It’s tax time — will you do it yourself, or hire a professional?

In 1988, I got my first job working at an accounting firm. It was a great year to start in the accounting world as most clients were still doing everything manually. Individual tax packages could be picked up at the post office or mailed to clients for those who wanted to prepare the personal tax return (T1) themselves, small businesses often recorded transactions on manual ledgers and nearly every corporation would have to hire a local accountant to prepare the annual financial statements and file the corresponding corporate tax return (T2).

Accounting firms were largely the only ones using computers and newer technology to prepare and file tax returns. At this time there were three accounting bodies, Chartered Accountants (CA), Certified General Accountants (CGA) and Certified Management Accountants (CMA). These three organizations are now unified under one organization, and referred to as a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA).

Corporate Tax Returns

Over time, point of sale systems, accounting systems, payroll systems and automation have been introduced directly to businesses. This made the larger volumes of transactions more manageable. In some cases, business owners learned how to do this on their own. In most other situations, accounting firms and bookkeepers helped business owners with this transition. Today, the owner of the business and bookkeepers normally compile all the daily information. This compiled information is then provided to CPA firms to do the final journal entries, financial statements, tax returns and regulatory filings. In the future with cloud computing gaining popularity, businesses will not be limited to using accountants within a limited geography.

On a daily basis, we are communicating with our client’s accountant to ensure that they are getting the information from us that they need. For example, if a holding company has a portfolio of investments, it wouldn’t be unusual to have hundreds of transactions in a year (i.e. purchases, sells, interest income, and dividend income). Annually, we will export all of the transactions during the year into an excel spreadsheet that is forwarded to both the client and the client’s CPA. This spreadsheet saves the accounting firm time by not having to enter every transaction. We also forward all the PDF copies of the statements, fee summary, realized gain (loss) statement, and T-1135 Foreign Verification statement. Nearly every one of our corporate/business clients uses a CPA firm. Proving this information to your CPA firm enables them to spend time giving you proactive big picture advice rather than spending time on data entry.

 

Personal Tax Returns

In the initial meeting with a new client, we always obtain the name of their accountant who prepares their personal income tax return. We obtain the accountants name, email, phone number, and fax number. Most accountants will have an annual tax checklist that they provide to their clients with the information they require. We also provide a letter to clients with a summary of the information that they can expect to receive from our team, firm and others. The letter outlines the timing of when they will receive the tax information. Because the information is coming from multiple sources and at different times, we encourage our clients to have a system to organize this information and pass on everything they receive to their accountant.

The timing of when you give your information to your accountant is important. We always encourage clients to wait until the beginning of April before giving their information to their accountant to ensure they have all the information needed to properly file their tax return.

We keep good analytics with respect to whether our clients use the services of a professional accountant. Ten years ago, about 85 per cent of our clients used the services of an accountant. Five years ago, the percentage using professional accountants had dropped to 75 per cent. Today, 67 per cent of our clients are using the services of an accountant.

Of the 33 per cent of our clients who do their own tax returns, nearly all use a software package, such as Turbo Tax. We still have a handful of clients who like preparing their tax return with the paper copies and mailing them in.

 

Professional Advice

Not everything is constant with tax policies and accounting rules. CPAs have to adapt to these changes quickly. In some cases there is a lot of overlap between the advice given from CPAs and financial advisers. One example is managing taxable income, especially in retirement. The decision of where cash flow is generated should give consideration to the tax consequences. This is especially important when clients have corporate investment accounts. The level and timing of wages and dividends can fluctuate and should be integrated into the timing of registered account contributions and withdrawals. With so many different types of registered accounts (RRSP, RRIF, LIRA, TFSA, RRSP, RDSP) it is important to have the correct combination based on your short and long term goals. Some of the decisions are driven by required cash flow and some are based on minimizing tax during your lifetime.

If a person is doing both their own self-directed investing and doing their own tax return, then they would not have any professional to obtain advice. Both accountants and wealth advisers are being asked financial and estate planning questions all the time. What is really valuable is when an accountant and wealth adviser provide proactive advice. The term, “you don’t know what you don’t know” certainly applies. The gap in knowledge can range from things that impact tax decisions in the shorter term like the contribution and withdrawals noted above. The decisions you make today could impact taxation for several years in areas such as income splitting rules, changes in RRIF minimums, and whether to collect CPP early. Accountants and wealth advisers have the tools to help with projections and decision making.

Quality of life and changes in your life are both good reasons to have qualified professionals that you know and trust. Even though you may be fully capable of doing your own taxes today, it will take time and you may miss something that you are not aware of. One simple proactive tip from an accountant or wealth advisor could save you thousands of dollars in taxes.

Deterioration in health has many cascading financial consequences and this becomes especially true if the spouse that does the tax returns becomes sick or passes away. It puts even more stress on the spouse during a difficult time if they have neither an accountant or wealth adviser that they know to speak with. During a meeting we may learn about a client’s health deteriorating. Depending on the severity, it can impact tax and estate planning. One example that has an income-tax impact is when we have recommended clients to talk to their doctor about completing Form T2201 for the Disability Tax Credit Certificate. Often at times people may qualify for the disability tax credit, but they did not know. We have had many clients get thousands of dollars back in taxes once they received appropriate advice. If we see years with high medical expenses then this could be an opportunity to offset with other taxable income, such as a higher RRIF withdrawal.

With accountants and wealth advisers working together, you will have two sets of proactive eyes making sure you are getting the best advice. In addition, you can spend your spare time, saved by not doing your taxes, with things that you really enjoy doing.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a portfolio manager and director of wealth management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria.

Do you need to make income tax instalment payments?

Twice a year, Canada Revenue Agency sends out instalment reminder letters to those taxpayers who are required to make payments. The February letter outlines the required payments on, or before, March 15 and June 15. The August letter outlines the required payments on, or before, Sept. 15 and Dec. 15.

 

The February 2019 notice will be based primarily on your 2017 tax return. If you owed more than $3,000 in taxes in 2017, then you will likely be asked by CRA to make instalments on March 15 and June 15t through the February 2019 notice. CRA would not know what your income was for 2018 by the time the February notice are sent. Nor will it know what your income will be for the current year.

