Looking at total rate of return rather than yield alone

Yield is essentially the income an investment will pay, such as interest or dividend payments, and is normally expressed as a percentage.

Yield will fluctuate on equity investments based on the current share price. Typically, as the share price goes up, the yield goes down. On the flip side, as the share price goes down, the yield goes up.

The board of directors of a company makes the decision with respect to the dividend(s) the company will declare. This is normally stated as a dollar amount. Using ABC Bank as an example, the share price of the bank is currently at $80 per share. The board of directors would like the annual yield to be approximately four per cent. The board declares a dividend of $0.80 per share for the current quarter. If this dividend was kept the same for the next three quarters, the annual distribution would be $3.20 per share owned. Assuming the share price stays the same, the annual yield would be four per cent ($3.20 / $80).

The board of directors can choose to increase the dividend, and this is often done when the stock price appreciates. If the share price for ABC Bank increased to $100 per share, the yield would drop to 3.2 per cent ($3.20 / $100). The board of directors would have to begin declaring a quarterly dividend of $1 per share to maintain a four per cent annual yield based on shares valued at $100.

It is always nice when your investments will return dividends to you. The dividends are normally only part of the equation when looking at the holdings for your account. The change in the share price is also another important part to every investment. An investment that just pays income, with little hope of capital appreciation, would typically be classified as an “income” investment. An investment that does not pay a dividend, would typically be classified as a “growth” investment. The rate of return on a growth investment, that does not pay a dividend, would be 100 per cent determined by the change in the share price.

Many companies would be considered “balanced,” meaning that they would pay some form of dividend and also have an expectation of share price appreciation. As an example, three companies all make the same level of income in a given year, say six per cent. The first company chooses to pay a six per cent dividend to shareholders. The second company chooses to pay a three per cent dividend to shareholders and retain three per cent. The third company chooses to not pay a dividend and retain the full six per cent. When a company does not pay out some, or all, of its earnings, the share price would normally appreciate in value. Of course, many other factors influence the share price.

In the above example, we would anticipate that the share price for the third company would increase greater than the first company. Total return on an equity investment is the sum of the dividend plus the change in the market value of the shares.

Capital deployment

One of the many important components for us when we are analyzing new companies to add to the model portfolios is deployment of capital. As a portfolio manager, we are always assessing management and how they deploy capital that they are not distributing. If a company distributes all of its earnings, it is not necessarily building up extra capital. Investors will receive the dividends and it is up to the individual investors to ensure those returns are reinvested for continual growth.

Income needs

Retirees often require regular income from their portfolio. If we are sending monthly amounts to clients, this is often referred to as a Systematic Withdrawal Plan. The natural tendency when income is needed is to look at only stocks that pay a high level of dividends. Within our clients’ Investment Policy Statement, we outline the cash-flow needs that they have for the next two to three years. In the majority of cases, we create a one to two year wedge, the portion of the portfolio that is not in any equity (dividend or no dividend) — it is set aside in a cash-equivalent type investment that will not be impacted by changes in the stock market. We refer to this as a wedge. When a wedge is created, it takes the pressure off of a portfolio to create dividends to replenish cash. The focus can then shift to ensure you pick the best risk adjusted total rate of return group of investments. Some of those investments will pay large dividends, some smaller dividends and some no dividends.

Fixating on yield

I have had many conversations with clients about the danger of being fixated on yield. Occasionally, I will have someone ask me about some “high yielding” names that are paying very high dividends. In some cases, we will see that the companies are distributing more than they are actually earning which is not sustainable. In other cases, we see people being caught in the “income trap” and not factoring in the capital cost of the investment. As an example, you purchase 1,000 shares at $10 per share of High Yield Company totalling $10,000. You purchased this company because you read in the paper it is paying a six per cent dividend. If after a year the share price drops to $9.40 then the market value of this company would only be $9,400. The dividend of $600 would be taxable despite you really not making any real return if you were to liquidate at the end of the year. Essentially, a high yield is only part of the equation. An equally important component, if not more important, is the base amount invested in each company.

