Tag Archives: TFSAs

Personal finance writers share 2017 New Year’s resolutions

By Sheryl Smolkin

Several years ago Globe & Mail columnist Tim Cestnick listed what he considers to be the top five opportunities for anyone looking to get their financial house in order:

  • Create a pension
  • Own a home
  • Pay down debt
  • Start a business
  • Stay married

So I decided to ask 10 money writers to share their top personal finance New Year’s resolution with me, in the hope that it will encourage readers to establish and meet their own lofty goals in 2017.

Here, in alphabetical order, is what they told me:

  1. Jordann Brown: My Alternate Life
    I’m still in the process of ironing out my New Year’s resolutions but here is one I’m definitely going to stick to. I plan to save $10,000 towards replacing my vehicle. It’s always been a dream of mine to buy a car with cash and as my car ages it has become apparent that I need to start focusing on this goal. I never want to have a car payment again, and that means I need to start saving today!
  2. Sean Cooper: Sean Cooper Writer
    I  paid off my mortgage in just three years by age 30. My top personal finance New Year’s resolution is to ensure that my upcoming book, Burn Your Mortgage, reaches best-seller status. A lot of millennials feel like home ownership is out of reach. After reading my book, I want to them to believe buying a home is still achievable.
  3. Jonathan Chevreau Financial Independence Hub
    My top New Year’s Resolution, financially speaking, is to make a 2017 contribution to our family’s Tax-free Savings Accounts (TFSAs). This can be done January 1st, even if you have little cash.  Assuming you do have some non-registered investments that are roughly close to their book value, these can be transferred “in kind”, effectively transforming taxable investments into tax-free investments.
  4. Tom Drake Canadian Finance Blog
    My New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to increase my income through my home business. But this can be done rather easily by anyone through side-gigs and part-time jobs. While saving money by cutting expenses can be helpful, you’ll hit limits on how much you can cut. However, if you aim to find new sources of income in 2017, the possible earnings are limitless!
  5. Jessica Moorhouse Jessica Moorhouse.com
    My personal finance New Year’s resolution is to track my spending, collecting every receipt and noting every transaction down, for at least 3 months. Doing this really helps me stay on track financially, but for me it’s definitely something that’s easier said than done!
  6. Sandi Martin Spring Personal Finance
    I don’t expect much to change in our financial lives over the next year. I hope to avoid the temptation to build a new system because the boring old things we’re already doing aren’t dramatic enough. I’m prone to thinking that “doing something” is the same as “achieving something”, and I’m going to keep fighting that tendency as 2017 rolls by.
  7. Ellen Roseman Toronto Star Consumer Columnist
    My personal finance resolution for 2017 is to organize my paperwork, shred what I don’t need and file the rest. I also want to list the financial service suppliers I deal with, so that someone else can step into my shoes if I’m not around. It’s something I want to do every year, but now I finally have the time and motivation to tackle it.
  8. Mark Seed My Own Advisor
    I actually have three New Year’s resolutions to share:

    • Eat healthier.  We know our health is our most important asset.
    • Continue to save at least 20% of our net income. We know a high savings rate is our key to financial health.
    • After paying ourselves first, simply enjoy the money that is leftover. Life is for the living.
  9. Stephen Weyman HowToSaveMoney.ca
    For 2017 I’m looking to really “settle down” and put down roots in a community. I believe this will have all kinds of family, health, and financial benefits. The time savings alone from being able to better develop daily routines will allow me to free up time to focus more on saving money, growing my business, and better preparing for a sound financial future.
  10. Allen Whitton Canadian Personal Finance Blog
    I resolve to keep a much closer tab on my investments and my expenses, while planning to retire in four years. I have a pension, I have RRSPs, but I still have too large a debt load. Not sure this is possible, but I will try!”

BOOK REVIEW: Wealthing Like Rabbits

By Sheryl Smolkin

I don’t often review personal finance books because it seems to take an inordinate amount of time to wade through yet another statement of the obvious just to glean enough cogent information to give readers a taste of what the book is all about.

But when I read accolades from the likes of Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Preet Bannerjee, Roma Luciw, Dan Bortolotti plus a whole bunch of my other favourite personal finance bloggers in the introductory pages of the book, I thought I’d better keep on going to find out what all of the fuss is about.

Author Robert R. Brown says Wealthing Like Rabbits is written to be a fun and unique introduction to personal finance and suggests that any book that includes sex, zombies and a reference to Captain Picard is “an absolute must read,” regardless of genre.

Brown starts out by asking how many rabbits there would be after 60 years if 24 rabbits were released on a farm on a great big island. Before providing an answer to this question, he introduces the need to save for retirement, although he doesn’t begin to predict how much you or I will need. His only conclusion is that “more is better” because it is better to be 65 years old with $750,000 saved than 65 years old with $75,000 saved.