The August 2019 notice will enable CRA to adjust the numbers based on your actual 2018 net tax owing. If your net tax owing was less than $3,000 in 2018, you will likely not be asked to make instalment payments on Sept. 15 and Dec. 15.

It is important to note that you have to pay your income tax by instalments for 2019 if both of the following apply:

• Your net tax owing for 2019 will be above $3,000 in British Columbia

• Your net tax owing in either 2018 or 2017 was above $3,000 in British Columbia

The instalment payments are to cover tax that you would otherwise have to pay in a lump sum on April 30 of the following year. Instalments are designed so that taxes are paid throughout the calendar year while you are earning the taxable income.

Infrequent income spike

We often see individuals who have sold a rental property, businesses or investments, which generates a significant capital gain. This is a one-time spike in income, which is not going to necessarily repeat. One of the flaws in the instalment notice is that it is simply an automated process based on the $3,000 thresholds notice above. The year after you have a spike in income, many people are asked to make instalment payments.

You do not have to pay your income tax by instalments for 2019 if you know your net tax owing for 2019 will be $3,000 or less in British Columbia, even if you received an instalment reminder in 2019. It is always best to check with your accountant before skipping instalment payments.

Common areas triggering instalment notices

If you are an employee, and have no other sources of income, you likely do not have to worry about making instalment payments. Your employers has an obligation to withhold appropriate income tax from your earned income. Individuals who work more than one job may also have an insufficient amount of tax withheld, as each employer has based the withholding tax on payroll tables and income from the one job. If you do have two jobs and when both incomes are combined, you are in a higher tax bracket than the payroll table. This will normally result in taxes being owed at the end of the year. You can always request that your employer withholds a higher level of tax on a voluntary basis.

There are situations where taxpayers have income from activities other than employment. In many of these cases, tax is not withheld at source, meaning that you may have to pay tax at the end of the year. This often impacts individuals who have multiple forms of income.

Examples of situations that can result in instalment payments include self-employment income, RRIF payments, Old Age Security payments, Canada Pension Plan benefits, rental income, certain pension income, capital gains and other investment income.

Speaking with a wealth adviser and accountant about instalment payments can often result in some helpful tips on ways to reduce your net tax owing, or even eliminate the need to make the CRA scheduled instalment payments. The easiest way to reduce your net tax owing is by voluntarily withholding tax on certain forms of income on an automated basis. You can withhold tax on your RRIF income by talking to your wealth adviser. Another common strategy is to complete the “Request for Voluntary Federal Income Tax Deduction” form to have tax withheld on Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security.

Interest and penalties

For some people, making the instalment payments is not a big deal. They simply make the four remittances a year on time. In order to make these instalment payments on time, you have to be organized, have the funds previously set aside and remit them to CRA on or before the required dates.

If taxpayers do not make the required instalments, they may have to pay interest and penalty charges. CRA charges instalment interest on all late or insufficient instalment payments. Instalment interest is charged at the posted prescribed rate (changes every three months) and compounds daily. CRA may also charge penalties if the taxpayer makes payments that are late or less than the requested amounts. Penalties normally apply when your interest charges are more than $1,000.

The worst part about these types of interest and penalty charges are that taxpayers cannot deduct these on their tax return. This is an absolute cost that is permanently lost.

Notice of assessments

One of the services we provide to clients is a review of their tax returns. Fifteen years ago, we used to ask clients to bring in tax returns and notices of assessment, but now we have been able to proactively get this information online, directly from CRA. One of the first documents that we read every year is a client’s notice of assessment. With respect to instalments, we look for three things:

1. Do they have a requirement to make instalment payments?

2. Were any interest or penalties assessed in previous years for not paying required instalments?

3. How can we help the client automate the process?

In some cases, withholding tax on RRIF, CPP and OAS is not enough. Some clients do not wish to voluntarily send CRA any money ahead of time. One of the services we provide for clients with a non-registered account is the ability for us to pay their required instalment amounts directly from their investment account. We have access to the numbers on the CRA website and if a client has provided consent, we can take care of those payments on their behalf. This is particularly valuable for our clients who are busy, travelling or aging.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a portfolio manager and director of wealth management with the Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the Times Colonsit. Call 250-389-2138. greenardgroup.com

 

When to stop contributing to an RRSP

Most articles are written about “contributing” to an RRSP. This one highlights that many people should either avoid RRSPs or stop contributing to them.

Going a step further, calculations should be made to determine if you should withdraw funds from an RRSP.

In many cases, we will recommend that people convert their RRSP to a RRIF before age 71. Age 64 or 65 are common ages for conversions to a RRIF, which we will explain below.

For some people, the decision to convert an RRSP to a RRIF early is purely for cash flow reasons and out of necessity. For individuals in the top tax brackets, taking the regulatory approach and keeping the funds in an RRSP until age 71, for maximum deferral, is normally the best option.

The transition to retirement often coincides with your final RRSP contribution. It could be your last high-income earning year, or it could be offsetting the retiring allowance by using up your RRSP Deduction Limit. In some cases, if you arrange to retire early in the year, an RRSP contribution may not be necessary. In years where your income is uncertain, then we do not recommend contributing early in the year. Closer to the end of the year, you can determine whether contributing to an RRSP makes sense.

If taxable income is on the lower end, then you should consider converting your RRSP early, especially if you are 65 or older. If you are not maximizing your Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA), then pulling funds out of an RRSP and funding a TFSA can reduce your tax bill in the long run. If you are not receiving eligible pension income, then we advise individuals 65 and older to covert a portion of their RRSP to a RRIF. Those 65 years and older can claim up to $2,000 as a pension income amount, effectively allowing each individual to pull $2,000 out of their RRIF tax free.

Another very important factor is that couples can income split RRIF income beginning at age 65. Individuals who are collecting Old Age Security, and earn more than $77,580 in 2019, will have to repay (often referred to as clawback) 15 per cent of the excess up to the total amount of OAS received. If possible, care should be taken to withdraw funds out of an RRSP so that the combined taxable income is below the annual clawback threshold.