Universe of investments

If an investor focuses only on higher dividend paying stocks, much of the investment universe would be excluded as an option. Many dividend paying stocks are interest rate sensitive. Many sectors such as technology and certain communication stocks are known to have either no yield or low yields. Adding a mixture of income and growth investments reduces risk in a portfolio and should help smooth out volatility in the long run.

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.

 

It’s tough to get it right on both sides of the equation

During the last quarter of 2018, the TSX/S&P Composite declined 10.11 per cent on a total return basis while the first quarter of 2019 the TSX/S&P Composite posted gains of 13.27 per cent on a total return basis.

 

 

When the stock market takes a sharp downward correction, the natural response from investors is to try to anticipate the decline and sell off before this happens.

It sounds easy when you are looking in the rear view mirror. Timing when you are in or out of the markets is in essence basing your investment strategy on a speculative approach rather than a disciplined investing approach that incorporates a long-term vision and goals. Short-term emotional thinking can cloud long-term investment decisions.

 

 

The best way to illustrate the challenges of trying to time the stock market is by looking at an investor who is currently fully invested.

Mr. James has $1 million invested in a non-registered account and is currently earning $35,000, or 3.5 per cent, in annual income (primarily dividend income and minimal interest income). In addition to this income, Mr. James’s investments have averaged 4.5 per cent annually in capital gains over time.

 

 

The total annual average rate of return is the sum of both of these parts — the income and capital gains. The total average annual rate of return over the last five years has been approximately 8.0 per cent annually.

Mr. James decided that he wanted to be a market timer. By market timer, I mean that he felt he could predict the direction of the stock market and would sell his investments if he anticipated a decline in the markets.

If Mr. James sells off his investments and converts his portfolio to 100 per cent cash, then his income will drop to $16,000 per year, assuming that savings accounts are earning 1.60 per cent.

The downside to savings accounts is that interest income is fully taxable each year in a non-registered account. Mr. James currently has the majority of his investments earning tax-efficient dividend income with some tax deferred growth. As a result of the difference in taxation between interest income and dividend income, the impact on income would be even greater than 1.90 per cent (3.50 to 1.60).

For purposes of this article, we have assumed that both interest income and dividend income are equal. In additional to the differential in the income lost, Mr. James would not have potential for capital gains while out of the market.

Mr. James should also factor in that if all of his investments are sold then he would have to report all the realized gains on his investments and lose the deferral benefits that exist with non-registered equity investments. If you have stock that has increased in value, you do not have to pay tax on the capital gain until it is sold.

If Mr. James has a stock that has declined in value and he realizes a loss then he has to use caution when timing transactions. He must wait at least 30 days before repurchasing a stock sold at a loss or risk violating the superficial loss rules and having the original loss declined.

From an income standpoint, Mr. James will immediately see his dividend/investment income drop $19,000 a year ($35,000 to $16,000). He will also possibly be losing capital growth on his portfolio. The potential tax liability, superficial loss rules and loss of income are the easy components to quantify for Mr. James. It is the change in the capital side or growth that is the tough part to compute in order to determine if Mr. James made the right decision to liquidate.

If the markets increase, Mr. James clearly made a mistake. He will have lost the differential in the income and the capital growth. If the markets remain flat, Mr. James still made a mistake with the differential as his income will drop $16,000 a year.

If the stock market goes down, it’s not necessarily a given that Mr. James will benefit from having liquidated his account.

If Mr. James makes a correct prediction that the stock market declines then for him to benefit he has to also make another correct timing decision to buy back into the market at lower levels to potentially be better off.

If the markets decline and Mr. James does not have the insight to buy back in (before it rises back to the level that Mr. James originally sold at) then he would still be worse off. In essence Mr. James has to make two correct timing decisions: (1) selling before the markets decline, and (2) buying back before they rise.