Then he reveals that there would be 10 billion rabbits after 60 years and launches into a discussion of the history and key features of registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) and tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs). Subsequently he riffs about how many zombies there would be in England if France sent 100/week for 40 years.

If you are still with me, you may wonder — what is the point of all this?

Not surprisingly of course, it’s to illustrate the power of compounding, whether in relation to rabbits, or money or zombies. We learn that just $100/wk deposited in an RRSP earning 6% for 40 years will add up to a nest egg of $624,627.

But the positive and the negative impact of compounding interest are also very cleverly brought home in later chapters. I particularly liked the comparison of brothers Mario and Luigi who both had similar incomes and $100,000 for a down payment on a house. They went to the bank to find how big a mortgage they were eligible for.

Mario’s banker told him “he could afford” to buy a house for $525,000. Luigi told the mortgage specialist he needed $10,000 for closing costs and the $90,000 balance had to cover at least 20% of the purchase price of the house so the most he would be willing to spend is $450,000.

The story continues with Mario buying a 3,000 square foot home for $525,000. Luigi sticks to his budget and buys a 1,600 square home nearby for $350,000. Over 20 years, compound interest on the mortgage means that Mario ends up paying $807,538 for his house while Luigi only has to fork out $538,359.

Similarly, when it comes to debt, Brown illustrates that high interest credit card debt can quickly escalate if balances are not paid off every month. Even I did not realize until recently that if you miss your payment due date by even as little as one day, the interest-free grace period completely disappears. In fact you have to pay interest on the amount of each transaction from the date each and every purchase was made.

Brown also reviews the characteristics of a line of credit; a home owner’s line of credit; bank loans and consolidation loans. While generally he believes all of these can cause severe damage to your financial health, he recognizes that when handled properly, they each have their place.

But he draws a line in the sand when it comes to payday loans. Never, ever get a payday loan, Brown says.

He gives the example of Buddy who borrows $400 from a payday loan place because his furnace broke down. He is charged $21 for every $100 he borrows for just two weeks. Two weeks later he pays the payday lender $484. That’s 21% for only 14 days, which works out to 546% annually. And that’s only the beginning.

If Buddy can’t pay in two weeks the payday loan company will charge him an NSF penalty and continue to accumulate stratospheric interest rates on the whole amount. Further defaults mean he will likely be hounded both by telephone at home and at work day and night. The file may be handed over to an even more aggressive collection agency.

In the second last chapter, Brown offers a brain dump of financial tips (which he doesn’t call “Fifty Shades of Brown”):

    • Spousal RRSPs are cool.
    • MoneySense magazine is a great source of personal finance information.
    • Eat dinner at home. Then go out for a fancy coffee and desert to Starbucks.
    • Buy life insurance, not mortgage insurance from your bank.
    • Read Preet Banerjee’s book Stop Overthinking Your Money for the skinny on life insurance.
    • Use the noun“wealth” as a verb. So instead of saving $150/week in your RRSP you will be wealthing your money.

And finally, Brown’s parting words at the end of the book are “you’ve got to show up.” Put some money away for your future. Live in a house that makes sense. Be smart about how you spend your money. Spend less than you earn. Be comfortable living within your means. He says it really is that simple.

Wealthing Like Rabbits is funny and engaging and it hits all the personal finance bases. Regardless of whether you are a Millennial, a Gen Xer or a Boomer, you will find lots of tips on how to save more, spend less and still have a lot of fun along the way. 

The book can be purchased in hardcover for $16.95 and the epub and kindle versions are available for $7.99.

How much of your savings can you tax shelter?

By Sheryl Smolkin

Saving for retirement or any other important goal like a home purchase or your child’s education is not easy. But if you are able to deduct your annual contributions from taxable income and/or accumulate investment earnings tax-free, the balance in your accounts will accumulate much faster.

Most Canadians have heard about and save in at least one of the following registered accounts: Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs), pension plans, Tax Free Savings Account (TFSAs) or Registered Educational Savings Plans. But many may not be aware of exactly how much money they can contribute to these programs annually or carry forward to future years.

RRSP/Pension Plan 
In 2014 you can contribute 18% of your income to a defined contribution (DC) pension plan to a maximum of $24,930. RRSP contributions are based on your previous year’s earnings (2013 earnings for 2014 contributions). As result of the one year lag, maximum RRSP contributions for 2014 are $24,270.

In order to contribute up to $2,500/year to the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP), you must have RRSP contribution room. Maximum permissible defined benefit (DB) pension plan contributions are calculated per year of service, and reduce your DC plan or RRSP contribution room.

RRSP and pension plan contributions are tax deductible and the contributions accumulate tax deferred. However, you do not have to take a deduction for RRSP contributions in the year you contribute. You can wait until a later year when your earnings are higher and if you do, the tax savings will be greater.

