By Sheryl Smolkin
A new report from the C.D. Howe Institute says that the lower mandatory draw downs from RRIFs and similar vehicles introduced in the 2015 budget are better than the old rules but this file should nevertheless remain open. If real yields on the types of securities a prudent retiree should hold do not rebound considerably, and if life expectancy continues to rise, authors William B.P. Robson and Alexandre Laurin say the risk of outliving tax-deferred savings will continue to be material.
By the time new withdrawal limits were announced this year, the draw down rules established in 1992 were badly outdated. Lower yields on safe investments and longer lives had put many Canadians at risk of outliving their savings. The new smaller minimums reduce that risk.
With real investment returns of 3%, as assumed in the budget illustrations, C.D. Howe projections suggest relatively constant minimum RRIF draw downs up to age 94, and a lower risk of living to see a badly depleted RRIF account balance. However, real returns on safe investments are currently negative. Re-running the projections with zero real returns suggests that most seniors still face a material risk of outliving their tax-deferred savings.
The motive for forcing holders of RRIFs and other similarly treated tax-deferred assets to draw down their savings is to accelerate the government’s receipt of tax revenue, and likewise bring revenue from income-tested programs such as Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) forward. These payments will occur eventually – notably on the death of the account holder or her/his spouse or partner – so they amount to an implicit asset on governments’ balance sheets. The draw downs do not affect their present value; they simply make them happen sooner.
The minimum withdrawals are not a serious problem for those who, perhaps because they do not expect to live long, want to draw their tax-deferred savings down fast. Others, willing and able to work and replenish their savings after age 71, will get by. Couples can gear their withdrawals to the younger spouse’s age. High-income seniors whose incremental withdrawals do not trigger OAS and GIS clawbacks will find the burden of paying ordinary income taxes on them tolerable. Higher TFSA limits will also let more seniors reinvest unspent withdrawals in them, avoiding repeated taxation.
For others, however, forced draw downs make no sense: those whose withdrawals – reinvested in TFSAs or not – trigger claw backs; those daunted by tax planning and investing outside RRIFs; those unable to work longer; and those facing sizeable late-in-life expenses such as long-term care. The more future seniors have ample assets to finance such needs as health and long-term care, as well as the enjoyments of retirement, the better off Canada will be.
Therefore, the report says the 2015 changes should be a down payment on further liberalization. In the alternative, if more regular adjustments to keep the withdrawals aligned with returns and longevity are impractical, it is suggested that eliminating minimum withdrawals entirely may be the best way to help retirees enjoy the lifelong security they are striving to achieve.
Robson and Laurin conclude that government impatience for revenue should not force holders of RRIFs and similar tax-deferred vehicles to deplete their nest-eggs prematurely. While the 2015 budget’s changes are a step in the right direction, they say retirees need further changes to these rules if they are to enjoy the post-retirement security they are striving to achieve.