Mr. James should also factor in the timing in which he feels his predictions for the market will unfold. To illustrate this component we will assume no transaction costs, only the income component (we will exclude capital changes) and no tax impact to the trades for simplification purposes.

The difference between the current income Mr. James is earning of 3.5 per cent and the new income of 1.60 per cent if he converts everything to cash is 1.90 per cent. Depending on how long Mr. James is out of the market impacts how much the stock market would have to decline to make the strategy of going to cash successful.

Let’s assume that Mr. James waits six months, one year, two years and three years before buying back into the stock market. If every year Mr. James is losing 1.90 per cent in income then the longer he waits the greater the stock market has to decline. At the six month point, the markets would have to decline 0.95 per cent (1.90 x .5) or greater, at the one year point the markets would have to decline 1.90 per cent (1.90 x 1) or greater, at the two year point the markets would have to decline 3.80 per cent (1.90 x 2) or greater, and at the three year point the markets would have to decline 5.70 per cent (1.90 x 3) or greater.

Making two correct short-term timing decisions against a stock market that has a long term upward bias is not as easy as it may seem. The markets can rebound incredibly fast — the 13.27 per cent increase in the first quarter of 2019 is only one example. From a psychological standpoint, most people would have the tendency to fear that the markets will decline further after the 10.11 per cent decline in the last quarter of 2018. Most investors would not have had the natural tendency to purchase investments at the beginning of this year. Sticking to a long term disciplined strategy helps deal with the short term quarterly swings of the market.

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.

 

 

Asset mix should be tied to cash-flow needs and market conditions

The term asset mix refers to the portion of your investments that are held in cash, fixed income, and equities. Asset mix has historically been touted as the most important decision with respect to managing risk adjusted returns. We don’t disagree.

The key question that many people should be asking themselves is the portion of their portfolios that should be in these three categories. Every decade we feel investors have had to shift how they look at asset mix to maintain the best risk adjusted returns. This has largely been the result of declining interest rates.

Rather than rely on older textbook solutions to asset mix we feel clients should focus on cash flow needs and current market conditions. When we meet with clients, one of the first questions we ask them is if they need any cash from their portfolio. Essentially we are asking them the time horizon of a portfolio and whether they are planning to make a significant withdrawal of funds. In more than 90 per cent of times when we ask clients this question, the majority of the investment portfolio is to be invested for the long term (greater than seven years).

We also ask clients whether they have any income requirements from the portfolio, or smaller withdrawal requirements. Many of our retired clients will request that we send them monthly cash flow from their investments. If a client desires $5,000 per month from their portfolio then we would typically put aside 12 to 24 months of cash as a “wedge” earmarked for these smaller withdrawals. This is done to ensure that investments do not have to be sold at the wrong time in the market cycle.

We also ask clients if they will require any significant withdrawals from their portfolio in the next three years. Examples of significant withdrawals will be funds to repair home (i.e. roof), renovations, new vehicle, recreational (i.e. boat, motorhome) and real estate purchases. These amounts are also documented within an Investment Policy Statement and earmarked as part of the “wedge” to ensure the funds can be liquidated and sent when needed regardless of market conditions.

We feel cash flow needs and current market conditions should be the primary determinate for asset mix. To give you an example of older guidance often used with respect to asset mix we have outlined a few observations by decade below.

The 1980s

In the 1980s, interest rates were high and many advocated for retirees to transition portfolios to 100 per cent fixed income. This was during a period when bonds, GICs, CSBs, CPBs, and term deposits actually returned a decent level of interest income to live off. Purchasing annuities was a popular option as yields were significantly higher and translated to higher payouts. Financial plans which make long term assumptions based on 1980s high interest rates were materially over stated when interest rates subsequently declined in future decades.

The 1990s

In the 1990s, the strategy most promoted was to encourage investors to have the fixed income percentage equal to their age. The idea was that as you are aging your portfolio would shift into more conservative investments that paid income to you in retirement. Fixed income still generally had higher income than equities.

