Part II – RRSP Turns 60: Still a Good Bet for Retirement

Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) were first introduced 60 years ago, created by the federal government to help people who didn’t have a work pension to save for retirement by socking away pre-tax money.

In 1957, the threshold for the RRSP was the lesser of 10 per cent of income or $2,500.  Over the years the threshold methodology has changed.  Over the years, the threshold methodology has changed. Since 1991, the income threshold of 18 per cent of income has been used.

Starting in 1996, and continuing to today, the new contribution ceilings were indexed to the rise in average wages.

For 2017, the annual maximum, or contribution ceiling, is $26,010, which is reached when earned income is at $144,500 for the prior year.  After you file your 2016 tax return, the government communicates to taxpayers their 2017 RRSP contribution limit on the Notice of Assessment.

The calculation for the RRSP contributions limit is adjusted for individuals who have a work pension.   This reduction is referred to as a pension adjustment and also shows up on your Notice of Assessment.

A pension adjustment is done for both Defined Benefit Plans, where employers bear the risk of market-value changes, and Defined Contribution Plans, where employees bear the risk.

Pension plans have been deteriorating over the last decade.  Individuals who either do not have a pension through work, or do not have a good quality pension, should consider having an RRSP.

Outside of the two types of pensions, some employers will offer a program to help build up your RRSP, or other accounts.  In some cases, these are matching type programs, where you can put in a certain percentage of your salary, and your employer will match it, up to a defined threshold.  These are often referred to as a group RRSP and it is worth participating in.

If you have an RRSP program at work, then having that one is a must.  As you are typically restricted by the types of investments you can invest in with a group plan, we encourage people to also have one external RRSP account.

The external RRSP account would hold all the contributions done outside of your group plan.  In some cases, individuals can transfer funds from a group RRSP to an external RRSP.  In other cases, the funds must stay in a group RRSP until you cease employment with the sponsoring company.

You should receive a statement for any company sponsored pension.  Reviewing this statement is especially important if your plan is a Defined Contribution Plan where you had to make investment choices.

You have made decisions to determine the percentage to invest in fixed income versus equity and whether to have Canadian equities versus foreign equities.

If you have a group RRSP plan, you likely can view information electronically and also receive statements more frequently.

All of this information should be provided to your financial advisor, prior to making any financial decisions regarding your external RRSP.

As the quality of pension plans has deteriorated, the methodology of how to invest funds within an RRSP has changed for some investors.  The three broad categories are cash equivalents, fixed income, and equities.

In 1957, a 90 day treasury bill (cash equivalents) could be purchased with an interest rate of 3.78 per cent, climbing to 17.78 per cent in 1981.

Investing RRSPs in conservative investments, such as cash equivalents, provided decent enough returns during this period.  The latest T-Bill auction of 2016 had the 90 day treasury bills paying a yield of 0.50 per cent.   Most would agree that putting the investments within your RRSP into cash equivalents would not provide the returns to keep pace with inflation, especially after tax is factored in.

Bonds are a type of investment that is classified within fixed income.   The reason most investors purchase bonds is for capital preservation and income.  In order to achieve the goal of capital preservation, it is advisable to invest in investment-grade bonds.  Yields on these bonds are at historic lows.  The yield curve is also very flat, so purchasing a longer term investment grade bond does not increase the yield significantly enough to warrant the potential risk if interest rates rise.   The primary reason to hold bonds in an RRSP portfolio today is capital preservation.

Equity investments provide both growth and income.  In fact, the right types of common shares can pay dividend income that exceeds the interest income on most investment-grade bonds.  Portfolio values will fluctuate greater as the equity portion increases.

An advisor can put together a portfolio of lower risk stocks, often referred to as “low beta” that can reduce this volatility.  We feel those who tolerate increased volatility will be rewarded in the long run by holding the right equity investments.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a Portfolio Manager and Director, Wealth Management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria.  His column appears every week in the TC.  Call 250.389.2138. greenardgroup.com 

This is for information purposes only. It is recommended that individuals consult with their financial advisor before acting on any information contained in this article.  The opinions stated are those of the author and not necessarily those of Scotia Capital Inc. or The Bank of Nova Scotia. ScotiaMcLeod is a division of Scotia Capital Inc., Member Canadian Investor Protection Fund.