If the goal is to minimize tax in the current year, contributing the maximum to RRSPs and delaying RRIF withdrawals until age 72 may provide this outcome.

Let’s change the focus from minimizing tax in the current year to minimizing tax during your lifetime. The key variable on whether or not you minimize tax during your lifetime is life expectancy. To illustrate, we will use a hypothetical client, Jill Jones.

Jill is single and has recently retired at age 65 with $500,000 accumulated in her RRSP. We have projected that CPP, OAS and investment income will result in Jill receiving annual income of $22,000. Jill also has access to non-registered cash, so cash flow is not an issue.

Jill does not have to convert the RRSP to a RRIF early for cash flow. We ran some preliminary projections for Jill with two broad scenarios: 1) convert RRSP to a RRIF immediately and begin pulling out $28,000 annually, and 2) waiting until age 71 to convert to a RRIF and withdrawing the minimum required payments beginning at age 72. To illustrate the estimated tax on both of these scenarios, we used different life expectancy, being age 65, 71, 77, 83, 89, and 95. Below are the 11 outcomes we outlined with Jill. For purposes of this illustration we used a conservative four per cent rate of return.

Option 1 — Convert RRSP early

Planned conversion age Annual end of year withdrawal Deceased age Estimated estate tax
Outcome 1 65 $28,000 71 $184,261
Outcome 2 65 $28,000 77 $149,486
Outcome 3 65 $28,000 83 $105,485
Outcome 4 65 $28,000 89 $51,370
Outcome 5 65 $28,000 95 $2,525

Outcomes 1 through 5 have Jill beginning to pull funds out slowly starting at age 65. By beginning to pull funds out immediately at low levels, Jill will have more funds at her disposal to enjoy her retirement. She will be able to claim the pension income amount and top up her TFSA. She can invest any residual income to generate tax efficient dividend income and capital gains. Jill is reducing the risk of a significant tax bill as a result of a shortened life, especially in outcomes 3 to 5 when compared to option 2 below.

Option 2

Planned conversion age Annual end of year withdrawal Deceased age Estimated estate tax
Outcome 6 71 0 65 $225,687
Outcome 7 71 0 71 $294,394
Outcome 8 71 Minimum 77 $261,243
Outcome 9 71 Minimum 83 $212,211
Outcome 10 71 Minimum 89 $142,742
Outcome 11 71 Minimum 95 $51,089

Outcomes 6 through 11 have Jill keeping her funds within an RRSP until age 71. In the reviewing the above numbers with Jill, we outlined the biggest risk in deferring the conversion to a RRIF is if she passed away in her late 70s or early 80s. The tax rate on the majority of what is left in the RRSP is taxed at 49.8 percent (assuming tax rates remain at current levels). If Jill lives to age 95, then keeping to minimum withdrawals over the years has turned out to be a good decision. Delaying conversion and withdrawing the minimum payments help those investors who are concerned about living too long and running out of funds.

Many other options exist for Jill. Often the right answer is in-between, including a partial conversion or a full conversion between the ages of 65 and 71. When clients ask for my advice, I normally begin the conversion with planning for the most likely outcome. Genetics, current health condition and lifestyle are also factors. Asking clients this question, “What concerns you most, the thought of living too long and running out of money or potentially having to give half of your hard earned money to Canada Revenue Agency?”

 

Many couples should consider spousal RRSPs

For couples that make approximately the same annual income, a spousal RRSP may not be necessary. The greater the disparity between incomes with couples, the more important it is to consider spousal RRSPs. This is especially true if one person is in an upper tax bracket and your spouse is in a lower tax bracket. If investment dollars are limited, then the recommendation would normally be for the upper tax bracket individual to make an RRSP contribution.

With fewer and fewer income splitting opportunities between spouses, it is important to understand the strategies that remain. Spousal RRSPs are an effective way to split income between spouses during your lifetime. However, it is important that you know the rules.

What is a spousal RRSP?

A spousal RRSP is an account to which you contribute, however your spouse is the annuitant of the account. This means that you receive the tax deduction for the contribution to the account, but your spouse will receive the proceeds from any withdrawals from the spousal RRSP. Once the contribution is made, your spouse becomes the owner of the funds within the account.

The advantages of a spousal RRSP

The biggest advantage of a spousal RRSP is the opportunity to split retirement income between spouses.

Effective retirement planning would result with both spouses having equal income producing assets at retirement. This would allow the family to take advantage of splitting income instead of having it all taxed in one individual’s hands, which is normally at a higher marginal tax rate.

Most people will not have equal assets at retirement, so the spousal RRSP is a method to help ensure that you work towards equal assets at retirement.

Usually, the higher income spouse (and therefore the spouse that is likely to have higher assets at retirement) will contribute to a spousal RRSP for the lower income spouse to allow them to accumulate assets for retirement. When you finally retire, the withdrawals from the spousal account will be taxed in the hands of your spouse, usually at an overall lower tax rate than would be the case if the withdrawal was taxed in your hands.

The advantage to this income splitting strategy is based on the fact that the contributor receives a tax deduction at a higher tax rate than the income will ultimately be taxed at.

Know the rules and be careful of the attribution rules

There are rules in the Income Tax Act called attribution rules that are designed to prevent abuse of spousal RRSPs. The rules state that:

• Withdrawals from a spousal account will be taxed in the hands of the contributor if a contribution has been made to any spousal account in the year of the withdrawal or the previous two years. What this means is that if you made a contribution to any spousal account, you must wait three years before your spouse can withdraw it without it being taxed back to you.

The attribution rules do not apply in the following circumstances:

• If funds are transferred directly for your spouse or common-law partner to a RRIF and only the minimum payments are withdrawn, there is no attribution. However, there is attribution on funds withdrawn in excess of the minimum payment as long as the three years is still in effect. After the three years has passed, there is no further attribution.