Unused RRSP contribution room can also be carried forward to use in any future year. And you can still catch up even if you are retired. For example, if you have unused RRSP contribution room from past years and funds are available, contributing to your own or your spouse’s RRSP is allowed up until the end of the year the plan holder turns age 71. However, you cannot contribute to an RRSP for a person (yourself or your spouse) who already turned age 71 in the previous year.

Unlike DB or some DC pension plans (i.e. SPP), funds in your RRSP are not locked in. That means you can take money out at any time subject to paying taxes on the money in the year of withdrawal.  But it is important to remember that once you withdraw money from your RRSP the contribution room will not be restored and you lose the benefit of future compounding on the amount of the withdrawal.

If tax-free withdrawals are made under the RRSP Home Buyers’ Plan or Lifelong Learning Plan, you will eventually be liable for taxes on the money if you do not pay back the principal over a prescribed period.

Tax-Free Savings Account
The TFSA is a flexible, registered savings account that first became available to Canadians in 2009. From 2009 to 2012 maximum annual contributions were $5,000/year. Based on indexation due to inflation, the annual contribution maximum was increased to $5,500 in 2013. 

A TFSA can be used to enhance retirement savings or to accumulate money for other goals. Contributions are not tax-deductible but savings grow tax-free. If you make a withdrawal from your TFSA, the contribution room is restored in the year following the year you take money out. Unused contribution room is also carried forward.

Because withdrawals are tax free and contribution room is restored after a withdrawal, a TFSA can be an ideal place to stash your “emergency funds.” Another benefit of a TFSA is you can continue to make contributions indefinitely, unlike RRSP contributions which must end after age 71.

An additional attractive feature of a TFSA is that neither income earned within the plan nor withdrawals affect eligibility for federal income-tested government benefits and credits such as Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Child Tax Benefit.

Also read:
SPP or TFSA?
TFSA or RRSP? Try these five tests 

Registered Educational Savings Plan
A Registered Educational Savings Plan (RESP) is a tax-sheltered plan that can help you save for a child’s post-secondary education. Unlike an RRSP, contributions to an RESP are not tax deductible. However, investment earnings accumulate tax-free in the plan. When money is paid out of the plan it is taxable in the hands of the student, who typically will be in a lower income bracket than the parent or other contributor.

There is no limit on annual RESP contributions but there is a lifetime maximum of $50,000 per child. However, there are annual and lifetime maximums on the Canadian Education Savings Grant (CESG) available for eligible beneficiaries under the age of 18.

The federal CESG matches 20% on the first $2,500 (maximum of $500) contributed annually to an RESP. The maximum total CESG the government will give, up to age 18, is $7,200 per beneficiary. The grant proceeds are invested along with your contributions, further enhancing the benefits of tax-deferred and compound investment growth within your plan.

A $500 Canada Learning Bond (CLB) is also provided for children of families who are entitled to the National Child Benefit Supplement (net family income of $44,701 in 2015) and who are born after December 31, 2003. These children also qualify for CLB instalments of $100 per year until age 15, as long as they continue to receive the National Child Benefit Supplement. The total maximum CLB payable per child is $2,000.

CLBs are allocated to a specific child; unlike CESGs, they cannot be shared with other beneficiaries. There is no requirement to make contributions in order to qualify for the CLB.

Adding it all up
Over the years RRSP/pension savings limits have crept up and with the introduction of TFSAs in 2009, Canadians have another tax-effective way to save. RESPs are particularly attractive vehicles for educational savings as the federal government offers CESG grants and the Canada Learning Bond as further incentives for saving.

Understanding annual savings limits for all of these registered plans will help you to budget and save the maximum affordable amount every year in the most tax-effective way. Any unused savings room that can be carried forward will come in handy as your income increases or if you ever need to tax shelter a lump sum such as the proceeds of a severance package or capital gains on the sale of a property other than your principal residence.

What would you trade for a good pension?

By Sheryl Smolkin

A recent survey of Canadians revealed that whether or not they currently have a workplace pension plan, the majority would gladly trade off other benefits for any retirement savings plan or a better pension plan at work.

These data were collected by the Conference Board of Canada in a June 2014 comprehensive study into the experiences and perspectives of employers and individual Canadians. Conducted with the support of Aon Hewitt and the National Association of Federal Retirees, the study focused on a variety of issues related to workplace and public retirement savings/pension plans and retirement readiness.

Both employers and individual Canadians across the country were polled. The survey of individuals was completed by a panel of 1,656 Canadians aged 18 and over weighted by gender, region and age.

Who have retirement savings/pension plans?

About 57% of the employed survey respondents indicated they have some form of retirement savings/pension plan such as a Group RRSP, a defined benefit plan or a defined contribution plan at work. Thirty-nine percent said they don’t have a workplace plan and a little over four percent of the total number of respondents “did not know” whether they had one or not.