Part III – Real Esate: Benefits of Selling Real Estate Early in Retirement

In our last column we talked about CRA cracking down more on individuals who are non-compliant with respect to the principal residence deduction. Certainly individuals who have frequently bought and sold homes under the principal residence deduction will have to think twice and be prepared to be audited.

This article is really about the individuals who are contemplating a change in their life. Health and life events are often the two trigger points that have people thinking about whether to sell or not.   It can certainly be an emotional decision when it comes to that time.  Selling your home when you have control on timing when it is sold is always better than the alternative.

For our entire lives we have been focused on making prudent financial decisions and doing things that increase our net worth. There comes a point where you shouldn’t always do something that is the best financially.  If we only made decisions based on financial reasons you would never retire, you would work seven days a week, work longer days, and never take a vacation.  Throughout our working lives most people try to create a reasonable work-life balance.  In retirement I try to get clients to focus on the life part and fulfilling the things that are important to them.

Selling a principal residence could translate to a foolish move for someone looking at it only through net worth spectacles. I encourage clients to take off those spectacles and focus on what they truly want out of retirement and life.  At the peak of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is self-actualization where people come to find a meaning to life that is important to them.   I think at this peak of self-actualization, many find that financial items and having to own a house, are not as important as they once were.

About ten years ago I remember having meetings with two different couples. Let us talk about the first couple, Mr. and Mrs. Brown who had just retired.  One of the first things they did after retiring was focus on uncluttering their lives.  They got rid of the stuff they didn’t need, and then they listed their house and sold it.  They then proceeded to sell both cars.  Shortly thereafter they came into my office and gave me a cheque for their total life savings.  Mrs. Brown had prepared a budget and we mapped out a plan to transfer a monthly amount from their investment account to their bank account.  They walk everywhere and are extremely healthy.  They like to travel and enjoy keeping their life as stress free as possible.  If any appliances break in their apartment it is not their problem, they just call the landlord.  Our meetings are focused on their hobbies and where they are going on their next trip.

I met another couple ten years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson. They had also just retired.  They had accumulated a significant net worth through a combination of financial investments and they owned eight rental properties (including some buildings with four and six units).    At that time I thought they would have had the best of retirements based on their net worth.   The rental properties seem to always have things that need to get repaired or tenants moving out.  When I hear all the stories it almost sounds like they are stressed and not really retired.  Every year their net worth goes up.  Every year they get older, Mr. Wilson is now 75 years old and Mrs. Wilson is 72.  In the past I have talked to them about starting to sell the properties, to simplify their life and get the most out of retirement.   They are still wearing net worth spectacles and have not slowed their life down enough to get to the self-actualization stage.

My recommendation to clients has normally been to stay in their home as long as they can, even if this involves modifying their house and hiring help. This is assuming they have their health and the financial resources to fund this while still achieving their other goals.   Even in cases when financial resources do not force an individual to sell a house, the most likely outcome is that the house will be sold at a later stage in life and the proceeds used to fund assisted living arrangements.

Many people are house rich and cash poor. From my experience clients have two choices.  Option one is they can have a relatively stressful retirement trying to stretch a few dollars of savings over many years.  With this option you will likely leave a large estate.   Option two is selling the house and using the lifelong accumulation of wealth to make the most out of your retirement.    Although this option results in a smaller estate, you’re more likely to reach the self-actualization stage.

Kevin Greenard, CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a Portfolio Manager and Director, Wealth Management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the TC.  Call 250.389.2138. greenardgroup.com 

This is for information purposes only. It is recommended that individuals consult with their financial advisor before acting on any information contained in this article. The opinions stated are those of the author and not necessarily those of Scotia Capital Inc. or The Bank of Nova Scotia. ScotiaMcLeod is a division of Scotia Capital Inc., Member Canadian Investor Protection Fund.

