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The Retirement Boom: Reboot and Reinvent Rather than Retire*

30 Jun

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Hi. Today I’m interviewing Catherine Allen, co-author of The Retirement Boom for Save with SPP.com. She is Chairman and CEO of the Santa Fe Group, a financial services and technology executive, corporate board director, and expert in cyber security and risk management. Catherine lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Q. Catherine, The Retirement Boom is a book by baby boomers for baby boomers about the transition into a new phase of life. Why did you and your co-authors decide to write the book?
A. Well, all of us are boomers ourselves at various ages within the category. We all have experienced or continue to experience reinvention. We all have a desire to stay involved and to be relevant. In fact, we do retreats and many of our attendees age 55-60 told us, “I really don’t want to retire. I’m not ready to retire. I want to do much more.” That’s what led us to do the research and the book.

Q. Who should read your book and what can they expect to learn from it?
A. First are the boomers, especially those 55 plus, who are concerned about and have a fear that they’ll never be able to retire or that they will run out of money before they pass away. For them it’s both financial and lifestyle planning. Twenty-seven percent of Gen Xers are also very concerned that they too many not be able to retire. Lastly there are many 70 year olds that have retired and told us, “I’m bored. I want to do something different. I want to reinvent myself. I may have 30 more years to live.” By reading the book, financial advisors and corporate HR people can also learn a great deal about the needs of their clients and workforce.

Q. How do you think retirement today for baby boomers is different than it was for their parents 30 or 40 years ago?
A.I see differences in four areas: financial, health, emotional, and government policies.

Thirty or forty years ago many more people had pensions which today are pretty much gone. Most people thought they might live to 70 or maybe 72 or 75. Today because of health care and being fit it’s very likely the boomers will live until 100. That means there are expenditures like travel or entertainment or other things that they want to do that they need to allow for.

Also, when people retired 30 or 40 years ago they did the 3 G’s as I call them. Gardening, grandchildren, and golf. Today people want to stay active, they want to get involved, they want to give back, they want to be a part of the ongoing environment.

Finally, government policies are not keeping up. Government policies have to positively support the aging population instead of being against things like social security or medicare or pensions or even not understanding the impact of aging. Those are all big differences I see from just 30 or 40 years ago.

Q. People spend their whole life with an identity that’s tied to their work. How can they overcome the fear associated with this loss of this identity to better embrace and enjoy their retirement?
A. That’s my favorite subject and it’s about reinvention. You don’t have to keep that same identity. This is a time when you can follow your passions as a way to reinvent your identity. We encourage people to keep their bio and resume and certifications up to speed because you never know when you might want to go back into the work force, especially if it’s a field that you love.

We encourage everybody to have a business card that has their website or their email and telephone number on it so that they feel like they have an identity and that’s who they are. Then lastly, we talk about people having a portfolio career and that means perhaps a third of what they’re doing is earning income by consulting or writing books and so forth. A third of their time is giving back through non-profits. A third of their time is just having fun enjoying and learning about life.

Q. Many people do continue working beyond the normal retirement date. Do you think that most people that are doing this are doing it for love or for money?
A. Well, that’s … It’s hard to tell. I would say 50/50. First of all, they are continuing to work as a form of insurance to keep funding their lifestyle and their retirement because many people believe they will live to 100. Secondly, many people want to remain again, relevant. They want to make a difference, they’re engaged.

The boomers — many of whom are part of the 60s generation — feel like now they finally have time to give back. It might be teaching, it might be mentoring, it might be being active in non-profits either by giving or volunteering or being on boards. Recent research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health say that the longer people work beyond 65 the less likely they’re to die at that age compared to others who do not work.

And what’s interesting is the numbers go up. At age 72 you’re 56% less likely to die than a 72 year old who is not working. I think that kind of research is going to encourage people to work longer after the age of 65.

Q. What do you mean by retirement robbers and how can retirees avoid them?
A. First of all, the biggest retirement robber might be yourself. They are people that keep you from doing what you want to do. You may have set up goals for retirement so you have time to follow your passions. Now guilt keeps you from enjoying what you said you wanted to do in retirement.

Also there are relatives. You’re retired, so guess what? You’re the one that can do the errands, you might be the caretaker or the “go to” person. We encourage people to try to think of retirement just like thinking about a career. What it is that you want to do, and how do you want to allocate your time? Try to stick to your plan so you are not sabotaging yourself.

Q: You and your co-authors interviewed over 300 people as part of your research for this book. Can you share 1 or 2 of your favorite anecdotes with us?
Well, I’ll start with my dad. He was a small town community banker. He always said he wanted to die with his boots on. That was his way of saying he wanted to be working when he passed away and he did. He was always a role model for me.

We’ve also heard from several women who were stay-at- home wives raising their kids who have gone back to work. Now their husbands have retired and they say things like, “I married you for life but not for lunch.” In other words, just because you’re retired doesn’t mean that it’s up to me to fill all of your time.

Another example is I was on a corporate board with a gentleman who was 92 years old and probably the smartest one of all of us. He wouldn’t say anything until he was ready to say the exactly right thing. There are lots of examples of people well into their 70s, 80s, and even 90s who are still actively involved and engaged in the world.

Q. What are some of the ways retirees can simplify their lives so that they can pursue their passions?
A. Well, start with your own home. Downsize or clean up. There’s a relationship between having less clutter in your mind and less clutter in your home. Try yoga or meditation or journalling. One of my favorites is detaching from technology for a while, whether it’s for a weekend or for a day or even for an entire vacation.

Lastly is relationships. I think as you get older you really want to think about who are the people that are most important to you and surround yourself with those you trust. Plan most of your time to be around these people. I call it sorting friends just like you sort your closet.

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The Retirement Boom: An All Inclusive Guide to Money, Life, and Health in Your Next Chapter can be purchased in paperback or for Kindle on Amazon.com.

*This is an edited transcript of a podcast interview recorded in May 2016.

Lorna Hegarty: Educating teens about money

2 Jun

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Today I’m interviewing Lorna Hegarty for savewithspp.com. Lorna has been the President of LCH Resources Ltd. for almost a decade. She has an international consulting practice in human resources, executive coaching and training as well as being a published author. She co-authored The Wealthy Teen with her daughter Carly when she was 15 (she is now 24), and the third edition was recently released.

Q: Writing a book is a serious undertaking. What motivated you to write and update The Wealthy Teen twice?
A: The reason for writing The Wealthy Teen was that as I was raising my two boys I noticed there was such a difference between how the two of them handled money. One would rush and spend his allowance as quickly as possible and the other one would save it. We had conversations around how to handle money and how to save money. I always let them make their own choices. When my daughter Carly came along, there was another way of looking at money and values and how to, as a parent, influence her to think about saving and spending money. I started taking some notes and ended up turning them into a book.

Q: What does wealthy mean to you? Is it all about the money?
A: Not at all. There are so many different ways to be wealthy. The true meaning of wealth is to be grateful and respect the gifts that you have. You can have wealth if you’ve got happiness, health and great relationships, spiritual connections, or creativity. If you are a teen that is   wealthy, you understand and appreciate these gifts.

Q: Your book is not a traditional personal finance book. In fact, you don’t really start talking about accumulating, managing, and earning money until the second half. Why do you begin by having parents and children work through their attitudes about money?
A: Well, money is a really personal concept and it begins with the history of how you were brought up to view money and how money conversations happened in your home. That’s why the first part of the book is dedicated to why you think the way you do, where it came from in your history and what assumptions you have that could be correct or incorrect. I offer an  opportunity for parents or mentors to write down where their views and thoughts about money came from to help them work through the book with their teenager or any other person.

Q: Kids often resist direction from their parents. How can parents engage their children in a dialogue in order to educate them about good saving and spending habits?
A: Well, for me, the best way to engage my children was to tell them stories of how I grew up with money. An example was when I was 10 years old I wanted to purchase a dog from my neighbor. They had a litter, and the dog cost $70. My parents were smart enough to say that I could have the dog but only if I earn $70. So I joined Regal Gifts. I got a few catalogues and pretty much through selling cards and wrapping paper door to door and to friends and family, I was able to raise enough money to buy the puppy. This approach is something I taught my children — they need to really work hard to get what they want.