The 2000s

In the 2000s, many promoted the strategy of laddering your bonds and fixed income. A bond ladder means you have different bonds with varying maturity dates. This was a way of spreading out interest rate risk. As bonds matured in the ladder, you could use some of the capital if necessary and reinvest the remainder.

The 2010s

Bond laddering started to decline as interest rates started to bottom out. Most economists, and fixed-income bond managers, were recommending to keep the bond duration (term to maturity) shorter. The reason for this is the inverse relationship that bond yields have to the bonds actual price. For example, if interest rates go up, most existing bond prices would decline. The greater the duration of the bond, the greater the decline typically.

To deal with this uncertainty of interest rates, many hybrid type investments were created that had features (resets, call dates). Most of these types of investments lack significant volume and can have material price swings which was not typical of fixed income type investments.

The present and the 2020s

Fast forward to today and what we anticipate in the decade ahead. The following are the top ten bullet points we discuss with our clients:

1) Many chief investment officers and economists feel that central banks simply can’t afford to raise interest rates significantly above current levels. The level of government debt would only spiral out of control further. Interest rates are most likely to stay at low levels for a long time.

2) In Canada, we have raised interest rates five times since the historic lows reached in 2017. If the economy softens, the Bank of Canada is in a position to cut interest rates.

3) The term “fixed income” seems rather archaic when many fixed income rates can shift with many of the new fixed income products. The term step up and floating are just a couple of the terms using in fixed income today.

4) It is ironic that most equities have a higher level of dividend income then the interest yields on fixed income. If investors want high income they can typically achieve this with good quality dividend paying equities.

5) Most bonds pay “interest income,” which is fully taxable in non-registered accounts. Canadian equity investments pay tax efficient dividend income (eligible for the dividend tax credit). All equity investments in a non-registered account can provide deferral of unrealized gains and tax preferred treatment on disposition (only 50 per cent is taxed).

6) Bonds trade outside of an exchange and the price transparency is not as good as equities which trade on an exchange. With most bond purchases, the financial firm you are dealing with is acting as principal, rather than as agent. With a principal transaction, the firm will buy the bond off of the client and put it in their own inventory of bonds to either hold or resale.

7) Fixed income often lacks a high volume of transactions (i.e. preferred shares) and is also susceptible to material price fluctuations. Some fixed income lack liquidity (i.e. longer term GICs and term deposits).

8) Increased scrutiny by regulators of suitability of asset mix on investment portfolios. This creates a natural tendency to possibly be overly conservative unless a full discussion is done with your portfolio manager or wealth adviser. Importance of communicating cash flow needs (both short term income requirements and required significant withdrawals).

9) Conservative investors choosing to have asset mixes heavily weighted in fixed income should have lower return expectations for the next decade ahead. Interest rates will likely stay at low levels for a long time. With even a moderate level of inflation and full taxation on income, after tax returns will not be the same as the past several decades.

10)In order to achieve the best risk adjusted returns, investors will have to invest more heavily in equities than past decades. This means that investors will have to deal with more market volatility and stick to a disciplined plan. Our recommendation for retirees who are opting to increase equity components in their portfolio is to avoid high risk and speculative positions.

It is crucial when working with a portfolio manager or wealth adviser to map out cash flow needs and any significant withdrawals. It is only after that is completed that an appropriate asset mix can be set up and the best decisions can be made on where to draw on those cash flow needs.

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.

 

 

The benefits of consolidating investment accounts

In the last 10 years, there have been a number of changes to investments and regulations. Many of these changes have an impact on your financial plan and tax situation. All firms have been spending significant amounts of capital to become compliant on the disclosure rules and upgrading technology and systems.

These systems are designed to generate reports which assist wealth advisers in managing clients’ accounts.

Most clients today may have several types of accounts, including Registered Retirement Savings Plans, Locked-In Retirement Account (LIRA), Joint-With Right of Survivorship Account (JTWROS or Individual / Cash Account), in-trust for account, corporate account, Registered Education Savings Plan, Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP), and Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA).