 

Investments for retirement income key

Fewer Canadians can count on large defined-benefit pensions or fat nest eggs 

The Investment Industry Association of Canada (IIAC) issued a report on March 18, 2014 titled “Canada’s Investment Industry:  Protecting Senior Investors.”  The report noted the challenge of defining who is a senior.  Rather than picking a specific age, the IIAC used the term “senior investor” to include people who have retired or are nearing retirement.  The report also noted that there is only a limited number of Canadians who are not concerned about investment performance.  As time goes on, fewer Canadians will be able to retire with a large defined benefit pension plan or significant financial assets. 

Most Canadians who are retired, or are approaching retirement today, need to appropriately manage their investments.  Investment performance is composed of two parts, the changes in the value of the investments and also the income stream.  More and more people are looking for investments that generate an income.

The 2011 Census noted that almost 15 per cent of the population was 65 or older.  The first wave of baby boomers, born between 1947 and 1966, began hitting 65 in 2012.  The report noted that demographic studies indicate that one in four Canadians will be 65 or older by the year 2036.  

Seniors are living longer in retirement than ever before.  If a client retires at age 60 and lives to age 90 then their retirement time horizon is thirty years.  For most retired clients, it is a daunting task to try to map out an investment strategy to last the remainder of their lifetime.  Most seniors want to retire and not get bogged down by looking at their investments all the time. 

I have a few suggestions for seniors approaching retirement or those already retired.  First, find a qualified financial advisor who you feel has experience, but also one that you can work with for a reasonable period of time.  Together you can work on the suggestions below. 

The first step I take with new clients is ensuring that I understand their complete financial situation.   I suggest that a net-worth statement be prepared, listing all of your assets and liabilities.  The more detail you can provide, the better.  As an example, if you have certain assets listed, adding in the original cost of those assets helps an advisor map out the tax component for any future dispositions.   If you have a previously prepared financial plan, this is an excellent document to provide to your advisor.  Often, I see people bring in their previous financial plan, it is not so much a financial plan as a simple illustration or concept. 

A very important step is the preparation of a budget.  The best budgets are those that are prepared on a monthly basis.  Listing all of your incomes (i.e. Old Age Security, Canada Pension Plan, etc.) and all of your expenses will give you an idea of the monthly excess or shortfall.         

It is at this stage that an advisor can be invaluable for mapping out and explaining the various options.  Many seniors are looking for income.  In years past, income was closely associated with fixed-income investments (i.e. bonds, GICs).  As interest rates have declined, so has the income level for seniors relying on traditional fixed-income options.  It is still possible to create a good income portfolio but this often involves looking beyond traditional fixed income, at least for a portion of the investments. 

An advisor should be able to map out the various types of investments that pay income.  With each type of investment your advisor can explain the tax characteristics of the payments, frequency of payments, and risks. 

Creating a diversified income flow often involves using a variety of investments.  An income investor could have GICs, corporate bonds, debentures, bond ETFs, preferred shares, blue chip common shares, etc.  Many forms of income are tax efficient, including both preferred and common stocks that generate dividend income.  Many preferred and common shares have dividend yields that are higher than GICs and investment grade bonds.

There is no low risk option that generates high income. I frequently explain to clients that you can enhance your potential return by taking a little risk; however, the element of risk still exists.  Knowing that risk also exists in fixed income, and that life expectancies are longer, many seniors have opted to adjust their asset mix to include other investment opportunities that generate income within their portfolio. 

Historically, a senior could take a very passive fixed-income approach in retirement.  Today, seniors have to be more involved in their investments.  It is important for seniors to work with a financial advisor to design a portfolio that matches their risk tolerance and investment objectives, such as income and capital preservation.

On having enough financial resources through retirement

Balancing living for today and not running out of money in retirement is perhaps the greatest financial challenge most people face.  Even financially well-off people wonder if they have enough for retirement.

