Tag Archives: Toronto

Jul 18: Best from the Blogosphere

18 Jul

By Sheryl Smolkin

We recently posted the blog Rent vs Buy: A Reprise, but the subject of when, or even if millennials will ever buy homes seems to be a continuing theme in both the blogosphere and the mainstream media.

Its not surprising that issue is still a live one, particularly in cities like Vancouver and Toronto where housing prices have gone through the roof and only young people with great jobs and a hefty gift from the Bank of Mom and Dad can get their foot in the door.

Several months ago BMO published the report Rent-Weary Millennials Not in a Hurry to Become Home Owners; Need to Save Accordingly. In the prairie provinces, people age 19-35 gave the following reasons why they are delaying home ownership:

  • 27%: Don’t feel comfortable making such a large purchase at this point in my career
  • 46%: Other priorities take precedence (such as traveling, continuing education or starting a business)
  • 33%: Don’t want to be left with no disposable income
  • 40%: Not sure where I want to settle down
  • 27%: Have to pay off debt first

In a Huffington post blog, Jackie Marchildon asks Are Millennials Choosing To Rent, Or Just Choosing Not To Buy?  She argues that renting is its own lifestyle and although currently dominated by millennial city dwellers in Toronto and Vancouver, it is not unique to this generation, nor to their respective cities.

On the Financial Independence Hub Helen Chevreau (daughter of well-known personal finance guru Jonathan Chevreau) says she is  Young, saving, and hopefully one day will buy a house. She critiques an article about “Tony” in Toronto Life who would rather spend his generous pharmacist’s salary on exotic trips and lavish spending than be shackled by a mortgage. She advocates for a happy middle ground: “somewhere between throwing down $1,500 on a meal and stealing toilet paper from the bathroom of the bar to save a few bucks.”

Another perspective comes from a young married couple who is saving up for a cottage because “they don’t want to invest their money in a shoebox.” They are also paying off student debt ($700/month) and spending $300/month on dog walking for their new Labrador mutt puppy.

Rent to Own | Option to Purchase is an interesting article by Saskatoon lawyer Richard Carlson. “There is no such thing in law as a ‘rent to own agreement.’ The idea was made up by people who wanted to sell to someone who did not qualify for a mortgage,” he says. “There is a good chance it will lead to a problem and a dispute.” He also distinguishes “rent to own” from an “option to purchase” which comes with its own set of challenges. Bottom line is, get independent legal advice before you enter into one of these questionable arrangements!

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

To Rent or to Buy: That is the Question

29 Oct

By Sheryl Smolkin

The Canadian dream for many is to find a partner, get married, buy a house and have kids –- not necessarily in that order. With the average house price in June 2015 climbing to $639,000 in Toronto and $922,000 in Vancouver, many young people have been shut out of the housing market.

However, Saskatchewan residents are more fortunate, with the average provincial house price sitting at $303,000 province-wide and $316,000 in Regina. But if you or a family member are thinking about leaving the world of rentals behind and buying your first home, it’s still important to factor in all of the costs you will incur, and the impact possible interest rate increases will have on your monthly payments.

Here are 5 questions you should answer before you decide to leap into the housing market:

  1. How big is your down payment? While it is possible to buy a home with as little as 5% down, if your deposit is less than 20% of the purchase price your mortgage must be insured by a third party such as the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), Genworth Financial Canada or Canada Guaranty. The insurance premium will range from 0.5% and 2.75% of your total mortgage amount and add significantly to the cost of your home over time.
  2. How much house can you afford? Mortgage experts suggest no more than 32% of household income be spent on housing costs. The Mortgage Payment Calculator on ratehub.ca will allow you to model how much your monthly payments will be depending on the amount of your deposit, the term of the mortgage, interest rate and any mortgage insurance. So if you buy a house for $350,000 with 5% down, a 5-year mortgage amortized over 25 years at a fixed rate of 2.69%, your payments will be $1,576/month. In addition, you must factor in municipal taxes, utilities and annual maintenance costs. In contrast, over the past year, rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Regina ranged from $884 to $1,395.
  3. Is your job secure? Taking on a mortgage is a long-term commitment. If you are basing your ability to pay for your home on your current family income, consider whether or not you and your spouse have secure jobs. Could you afford to continue paying monthly house expenses if one of you lost your job? How long would it likely take get a new job if one of you were downsized?
  4. What are your family plans? If the next major milestone after buying a house is to start a family, that means that at least one parent may be out of the workforce for up to a year after the birth of each child. Are one or both of you eligible for EI maternity and parental leave benefits? Do either of your employers top up EI benefits to all or part of your full salary for some period of time? If not, how will you make up the difference? When both of you go back to work, will you be able to afford daycare costs on top of your mortgage payments?
  5. What if interest rates go up? Mortgage rates are at historic lows. According to ratehub.ca if you have a down payment of 20% your mortgage rate (calculated on August 17/15) you may pay as high as 2.69% for a 5-year fixed rate in Regina or as low as 1.85% for a variable rate in the same city. What if interest rates doubled or tripled? Could you still afford your mortgage payments plus all of your other family commitments?