• If funds are used to purchase a life annuity or a term certain annuity to age 90, there is no attribution

• If the spouses are living apart due to a breakdown of relationship at the time of payment

• If either spouse becomes a non-resident of Canada at the time of payment

• If the contributing spouse dies in the year of payment

• If the deceased annuitant is considered to have received the amount because of death

One of the most popular questions relating to spousal RRSPs is: “Can my spouse co-mingle their own RRSP with that of their spousal RRSP that I contribute to?”

The answer is yes, however, once you co-mingle the accounts, they are considered a spousal account and therefore subject to the attribution rules discussed above.

We do not recommend co-mingling RRSP accounts. There are reasons to keep the accounts separate, depending upon your circumstances. Having two plans provides you with extra flexibility with respect to withdrawals. For example, if your spouse was not working and wanted to withdraw funds out of their RRSP, they could withdraw them out of their own RRSP and have the income taxed in their hands. If however, the funds had been co-mingled and a spousal contribution had been made within the last three years that income withdrawal would be taxed in the hands of the contributor.

If you are at the age where you have only RRIF accounts and are pulling out the minimum, then co-mingling the accounts at this stage is normally okay.

Other factors and looking at the long term

In some situations, one spouse may be temporarily out of the work force and will have significant income in the future. Individuals that own corporations or other assets should seek professional advice to see how a Spousal RRSP could integrate into a longer-term plan. Stability of marriage, future inheritances, projected retirement dates, and changes in Canadian tax laws are additional factors to consider.

 

Investment options within your RRSP

The key word in Registered Retirement Savings Plan is savings.

The government allows Canadians to defer up to 18 per cent of the previous years earned income, up to a maximum of $26,230 for the 2018 tax year.

In order to reach the maximum, earned income would have to equal $145,722 or higher. If you are a member of a pension plan, then the maximum is reduced by a pension adjustment.

After filing your annual tax return, you will receive a Notice of Assessment which has your current year RRSP Deduction Limit Statement.

Once your Deduction Limit is known, you may consider contributing early to an RRSP provided cash flow permits. One way to do this is to immediately use any tax refund, if any, to fund the current year RRSP contribution. If you are maximizing every year, then a single lump sum contribution equal to the amount on your RRSP Deduction Limit Statement may avoid the risk of over-contributing.

If cash flow is limited then setting up a Pre-Authorized Contribution (PAC) on a monthly basis may help you maximize contributions. It is important to adjust the PAC amount annually to adjust to your annual RRSP Deduction Limit. Whether you contribute monthly or by lump sum, it is important that you know your limit and do not over-contribute.

Every year you have to decide how to invest the new contribution. In addition to deciding how to invest the current year contribution, you have to continually manage your existing RRSP holdings to get the best long term results.

We have had discussions with clients new to investing that had mistaken an RRSP as a type of investment. RRSP is a type of account but not a type of investment. The Income Tax Act (ITA) outlines that the RRSP is limited to holding qualified investments, such as cash and deposits, listed securities (on designated stock exchanges), investment funds (i.e. mutual funds), and debt obligations (i.e. GICs, Term Deposits, Canada Savings Bonds). There are several other less common types of investments for RRSP accounts but for purposes of this column I will stick with the most common.

Many people rush into a financial institution to deposit funds primarily to get the RRSP Contribution receipt for tax purposes. Although cash is a qualified investment with RRSP, sitting permanently in cash is not a good long term option as returns would be limited.

Before an RRSP contribution is made you should understand the differences between financial professionals and financial institutions. There are significant differences with financial professionals in the scope of both experience and licencing. Some have worked through various market corrections and others are just starting a new career. Some financial professionals are licensed to sell only insurance products, other are licensed through the Mutual Fund Dealers Association (MFDA) and sell mutual funds. Wealth advisers may be licenced with the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) and have the ability to sell listed securities and mutual funds. You should ensure that the Wealth Advisor you approach has the licensing appropriate to your needs.

With respect to the wide range of financial institutions, you can choose from virtual/online options, insurance companies, traditional banks, credit unions and mortgage investment corporations. You should first determine what type of investment you would like and also what type of services. Even within traditional banks, you have several options including: self-directed, bank branch, and full service. If someone wants to do their own investing and is comfortable with technology then they can consider the online self-directed platforms. These are also referred to as discount brokerage as they have lower fees as you’re primarily doing the work yourself. Options at the bank branch level are typically term deposits/GIC and mutual funds.

Guaranteed Investment Certificates

Some investors purchase GICs, term deposits, and different types of bonds within an RRSP to manage their investment risk level. These types of investments typically pay interest income that is predicable, and volatility is lower. The primary downside to these investments is the relatively low interest rates and return potential. Short-term debt obligations have low real returns after inflation and taxes are factored in. Long-term debt obligations can be surprisingly volatile especially with changes to interest rates. If capital preservation is the primarily objective and time horizon is short, certain types of debt obligations may be suitable.

Mutual Funds

Mutual funds have been around for more than 90 years and have been a very popular type of investment. The concept of a mutual fund is easy to understand in the sense that it is a group of investors who pool their money together and have it managed by a Portfolio Manager. The first stage is picking a fund that matches your investment objectives and risk tolerance. Once the fund is picked, the portfolio manager makes all the decisions and investor does not need to be involved. Another benefit is that investors can choose to contribute a lump sum to the fund or set up automated pre-authorized contributions every month which makes forced savings easy. For inexperienced investors, or those with smaller amounts to invest, a mutual fund allows you access to a professional money manager. You do need some guidance to ensure you pick a mutual fund(s) with the appropriate asset mix and level of diversification. All of the banks offer a selection of mutual funds.

Listed Securities and Wealth Advisers

Investors that have accumulated significant savings have another option available to them. The full-service wealth division of Canada’s largest banks provide a wide range of investment options, typically for clients with investable assets over certain thresholds (i.e. $250,000, $500,000, $1,000,000). As noted above, wealth advisors are registered with IIROC and are able to purchase a wide selection of investments within an RRSP, including the investments noted above, as well as listed securities. One type of popular listed security is common shares that trade on exchanges such as Toronto Stock Exchange, New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq.