In past decades, people with limited resources have received assistance through government funded programs, including subsidized residential care and extended care.  There is a general concern about how the government will be able to continue funding assistance programs for seniors and whether they will be able to offer the same level of assistance in the future.  This is a real concern given the rising costs of these programs, especially given increasing number of seniors as the population ages.

A baby born today in British Columbia has a life expectancy of 81.7 years according to Statistics Canada.  If you’re 65 years old this year, StatsCan suggests that your life expectancy is 85.7 years.  Both of these life expectancy numbers are at the highest levels they have ever been.  Although recent studies have suggested that babies born today may actually have a shorter life expectancy than their parents as a result of health issues such as increased obesity and diabetes.    

With financial planning, assumptions are made with respect to rates of return, inflation, income tax and life expectancy.  The younger a person is, the more challenging it is to project these assumptions.  Rates of returns have fluctuated significantly for both fixed income and equity markets over the years.  Federal and provincial governments can make future modification to various programs such as benefit payments, income taxes or credits that will have a direct impact on your retirement income.   One of the assumptions to consider in retirement financial planning is your life expectancy.  The chart below shows the required savings for different life expectancies and demonstrates how your life expectancy can make a material difference.

In all scenarios, the assumptions are identical where the rate of return is four per cent, inflation is two per cent, and income tax is at 30 per cent.   For illustration purposes, we will assume an individual requires $50,000 annually after tax.  The following table gives you a financial view of the capital required in a RRIF account at age 65 with the following different life expectancies:

Life Expectancy           Savings Required @ Age 65

            75                                $522,439

            80                                 $745,470

            85                                 $959,956

            90                                  $1,166,227

            95                                  $1,364,592

            100                                $1,555,361

Another variable is the type of accounts in which investors have saved funds.  If you have funds in a non-registered account or a Tax Free Savings Account then the numbers are lower than the table above.  Having a combination of accounts (non-registered, TFSA, and RRIF) at retirement provides you the benefit of smoothing taxable income and cash flows.

Building up sufficient financial resources before you retire takes away the reliance on government funded programs and the concern of running out of money.  Financial security is achieved when you have enough resources to dictate the quality of care you receive as you grow older.  Often at times in financial plans we factor in the assumption that the principal residence could be sold to fund assisted living arrangements.  I’ve never prepared a financial plan with the assumption that the government will be paying for a client’s long term care. 

I also advise my clients to understand the issue of incapacity and how to manage this should it arise.  When planning for the most likely outcome, many people will become incapacitated (mentally or physically) for a period of time before they die.   In some cases the period of incapacity can extend for a significant length of time.

I encourage clients to take appropriate steps to deal with the financial cost of incapacity and think about how their finances would be managed if they became incapacitated. 

While they are still able, clients should ensure all legal documents (will, power of attorney, representation agreement) are up to date.  Part of this process involves reviewing the beneficiaries on all accounts to ensure consistency with your estate plan. Simplify finances by closing extra bank accounts and consolidating investment accounts.  All government benefits such as OAS and CPP as well as pensions (RRIF and RPP) should be deposited into one account, which makes it easier to budget for excess or short-falls.  Most expense payments should be automated. 

If you lose capacity or interest, it is easier for your power of attorney to review one bank statement for transactions.  In many cases, a meeting with a client and the client’s legal power of attorney is necessary to set up a “financial” power of attorney.  This power of attorney allows a person the ability to request funds to be transferred from your investment account to your bank account, if funds are running low.  Clients can set up managed accounts where a portfolio manager can act on your behalf on a discretionary basis.  Financial mail can also be sent to the power of attorney.  When bank and investment accounts are consolidated, your power of attorney can easily review and monitor the accounts through monthly statements or online access.