The advantages of renting are that your costs are fixed for the term of the lease; you are not responsible for the cost of major repairs; and, if you want to leave the neighbourhood or move to another city you have much more flexibility.

While you are not purchasing an asset that will increase in value that you can cash in when you are ready to retire, if you save and invest the difference between your annual rent and the costs of running your home, you will have a nice little nest egg by age 65.But few people have the discipline to do so. And most rental properties cannot be customized or decorated to your own personal taste.

So all things considered, the decision to rent or buy may be as much an emotional decision as an economic one. Each individual or family will make a unique decision based on their stage of life, their finances and their personal priorities.

Also read:
Cheap mortgage rates don’t justify home ownership

Lisa Taylor: Challenge Factory

9 Jul

By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen

Click here to listen

Today I’m interviewing Lisa Taylor, the president of Challenge Factory for savewithspp.com. The Challenge Factory offers a broad range of services to both employers dealing with an aging workforce, and individuals looking for a career change or transition. We are going to talk about how career timelines have changed, and how you can define and embrace encore or second act careers. Welcome, Lisa. 

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Q: Lisa, tell me a little bit about your own background, and when and why the Challenge Factory was born.
A: In 2003 and 2004, the question that intrigued me the most, was why was it, even in fantastic companies, so many people were successful in their jobs but not satisfied. They were seeking something else, but also not willing to take the risk to make a move. As a result I did some research. That led me down the path of really understanding demographics and the workplace.

Q: When did you actually start the Challenge Factory?
A: The Challenge Factory started in 2009. It really grew from my initial experience meeting people who wanted to figure out how to make meaningful change later in their careers. 

Q: What other professionals do you have on your team?
A: Challenge Factory is made up of a wide variety of professionals. We have career coaches, HR and management strategy professionals and analytic specialists that work with our corporate clients to help model out what the cost would be of shifting the workforce around in different ways. 

With our individual clients, we have a really unique body of over 160 experts who are top in their own jobs, and they agree to take on Challenge Factory clients for one day test-drives.

If you’re in one occupation, and thinking that you might want to do something totally different, the best way for an adult to make decisions is to do a dry run. This gives our clients an opportunity to spend a day with an expert in that particular field to find out if their assumptions are really true and whether the job is really as great as they thought it would be. Between our coaches, our consultants, and our test-drive experts, we have a really diverse group of people who are all there to support the clients that work with us. 

Q: Do you draw on these experts on an as-needed basis?
A: Yes, based on what’s relevant to each individual client or group that’s going through the program. 

Q: We hear more and more in the media about encore, or second act, or legacy careers, tell me what those terms mean for you.
A: Whether it’s an encore career, a second act or a legacy career, I think what the terms are demarking is that this isn’t just an extension of mid-career or mid-life. It’s not just doing the same thing you’ve been doing but doing it longer.

A lot of times when people hear about working longer, they sigh and say, “Oh my goodness, I’m ready to be out of here.” But they’re not actually ready to stop making a meaningful contribution. I think that those terms help us to draw the line in the sand, to say it’s okay to think about these next 20 or 25 years differently than you’ve thought about the last 20 or 25 years. 

Q: Is the encore idea only focused on paid work?
A: Not at Challenge Factory, and not from my perspective. The purpose isn’t necessarily to define paid work that people can move into. For some people, that’s a very core part of their plan for their 50s, 60s, even into their 70s and beyond. For other people, it’s really about coming up with the right portfolio of activities. We call that the career portfolio plan. 

The encore concept really says, “What’s the balance between stable work, hobbies and interests, and risky or entrepreneurial ventures — things that may or may not pay off in the future, but you know what, you’d love to give them a try and see what happens.” 

Q: How do new careers in later life typically differ from the kind of careers people embark on right out of school, or the careers they left behind?
A: I think the biggest difference, when you’re making a transition and it’s later in life, compared to when you’re right out of school, is how significant what you do, or what you have been doing, is tied into your sense of identity. 