Q: How soon is too soon? At what age can parents start teaching their children about money?
A: Well, I like the physical aspect of money. I like that I can hold it, I can put it in my wallet, I can see how much I have left on me. For example, if a child does a chore, something easy like cleaning up, you can reward them with a little bit of cash. When would that be? When they’re three or when they’re four. I’ll give you an example.

As I was growing up, we had a stone driveway and it was a really big task in the spring to take the stones that had been shoveled out with the snow onto the grass and put them back onto the driveway. From a really young age, I would say three or four, my parents showed me what to do to take the rocks off of the grass and put them back onto the driveway, and I would get paid 25 cents for doing that and for other little things that did.

I could see the money that we put into a jar and I could see that it was growing. I think the earlier the better when it comes to teaching children about money.

Q: How important are goals? When should young people start setting goals and objectives?
A: Well, I’m going to say pretty much the same thing as the last question you asked — as early as possible. Also, it’s really important to make goals fun. As an example, let’s just say Father’s Day is coming up, so we’re going to set a goal of spending $10 and we’re going to make something special for father. That would involve a trip to the dollar store to look for materials so the child can have some fun with the adult and make a gift that says “I love you.” When a realistic goal like this is achieved, the child and the adult can celebrate the accomplishment.

Q: You discussed developing “E” potential in your book. What does that mean and why is it important?
A: Well, “E” potential is gaining entrepreneurial capability which is really open to anybody. Some of the examples that come to mind are setting up a lemonade stand or selling books or babysitting at a young age before a teen can get a regular summer job, but being aware that they have the potential to earn money. It doesn’t mean they’ve got to work Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 5:00.

Q: Tell me about the principle of the five baskets. How can it help kids to manage their money?
A: Okay, well, savings is 10%, fun is 10%, charity is 10%, investment is 20%, and essentials are 50%. In the book, I suggest having separators or little baskets to put their money in. Of course, young children may not have all the baskets, because they don’t have to pay for essentials like shelter, food or utilities.

Again, I think it’s so important for kids be able to actually handle money when they are younger so they can see physically where it’s going and how it’s being accounted for. Now, for older teens, obviously, bank accounts are ok.

My daughter still uses five different banking accounts to manage her money so obviously, it isn’t sitting in jars at home. After all these years she finds that it is a really good way of watching how her vacation fund is growing and planning where she will go.

Q: How successful have the strategies you describe in your book been in educating your own three children about money?
A: That’s a good question too. They’ve pretty much followed the rules and the principles from The Wealthy Teen. Carly is very, very disciplined. All three of them have always got their eyes and ears open for something they could do that would be fun, exciting, and interesting but also earn them some extra money.

Over the years, I would say that they’ve all pretty much taken the pieces they really believe in and they’ve had fun doing it, seen results, and incorporated them into their own and their partners’ lives.

Q: What reactions have you had from both mentors and young people who have read your book and worked through the exercises?
Well, I’ve had really good feedback. I’ve had couples tell me that they’ve used The Wealthy Teen as a discussion guide before they got married, to have a conversation about money. I’ve had feedback from readers who have used the system for saving money for school, for a trip to Europe, or for a car. It works if you have the ability to stick with it and save to reach your goals.

Q: If you had one message for adults who want to educate their teens about money, what would it be?
A: My favorite question. I strongly suggest that adults be careful with what and how much they give to their children or their teens so youth will appreciate things much more when they have skin in the game or when they’ve learned something.

In the past, I’ve seen family with children, teenagers, young adults, and they shower their children with designer clothes and the best phones. I would tell them to make sure they are living within their own means and as adults, teach their teens to understand the value of money and let them earn it when they want to purchase something.

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The third edition for The Wealthy Teen can be purchased from Amazon in paperback editions and for Kindle.

The Procrastinator’s Guide to Retirement

5 May

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Today I’m interviewing accountant Dave Trahair for savewithspp.com. Dave operates his own personal finance training firm, and he is also the author of five personal finance books. He offers seminars based on his books to organizations, including CPA Canada and its provincial accounting affiliates. His most recent book is The Procrastinator’s Guide to Retirement: How YOU can retire in 10 years or less, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Q: What portion of the population do you think is 10 years or more out from retirement and not saving enough?
A: It’s hard to pin it down to a specific percentage, but I would say the vast majority of people who don’t have defined benefit pension plans are in that boat. Unfortunately, this type of plan is going the way of the dodo bird, because with the low interest rate environment and what’s happening in the stock market, the people running those kinds of pension plans can’t save enough to fulfill their promise. It’s hard to come up with a precise number, but I bet you 80% of people without a defined benefit pension plan are nowhere near ready, financially, to fund their retirement.

Q: Why do you think so many people procrastinate when it comes to planning and saving for retirement?
A: Well, I think for some, it’s just that they’re bad with money, and they spend more than they make. They run on credit card debt, and they’re never really even thinking about getting their lives under control, financially. For many of the rest of us, even if we aren’t fiscally irresponsible, it’s just that life is expensive.

Think of people in their 20s who have just graduated from university. Many of them are saddled with student loan debt and they are having problems trying to find a full-time job in their field. Forget retirement savings. That’s so far down the road. They’ve got more pressing concerns at that stage in their life.

People in their 30s and 40s tend to do things like get married, have kids, and buy a house. These kinds of activities are very costly and therefore, many people find that there simply isn’t any money, at the end of the day to save for retirement. It’s not because they’re wasteful spenders.

Q: Continuing with the same theme, if you ask most people, they’ll probably tell you they’re tapped out. They don’t have extra money left over at the end of the month. Where can these people find the money to save?
A: That’s a very good question, and one of the key concepts in the book. I always tell people when I’m asked, “What’s the first thing you can do to help get your finances under control?” The answer is to somehow track your personal spending.

For effective financial planning you have to start with what’s happened in the past. That is your personal spending. Once you have a handle on where all the money went in the past, then you can take proactive steps to get your finances under control and probably find some areas where you could cut back and free up some spare cash for your retirement savings.

One of the big problems out there is revolving credit card debt. According to the Canadian Bankers Association, only about 60% of Canadians pay off their credit cards each and every month and, therefore, don’t incur interest charges. That means about 40% of Canadians can’t even pay off their credit cards, which means, essentially, that they’re spending more than they make.

Q: My first thought when I got your book was that it’s a great road map for saving in the last ten years before retirement, but the information is quite similar to most of the personal finance books I’ve read. What’s different about your book? What makes it a must-read for all Canadians and, in particular, those who are only a decade from retirement?
A: Yes, fair question. The first point that I’d make in response is that there is no magic bullet when it comes to personal finance. It’s really pretty basic. You could sum it up in one sentence.

All you have to do is live your life, spend less than you make, and do something positive with the excess money. The problem is most people aren’t doing that. There are books out there that play upon peoples’ wish to get ahead financially, easily or automatically. That’s just taking advantage of readers. The really good personal finance books out there, attack the root of the matter (as my book does) which is that your spending has to be less than your income.

What makes my books different — this one and the other ones I’ve written — is that I give away Microsoft Excel spreadsheets people can actually apply to their own situations. I use the spreadsheets as examples in the book, and then I say, “Look, go to the next step. Download the free spreadsheet, punch in your own numbers, and see what conclusion you come to about your life.”

Q: If readers are approaching retirement with consumer debt and a mortgage, where should they put their money first? Should they hold off on making RRSP contributions until they are completely debt free?
A: Good questions. I would say that it depends on the type of debt. If we believe the Canadian Bankers Association that at least 40% of Canadians have ugly credit card debt, the only thing these people should be thinking about is trying to get rid of that obligation. Forget paying down the mortgage. Forget making RRSP contributions. Even if there is a tax refund on RRSP contributions, they are effectively financing it at a very high interest rate because the alternative would be to pay down their credit cards.

There’s a chapter in the book on four people in that situation, which basically lays out the different options for getting rid of credit card debt. The problem is that it really requires a mind shift. It requires people to change their basic habits and it is really, really difficult to get them to do this.

Once a family has paid off their credit cards, the decision becomes “contribute to an RRSP or pay down the mortgage.” The first observation I would make in that case is that either option is a good alternative. You’ve got extra money, whether you pay down the mortgage or make an RRSP contribution, you can’t lose in either case.

However, with the ultra-low interest rate environment right now and assuming the person we’re talking about is in a reasonably high tax bracket, making $80,000 or $100,000 or more, it’s difficult to beat the huge economic benefit of a tax refund.