The greater the size of an investment portfolio, the easier it is to obtain diversification with individual holdings. The benefit of transitioning to individual securities is lowering your cost of investing and having more control over the risk level of the account and each security added. It is easier to diversify your portfolio by sector and geographic exposure. Individual blue chip equities typically generate greater income and provide better transparency.

Avoiding significant mistakes is a key component to the success of an RRSP. Common mistakes we see are being too conservative or too aggressive. Keeping the funds in cash or being too conservative will not result in wealth accumulation after inflation and income tax are factored in. Investing in speculative holdings, unnecessary concentration, and making emotional decisions during periods of volatility are also common mistakes.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a portfolio manager and director of wealth management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the Times Colonist. Call 250.389.2138.

50 questions to consider before making an RRSP contribution

An RRSP could be an important vehicle in reducing the amount of tax you pay in your lifetime.

However, an RRSP may not be for everyone.

Last week, we reviewed marginal tax brackets and took a mathematical approach to determine whether you should contribute to an RRSP. Incomes below $39,676 in 2018 could save between zero cents and as much as 20 cents on each dollar contributed. Incomes above $205,842 save 49.8 cents on each dollar contributed.

Many individuals have taxable income above $39,676 and below $205,842. We will refer to this as the grey zone. The mathematical approach has many shortfalls.

Below are fifty questions to help those in the grey zone determine if making an RRSP contribution is right for them.

1) How old are you?

Typically the younger you are the longer you have tax deferral. Tax deferral is the number one benefit of an RRSP, not the immediate tax deduction for the contribution. A 40 year old could have over 30 years of deferral. A 65 year old has six years.

2) What is your income level?

If your income is very low then it may not make any sense to contribute. If you are in higher marginal income tax brackets, then the income tax savings can be significant. Last week we outlined the math for those will regular forms of income.

3) Does your income level fluctuate year to year?

Certain professions have income levels that fluctuate year to year. With some years being so low that dipping into savings is necessary. The greater the fluctuations in income the more important it is to have some emergency funds outside of an RRSP.

4) Do you have future large income tax years?

In cases where clients have moderate levels of income today but intend on selling an asset such as a rental property for a significant capital gain in the future, building up and saving the contribution room or building an “unused” component, to offset the large income tax years can often be a good strategy.

5) Are you looking to purchase a principal residence?

If one of your goals is to purchase a principal residence then the majority of your savings should be done in either a non-registered account or a TFSA for easier access. The one exception could be the RRSP Home Buyers Plan (see below).

6) Are you eligible for the RRSP Home Buyers Plan (HBP)?

First time home buyers can participate in the RRSP Home Buyers Plan(HBP). This program allows you to withdraw up to $25,000 in a year from your RRSP towards a qualifying home. If your income is higher and you do not yet have $25,000 in an RRSP then contributing to an RRSP up to this level and then withdrawing the funds under the HBP can be a good strategy for new home owners. A RRSP can not only help you save for retirement — it can also help you save for your first home.

If you and your spouse both borrow the same amount from your RRSP accounts you can put up to $50,000 combined towards a down payment. The HBP enables you to get access to the money you saved, the investment growth, and receive the tax savings.

With the HBP you are essentially borrowing from yourself. You have to pay the amount you borrowed back within 15 years. If you took out $25,000, you must pay back into your RRSP $1,666.66 annually. If you miss these repayment amounts then you will be taxed on the missed payment.

7) Have you contributed to an RESP for any minor children?

Often I see parents not taking advantage of the Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG) linked to RESP contributions. The government matches 20 per cent on the first $2,500 contributed annually per child, up to age 18.

8) How old are your children?

If cash is limited, often at times an RESP contribution is a better use of funds, especially if the children are approaching 18 and have not yet obtained the lifetime maximum of $7,200 CESG.

9) Have you set up a Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) for a minor or adult child with a disability?

The RDSP has benefits even for those who do contribute. The government also give funds under a matching program which is dependent on the beneficiary’s family income. If funds are limited then Contributing to an RDSP often is a better option.

10) Do you have a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA)?

Individuals with lower income today are generally better off to contribute to a TFSA. If income levels rise then you can always move the funds out of the TFSA and contribute to an RRSP in the future.

11) Have you maximized contributions to your TFSA?

An RRSP contribution can assist you in reducing the current year income but will eventually be taxed when the funds are pulled out. On the other hand, the TFSA grows tax-free but does not assist you in deferring any of your earned income in the current year. By taking a longer term view, the TFSA for those with lower income, and amounts to save, should seriously consider a TFSA over an RRSP.

12) Are you, or dependents, attending post-secondary education?

Often at times these costs can help with lowering your taxes payable. Obtain an estimate of all potential deductions and factor this in when determining what amount, if any, to contribute to an RRSP.

13) Are you claiming any disability deductions and credits?

The disability tax claimed either for self, or others, can significantly lower your income tax liability. It is important to factor these credits in when making RRSP contribution decisions.

14) Did you know that your RRSP can help you get an education?

The RRSP program is called Lifetime Learning Plan (LLP). Your RRSP can help pay for the education and training you may need to build a new career or make a change.

The LLP enables you to take out up to $10,000 per year ($20,000 maximum) from your RRSP to pay for tuition for you or your spouse.

With the LLP you are essentially borrowing from yourself. You have to pay the amount you borrowed back within 15 years. If you took out $10,000 you must pay back into your RRSP $666.67 annually. If you miss these repayment amounts then you will be taxed if you miss a payment.

15) Do you have family, child care, and caregiver expenses?

If you have these types of expenditures then you may be eligible for deductions and/or credits on your income tax return. These deductions and credits should be factored in when looking at the amount of RRSP contributions to make. It is important to know that some credits are non-refundable and contributing to an RRSP in some situations may not be as worthwhile from a deduction standpoint.

16) Do you have significant medical expenses in the current year?