We introduce ourselves by using what we do as the social placeholder so that we can figure out quickly who everyone is at the cocktail party or at the meeting. Even at the family barbecue when there’s someone new, we often will ask as a very first question, “It’s nice to meet you. What do you do?” 

After decades of explaining what you do, starting to identify what else you could really do and what you want to do separate from that particular way of describing yourself is very difficult. 

Q: Is an encore career a luxury for people who’ve saved enough money so they have choices, or is the concept relevant for a broader group of people?
A: The relevance of an encore career for everyone is to recognize that it’s not about an aging workforce. It’s about the benefits and the impact longevity brings. The longer we live, the more time we have to contribute in different ways. There is a way for anyone to think about how they want to spend the next 20-25 years of their life.

Q: Do you think the desire to work at something different later in life is more a factor of knowledge workers, or does it also include trades people, independent business owners, blue collar people etc.?
A: It’s assumed that it’s really just for the professional sector. But it’s not true. The Challenge Factory works with individuals looking for their legacy career, for their next step, and they come from all different sectors. We also work on the other side of this equation — inside organizations to see how career paths can change so that their workforce can continue to contribute and deliver value for longer periods of time. 

Q: You provide career exploration services on both a group and a one-on-one basis. Your offices are in Toronto. How do you accommodate people outside your geographic area?
A: Challenge Factory is headquartered in Toronto, but we offer services in cities across the country, North America and Europe using technology.

Q: Participants complete 19 assignments using an online collaboration tool. Can you briefly tell me a little bit about these assignments?
A: Sure. Different programs have different numbers of assignments. Our whole career transition program has 19. These assignments are short, but very pointed questions that require our clients to go out and experience something new, talk with friends and family and then reflect on the responses, or do some reflective writing on their own. 

We have an online collaboration site where our clients complete their assignments, and their coach and anyone else that they’d like to can see their responses as they work their way through the program. This is in between the coaching sessions. 

If they are not meeting with their coach, or their group isn’t meeting again for another two weeks, but they’ve just had a real significant breakthrough, and have written something that’s very meaningful, their coach will see that and be able to respond back to them online within a short period of time.

Q: Can you give me an anecdotal example of a client who went through your program, and his before and after careers?
A: Sure. Frank was the COO of a family-run print business. He had been with the organization for a very, very long time, had really loved his career, but had started to find that he was ready for something new. He was pretty sure he wanted to make a radical change. 

In talking with us, one of the things that he found was that there were a couple of aspects of his career that had always made him really excited. One of them was in a particular sector that provided services to his company. 

On further exploration, he actually found that there was an organization that was looking for senior-level expertise to help them improve their relationships with their customer base. He was able to step out of his COO role and move over into an organization he had always held in high esteem, in a totally different sector, by leveraging the experience he had by being a client for so many decades.

Q: How long do encore careers typically last? After all, retirement has been described as three stages: go-go, slow-go, and then no-go, although the age span will be different for everyone.
A: This new segment, this language, of encore, or legacy or second act careers, helps to differentiate that you’re not in retirement for decades. That period of time at the end of your life where you actually withdraw from, whether it’s paid or voluntary contribution to society, is a specific moment in time because it’s time for you to start to take care of yourself and to really focus on what’s important as you get to the end of your days. This instead of putting a line in the sand that says, “You know what, by the time everyone is 71, that’s got to be finished.”

Q: Thank you very much for your insights, Lisa. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
A: And with you.

Canada needs more CPP says lawyer Ari Kaplan

2 Apr

By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen

Click here to listen

As part of the ongoing series of podcast interviews on savewithspp.com, today I’m talking to lawyer Ari Kaplan, a partner in the Pension and Benefits Group of the Toronto law firm Koskie, Minsky, L.L.P.

Ari is the author of Canada’s leading textbook on pension law, and he has acted as counsel in some of Canada’s most widely known pension cases before the Supreme Court of Canada. In addition, he teaches pension law as an adjunct professor of law at both the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall Law School.

In his spare time, Ari heads up licensing and publishing at Paper Bag Records, a leading, independent record label and artist management company also based in Toronto.

Today, we are going to talk about the Canada Pension Plan. In the ongoing national debate regarding how Canadians can be encouraged to save more for retirement, Ari is a staunch advocate for an expansion to the Canadian Pension Plan.

Welcome, Ari, and thanks for talking to me today.

My pleasure, Sheryl. Thanks for having me.

Q: How many Canadians currently have workplace pension plans?
A: Well, that’s a good question to put everything in perspective. Over 60% of working Canadians actually have no workplace pension plan, and they must rely solely on CPP and their own personal savings for their retirement income. 