 

Kevin Greenard, CA FMA CFP CIM, is an Associate Portfolio Manager and Associate Director with The Greenard Group at ScotiaMcLeod in Victoria.  His column appears every second week in the Times Colonist.  Call 250-389-2138 or visit greenardgroup.com

 

 

Portfolio manager can act for clients more quickly than traditional adviser

Over the years, I have had great discussions with people about financial decision-making. It is tough for most people to make decisions on something they don’t feel informed about. 

Even when you are informed, investment decisions can be challenging.

When you work with a financial advisor, you have another person to discuss your options with. In the traditional approach, an advisor will present you with some investment recommendations or options.  You still have to make a decision with respect to either confirming the recommendation and saying “yes” or “no,” or choosing among the options presented. As an example, an advisor may give you low-, medium-, and high-risk options for new purchases. An advisor should provide recommendations that are suitable to your investment objectives and risk tolerance.

Another option for clients have is to have a managed account, sometimes referred to as a discretionary account.  With this type of account, clients do not have to make decisions. The challenge is that very few financial advisors have the appropriate licence to even offer this option.   To offer it, advisors need to have have either the Associate Portfolio Manager or Portfolio Manager title.

When setting up the managed accounts, one of the required documents is an Investment Policy Statement (IPS). The IPS outlines the parameters in which the Portfolio Manager can use his or her discretion. As an example, you could have in the IPS that you wish to have a minimum of 40 per cent in fixed income, such as bonds and GICs.

Portfolio Managers are held to a higher duty of care, often referred to as a fiduciary responsibility. Portfolio Managers have to spend a significant time to obtain an understanding of your specific needs and risk tolerance. These discussions should be consistent with how the IPS is set up. Any time you have a material change in your circumstances then the IPS should be updated. At least every two years, if not more frequently, the IPS should be reviewed.

The nice part of having a managed account with an up to date IPS is that your advisor is able to make the decisions on your behalf. You can be free to work hard and earn income without having to commit time to researching investments. You can spend time travelling and doing the activities you enjoy. Many of my clients are intelligent people who are fully capable of doing the investments themselves but see the value in paying a small fee. The fee is tax deductible for non-registered accounts and all administrative matters for taxation, etc. are taken care of. A good advisor adds significantly more value than the fees they charge. This is especially true if you value your time.

Many aging couples have one additional factor to consider. In many cases one person has made all the financial decisions for the household. If that person passes away first, it is often a very stressful burden that you are passing onto the surviving spouse. I’ve had couples come in to meet me primarily as a contingency plan. The one spouse that is independently handling the finances should provide the surviving spouse some direction of who to go see in the event of incapacity or death. In my opinion, the contingency plan should involve a portfolio manager that can use his or her discretion to make financial decisions.

In years past it was easier to deal with aging clients. Clients could simply put funds entirely in bonds and GICs and obtain a sufficient income flow. With near historic low interest rates, this income flow has largely dried up for seniors. When investors talk about income today, higher income options exist with many blue chip equities. Of course, dividend income is more tax efficient than interest income as well. A portfolio manager can add significant value for clients that are aging and require investments outside of GICs.

Try picturing a traditional financial advisor with a few hundred clients. A traditional financial advisor has to phone and verbally confirm each trade before it can be entered. The markets in British Columbia open at 6:30 AM and close at 1:00 PM. An advisor books meetings with clients often weeks in advance. On Tuesday morning an advisor wakes up and some bad news comes out about a stock that all your clients own. That same advisor has 5 meetings in the morning and has only a few small openings to make calls that day. It can take days for an advisor to phone all clients assuming they are all home and answer the phone and have time to talk.

A Portfolio Manager who can use his or her discretion can make one block trade (the sum of all of his clients’ shares in a company) and exit the position in seconds.

Sometimes making quick decisions in the financial markets to take advantage of opportunities is necessary. Hands down, a Portfolio Manager can react quicker than a traditional advisor who has to confirm each trade verbally with each client.

Benefits to early conversion of RRSP to RRIF

The Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) is for “saving.”   This savings and tax deferral within an RRSP can continue until the age of 71.  In the year you turn 71, you have to either close your RRSP by either taking the money out, purchasing an annuity or transferring it to a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF). 