If you had an unusually high level of medical expenses in a current, or a 12 month period, you should advise your financial adviser. It may be that these medical expenses have already helped reduce your projected taxes payable to an acceptable level that making an RRSP contribution is not necessary in the current period.

17) Do you have excess cash in the bank?

If you have excess cash that would otherwise be invested in a non-registered account and generating T3 and T5 income then an RRSP can help reduce two forms of income. By investing these funds in an RRSP you will not be receiving a T3 or T5, or have to report the capital gains on dispositions. These savings along with the deduction can make sense if the cash in the bank can be committed to retirement.

18) How did you intend to fund the RRSP contribution?

If you do not have money to fund the RRSP then that sometimes helps with the decision-making. Clients have asked me whether it makes sense to borrow money to put into an RRSP. Interest on RRSP loans are not deductible. Historically, there have been a lot of articles that discuss how to use a short term RRSP loan in February that can be partially paid back (provided you get a refund) once your tax return is filed and assessed. If the funds can be paid back quickly, with minimal interest costs, then it can make sense.

19) Do you have a spouse to name as the beneficiary?

If your spouse is named the beneficiary of your RRSP then you have less risk of an adverse tax consequence if you were to pass away (see question 50). Contributing to an RRSP, with your spouse named as the beneficiary, has two benefits in my opinion. The first obvious benefit is that it assists both of you in retirement should you live a normal life expectancy. The second benefit is that it provides assistance to your spouse in retirement in the event that you were to pass away before retirement.

20) Where can you find out how much you can contribute?

The most common approach is to look at last year’s Income Tax Notice of Assessment (NOA). The RRSP deduction limit table will provide these numbers. If you are unable to find the NOA then you can log into CRA My Account.

21) Are you aware of the different types of investments to put into your RRSP?

An RRSP is a type of an account and not a type of investment. The options for what you can put into an RRSP can vary significantly. Putting the cash into the RRSP is only the beginning. The most important part is ensuring the capital is protected and invested appropriately to grow for the decades ahead. We encourage you to do some research. Next week we will outline investment options for your RRSP.

22) If you make an RRSP contribution, have you estimated how much tax you will have deferred in the current year?

Many online RRSP calculators can compute the tax savings for a contribution. This works great if you have regular forms of income, such as T4 employment income. If you have certain other types of income, such as dividend income from a corporation, then it is best you have your accountant do the projections for you.

23) Are you aware that you can contribute to an RRSP and save the deduction (considered “unused”) for future years?

One might ask, “why would I contribute money into my RRSP and not immediately claim all of it as a deduction in that year?” Perhaps the best way to answer this is by looking at a real scenario where a couple may have worked hard for over 20 years to pay off their mortgage and become debt free. During all those years of focusing on paying down debt they accumulated a significant RRSP deduction limit. Unexpectedly this same couple receives a significant inheritance. They decide to move $50,000 into an RRSP account. By moving some of these funds into an RRSP they have immediately tax sheltered and obtained deferral of the income and growth. They have a goal of retiring in five years and have mapped out a plan of deducting $10,000 of the unused each year for five years.

24) Are you a member of any Registered Pension Plans?

If you are a member of an RPP then you will see a Pension Adjustment (PA) calculation on your annual Income Tax Notice of Assessment. Depending on your income level, and the quality of your RPP, some or nearly all of your RRSP deduction limit will be reduced by the PA. An RRSP was primarily design for individuals without an RPP. Those without an RPP should consider an RRSP more closely. Even those with an RPP, an RRSP is definitely worth considering if you have both the deduction limit and cash flow.

25) Do you have non-deductible debt?

A mortgage on your principal residence is normally non-deductible unless you have a business component operating from your home. Credit card charges and personal lines of credit are also normally non-deductible. The more non-deductible debt you have the less attractive committing your savings to RRSP contributions. Any high interest credit card or other debt expense should be a top priority to tackle before making RRSP contributions. This is especially true if the debt is non-deductible.

26) Do you have any deductible debt?

If your interest costs are deductible then these costs also help lower your taxable income. If with your excess savings you choose to pay off deductible debt then this would result in lower interest costs for you (which is good) but also results in a lower interest expense deduction. If funds are dedicated to an RRSP then you have the benefit of both the interest expense deduction and the RRSP deduction.

27) What are the balances of all lines of credit, loans, and mortgages?

Looking at your pre-payment options and the interest rates on each form of debt is important. Also important is to focus on paying down the non-deductible debt before the deductible debt. If all the debt levels and interest rates are reasonable then considering an RRSP contribution can provide you the balance of both real estate and financial assets.

28) Have you made any significant donations?

If you have made, or are planning to make, a significant charitable donation then you should factor this into the amount to contribute to an RRSP. Both federal and provincial charitable tax credits are available which would reduce income taxes payable.

29) Were you intending to borrow funds to contribute to an RRSP?

Interest on a loan for an RRSP is not tax deductible. If the RRSP loan is at a good rate and you feel you can pay the loan off within a reasonable period of time (i.e. with tax refund) then it may make sense in higher income earning years.

30) What are the rates on your non-deductible and deductible debt?

When I meet with clients and they have questions about where to put the excess cash, TFSA, RRSP, paying down debt. One of the first items I’ll ask for is the terms of any existing debt (i.e. interest rates, prepayment privileges, and whether or not the debt is deductible.) Sometimes we are able to propose a series of transactions to make more of your interest costs tax deductible.

31) Should I set up a spousal RRSP?

A spousal RRSP contribution may make sense if there is a disparity between taxable incomes in the long term. I like to look at longer term projections and try to equalize taxable income throughout retirement to lower taxes as a household. Care has to be taken to ensure attribution rules do not kick in with withdrawals.

32) Do you and your spouse work?

One of the pitfalls to an RRSP for single people is the loss of employer or if a financial emergency comes up. Two income families can weather this risk often at times without having to dip into RRSP funds to pay the bills.

33) Are you intending to become non-resident of Canada in the future?