Respondents in the not-for-profit and private sectors were less likely to report having any form of workplace retirement savings or pension plan, while those working in government were most likely to report having plans. Size of organization and union status were also important predictors of whether or not respondents had a workplace retirement/savings/pension plan.

Indeed, unionized workers were over 1.5 times more likely than those not in a unionized position to have workplace plans. And, more employees of large companies with a staff of over 5,000 reported having a retirement savings plan or a pension plan.

Employees with retirement savings/pension plans 

Who would trade benefits for enhanced pensions?
Forty-three percent of men versus only 28% of women said they would likely trade some aspects of their total rewards for a greater employer contribution to their plan. Also of note, women were roughly three times more likely than men to say they “did not know” whether they would trade or not.

Over 40% of those aged 35–44 and 45–54 said they would likely trade some aspects of their total reward package — while only about 30% of those 65 years of age and over said the same thing. Those 25–34 are about equally divided on this question.

As household income rises, so too does the likelihood that Canadians would consider trading some aspects of their total rewards package for a greater employer contribution to their plans.

Private sector employees are more likely than those in other sectors to indicate that they would trade some aspects of their benefits/rewards for a greater contribution into their plan by their employers. That said, it is of interest that over 30% of those in the government sector would also make a trade for a greater retirement savings contribution .

What benefits would they trade?
Employed survey respondents were asked if given the option, how likely they would be to trade parts of their total rewards package (pay, training, benefits, etc.) to receive greater retirement savings plan/pension plan contributions at work.

A significant minority (37%) indicate it is likely they would make a change. Slightly fewer (33%) say it is unlikely. The remainder are on the fence (i.e., they answered that they are neither likely nor unlikely).

Among those who reported that they would make a trade, or who answered in the “neither” category, anywhere from one-third to one-half would trade a specific item for a greater contribution to their retirement plans.

“Training/learning and development opportunities” was the item most likely to be given up. Nearly 56% indicated that they would make this trade-off. Salary increases were least likely to be considered for a trade.

Table 1: Likelihood of trading specific workplace benefits/rewards for greater employer retirement plan contributions

Likely
Training/learning and development opportunities 55%
Incentive pay (bonuses etc.) 48%
Vacation days 23%
Certain health benefits 38%
Salary increases 35%

Totals may not add up to 100% due to rounding. SOURCE: THE CONFERENCE BOARD OF CANADA

Employed Canadians without a retirement savings plan

How many are interested in participating in a workplace retirement savings/pension plan? 
Almost 7 in 10 employed respondents currently without a retirement savings/pension plan would be interested in participating in such a plan if it were offered. Only a small proportion of respondents (16%) were not interested in participating. The remainder (16%) noted they don’t know whether or not they’d participate if they were offered the opportunity.

With 109 mentions, DB plans topped the list of desired plans. TFSAs were a close second and DC plans came in third.

Who would trade benefits for pensions?
Almost 4 in 10 survey respondents without a retirement savings/pension plan indicate they would be willing to trade parts of their total rewards package to receive any form of retirement savings/pension plan from their workplace. One-quarter said they would be unlikely to do so, and the remainder (36%) are sitting on the fence — i.e., they indicate that they would be neither likely nor unlikely to make a trade.

Of interest, this subset of survey respondents shares similar preferences as those who currently have a plan and would trade for an increased contribution to their plans (see Table 1 above). Further, the proportion of each group indicating that they would be likely to make a trade on each of the items listed is almost the same.

For those currently without a plan the list of potential trades and the % stating that they’d be likely to trade the benefit/reward is as follows:

Table 2: Likelihood of employees trading specific workplace benefits/rewards for participation in a retirement savings/pension plan

Likely
Training/learning and development opportunities 56%
Incentive pay (bonuses etc.) 47%
Vacation days 42%
Certain health benefits 38%
Salary increases 31%

Totals may not add up to 100% due to rounding SOURCE: THE CONFERENCE BOARD OF CANADA

What this means

One facet of the current study explored the role of retirement savings/pension plans in attracting and retaining employees. Without fail, survey respondents said the top three items that attracted them to their current employer/workplace and those that keep them there are:

  • The work environment.
  • The type of work done.
  • Work-life balance.

While 65% of those currently employed cite the organization’s retirement savings/pension plan as being important or very important to their attraction, it only ranked 9th out of 12 potential items.

However, these plans moved up in importance as a tool for retention. In fact, 69% of respondents rate retirement savings/pension plans as important/very important—and with this increase, the relative ranking of these plans  moved from 9th place as an attractor to 6th place out of 12 as a means to retain staff.

This suggests that while employees may not be as concerned about the nature of retirement savings/pension plans or even if one is available when they are first hired, it’s one of the factors they consider later on when a recruiter or another company come knocking.