From a taxation standpoint, it is rarely advised to de-register 100 per cent of your RRSP in one year and withdrawal the cash.  This would only be advised when an RRSP is very small or there is a shortened life expectancy or financial hardship.   Purchasing an annuity as an RRSP maturity option is a final decision that can not be reversed.  Upon your death, the annuity option often leaves nothing for your estate or beneficiaries.  

For many reasons, conversion of your RRSP to a RRIF is the most popular and flexible method.  Most of your savings will continue to be tax deferred with a minimum withdrawal amount being determined annually based on the previous December 31 value.  In the year a RRIF is set up, there is no minimum withdrawal amount.   All RRIF’s set up after 1992 are considered non-qualifying.  The following minimum RRIF withdrawal amounts are the non-qualifying annual percentage by age on December 31st: 

Age                 Per Cent        

72                    7.48    

73                    7.59

74                    7.71

75                    7.85

76                    7.99

77                    8.15

78                    8.33

79                    8.53

80                    8.75

81                    8.99

82                    9.27

84                    9.93

85                    10.33

86                    10.79

87                    11.33

88                    11.96

89                    12.71

90                    13.62

91                    14.73

92                    16.12

93                    17.92

94 or older      20.00

To illustrate how the above schedule works, we will use 71-year-old Barry Campbell who has saved $1million in his RRSP.  Barry is single and he chose to convert his RRSP to a RRIF account in the year he turned 71 and he will begin taking annual payments next year.  Barry has had years of complete deferral but this is coming to an end.  Based on the above minimum RRIF schedule, Barry will be required to withdraw $74,800 ($1 million x 7.48 per cent) and have this amount included in his taxable income.   Unfortunately, Barry doesn’t have a choice at age 71.  Based on Barry’s total income with the RRIF, he is projected to have half of his old age security clawed back (required repayment) based on his high income.  If Barry were to pass away, the majority of the RRIF would be taxed at 45.8 per cent.  Unfortunately, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) would receive nearly half of Barry’s lifetime savings within his RRIF.   

We feel it is important for clients to understand the taxation of a RRIF in a most likely scenario of normal life expectancy and shortened life expectancy.   RRIF accounts for couples greatly reduce the taxation risk of shortened life expectancy by being able to name your spouse the beneficiary and avoid immediate taxation of the full account balance.  In 2007, CRA introduced pension-splitting, which provides taxation savings for most couples with eligible pension income. RRIF withdrawals at age 65 or higher are considered eligible. 

Beginning in 2009, CRA introduced the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) that provides tax savings for individuals and couples.  The savings is a result of all income (interest, dividends, and capital gains) generated within the TFSA not being taxed ever.  There is no taxation upon your death.  The amount that can be put into a TFSA is limited by a relatively small amount each year. People who are serious about saving for retirement often contribute to both an RRSP and TFSA.

Given the introduction of pension splitting and the TFSA, many people should be looking at converting their RRSP to a RRIF before the age of 71.  When we are helping clients with the optimal time to convert their RRSP, we look at their marital status, health/genetics, and other investments.  With other investments, we create two baskets (A and B) to analyse what we call the “bulge.”  A bulge is when you have too much concentration in either basket A or B.  Basket A is the total amount in your RRSP accounts.   Basket B would include bank account balances, non-registered investments, and your TFSA – none of which will attract tax on the underlying equity if used.  Basket A may also include your principal residence if the intention is that this will be sold and the capital used to fund retirement.  

We caution investors not to create a bulge – having too much in either basket means you may not have the right balance as you enter retirement.  Taking advantage of deferral opportunities over time often makes sense.  Having too much in basket A means you may have very little flexibility if an emergency arises and you need cash (new roof, vehicle).   If A / (A + B) is greater than 75 per cent (a bulge) then we would recommend you speak with an advisor to determine in you should convert your RRSP to a RRIF early.  Above, we noted Barry has $1 million in basket A.   Barry also has $250,000 in basket B.  With these numbers Barry has a bulge percentage of 80 per cent. 