The strategy with respect to an RRSP can be impacted if the long term intention is to retire in a foreign country. Any withdrawals out of an RRSP if you are non-resident will be subject to a flat 25 per cent withholding tax or at a reduced rate pursuant to the tax treaty with the foreign country. If you are normally in the highest tax bracket, becoming non-resident before any withdrawals can work to your advantage. If you had planned to have retirement income within the first income federal income tax bracket then you are likely to pay close to twice the normal tax if you’re non-resident.

34) When are you planning to retire?

Providing details on your retirement to your financial advisor will also help with determining if an RRSP contribution makes sense. In some cases, your RRSP deduction limit can be used to roll in retirement allowances and offset a high income final employment year.

35) What is your ratio of non-registered funds to registered funds?

Prior to entering retirement, it is advisable to also have investments in a non-registered account and funds in the bank. If all of your investments are currently in an RRSP then you should talk with your advisor about TFSA and non-registered accounts. Ideally you should have the ability to adjust your cash flow needs without having adverse tax consequences in retirement. The non-registered account is often at times the solution to deal with these fluctuations.

36) Do you have a corporation where income can be tax sheltered?

The ability to tax shelter funds within a corporation has historically come with many benefits. In past years many accountants have advised small business owners to keep excess cash within the corporation and avoid RRSP contributions. Cash flow to the shareholder was often done in tax efficient dividends. Recent changes in tax rules has resulted in many business owners meeting with accountants to determine the best strategy going forward, including RRSP contributions.

37) Have you spent the time to invest the funds appropriately?

Investment options within an RRSP vary considerably. The choice of investments should reflect your risk tolerance, investment objectives, and time horizon. It goes without saying that if RRSP funds are invested appropriately you will achieve your retirement goal sooner. Next week we will discuss the various investment options within an RRSP.

38) Do you have the discipline to keep the funds invested through to retirement?

One of the biggest mistakes young investors make is pulling funds out of an RRSP early. RRSP withdrawals become taxable income when they are withdrawn. The RRSP room is lost indefinitely and cannot be replenished. Prior to making a contribution, you should determine if you can commit the funds for its intended purpose. If in doubt, you should consider a TFSA or non-registered account.

39) Are you aware of the pre-authorized contribution (PAC) approach to RRSP savings?

One approach to saving for an RRSP is to do forced savings every month. For a lower income client who still wishes to save within RRSP, coming up with a lump sum amount of cash can be difficult. If that client were to pay themselves $500 every month then slowly over time they would build up an RRSP nest egg. It is important with a PAC that you always keep an eye on your contribution limit and adjust the PAC accordingly. The benefit of a once a year lump sum is that you can always ensure that the amount contributed is equal, or below, your deduction limit.

40) Do you know the consequences for putting too much into an RRSP?

All over-contributions of more than $2,000 above your deduction limit will incur a penalty of one per cent per month. To avoid receiving brown envelopes from CRA, take extra care to not exceed your allowable contribution limits.

41) Does it make sense to have more than one RRSP account?

The Income Tax Act does not put a limit on the number of RRSP accounts you may have. For all intents and purposes we recommend having only one or two RRSP accounts. Having one RRSP account with an advisor will help them manage your asset mix, sector exposure, geographic exposure, and position size on each investment. If you have the option of a group RRSP that is matching then having two RRSP accounts makes sense.

42) How do I combine my RRSP accounts?

Unfortunately combining RRSP accounts comes at a cost most times. Nearly all financial institutions will charge a transfer out fee. An example of the fee may be $125 + tax. Let’s say Jack rushes to make a last minute RRSP contribution for $10,000. He is so rushed that he also agrees to put the funds into a two year GIC at two per cent. The next year Jack does the same thing but at a different financial institution. When I met Jack the first thing he said to me was he was not making a lot of money on his RRSP accounts. Jack showed me four different RRSP accounts at different financial institutions. Jack had intended on doing the right thing each year but had slowly created a bit of a mess that was not performing above inflation levels. I explained to Jack that we could diarize to consolidate the GICs once they mature. I also explained to Jack that this will come at a cost. The relinquishing institutions will each charge him $125 + tax wiping away over half of the interest amount he had made. In my opinion, having one well managed RRSP with all investment options available is the best approach.

43) When do I have to convert my RRSP to a RRIF?

The Income Tax Act states that your RRSP must be collapsed by the end of the year you turn 71. Most clients choose to convert their RRSP to a Registered Retirement Income Fund, or RRIF. Other options are to de-register the full account. This option may be okay for small accounts when your other income is low. Normally, this is not advisable as the entire value of the RRSP becomes taxable in one year. Another option, is to purchase an annuity.

44) How long can I have an RRSP?

In British Columbia, the age of majority is 19. An RRSP has to be collapsed at age 71. Mathematically, one could have deferral for 52 years within an RRSP and continue most of that deferral even further within a RRIF. The reality is that many do not start contributing as early as age 19 and many have collapsed their RRSP accounts before age 71.

45) Is it possible to contribute to an RRSP after the age of 71?

You may contribute to your own RRSP until December 31 of the year you turn 71. You can also contribute to a spousal RRSP until December 31 of the year your spouse or common-law partner turns 71. If your spouse is younger then you, and you still have RRSP contribution room, then you may contribute.

46) Should I participate in a Group RRSP plan?

The primary purpose of a group RRSP plan is to encourage you to save some of your hard earned dollars. Your employer may offer this option by enabling you to contribute through payroll deductions. Often at times the investment options are limit to those offered by the group provider. In some situations, your employer may offer a matching program where you put in a set percentage of your pay and they will match up to a maximum level. In nearly all cases when an employer is willing to match your contributions it is worth participating in the Group RRSP.

47) Do I have to wait until I retire to transfer part or all of my Group RRSP plan to a self-directed RRSP?

Not all Group RRSP plans are the same. In most Group RRSPs you are permitted to transfer the investments to another RRSP account provided the plan does not have any provisions preventing the transfer. In most cases we recommend that when a sufficient amount has accumulated in the Group RRSP that the amount is transferred to your other RRSP account.

48) What is one of the most common errors you see with RRSP accounts?