Q: To what extent should Canadians planning for retirement take future health and long-term care costs into consideration, and how can they quantify these amounts, for budgeting purposes?
A: That’s a very difficult question to answer and a very challenging thing for many people. We have provincial health plans in Canada, so we’re a lot further ahead than our neighbors to the south. The government plans aren’t perfect, but they’re a good basis for covering many of your health costs.

However, some other areas related to healthcare are not covered by the provincial plans, and this becomes a big problem for couples, say, when one of them has an ailment that requires him/her to go into a long-term care facility or nursing home. That can be very, very expensive. This is when people get into trouble with their finances due to health costs. In a lot of cases, it will be one of the spouses who needs long-term care and the other one is still living in the house, so it essentially almost doubles the family’s living costs.

Many people are able to cover the high costs of long-term care because they bought their home and own it out right. That is why I always encourage people who can afford a home to buy it and pay off the mortgage. Then you’ve got something worth significant money so you could sell and downsize or even take out a home equity line of credit to finance costs related to long-term care.

It really is an individual thing that requires a lot of thought and is difficult to pin down. It’s difficult to budget for retiree health care costs and yet the expenses can be onerous if you’re not prepared.

Q: I noticed you were recently interviewed for the “Me and My Money” column in The Globe and Mail. Your investments are very conservative – a high-interest savings account and guaranteed investment certificates. This is very contrary to what even independent financial advisors usually recommend. Why don’t you hold any equities?
A: I have no exposure to the stock market. That’s because I’m a very conservative accountant. I don’t like losses. I have spent a lot of time studying the stock market. I wrote a book on it called Enough Bull a couple of years ago.

If you look at long-term historical rates of returns, say, for the Canadian stock market, the S&P/TSX composite total return index which includes reinvested dividends, has done fantastically well —  9% per year. The problem is, for many reasons, most people come nowhere near what the ideal index has made.

That’s because they get emotional when the stock market crashes. They panic and sell at the wrong time. They sell low and buy high, which is the opposite of what you’re supposed to do. The other issue is that when it comes to personal finance, who has fifty years to go to retirement? You can’t assume that you’re going to earn the long-term, fifty year historical average rate.

I love fixed income products like GICs because they’re easy to understand; they’re guaranteed if you buy them from a financial institution, like any of the big six banks that are members of the CDIC (Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation); and, you can’t lose your money. The downside of course is they’re not paying very much interest. You’d be lucky to get about a two percent average rate of return.

The problem is most people using the recommended strategy of an investment advisor have a lot of exposure to the stock market. They think they’re making six or eight percent after fees and, therefore, laugh at GICs making two percent, but in many cases, they aren’t earning what they think they are.

Q: At age fifty-seven, you’re less than ten years from the normal retirement date of age sixty-five. Do you have a planned retirement date in mind?
A: I don’t really have a retirement date in mind. I mean, I love most of what I do. My plan is to slow down, do less hours, hopefully do some of the things I currently do, like writing and giving seminars, and earn some money doing that. I plan to slow down but I really don’t have any dreams about stopping work at sixty or even sixty-five, so again, that’s an individual choice.

Q: In closing, if you had one piece of advice for people who are ten years out from retirement, what would it be?
A: Well, first of all, I would say you have got to track your spending. I know it’s boring. I know it’s time consuming. I know not everybody is a specialist or likes dealing with spreadsheets. But that’s the most powerful information you can get because it’s personal. That’s what you need to start with: your family’s personal spending.

Q: Thank you, Dave. It’s a pleasure to talk to you today.
A: Thanks for having me, Sheryl.

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David Tahair, author of
The Procrastinator’s Guide to Retirement: How to Retire in 10 Years or Less

Tax tips from Tim Cestnick

7 Apr

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Click here to listen

Today I am interviewing Tim Cestnick, Managing Director of Advanced Wealth Planning at Scotia Wealth Management for savewithspp.com. Tim also writes a personal finance column called, “Tax Matters” that has appeared every Thursday for almost twenty years in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe & Mail. We’re going to talk about some of the things you need to know to complete and file your income tax return.

Welcome Tim and thanks for joining me today.

Q: What are some of the tax credits or deductions that many people aren’t aware of or that they may miss?
A: There are so many kinds of tax credits now. It’s important to really check to make sure you’re not missing something that you haven’t claimed in the past that is now available. Some of the things we see people missing are for example, interest deductions. Interest is deductible where you borrow the money for the purpose of earning income from a business or from an investment.

Also, I think fitness tax credits and tax credits for children are another area that people sometimes overlook. Don’t forget if you’ve paid for any kind of sports activities for your kids or even artistic classes like music or piano lessons, you can claim a tax credit for these amounts.

The amounts have actually been increased for fitness tax credits. You can claim up to a thousand dollars of eligible activities. It would get you pretty decent tax relief, probably two hundred and fifty dollars in tax relief federally plus maybe in total about four hundred dollars in tax relief from local and federal governments together, so it’s worth claiming those credits.

People also sometimes forget about the education and textbooks tax credits. But based on the March 2016 budget this will be the last year for many of these tax credits. 

Q: Are receipts required in all cases?
A: Yes, you do need receipts. You don’t have to turn them in with your tax return when you file electronically, but you have to keep them on file.

Q: Why should tax returns be filed for children, even if they don’t have any taxable income?
A: There are a couple of reasons why it might make sense to file a return for a child, even a minor child. Some people don’t even realize you can do this. If your child has earned any type of income at all from babysitting, or cutting grass, or delivering papers, report that income on a tax return because they’re not going to pay tax anyway if their total income is under $11,400 for 2015. However, they will create RRSP contribution room for later when they graduate and are working full-time.

Also, once your child reaches age 19 there’s good reason to file even if they have no income because they will be entitled a GST or HST credit which results in cash back to them of almost $300. 

Q: If taxpayers own stock in an unregistered portfolio, what are the advantages of making a charitable donation using stock instead of selling the shares and donating cash?
A: You’ll be better off donating securities that have appreciated in value than donating cash. You get a full donation tax credit for the value of the shares you are donating and on top of that, the government eliminates the capital gains tax on the securities. 

Q: What is the advantage to taxpayers of filing electronically instead of submitting paper forms?
A: There are a couple of reasons why you might want to do this. First of all, if you’re expecting a refund, you will get it faster by filing your return electronically. They can process it sooner and you will get your money much faster.

Also, it’s just simple to not have to send in all the paperwork. Some tax returns would be two inches thick if taxpayers had to send in all their receipts and what not. It’s just easier and quicker. 

Q: Do slips and receipts always have to be sent in with a paper filing?
A: Yes, you do have to send a number of slips and receipts. However, there are things you don’t necessarily have to provide. For example, if you’re an employee and you are claiming a certain employment expenses like use of your car, you don’t have to file a Form T2200 signed by your employer to say you had to pay for those costs. But you have to keep it handy. 

Q: Why is it getting a big tax return not necessarily a good thing?
A: A tax refund is not necessarily a good thing because what it really means is that you’ve been lending money to the government over the course of the year and they’re only now going to give it back to you. The perfect scenario is that you file a return and you owe nothing and you receive nothing back. The reality is most people actually owe or get a refund of some kind. You just want to make sure the refund is not too big. 

Q: If an individual is reporting self-employment income and wants to deduct expenses, what are a couple of things that they should do to ensure that the expenses are allowed if CRA comes knocking?
A: The first thing is to make sure amounts you’re claiming are allowed. That includes any kind of expenses you have incurred for the purpose of earning income from your business but expenses also have to be reasonable in amount. In most cases, as long as you’re paying a third party for some of these expenses that shouldn’t be an issue.

You also have to make sure that you do keep any receipts or invoices that you paid as part of your expenses just in case CRA asks for them. There was a court decision that was handed down a number of years ago which established that if you don’t have a receipt for something it may still be deductible if you can demonstrate you paid that amount and the cost is reasonable. But it’s just easier if you keep all of your receipts. 

Q: What are the penalties if Canadians file their tax returns late?
A: If you don’t owe taxes then there’s no penalty for filing late. Of course you won’t get your refund as soon as you should so it’s nice to file on time. If you owe money and don’t file your return on time, there is a five percent penalty on the tax owing the day after the due date. The key is to make sure you file your tax return on time even if you don’t have the money to pay your taxes immediately. By doing that you’ll avoid any penalties.