A financial plan prepared while you’re working largely results in savings strategies to reach your retirement and other goals.  In retirement, a financial plan is prepared to create withdrawal strategies that are tax efficient and smooth out your income during your lifetime.  They can also be prepared in conjunction with estate planning.   

Kevin Greenard CA FMA CFP CIM is an Associate Portfolio Manager and Associate Director with The Greenard Group at ScotiaMcLeod in Victoria.  His column appears every second week in the TC.  Call 250-389-2138.

As tax time looms, it’s prudent to get your plan in place

This time of year you should be talking with your financial advisor about where to put your hard earned money.  Will you contribute to an RRSP or pay down debt?  Or should you do both by contributing to an RRSP and using the tax savings to pare debt?

Contributing to an RRSP should be done with a view of keeping the funds committed for a longer period of time and pulling them out at retirement, hopefully when you’re in a lower income tax bracket. This option is suitable for individuals who have stable income.  If it’s debt reduction, you always have the flexibility of taking out equity in your home later on if capital is needed. On the other hand, if you need capital and your only access to savings are from your RRSP you will have to make one of the most common RRSP mistakes – deregistering RRSPs before retirement and paying tax. In addition, you will not have the RRSP contribution room replenished.

Since 2009, financial options were further complicated with the introduction of the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA). The main benefit of an RRSP is the deferral of income within the account until the funds are pulled out. Another is the tax savings in the period in which the contribution is first applied. The TFSA has the same first benefit of an RRSP, deferral of all income including interest, dividends and capital gains. TFSA contributions do not provide you a tax deduction; however, withdrawals are not taxed at all. Withdrawals can be replenished in the next calendar year. .

Business owners have the ability to have active small business income taxed at a lower rate. Most owners are encouraged to pull out only the income they need to live on. The rest of the income is left in the corporation. Income paid out of the corporation is either through dividends wages, or both. Should business owners still contribute to an RRSP or TFSA when income is already taxed at low rates?  Wages paid helps future CPP benefits and also creates RRSP deduction room.  Dividends paid can be tax efficient, but do not create RRSP room and have no benefit for CPP purposes.  Some organizations provide RRSP programs that involve matching and length of service programs that are linked to the member’s RRSP.

Singles have a higher likelihood of paying a large tax bill upon death. With couples, the chances that one lives to at least an average life expectancy are far greater. Couples can also income split where the higher income spouse can contribute to a spousal RRSP.

If you have a good company Registered Pension Plan (RPP), you may not have a great a need to have an RRSP. If a person had debt and a good RPP then the decision to pay down debt is a little easier than someone that doesn’t have an RPP at all. Individuals who have no other pensions (not counting CPP and OAS) really need to consider the RRSP and how they will fund retirement.

Income levels below $37,606 in BC are already in the lowest income tax bracket. Contributing $5,000 to an RRSP while in the lowest bracket would result in tax savings of approximately $1,003 or 20.06 per cent.  Income over $150,000 is taxed at 45.8 per cent and this same contribution would save $2,290.   I would encourage the lower income individual to put the funds into a Tax Free Savings Account or pay down debt depending on other factors. If the lower-income individual’s income increased substantially, then the option to pull the funds out of the TFSA and contribute them to an RRSP always exists.

In order for your advisor to provide guidance about the right mix between TFSA, RRSP, or paying down debt, they require current information.  In some cases, your advisor should be speaking with your accountant to make sure everyone is on the same page.  Every situation is unique and your strategy may also change over time.  Preparing a draft income tax return in late January or early February helps your advisor guide you on making the right decisions.

The submitting of your completed tax return should be done only when you are reasonably comfortable you have all income tax slips and information. Some investment slips, such as T3s, may not be mailed until the end of March. We recommend most of our clients do not file their income tax return until the end of the first week of April.  By providing projected tax information to your advisor in January or early February you have time to determine if an RRSP should be part of the savings strategy. If it is not, the discussion can lead to whether you should pay down your mortgage or contribute to your Tax Free Savings Account.  