I think all too often individuals are so focused on wanting to save as much tax in the current year that they forget to look at the big picture of minimizing tax during their life time.

49) What happens if I need cash out of my RRSP before retirement?

The standard withholding rates are 10 per cent for amounts up to $5,000, 20 per cent for amounts over $5,000 and below $15,000, and 30 per cent for all amounts over $15,000. The actual level of tax that you pay will be dependent on your other forms of income and if you have any deductions or credits.

50) What happens if I passed away with money in an RRSP?

I left this question for last for a reason. If your spouse is listed as a beneficiary then your RRSP would be combined with the surviving spouses RRSP and you would have complete deferral of immediate tax on the first passing. For all others, single people and widows, the tax deferral ceases on the second passing. Canada Revenue Agency is likely to collect nearly half of the amount you have remaining in your RRSP.

The above is just a sample of the potential questions that could be asked as the RRSP conversation unfolds. Understanding the reasons for the above questions can help both you and your adviser make informed decisions.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a portfolio manager and director of wealth management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the Times Colonist. Call 250.389.2138. greenardgroup.com

 

 

The mathematical approach to RRSP contributions

The Income Tax Act allows you to contribute up to 60 days after the end of the year to your RRSP.

For the 2018 tax year, the last day to contribute is Friday, March 1. This 60-day buffer gives you ample time to estimate your taxable income and determine if it makes sense to make a contribution.

Assuming it makes sense, the next step would be to look up your 2018 RRSP Deduction Limit. This can be obtained either by looking at your previous year’s Income Tax Notice of Assessment. Within this notice you should see a table that is titled “2018 RRSP Deduction Limit Statement.” This table provides your RRSP deduction limit for 2018 and will note the dollar amount of any unused RRSP contributions. If you have unused RRSP contributions, this amount must be subtracted from the RRSP deduction limit to obtain a net amount. Unused RRSP contributions are amounts that you contributed in past years but have not yet claimed.

To illustrate, your statement could show $26,480 on the RRSP deduction limit line. On another line it may show $12,100 of unused RRSP contributions. In this situation, the maximum you would be able to contribute, and be able to claim as a deduction, is the net amount of $14,380. CRA does permit individuals to contribute $2,000 over and above this net amount without being subject to the one per cent per month over contribution penalty.

Now you have estimated your taxable income and you know the maximum net amount to contribute.

In next week’s column, we have listed 50 questions people should ask themselves before jumping directly in. It is still early in February and you have lots of time to still make an informed decision.

Perhaps one of the more simplistic approaches is to estimate the tax savings if an RRSP contribution is made. Reviewing both the federal and provincial marginal tax brackets is the starting point.

Federal tax rates for 2018

• 15 per cent on the first $46,605 of taxable income, +

• 20.5 per cent on the next $46,603 of taxable income (on the portion of taxable income over 46,605 up to $93,208), +

• 26 per cent on the next $51,281 of taxable income (on the portion of taxable income over $93,208 up to $144,489), +

• 29 per cent on the next $61,353 of taxable income (on the portion of taxable income over $144,489 up to $205,842), +

• 33 per cent of taxable income over $205,842

B.C. tax rates for 2018

• 5.06 per cent on the first $39,676 of taxable income, +

• 7.7 per cent on the next $39,677, +

• 10.5 per cent on the next $11,754, +

• 12.29 per cent on the next $19,523, +

• 14.7 per cent on the next $39,370, +

• 16.8 per cent on the amount over $150,000

This math-oriented approach can be simplified through many online RRSP calculators. The estimates below are from https://www.ey.com/ca/en/services/tax/tax-calculators-2018-personal-tax

Taxable Income

Taxable income before RRSP contribution Taxes payable before RRSP RRSP contribution Taxes payable after RRSP Taxes savings difference ($) Taxes payable difference (%)
$10,000 $0 $10,000 $0 $0 00.00%
$20,000 $1,256 $10,000 $0 $1,256 12.56%
$40,000 $5,734 $10,000 $3,618 $2,116 21.16%
$80,000 $16,669 $10,000 $13,831 $2,838 28.38%
$120,000 $31,285 $10,000 $27,230 $4,055 40.55%
$160,000 $48,241 $10,000 $43,661 $4,580 45.80%
$200,000 $66,561 $10,000 $61,981 $4,580 45.80%
$240,000 $86,247 $10,000 $81,267 $4,980 49.80%

No Taxable Income

For individuals with no taxable income, we do not recommend contributing to an RRSP as there are no tax savings. If a child or individual has earned income and they are under the basic exemption it may still be beneficial to file a tax return. Filing a return will report the earned income, 18 per cent of which will be used to build up RRSP contribution room for the future. One day when the individual has higher taxable income they will also have RRSP room they can take advantage of.

Lowest Marginal Rates

Individuals who are in the lower marginal tax bracket but are expecting a significant increase in salary next year may be better off delaying their RRSP contribution. If an RRSP contribution is made then the individual may be better off not claiming the deduction and carrying forward the unused portion to the subsequent years when it is more advantageous. If your income is below the top of the first provincial tax bracket (2018 this is $39,676) you should look at all the non-mathematical components of the RRSP decision.

Highest Marginal Rates

Those in the highest marginal tax brackets may benefit the most from RRSP contributions. Canadian taxpayers have few ways to lower their taxable income — an RRSP contribution is one. As illustrated above, individuals in the 49.8 per cent marginal tax bracket may reduce taxes payable by about 50 per cent of the amount they contribute. In addition to the tax deduction any potential growth within the RRSP compounds on a tax-deferred basis until the funds are taken out as a withdrawal (hopefully in a lower tax bracket in retirement). If you are in the highest marginal tax bracket, with taxable income over $205,842, we normally recommend contributing to an RRSP from a mathematical perspective.

Many people are in the grey zone, with income above $39,676 and below $205,842. The mathematical approach is useful, but often is too simplistic. Next week we will outline 50 questions to help those in the grey zone determine if making an RRSP contribution is right for them.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a portfolio manager and director of wealth management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the Times Colonist. Call 250.389.2138. greenardgroup.com