Q: If you do file on time and you owe money, when do you have to pay it?
A: The money is owing  as of the due date of your tax return. Typically, for most people that would be April 30th. If it’s not paid by that time, you will end up paying some interest on the outstanding tax balance — not a penalty, just interest. 

Q: If CRA sends a notice requesting quarterly tax installments is it ever safe to ignore it?
A: You should never exactly ignore it. The reason they send you the statement is because they expect that you probably owe installments for the coming year. What you need to do is to evaluate whether or not the amount  they’re asking for is correct.

If you’re receiving a lot of investment income or you are a senior and don’t have employment income, you may end up  owing taxes when you file your return. Your best bet is to take a look at your income for the coming year, assess whether or not you think your taxes will be less or more than they were in the past year and actually do the math on your installments. When CRA sends you a statement you don’t have to abide by it, but don’t ignore it because you may actually owe  quarterly payments.

Q: So if you think your earnings will be lower, you do not necessarily have to remit the whole amount?
A: There have been situations where people have been asked to pay installments because they had a certain amount of income that was a one-time event. In that case, you may not have to make installments next year at all. You have to know really what your income is going to look like in this coming year compared to where it was last year to be able to make a decision about whether you can ignore a request for installments or pay a smaller amount.

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This is an edited transcript of a podcast interview with Tim Cestnick recorded in March 2016.

You may be only as old as you feel

28 Jan

By Sheryl Smolkin

An interesting new study* by a University of Toronto team led by psychology professor Alison Chasteen reveals that how you feel about getting old can affect your sensory and cognitive functions.

The study published in the December issue of the American Psychological Association Journal was based on testing of 301 participants between ages 56 and 96. Researchers considered the interview subjects’ views on aging, how much they believe they can hear and remember plus their actual performance in both areas.

Standard hearing and recall tests were administered. For example, study participants saw a list of 15 words on a computer screen and heard a series of different words through headphones. Subsequently they were asked to write down as many words as they could remember. In addition, they completed a third test by listening to five words they were asked to recall after a five minute delay.

They were also asked to answer questions and react to phrases describing how they viewed their own ability to hear and remember. For example, participants were asked to agree or disagree with sentences like, “I am good at remembering names” or “I can easily have a conversation on the telephone.”

In addition they were asked to envisage 15 situations and rank how worried they are about each based on age. One example was to imagine they were involved in a car accident where it was unclear who was at fault and specify how concerned they were that they would be held responsible because they were elderly.

“Those who held negative views about getting older and believed they had challenges with their abilities to hear and remember things, also did poorly on the hearing and memory tests,” Chasteen said.

“That’s not to say all older adults who demonstrate poor capacities for hearing and memory have negative views of aging,” she continued. “It’s not that negative views on aging cause poor performance in some functions, but there is simply a strong correlation between the two when a negative view impacts an individual’s confidence in the ability to function.”

She noted that the perceptions older people have about their abilities to function and how they feel about aging must be considered when determining their cognitive and sensory health. She recommends educating older people about ways in which they can influence their aging experience, including providing them with training exercises to enhance their cognitive and physical performance, and dispelling stereotypes about aging.

“Knowing that changing how older adults feel about themselves could improve their abilities to hear and remember will enable the development of interventions to improve their quality of life,” she concludes.

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*This blog is based on materials provided by the University of Toronto.

Entrepreneur Bridget Eastgaard is her own boss

7 Jan

By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen

Click here to listen

Today I’m interviewing Bridget Eastgaard for savewithspp.com. Eastgaard blogs on “Money after Graduation,” her financial literacy website for college students and new graduates. She writes about paying off student debt, learning to budget, saving money, and investing for the future. 

She has a B.Sc. and an MBA in finance from the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary. For the last year she’s been a product strategist at Uncommon Innovation. However, in late October she resigned to devote herself to creating new products she plans to sell on her website. Other projected future sources of revenue include speaking engagements and brand partnerships with financial institutions and service providers. 

Thank you for joining me today, Bridget.

Thank you for having me Sheryl.

Q: You live in Calgary, you just quit your full time job in the middle of a provincial economic downturn to devote yourself to developing a risky online business. What made you decide to take the jump?
A: It is pretty dismal here in Calgary right now and it feels a little crazy to take a risk like this, but in all honesty, switching to my own online business isn’t as risky as it looks at first glance. Watching my friends and family members being laid off from jobs – some of them after fifteen or twenty years – I think what’s really risky is relying on a single source of income where your employer can decide, “We don’t need you anymore,” and you’re gone.

Q: So tell me about your blog “Money after Graduation.” When did you start it and why?
A: I started it in 2011 because I graduated from my Bachelor of Science degree in 2010 and I owed almost $21,000 in student loan debt. At the time that was just an astronomical amount of money for me. I never earned more than $10,000 in a year so I couldn’t even fathom how I would pay off that debt. So I started the blog to really track repayments and keep me accountable. 

Q: What do you think are some of the most important lessons about money that young people coming out of school need to learn?
A: How much debt really holds you back. I think I didn’t realize when I borrowed for school and many people don’t realize when they borrow for school how much money that really is. When you’re taking out 20, 30, $40,000 in student loans, that’s 20, 30, $40,000 of your net future income. And I thought, “Oh, well if I just make $50,000 a year, if I make $60,000 a year it will be really easy to pay this off,” and of course I wasn’t accounting for things like taxes, and living expenses. So I think that’s just the general lack of understanding of how little money there really is when you have a lot of financial obligations in adulthood.

Q: How long did it actually take you to pay off that loan?
A: It was pretty fast actually. I was debt free within 22 months.

Q: Terrific. You write about earning more money, paying off debt, and investing to build wealth. How often do you blog and how many hits do you typically get?
A: Now I’m kind of on a pretty relaxed schedule, I’ve taken it down to about once per week. I’ve been crazy busy lately. I got married last month. On days when I post I’ll get as many as 3,000 hits per day, and on days when I don’t post the blog probably gets 2,000 visits a day.

Q: Tell me about some of your most popular blogs.
A: I wrote one that just went viral and it still remains the most popular post on the website. It’s called, “30 financial milestones you need to reach by age 30.” I wrote it at 11:30 one night because I just felt like I needed to get a post and I was in the middle of my MBA and it took off like crazy – totally unexpected – but it’s just a list of financial milestones that you should have in order by the time you turn 30.

Q: What were some of the milestones on the list?
A: Be debt free, check your credit score regularly, start an investing portfolio. Some were really general, some were more specific like I suggested you should save at least $25,000 for retirement by age 30, so it’s a mix of big and small goals.

Q: I see you’ve just completed a 90-day shopping ban. Why did you embark on this project and how has it changed your perspectives about money?
A: So that was actually inspired by my friend Cait Flanders who is the blogger behind BlondeonaBudget.com and she did a one-year shopping ban I was so taken by how much this really changed her – changed her perspective, changed her behavior – it really had a profound effect on her. 

I had done like one month shopping bans in the past and I thought, “Well I’ll try three months this time.” I knew I couldn’t do a year. Part of it is also because I had been planning to leave my job and it’s easier to do that when you have some extra money in the bank. 

And it was also to teach myself to live on a reduced income; because I am pursuing my own online business now, I’m expecting my income will probably go down for the next three to four months.

So it was kind of a test run to teach me how to live with less. It actually had a much bigger impact on me than I expected because I really found that after the first two weeks it was just very easy to live with less and I really don’t need to buy as much as I typically do.

Q: So you have several courses on your website already. The Debt Crusher course is free. Tell me a little bit about it.
A: It’s an eight-module program that I created just to help young people get out of debt. I start with setting a budget, determining your loan repayment, negotiating with your creditors, and actually walk through all the steps that you need to take to pay off your debt. It works if you have a small balance of $5,000 or it works if you have a huge balance of $50,000. I just wanted to create a really solid financial plan for young people who are struggling under the weight of student or consumer debt, so they could have help and a method to get to debt-free.

Q: How has it been received? Have you had a lot of downloads?
A: Oh yes. I think are almost 500 by now. It’s been very popular.

Q: Your “Master Class Money” course is priced at $379 and has twelve modules. What are the goals of the course and how is it structured?
A: That course is the resource I wish I had had when I started investing in the stock market when I was 25 years old. We’re lucky because it has been kind of a bull run for the past almost seven years so I didn’t lose anything, but I didn’t have a strategy. 