Most mortgages allow you the ability to pay down a set lump sum amount (such as 10 or 20 per cent) on an annual basis without penalty.  Every January you are given additional Tax Free Savings Account room. 

Spending habits key factor in deciding when you can retire

I’ve often told clients, it’s not what you make – it’s what you spend. This is especially true in retirement. Some financial planning articles state that before you retire, you should have a new roof, new car, and no debt. I wish it was that easy.

Previous generations have lived through financially challenging times such as the Great Depression, when being frugal was a means of survival for most people.

I’ve often had discussions with my wealthier older clients about spending some of their “fortune” as they would describe it. For people who have truly lived through tough times, it’s not easy to spend money for the sake of spending money – that would be foolish. They’re also more content with the basics of life.

I’ve always enjoyed talking to my older clients about how they accumulated their net worth. At the end of the meeting the handshake is always as sincere as the conversation.

Most of their stories have a similar conclusion, in that they were just as happy when they had very little. In fact, those were some of the most interesting years where they were excited to share with a friend about a great deal on a used couch. If you gave used furniture away to someone they were happy to get it. Over time we have grown into a society of consumption, and this same consumption helps grow our economy.

There is a very high cost to excessive consumption. First, you require a significantly higher amount of capital in order to retire. The greater amount of capital you need, the longer you have to work. Actuaries have data that supports that the longer you work, then the shorter your life expectancy. Being happy and content with what you have is perhaps the most important mindset as you enter retirement.

To simplify the numbers, let’s use four different couples, where each has $500,000 in the bank at age 50. We make the assumption that all four couples will earn a net return of four percent and have a life expectancy of 90 years. Although each couple makes a different income, all four are able to save approximately $50,000 a year. The only different variable is the amount of capital they require in retirement.

Mr. and Mrs. Green have always enjoyed a good income but also have extravagant tastes, and they do not want to significantly change their lifestyle in retirement. Combined Mr. and Mrs. Green are currently earning $200,000 a year and are able to save $50,000 annually. In preparing their financial plan they wish to have $10,000 a month from their investments, or $120,000 per year. In order for Mr. and Mrs. Green to have $10,000 a month they both have to work until age 65.

Mr. and Mrs. Black are both professionals and have moderate to high expectations for income during retirement. Combined, they currently earn $180,000 a year and are able to save $50,000 a year. In preparing their financial plan they wish to have $8,000 a month from their investments to live on each year. In order for Mr. and Mrs. Black to have $8,000 a month to live on, they both have to work until age 62.

Mr. and Mrs. White have been very prudent in saving income over the years. They have moderate retirement plans that involve a reasonable level of cash flow. Combined Mr. and Mrs. White currently earn $160,000 a year and are able to save $50,000 a year. In preparing their financial plan they wish to have $6,000 a month from their investments to live on each year. In order for Mr. and Mrs. White to have $6,000 a month, they have to work until age 59.

Mr. and Mrs. Brown have simple plans and like the idea of just relaxing. Combined Mr. and Mrs. Brown earn $140,000 a year and are able to save $50,000 a year. In preparing their financial plan they wish to have $4,000 a month from their investments each year to live on each year. In order for Mr. and Mrs. Brown to have $4,000 a month, they have to work until age 55.

In the above case, Mr. and Mrs. Brown are able to retire at age 55, Mr. and Mrs. White at age 59, Mr. and Mrs. Black at age 62, and Mr. and Mrs. Green at age 65. The Browns are able to retire at age 55 primarily because they are choosing not to consume as much during retirement; and retiring ten years earlier with less consumption is more important than working longer with more consumption.

In the most likely outcome, Mr. and Mrs. Brown will have a longer life expectancy than Mr. and Mrs. Green. As noted above, the longer a person works, the shorter one’s life expectancy. A financial plan and working with an advisor should assist you in getting comfort on picking the right retirement age and consumption level.