Registered accounts all have specified limits that you must stay within; the tracking of the limits is complicated enough even if all of your accounts are held at one institution.

When we meet with prospective clients, we notice that they may have their investments at multiple financial companies.

I am still puzzled as to why people want to complicate their life by having the same types of accounts noted above at multiple institutions. Is it because you were not happy with the first institution you opened accounts with? Was it the closest financial institution to make that last-minute RRSP contribution? Was it an inheritance that just seemed easier to keep at the same place? Maybe it was a short-term advertised special on a TFSA that brought them into another institution. It could be that you bought a proprietary product that could not be transferred after you purchased it.

Whatever the reason, there are many disadvantages for people having multiple accounts at different institutions. We recommend developing one good relationship with a portfolio manager or wealth adviser to better manage risk, reduce the time for regulatory and tax obligations and to simplify your financial life. Below, we have mapped out some good reasons to consolidate your accounts with one institution.

Foreign Income Verification Statement (T-1135)

There are harsh penalties for individuals who do not correctly file the Foreign Income Verification Statement, T-1135 with the Canada Revenue Agency. The form can be rather time-consuming to complete if you have multiple accounts at different institutions.

On an annual basis, we forward our clients their Foreign Income Verification Statement that contains information about their foreign holdings and income to report on T-1135.

If all of their non-registered investments are held within this one account, they can simply provide this statement to their accountant with minimal effort for reporting.

If they have multiple non-registered accounts, then clients or accountants will have to develop a system to integrate all of the totals for the foreign investments at each firm to come up with the required figures.

Over-contribution Penalties

There is no restriction to the number of TFSA and RRSP accounts you open.

If you open a TFSA with a financial firm, I would suspect they would be contacting you annually to make your contribution for the year. If you inadvertently say yes to more than one institution, then it would be fairly easy to over-contribute to your TFSA.

If you over-contribute to a TFSA, or any registered plan, then you may be subject to a tax penalty equal to one per cent per month of the over-contributed amount. If you have more than one TFSA as an example, it is important that you tell the adviser at each institution what you have contributed.

T5008

Years ago, financial firms did not have to report dispositions to CRA. Now, each disposition in a non-registered account is reported on a T5008 form.

These forms are not necessarily sent to clients in the mail, but can be accessed on My Account with CRA online.

We always caution clients who do their own tax return to carefully review the auto-fill function that transfer the T5008 information automatically to your return. The information transferred in from T5008 is just the proceeds amount and do not include the adjusted book value. It is important to also input the adjusted book value manually.

We send our clients a tax package that includes a Realized Gain (Loss) Report, which contains both the adjusted book value and the proceeds. We encourage clients to refer to the information on the Realized Gain (Loss) Report and use the T5008 slips to verify completeness and accuracy of the proceeds.

Average Cost

In Canada, we have to use average cost. Tracking the average cost of the investment assets can be straight forward if all of your investments are at one institution.

If Darlene bought 100 shares in 2015 of ABC Company at $70/share and another 100 shares in 2018 at $100/share, she would own 200 shares with a combined adjusted cost base of $17,000 (or $85 “average cost” per share). If Darlene sold 100 shares then the adjusted cost base per share is $85 and would be reflected correctly on the realized gain (loss) report if both blocks of shares were purchased at Institution A.

Let’s say Bill bought 100 shares in 2015 of ABC Company at $70/share at Institution B. In 2018, Bill buys another 100 shares of ABC Company for $100/share at Institution C. Neither Institution B or C would know about the other purchase and both Realized Gain (Loss) Reports would be incorporate the average cost of the shares sold.

Individuals who have more than one cash account must ensure holdings are not duplicated. If they are duplicated, then care must be taken to adjust the book values on dispositions as you cannot rely on the Realized Gain (Loss) Reports for tax purposes. This is one of the reasons why financial firms put a disclaimer on reports as they cannot provide assurance that you do not own additional shares elsewhere.