There weren’t a lot of resources for young people who want to learn how to invest in the stock market and there are still not a lot of resources for just your average retail investor. It’s really up to the professionals to decide how your money is invested, but a lot of people do want to manage this alone and it is something, I think, everyone should learn and should do. 

So I created the course using my MBA in finance. It really walks the average retail investor through everything from the basics like “What is a stock? What is a bond?” to creating a portfolio based on your investment goals and risk tolerance and it even goes into some more advanced technical analysis. It’s basically a comprehensive resource that gives you the tools you need to start investing in the stock market.

Q: Is it geared only to young people or can people of all ages benefit from the course.
A: Everyone can benefit. I design it primarily for people in their 20s and 30s because they have the longest term investment horizon, but it’s the perfect resource for all ages. 

Q: So how you do market the course and are you pleased with the response to date? Are you on target for projected sales?
A: I haven’t done really aggressive marketing with the course. I’m lucky that I’ve established a presence online over the past almost five years and I have a pretty strong e:mail list so, thus far, I’ve really only pushed it out to my e:mail list and my regular readers. The response to it, honestly, has been so amazing. It was more than I expected. It really what has inspired me to quit my job and go do this full-time.

Q: What other courses do you have on the drawing board?
A: I have a few in mind, but they’re not set in stone yet. I definitely want to develop some resources for people negotiating their salary in their careers because that’s definitely something I feel really passionate about and it’s something that people just don’t know how to do and it’s really scary. I have some other kind of financial boot camp tool kit in the works that I’m developing as well.

Q: What’s your goal in terms of time for generating revenue for your new business comparable to your last full time position?
A: I haven’t thought seriously about that yet. I mean, I’d like to be back to my full-time income within six months and I essentially would love to double my original income with a year. That might be an ambitious goal, but I’m optimistic that if I hustle and work hard it can happen.

Q: What advice do you have for people who want to take control of their own employment and start a business but think they can’t afford to take the leap?
A: Just be sure that taking the leap is not hugely detrimental to your finances. I would never suggest anyone leave their job without a plan. Start your business, make sure it’s generating a little bit of revenue, create a big savings cushion, learn to live on less, and then when you take the leap it’s not going to be as big of a risk.

Q: And where does saving for retirement and a home and all that stuff fall into this business plan?
A: I just set up a fixed amount of savings every month and it’s really important to me to always meet those savings goals regardless of where my income is coming from. You never want to sacrifice your savings to take a risk. I feel that if you set your goals and then you stick to a regular payment plan, it doesn’t really matter where your income is coming from as long as it’s going to the right places.

Q: So are you saving in an RRSP or a TFSA or both?
A: I do both. So I have TSFAs and RRSPs and I’m trying to max out the RRSP but that just seems like a really hard journey when you’re in your 20s.

Q: Thank you very, very much for talking to me today Bridget.
A: Thanks Sheryl.


This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted in September 2015.

Martin Firestone: What Snowbirds Need to Know About Travel Insurance

12 Nov

SNOWBIRDS SERIES
By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen

Click here to listen

When people who are retiring are asked what they plan to do after work they frequently say they’re going to travel more. And many elect to become snowbirds who escape to destinations with warmer climates for several months a year. However, for older Canadians traveling outside the country, getting the right travel insurance coverage at an affordable price is a key concern before they set off on their journey.

Therefore, to kick off Saskatchewan Pension Plan’s Snowbird Series for November, I’m interviewing Martin Firestone, President of Travel Secure, a company that specializes in travel insurance. Since he opened the company in 2003 he has become well-known for his expertise, and he has frequently been quoted in the media.

Thanks for joining me today Martin.

Q: Martin, travel insurance can be broken down into several components. Can you tell me what they are?
A: Sure. The first would be “Emergency Out-of-Country Medical.” The second coverage is “Trip Cancellation and Interruption” insurance that is typically part of a deluxe package that includes lost baggage, missed flights and default of supplier protection.

Q: Why is it so important for snowbirds who are going to be out of the country for a month or more to obtain the right kind of coverage?
A: I don’t even think it’s a month or more. I think one hour out of our province is where the problems begin in this game. It’s important because quite frankly you’re not covered if you have a medical emergency once you’re out of your province.

Q: What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about travel insurance or the need for travel insurance?
A: I think the biggest one is that your government health insurance program covers you while you’re traveling. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If there is any coverage at all, we are looking at a fraction of the cost. People also think that if they don’t feel well, they will hop on a plane and come home. But lots of people we deal with can’t get on a plane. They’re not stable enough to be flown 30,000 feet in the air. And the final one is really, people think that they’re immortal and they won’t get sick.

Q: Many people have travel insurance through their credit cards. What are the pros and cons of credit card coverage?
A: The biggest problem with credit card coverage is there is no underwriting at time of application, because there is no application. You have a credit card. It has a travel insurance element, but it’s very difficult to understand what the fine print means. In that scenario you have a claim, and then you apply for payment. That’s when the true underwriting happens, and when you may find out that in fact you do not actually have coverage.

Q: The other issue, of course, with credit card insurance, particularly for snowbirds is – as I understand it – there are caps on the length of time you can be away.
A: Absolutely. So when you turn 50, then maybe it’s only covering you for up to 15 days at any one time. Then you turn 65, it reduces to six days. And then ultimately, at certain ages it just reduces to zero days.

Q: Now, some people have annual travel policies that would cover them for everything from a one day jaunt to more lengthy trips without having to think about getting insurance every single time. What do travelers need to know about these policies?
A: If you purchase an annual travel insurance policy, it basically states that you can travel up to a specified number of days as many times as you want during the year. It is an excellent product with one small problem. If there is a change in your health during the given year, you cannot make an assumption that the annual policy is going to be adequate. In fact, it could be worthless depending on the stability period. So if you have an annual policy, you always have to check in with the broker or the insurer and explain when you have a change in stability.

Q: What does stability mean?
A: Stability is simply what an insurer needs to know about how long it has been since you’ve had a change in medication. A change in medication can be an increase, a decrease, even being taken totally off a drug. And a change in the insurance world is a risk. So insurance stability periods can range anywhere from seven days to 90 days to 180 days or even one year. This simply means that if you have had a change in the last year and the stability period in the policy is 365 days, you will not be covered for that particular condition.

Q: Now, again, some snowbirds have group travel insurance as part of their retiree benefits or membership in an alumni group. Are there similar potential problems with these policies?
A: Very much so. The biggest thing you have to worry about with group, alumni, retirement, or ongoing employer-sponsored group plans is the length of the stability period. And the major problem we’re finding now with group benefits is determining whether or not the client really eligible. If the policy says you have to be at work for at least 25 hours/week for 50 weeks, how could you possibly spend six months down in Florida and still be an eligible employee?

Q: But what about people who retire and are still covered by the group policy?
A: Very good question. There are large companies that do have post-retirement coverage. It’s very important to check with your HR department or the people who are administering the plan to confirm what the stability period is, how many days you can be out of the country, and confirm other aspect of your coverage.

Q: There are several online companies or online groups that allow potential purchasers to compare prices and features and then purchase a policy. What do they need to watch out for? What would your concern be about that method of purchasing travel insurance?
A:It’s one thing to see what various competitors are charging and what their policies cover, but there’s still the problem that you may not understand the questions you answered. So without a third party, a live person to question whether you have high-blood pressure, you run the risk that what you actually requested or what the search engine spits out is still not a policy that’s going to cover you.

Q: And what about travel insurance sold by travel agencies? How does their product differ from policies offered by an online purchaser or broker?
A: Travel agents are not licensed the way an insurance agent is to sell travel insurance. That doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re selling. It’s just that they typically sell only one product. You may get some coverage, but again the fine print may indicate that it does not cover you for certain conditions. So it’s not even an issue of stability periods. If you take medication for something, that condition may not be covered.

Q: So what value do you think a broker can add to the whole process?
A: Well, on top of being licensed and having studied to learn about travel insurance, they can offer policies from several different companies. And I guess the other part is, they’re available at claim time, which at the end of the day, is probably the strongest asset of anyone selling travel insurance. They don’t get lost after the sale. They’re there to help you when there’s a claim.

Q: How much coverage is enough?
A: $1 million is more than enough. I personally have never seen a claim that exceeded $1 million. I think any of the other policies with $2 million or $5 million coverage out there are just sizzle.

