes and alcohol.

“Could you eat out less often,” asks Rowat. “Go less to expensive restaurants? Substitute lunches instead of dinners? Skip desserts and alcohol?” Saving even $500 a year on each of these categories can really add up, he notes.

“If you implemented all of these cost reductions at once across all of these categories, you’d have more than $186,000 in additional retirement savings. That’s meaningful and could result in a more fulfilling or much earlier retirement,” suggests Rowat. He’s right – shedding a bad habit or two can really fatten the wallet.

If you don’t have a retirement plan at work, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan is ready and waiting to help you start your own. The plan offers professional investing at a low cost, a great track record of returns, and best of all, a way to convert your savings to retirement income at the finish line. You can set up automatic contributions easily, a “set it and forget it” approach – and by cutting out a few bad habits, you can free up some cash today for retirement income tomorrow. It’s win-win.

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, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

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.

***

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

Canadians can receive easy-to-understand interpretations of breaking tax and investment news by subscribing to Knowledge Bureau Report at www.knowledgebureau.com.   Look for the Newsroom Tab. You can also follow Evelyn Jacks on twitter @evelynjacks.

 

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.