Q: Why do you think that an enhanced Canada Pension Plan is the best way to give Canadians a more robust retirement income?
A: Very simple. It’s currently the only universal and mandatory savings scheme in the country. It’s portable from job to job. If you’re a student, you can work for the summer in British Columbia and then come back to a full-time job in Ontario, and your CPP credits will go with you. Also, it doesn’t just cover employees. It applies to self-employment, which most workplace pension plans don’t.

Q: As early as 2008, industry guru Keith Ambachtsheer wrote a C.D. Howe Institute commentary about the benefits of enhancing the Canada Pension Plan. Yet, in December 2013, the conservative government in several Canadian provinces voted against this proposal. Why do you think this occurred?
A: Every respected economist in the country supports a CPP expansion. The reason why the current government did not support it is political, not principled.

There was political pressure from business lobby groups who did not want to be forced to contribute employer revenue toward their employees’ retirement. There was political pressure from the financial services lobby, because they do not benefit at all when the retirement savings of Canadians is held in the CPP Trust Fund.

And finally, there’s fear among Canadian voters, who’ve been led to believe that anything opposed by business must be bad for them, too. Some of them also don’t want to be forced to save for retirement.

Q: Instead of expanding the CPP, the late finance minister, Jim Flaherty and the provinces endorsed pooled registered pension plan legislation as the way to encourage Canadians to save more for retirement. What are the key features of PRPPs?
A: Good question. PRPPs are basically like voluntary employer-sponsored group RRSPs. The funds are locked in, so it resembles a registered defined contribution plan. Your funds can also be ported to another plan and there are survivor benefits. So, it’s basically like an “RRSP-plus.”

Q: Why do you think that PRPP’s are not the answer?
A: Well, I think PRPPs are just a prime example of what I said earlier ­­­– political lobbying by business and the financial industry.

  1. The employer is not required to contribute a dime even if the company voluntarily sponsors a PRPP.
  2. An employee can opt out, or voluntarily set their contribution rate to zero, which gives zero benefit to the employee.
  3. There’s very little benefit security. Like I said, it’s like a DC plan, so you get to choose member-directed investment funds. If you don’t invest your money well, then you won’t get a good pension.
  4. The cost structure is really not that much different than a 500-member group RRSP. The management expense ratio (MER) will be much higher under a PRPP than under a large workplace pension plan or, for that matter, under CPP, where the efficiencies of scale are such that the costs are very, very, very low.
  5. It will create a huge windfall to insurance companies and other financial institutions who manage these funds, because there’s very few cost controls. There are lots of problems in group RRSPs with so-called “hidden fees” and there’s no indication that that will change with PRPPs.

I can go on, but I think you get the idea.

Q: Groups such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business say that required employer contributions to an expanded CPP would amount to a significant payroll tax that could slow down economic growth. How would you respond to this statement?
A: To be quite blunt, this is a false and misleading statement. Anyone who tells you it’s a tax is not telling you the truth. This is employee money. It goes into a pension fund. It then goes back to the employee.

Q: Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynne’s government is currently holding consultations on the design of an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan. What are some of the key features of that plan?
A: At the end of December of last year, the Ontario government introduced the first reading of the bill for the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan intended to commence at the beginning of 2017. The reason for the delay period is because there’s hope that the next federal government may agree enhance CPP, which could make the ORPP redundant.

But the key features are that it’s a mandatory plan. It’s like an adjunct to CPP. So, it would be mandatory in all Ontario workplaces, except where the employer already has a workplace pension plan for its workforce, and it would be integrated with the CPP.

Q: Several other provinces, like PEI, may jump on the same bandwagon, so why do we still need a national CPP enhancement?
A: Well, it would better if the federal government came on board to make it nationwide. I mean if we just have it province by province, then it’ll be more of a patchwork. This could influence inter-provincial mobility. We don’t want to discourage full inter-provincial mobility by Canadians.

Q: Well – and, of course, the other issue is – just like pension legislation across the country, which is similar, but actually very different when it comes to the details – we run the risk of getting ten or 11 completely different plans.
A: And that would result in over-regulation and an increase in transaction costs although the whole point of this is to minimize and optimize the costs of running the fund — which is why CPP is good model.

CPP is viewed as one of the best universal, mandatory state-sponsored pension plans in the world. It would be a shame for us to have to rely on province-by-province, patchwork participation in such a scheme.