Q: So regardless of how or where snowbirds purchase travel insurance, what kind of questions should they be asking?
A: The most important thing they should be asking is “What is the stability period?” They should also be asking if they have to go to a specific network of hospitals or whether if they get ill, they can just go anywhere they want. Having to go to a network where an insurer has a special pricing arrangement does help the premiums and ultimately the cost of the whole adventure. But you got to know what you’re buying.

Q: What kind of activities may be excluded by a policy?
A: Typically high-risk activities. We’re talking about downhill skiing, scuba diving — things like that. If the policy is sold properly, and there is an exclusion explained prior to the sale of a policy, then that’s fine.

Q: Now, you talked about underwriting at the time of purchase and underwriting at the time of claim. Could you clarify that for me a bit more?
A: With some credit cards and various forms of group coverage, you get travel insurance automatically. Not once do they ask you about your medical conditions, how many meds you take, your stability or anything else. So there’s no way that they could make an assessment of you, until claim time when the doctor’s reports are ordered and a phone call is made asking you about your health and your conditions. Of course, if A doesn’t line up with B, that’s when you get a letter that your claim has been denied.

Q: How typical is it for a carrier to deny coverage if a medical question was improperly answered, even if the subsequent medical condition is totally unrelated?
A: That one is a thorn in many people’s side but it is a fact of life. You answered a question wrong with respect to whether you use a puffer or you don’t. You are on vacation, you have a perforated stomach and the bill comes to $300,000. You’ll get a letter the next week saying that unfortunately, you didn’t answer the puffer question right, so the insurance company is denying your claim for a perforated stomach. This is one of the most talked about, most frustrating realities that gives the industry a bad name.

Q: Are some snowbirds simply uninsurable?
A: I would say that at minimum, the best insurance policy out there requires that the individual be stable for at least seven days. They also can’t be traveling against the advice of their physician.

Q: So if somebody has a cancer or something of that nature, could they be covered if they’ve been stable, let’s say for the seven days?
A: Yes, as long as the policy states that seven days prior to departure there were no tests, investigations or medication changes, then you would be covered up to the policy amount.

Q: I see. But might there be specific conditions excluded?
A: There shouldn’t be. If you can honestly say that, I, for the last seven days before going away, have not had any issues, then you should be fully covered for all pre-existing conditions.

Q: But that would be a policy you could typically get only from a broker?
A: Absolutely. There are only certain proprietary products out there that have a clause, which is called “the guaranteed stability rider.” That rider is not cheap, but it gives you the peace of mind that when you’re away you’ll be covered for all issues that you may have.

Q: Thank you very much Martin. Talking with you today has been very informative.
A: My pleasure.


This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted in September 2015.

Actuary Karen Hall: Turning DC savings into an income stream

1 Oct

By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen

Click here to listen

Today I’m interviewing actuary Karen Hall for savewithspp.com. Prior to her recent retirement, she was a vice president at the consulting firm Aon Hewitt, based in Vancouver. In addition to enjoying her retirement, she is continuing to explore cost effective and easy ways to create a steady income out of defined contribution (DC) pension savings.

Karen has 35 years of professional experience in the areas of pension actuarial consulting, flexible benefits consulting, senior management and HR leadership. She is also the author of the book, Risk Management Strategies for an Aging Workforce available on Amazon. Thanks so much for joining me today, Karen.

 

Q: Most Canadians in the private sector today have defined contribution pension plans. Tell me how a DC plan works.
A: Well, Sheryl, defined contribution means the contributions going in are defined or fixed. The member and her employer each contribute to the plan. The member often chooses how the money is invested from a number of investment options provided by the plan. Then, when the member comes to retire, she has a lump sum amount saved.

Q: On retirement, the conversion of DC assets into retirement income is for the most part left up to retirees. Why is that a problem?
A: If you buy an annuity you don’t get much in income for the amount you saved. The only other alternative is doing it yourself, that is, choosing investments, deciding how much to withdraw and figuring out how to make the money last for your lifetime. If you rely on advisers for any of this, you’re typically paying a substantial fee of at least 2% of your assets every year. The average person is just not equipped to make these decisions. I find it complicated enough and I’ve been living and breathing pensions for 35 years.

Q: Frequently, insurance companies or other DC or Group RRSP carriers, have group registered retirement income funds that retiring members of client group retirement plans can move their money into at retirement. Do these plans resolve some of these issues of high retail fees and poor financial literacy that you identified in our last question?
A: I don’t think they do. It would depend, of course, on the deal. But, often the fees are still quite high, near 2%, and the individual is still making all of the decisions I just mentioned.

Q: So how common are Group RRIF’s established for retirees of just one employer and what are the pros and cons of these types of arrangements?
A: Based on my experience, they aren’t that common. I can see why plan sponsor companies don’t want the ongoing administration. But I do think it would be great if the retiree could basically just stay in the plan and get the same investment options and fee deals as when they were active.

What I do see more often is where the insurance company that is the record keeper for the plan will have options for the member to transfer into their individual RRIF products, perhaps with a modest reduction in fees as compared to a retail purchase.

Q: How much clout do individual DC plan sponsors have in negotiating fees for their former members in rollover plans or single organization Group RRIF’s?
A: Well, as with everything, it depends on the size of the employer and on how much the employer wants to push for such a service. I do know of large employers who have negotiated such services.

Q: How should investment options be structured in rollover plans and single company Group RRIFs to maximize value from a DC plan in the decumulation phase?
A: In my view, the same options as when the member was active should generally be fine. The plan could add a target date type option for accounts and payments. But I think the typical choice of a range of balance funds and funds with conservative to moderate risk. You are going to live a fair number of years in retirement, so your time horizon isn’t that short.

Q: Saskatchewan and several other provinces, plus federal pension legislation, now allow payment of a variable pension from a DC plan – that means a stream of income that tries to simulate a defined benefit pension. Could you briefly explain to me how it works?
A: Well, it does depend on the plan and the legislation how they set it up, but very generally such an arrangement would allow the plan to provide payments to retirees. Like you said, it would simulate a defined benefit type of pension. There would generally be monthly payments and the amount of each payment would vary depending on plan experience.

For example, one client I know determines the amount of the monthly payment once a year. The amount is leveled for the year, so it’s paid every month at a level amount, but then it gets recalculated every January and depends on how well the fund did in the previous year. Generally – hopefully – it usually goes up or slightly or stays about the same. However, if it was a really bad year like 2008, the monthly pensions would likely be reduced.

Q: And how do they draw down funds in terms of various funds or investments the members are invested in or cash or whatever is actually sitting in the member’s account?
A: Well, in this particular one, when you retire and choose a variable pension, you have a lump sum amount and that lump sum amount gets translated into a number of units in the fund. Then, the fund pays a pension based on a dollar amount per unit, so the dollar amount per unit times the number of units you have, that’s what you get.

And what’s happening in this one is they’re insuring the mortality, so you don’t actually see your lump sum getting drawn down, you’re guaranteed to get that amount however long you live, and then the mortality is spread amongst the group.

Q: Oh, that’s really interesting. So it’s not just a matter of investments being sold and your money being distributed once a year, like if you had your own individual RRIF.
A: Right. So the plans can offer an individual RRIF and in those circumstances you’d see your money getting drawn down. But these variable pension ideas are to do with pooling the mortality risk.

Q: So to what extent have employers taken advantage of their ability to pay variable pensions to enhance the value of their DC plans to plan members in this all important decumulation phase?
A: As far as I know, not many have done so. Well, I know the one I gave in my example, but I don’t know of any other examples.

Q: And why do you think that’s the case?
A: Well, I think that it’s just new, right? CAP Guideline Number 8 says that plan sponsors should help members transition, but it’s new and sponsors are still considering their options. They are watching to see what others will do.

Q: Is there a real cost or a potential liability to employers that take on this responsibility?
A: That’s the big issue. For example, if you don’t have a big enough group, it’s hard to pool the mortality risk. The other thing is I’m not sure members are clamoring for variable pensions. Plan sponsors will pay attention when it affects active members and their appreciation of the benefit. I know there are plans that are interested in designing this and we’ll probably see how it develops in the next few years .

Q: Do you think it will be more of interest to public sector or private sector?
A: I think the public sector will have more ability to implement these and I think that union groups without a defined benefit plan might be interested.

Q: How important is effective employer communications in adding value to DC benefits for retirees in the decumulation phase?
A: Some employers are doing more to help members understand their options and prepare for retirement in the decumulation phase. For example, they provide one to three day retirement preparation seminars that can help considerably. I do still think, however, that individuals are not equipped to make many of these decisions. And you can put design features into DC plans that would help members better with the decision making.