Asset Mix

An important component of investment performance is asset mix. Consolidation can help you manage your asset mix and ensure that you have not duplicated your holdings and are therefore, not overexposed in one sector.

Unless your wealth advisers have been given a copy of all of your investment portfolios, it will be difficult for them to get a clear picture of your total holdings.

Even if you were able to periodically provide a summary of each account to each Advisor, as transactions occur you would still need to update every advisor with those changes.

Technology

Most financial firms provide access to view your investments online. If you have accounts at different institutions, you will need to get online access from each. It is not as easy to get a snapshot of your total situation when you have multiple accounts spread across multiple institutions.

Many firms provide paperless statements and confirmation slips. As time goes on, most people will gravitate to the benefits of paperless. You do not have to worry about your mail getting lost or delivered to your neighbor. You will get your statements quicker. You don’t have to worry about storing older statements or shredding them. You can easily forward information to your accountant in PDF form if required. You can be travelling, or in your home, and have the access to your investments. If you had one online platform this process is even easier.

Tax Receipts

If you hold non-registered investment accounts at several institutions, you will receive multiple tax receipts.

By consolidating your accounts, you will receive a limited number of reporting slips for income tax each year. Reducing the number of tax receipts may also reduce the amount of time your accountant will spend completing your tax return.

Tax information can also be set up to paperless at many firms. You can log onto the communication centre of the website and retrieve updates on when your information will be available.

Managing Cash Flow

Projected income reports from different institutions will be presented in various formats and at different points in time.

For you to obtain a complete picture of your financial situation, you will have to manually calculate the total income from your investments. In situations where you have instructed your financial institution to pay income directly from an investment account to your banking account, it becomes more complicated to manage when there are multiple investment accounts.

We like to have a detailed Investment Policy Statement which clearly states the required cash flow and from which investment accounts that cash flow is being derived.

Estate Planning

One of the steps in an estate plan is to deposit all physical share certificates and to reduce the number of investment accounts and bank accounts. Having your investments in one location will certainly simplify estate planning and the administration of your estate. It also assists the people helping you as you age.

Monitoring Performance

Some investors may be comparing the performance of one firm or adviser to another. Investors should be careful when doing this to ensure they are really comparing apples to apples.

One investment account may have GICs while another may have 100 per cent equities. It is easier to understand how all of your investments are performing when you receive one consolidated report from one adviser.

When you have all accounts consolidated with one financial institution it is easier to obtain a consolidated report.

Conversion of Accounts

If you have multiple RRSP accounts and are turning 71, you may want to consider consolidating now and discussing your income needs. If you have three RRSP accounts, you will have to open up three RRIF accounts. It is easier to consolidate all of the RRSP accounts before age 72 and open one RRIF account.

Mapping out whether to select the minimum RRIF amount or elect a greater payment when you have only one account is significantly easier.

Account Types

Fee-based accounts are usually suitable for a household that has total investment assets of $250,000 or more at one institution.If you have $100,000 at Institution A, $130,000 at Institution B, and $50,000 at Institution C then you would not be exposed to the fee-based option. Consolidating allows these types of accounts to be an additional option.

In addition, most financial firms have a declining fee schedule. As your account value grows, the fees as a percentage may decline.

Service

In a perfect world, all clients’ at all financial institutions are treated equal. The reality is that the largest clients get better service.

By having $100,000 at six different institutions you are probably getting minimal service at each institution. If you consolidated these accounts at one institution we would suspect that you would get significantly better service.

Other Benefits

When you have all registered and non-registered investments at one location it is easier for financial planning purposes. Consolidation enables you to fund RRSP contributions through in-kind contributions.

Sometimes it is recommended to change the structure of your investments between accounts to improve the overall cash flow and tax efficiency standpoint — this can only be done if your accounts are at one financial firm.

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.

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.

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