Also, you know, at the end of the day, this is really something that benefits all Canadians, regardless of what age or generation they are in. One way or the other, taxpayers will be taking care of older Canadians who are poor. It’s better that Canadians have their own resources to take care of themselves; and that’s an optimal use of taxpayer resources.

So, I just really think it’s a good idea, and I really think that this is the ballot question for the upcoming federal election this year. We saw this 50 years ago when CPP was introduced. I believe this year there will be a renaissance of that issue.

Q: Thanks, Ari. It was great to talk to you.
A: My pleasure, Sheryl. Be well.

—–
This is an edited version of the podcast posted above which was recorded on February 3, 2014.

BOOK REVIEW: More money for beer and textbooks

4 Sep

By Sheryl Smolkin

4Sep-moremoneyforbeer

 

“More Money for Beer and Textbooks” by Kyle Prevost and Justin Bouchard is 200 easy-to-read and digest pages of down-to-earth advice about how to finance a post-secondary education without going into massive debt. And the authors do not advocate living an austere party-free existence.

Both are in their mid-twenties and graduated from the University of Manitoba. Kyle is a high school teacher and Justin is the Dean of Residence at St. John’s College on the University of Manitoba Campus. They also blog at myuniversitymoney.com and  youngandthrifty.ca.

They recognize how difficult it is to get a high school or university student to sit down and read a book that won’t be on a final exam — particularly a personal finance book!

That’s why instead of counselling extreme frugality, they look at post-secondary education from the perspective of two guys who wish they knew then, what they know now. They figure they would each be at least $5,000 richer if they had taken their own advice.

They start off by comparing the cost of four years of school living away from home (about $80,000) to living at home (about $34,000). They also run the numbers for a two year college degree ($30,000 vs. $11,000). Nevertheless, they conclude that higher education is and will continue to be an excellent investment in an information-based economy.

When evaluating whether going away to school is a worthwhile investment, they weigh the pros and cons of on and off campus living for students.

One interesting living option proposed is for parents with more than one child attending the same school to consider buying a house with additional bedrooms for renters to help defray the mortgage costs. Prohibitive housing costs in cities like Vancouver or Toronto may make this idea impractical, but it could be a workable solution in smaller college towns.

For kids or their parents who think Canada and provincial student loans are the answer, the comprehensive section on applying and qualifying for student loans and paying them back is an eye opener.

The application process is so complex, the book gives a checklist of 16 types of information to have available before even beginning to complete the online form. And depending on parental income, it is assumed that the Bank of Mom & Dad will make a major contribution to school costs.

Repayment of student loans doesn’t start until six months after the end of university, but interest starts accruing at the end of the final semester. Former students can opt for a variable interest rate of prime plus 2.5% or a fixed interest rate of prime plus 5%. A bankruptcy will not wipe the slate clean but a Repayment Assistance Plan is available in limited circumstances.

The chapter on scholarships and bursaries reveals the surprising fact that every year in Canada about $7-million in free money earmarked for post-secondary education goes unclaimed. There are lots of great suggestions about where to find scholarships and12 scholarship tips anyone can use.

For example, the authors say don’t just Google “scholarships” and apply for the top three like everyone else. The people who really succeed in the realm of scholarships are those who apply EVERYWHERE.

Too much trouble?

Most scholarship applications are similar and once a student has applied to several, he/she can cut and paste the rest with a little creative tweaking. And if the application process is really complicated, the odds are the applicant won’t have much competition.

There are also lots of good illustrations of how scholarship applicants can market themselves. For example, a former McDonald’s employee can emphasize the positive by describing the experience as “building practical business and communications skills in an entry-level position while learning how to contribute positively to building a team atmosphere.”

Providing references with a summary of activities and attributes they may not be fully aware of is another great suggestion that could result in detailed and glowing letters of support for scholarship applications.

Trying to keep costs down while still having a good time?

Kyle and Justin suggest students drink at home instead of in a bar to improve their “booze-to-dollar” ratio. They can also score free soft drinks and save money each time they offer to be the designated driver. For those with the space and inclination, they even suggest making homemade beer or wine can as another way to minimize cash spent on alcohol!

Other chapters deal with summer jobs, student tax returns, credit cards, budgeting basics and the importance of choosing an “in demand” career.

As both educators and recent graduates, the authors are able to strike the right balance between a breezy presentation and delivering lots of useful information. This book can be the catalyst for important discussions between parents and their college-bound offspring.

More Money for Beer and Textbooks can be purchased for $14.40 online at Chapters.

Kyle Prevost and Justin Bouchard

Kyle Prevost and Justin Bouchard