Q: Could you give me an example of one or two of those?
A: Auto enrollment, auto escalation, and the design feature that we were just talking about — variable pensions — that would assist members with decision making in the decumulation phase would help.

Q: What role can annuity purchases play using all or part of the money in the plan members, DC account or RRIF to enhance the orderly draw down funds after retirement?
A: Annuities are expensive when the person is first retiring. However, I would definitely consider purchasing an annuity after about my mid 70’s. At that point, the insurance element becomes more interesting and significant because you don’t know if you’re going to live a few more years or a couple of more decades.

And the financial impact of living 2 or 20 years more is huge. The security that an annuity can give becomes much more worthwhile. So one strategy could be to separate your savings into two buckets: A: the amount you will need at age 80 saved via the annuity and B: the RRIF or the amount you’re going to spend between now and age 80. This is a bit easier to deal with, because the time frame’s better defined.

Q: That’s interesting. So do you have any other comments or suggestions that people are approaching retirement with a DC pensions or group/individual RRSPs to think about?
A: Well, focusing on just the DC pension is helpful, but I do think it’s also an incomplete solution. If the person has properly saved for retirement, he/she doesn’t have just one DC or Group RRSP account.

Even if they combine savings from previous employers, the spouse probably has registered savings, both spouses might have their own tax-free savings account and they probably have non-registered money too.

All these sources of income must be coordinated so the individual can meet their retirement and personal financial goal. Either the person has to educate themselves to manage on their own or they need help in finding an appropriately qualified financial adviser to assist them.

Right now in Canada, the price of such assistance is, in my view, unreasonably high. I also feel that many financial advisers do not have much experience with effective decumulation of retirement savings. Individuals have to look hard to find the right person.

Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate that you spoke to us today, Karen.

You are very welcome. It’s a pleasure, Sheryl. Thank you for asking me.


This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted by telephone in July 2015.

Greg Hurst: Federal Consultations on Voluntary CPP

3 Sep

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Today, I’m pleased to be interviewing Greg Hurst for savewithspp.com. Greg is a pension consultant and pension innovator based in Vancouver. He’s held many roles in the pension industry with large international and small regional consulting firms and a major Canadian insurer.

He’s a member of both the editorial advisory board of Benefits and Pensions Monitor and Benefits Canada’s online expert panel. In fact, two of his articles were among the five most widely-read Benefits Canada pension articles of 2013.

Today, Greg is going to share his thoughts with us on the federal government’s  surprising pre-election proposal to study allowing Canadians to voluntarily contribute to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) to supplement their retirement savings.

Thank you for joining me today, Greg.

Glad to be here Sheryl.

Q: Were you surprised to hear of the federal government’s announcement in May that they are going to reconsider a voluntary top-up to the Canada Pension Plan?
A: It was totally unexpected. Since 2011, the federal government has consistently said it’s not the right time for changes to the CPP, and even more recently – in fact, just before the announcement – they characterized CPP contribution rate changes as a “pension tax hike.”

Q: Interesting. So, why do you think that the Minister of Finance, Joe Oliver, announced these consultations after the government and the provinces previously rejected similar proposals?
A: Well, an election is coming up. The federal Conservatives recognize that CPP expansion will be a significant election issue. In the 2014 Ontario election pensions were front and center, and Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals won with her promise of the Ontario Registered Pension Plan (ORPP), which grew out of the federal government’s refusal to consider CPP expansion in spite of a consensus amongst the provinces. Canadians have come to love the CPP. It delivers on its benefit promises and the CPP Investment Board consistently delivers good news on its investment returns.

Q: Now, in an article you wrote that was published May 27th on the Benefits Canada website, you suggest that “the devil is in the details.” The closing date for the consultations on a voluntary CPP top-up is September 10th and the election will be held on October 19th. Do you think a detailed blueprint for adding a voluntary tier to CPP will be available for public scrutiny prior to the election?
A: It is unlikely. October 19th is the next fixed election date, and that would leave less than six weeks to build and publish the blueprint. It would also require input from the provinces. It would be very irresponsible for the federal government to publish proposals for CPP changes without first consulting the provinces.

Q: Ontario has gone ahead and passed legislation to establish the ORPP. What do you think of those proposals?
A: Well, I really favor mandatory employer and employee contributions for pension benefits. It’s taken a lot of political courage and leadership from Ontario, which has been absent elsewhere in Canada for many, many years to implement the ORPP. But there again, the devil is in the details. I might have different ideas on how to build the ORPP, but I really don’t have any interest in criticizing those who exhibit this leadership in pensions.

Q: In your view, is it likely that other provinces will jump on the bandwagon once the Ontario plan is up and running?
A: I think there’s a good chance of that, particularly if the Conservatives win the upcoming federal election, because they’ve been consistently intransigent in their opposition to workplace pensions with mandatory employer contributions. But if the Liberals or NDP wins, they’re more likely to build on the leadership of Ontario and proceed with CPP expansion, which I think would make the ORPP unnecessary.

Q: Were you surprised by the federal announcement that the Harper government would not help Ontario administer the ORPP?
A: I was quite surprised. To me, it amounted to a juvenile temper tantrum. It seems to be extremely bad policy for the federal government to torpedo any provincial pension initiative, particularly in this way. Administration of contributions could easily be accommodated in the same way as provincial income tax collection. And in terms of tax deductibility, the feds could readily accommodate ORPP contributions in the current tax-assisted framework like they already do for the Quebec Pension Plan and the Saskatchewan Pension Plan.

Q: Do you believe a voluntary supplement to the CPP should be an option for Canadians to save for retirement? Is this something you would use to increase your retirement savings?
A: Well, to answer questions about the concept of a voluntary CPP supplement, I first have to suspend my disbelief that the federal government – and particularly a Conservative government – would actually choose to compete with the financial services industry, which already has a wide spectrum of products and services designed for retirement savings.

I think that the expectations amongst the public with this announcement are that it would be a savings and investment vehicle, in which case my answer would be, no, I wouldn’t use it to increase my retirement savings and, no, I don’t think they should bother.

Q: Why do you say that?
A: Well, although many Canadians might be excited by the possible opportunity to share in the investment results that the CPP Investment Board has achieved — particularly if the cost of investing is similar to the Board’s current cost — that’s not what they would get from a voluntary supplement under the CPP. It would require a different investment mandate from the CPP Investment Board, with the degree of difference dependent upon how much administrative flexibility the plan has. It would be far more expensive at the end of the day and would likely not have much to differentiate it from retirement investment options already available in the marketplace.

Q: And what about the design of a potential voluntary top-up? What do you think? Should the money be locked in? And should there be basic required contributions, or some variability? I mean what should this thing look like?
A: Well, you know, it depends on how they actually design it. They could do it as a standard savings and investment vehicle, or they could do it as a prepaid annuity vehicle, which might be more interesting. So, I think, first off, Canadians would generally choose good, old-fashioned RRSPs over CPP supplements as a savings and investment vehicle, unless the CPP had the same flexibility with no locking-in, in which case the cost would be almost the same as traditional RRSPs. But if a voluntary CPP supplement were designed around the prepaid annuity concept, contributions could be flexible so you could buy as many prepaid annuities as you want, perhaps within some limits; and full locking-in would perhaps be appropriate under that kind of a design.

Q: Now, in a previous question, you referred to the integration of a voluntary CPP into the current income tax rules. Do you think that that’s problematic, or it would be fairly easy to do?
A: I think it could be fairly easy to do within the current income tax rules. If you really wanted to make it work as a prepaid annuity concept, you could put it on top of the existing RRSP limits. It would just be another added-value pension saving that wouldn’t impact your RRSP limits.

Q: That might make it more attractive to particularly people who have topped up their RSP limits already.
A: Absolutely.

Q: So, who do you think should be responsible for investing the contributions made to a voluntary CPP supplement?
A: If it was designed around a prepaid annuity concept, it would be the CPP Investment Board.

Q: How important is keeping costs low to the success of this proposal?
A: Well, it’s fundamentally important if it’s a savings and investment vehicle, which means that it would be very difficult to do without having some sort of subsidy from the government. MERs aren’t really applicable to paid up annuities. But certainly the cost would then likely be comparable to the current costs of the CPP Investment Board services.

Q: When you discuss a “prepaid annuity,” what do you mean? Do you mean that it would operate like a defined-benefit pension as far as the consumers are concerned?
A: Yes. Once you purchase it – so, you come in with “this is the amount of contribution I have. This is my age.” And then that would purchase a certain amount of fixed pension payable at your retirement date of age 65, or maybe 67, assuming that becomes the new normal retirement date. So, when you buy the annuity, you would know how much you’re getting when you reach that retirement date — like a defined-benefit plan.

Q: Do you think that this voluntary top-up to CPP is ever going to see the light of day? Will that depend on who forms the next government?
A: No. Even if it’s a prepaid annuity, I don’t think there will be enough of a market appetite for the concept to proceed. If it were a saving and investment type of program, it would have costs that are too high to really compete with the current, private-sector marketplace. But if the Liberals or the NDP form the government, I believe then we’d see a mandatory form of CPP expansion.

Q: Thank you very much, Greg. I really appreciated talking to you today.
A: My pleasure, Sheryl.

This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted by telephone in July 2015.

Saskatchewan ombudsman fights for your rights

20 Aug

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Today I’m interviewing Saskatchewan Ombudsman and Public Disclosure Commissioner Mary McFadyen for savewithpsp.com. She assumed these positions on April 4th, 2014.

Prior to returning to her home province of Saskatchewan to serve in this capacity, Ms. McFadyen was Deputy Registrar of the Supreme Court of Canada and before that, Director General Legal Services for the office of the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defense and Canadian Forces.

She has a Law Degree from the University of Saskatchewan and an LLM. from the University of London, the London School of Economics.

Today we’re going to talk about her role as Ombudsman, when her office can and can’t help you, and some examples of cases and investigations conducted by her office, including a recent report about the care provided to Mary Warholm.

Thank you for joining me today, Mary. 

Thank you very much for having me.

Q: Now what exactly is an Ombudsman?
A: Well, an Ombudsman is an independent, impartial public official who has the authority and the responsibility to receive and investigate or formally address complaints about government actions, omissions and decisions. When appropriate they can also make findings, recommendations and publish reports.

Q: So tell me a little bit about the mandate of Ombudsman Saskatchewan and the problems your office can help provincial residents resolve.
A: Well, the mandate of Ombudsman Saskatchewan is to take complaints about government actions, decisions or omissions that affect people personally. Most of the government institutions like the Ministries, the Crown corporations, the agencies and the boards fall under our jurisdiction.

We have very wide powers of investigation and we have the ability to talk to anybody to get any documents to determine whether or not the decision was fair or if we can recommend or suggest that it be changed because it was not fair.

Q: You’re primarily provincial. What complaints and government concerns can you not deal with?
A: We can’t deal with anything that’s in the federal jurisdiction or private interest between citizens of a private nature. That’s for the courts. There are very few provincial organizations that do not fall under our jurisdiction but there are some. Rural and urban municipalities are examples of areas that do not fall under our jurisdiction.

Q: If a Saskatchewan resident wants to file a complaint with your office, what is the process they have to follow and is there anything they should do first?
A: Usually an Ombudsman office is one of last resort, which means that people should try to work out the problem that they have with the institution that they have issues with. For example, most organizations have some kind of customer service or complaint resolution office already in their office and those offices are there to hopefully resolve people’s problems to their satisfaction so they don’t need to call us. Those situations should work themselves out. Otherwise we can help.

Q: So do all complaints get investigated and resolved?
A: Out of the complaints that we get (about 2,500 a year) we estimate that about 80% we deal with at the first instance, within a couple weeks. Sometimes it’s just a misunderstanding between what someone heard and what they think someone said to them. About 20% of complaints would actually go on to be investigated in our office.

Q: And how long would they take?
A: Well, our objective is to get 90% of our files closed within 90 days and we’re pretty good at meeting that. We try to do the big investigations within six months like we did with the recently Margaret Warholm case. Sometimes, depending on a lot of circumstances it can take longer. But we do try to be timely.

Q: So you’ve got offices in Regina and Saskatoon, but I notice you took a road trip to Kindersley and Meadow Lake at the beginning of the year. Was there a particular reason you traveled to these towns or do you regularly set up appointments throughout the province to meet complainants?
A: Well, one of the goals when I was appointed is I wanted to have a look at where complaints come from throughout the province because not everybody lives in Regina and Saskatoon. That was the reason for our road trips to Meadow Lake and to Kindersley.

Q: Interesting. In April of this year, you filed your first annual report. Can you give me examples of a few cases of unfairness that your office investigated and resolved?
A: This year there was a case that very much attracted the public’s interest. It was a senior citizen who had a direct debit to pay her SaskEnergy account.

Every month the bill came and it was paid directly from her checking account. And this went on for ten years. She didn’t really pay much attention to it but she just knew that it got paid. And then after ten years she got a letter from SaskEnergy saying that she now owed $13,000 immediately.

Q: Wow…
A: So that was a lot and as a result she contacted us. What had happened was the pre-authorized payments had been coming out of somebody else’s account for over ten years.

The other person died and when his estate was settled the executor found this mistake and contacted SaskEnergy realizing that this money had been paid someone else’s bills. So we looked at it and we agreed that it was obvious that this person did owe the money and that SaskEnergy did have the right to collect it.

But we tried to resolve the problem in the best way possible for her. It ended up that SaskEnergy agreed to a smaller lump sum because they understood that they had some responsibility as well because it had been going on for ten years. So the complainant who came to our office paid the lump sum and was very happy to have the issue resolved.

Q: Interesting. Now in mid May of this year, your report “Taking Care, An Ombudsman Investigation Into the Care Provided to Margaret Warholm While a Resident at the Santa Maria Senior Citizen’s Home” was tabled in the legislature and the report included 19 recommendations. What triggered this investigation? What was the issue here?
A: Well, what triggered this investigation is that back in November of 2014 Mrs. Warholm’s family actually went public with concerns about their mother’s care while she was a resident at Santa Maria. They had tried to get information after she died about her care and they found that the answers they received from Santa Maria were not satisfactory and they went to the legislature to express their concerns. The Minister of Health referred the matter to our office for investigation.

In Saskatchewan we have standards of care in the regulations that all long-term care homes must follow when they’re providing care. So we looked at the care Margaret care received when she was at the home and including her bed format, her pain management, nutrition and hydration.

We made ten recommendations directly to Santa Maria that they had to implement. One covered the care of bed sores, because her bed sores were very, very severe.

When we announced we were doing this investigation we got about 89 calls from all over the province, which led us to believe these were not issues for just one long-term care facility within just one health region.  People weren’t sure where to complain and if they did complain they were afraid that there may be reprisal against their loved ones and they wouldn’t be properly cared for.

When we looked at how the whole long term care system works in Saskatchewan we found about 100 care standards that the Ministry of Health has enacted that all long-term care facilities are to follow. Throughout this whole system there was actually nobody monitoring or making sure that the standards of care were actually being met.

Q: That’s frightening because we’re all going to be there eventually.
A: It is. That is a very good point because we did make recommendations that the Ministry of Health and the health regions have to make sure that people actually understand what it means and that the homes are actually putting processes in place to make sure that they are meeting the standards of care for each resident.

Because we had a really tight time frame for doing this investigation, there were lots of things that were mentioned to us that we just did not have an opportunity to look at, nor necessarily was my role to do so as an Ombudsman.

The last recommendation that we made was that they really have to determine what the future needs of long term care patients in Saskatchewan are and come up with a plan to address it because, you’re right, we’re all getting older and because this problem is not going to go away, it needs to be tackled.

Q: So how do you enforce your recommendations?
A: Well, as an Ombudsman we only make recommendations. But in this case, we notified the organizations, the Ministry, the health regions, and Santa Maria that we will follow up within six months to see how they’re progressing with the recommendations.

One of the benefits of being an Ombudsman is we do have the power to go public with what we recommend. Lots of times just shining attention on an issue is enough to get the government moving on something.

Q: That sounds like you’ve made a tremendous contribution to the province and if you can keep the heat on….
A: Yes, I think it was. We tried to write our report so that it was very reader-friendly.  Our goal was  to set out some very basic information about how long-term care works in the province to facilitate a good discussion about going forward and how we’re going to tackle this issue.

Q: Well, that’s really interesting. Thank you very much, Mary for talking to me today.
A: You’re welcome.