Tag Archives: Vancouver

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.

Dec 14: Best from the blogosphere

14 Dec

By Sheryl Smolkin

I’ve been thinking about the cost of health and long term care a lot lately because my 88- year old Mom recently had a bad fall and cracked five ribs. She is recovering at home but she is in a lot of pain, and requires 24/7 care for the foreseeable future.

The plan has always been to keep her in her own apartment as long as possible. Fortunately her wonderful, privately-paid caregiver (a registered practical nurse) who normally works 40 hours/week has virtually moved in and is helping us to take excellent care of her. But as costs mount up over the short run, we are beginning to wonder if this will be a luxury she soon can’t afford.

Access to public resources varies across the country, but in Thornhill, Ontario where she lives , I’ve been told that a maximum of one hour a day (and most probably only two hours a week) will be offered to her on the government dime. But I’m grateful that 22 in-house physiotherapy sessions to get her up and moving better and train her to avoid future falls have been approved.

So if health and long-term care are not in your retirement planning radar yet, I have put together a few recent articles that may get you thinking about what you can expect.

On Retire Happy, Donna McCaw writes about Your Health in Retirement: Asking for Help. She cites staggering statistics from the Vancouver based Canadian Men’s Health Foundation about men and heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, alcohol-related deaths as well as suicide. She interviewed recently-retired men who made it their first priority to get healthy and get rid of their “ring around the waist” by embracing fitness and learning to eat healthy.

Life after retirement: Health care costs require careful planning in the Financial Post is by Audrey Miller, the Managing Director of  http://www.eldercaring.ca/. She cites home care costs by the week and by the year (albeit in Ontario) and says as family members and professionals, we need to be better prepared. The cost of care is only going to become more expensive, especially as our public and private resources are reduced. Not only will we soon have more seniors than young people under 15, but our pool of those who are willing to be paid to do this work will also become smaller.

The coming health benefits shock for retirees by Adam Mayers at the Toronto Star reminds us that contrary to what many people believe, glasses, drugs and nursing homes will not in most cases be paid for by our universal health care. He quotes Kevin Dougherty, president of Sun Life Financial Canada who says one reason for the disconnect may be that we form an opinion of the health system through our use of it. Most of us are covered by workplace health plans and we don’t need much from these plans during our earlier years, and into middle age what we do need is covered.

Navigating Retirement healthcare is a comprehensive report from CIBC Wood Gundy discussing health care cost considerations in retirement. The study notes that long-term care is classified as an extended healthcare service under the Canada Health Act but the role of publicly-funded LTC facilities is changing as provincial governments limit the expansion of these facilities by reducing the number of registered nurses, maintaining or decreasing the number of available beds, and tightening the qualifications for acceptance into a facility.

Even if these policies were reversed, an individual’s current wait time of one year will likely increase unless significant expansion of the LTC provision occurs. The result is that a greater number of seniors are paying to enter more expensive for-profit private or semi-private facilities that can cost up to $7,000 or more a month.

Finally, Long-term care costs in Saskatchewan 2014 by Sun Life discusses how residential facilities, retirement homes/residences, government-subsidized home care, adult day care and private home care operate. Government subsidized options including home care are administered by the Regional Health Authority (RHA). As RHA resources are limited, many seniors don’t get the care they need from RHA services and have to rely on private home care services. The provincial tariff for skilled nursing ranges from $42-$70/hour while 24 hour live-in care can cost from $21-30/hr.

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 with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Greg Hurst: Federal Consultations on Voluntary CPP

3 Sep

By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen

Click here to listen

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.

Feb 2: Best from the blogosphere

2 Feb

By Sheryl Smolkin

It was the dead of winter in my neck of the woods last week, but that didn’t stop bloggers and personal finance writers across the country from writing and tweeting to stay warm. In particular, the blogosphere was buzzing about the “first world problems” of Vancouver couple  Eric and Ilsa (a doctor and a dentist) with five kids and earning potential of $450,000/year who can’t make the numbers work to build a house in pricey Vancouver.

In a disconcerting column in the Globe and Mail, Gail Johnson wrote about every homeowner’s worst nightmare. Fred Weekley, the mayor of the district of Katepwa Beach in Saskatchewan managed to intercept a fraudulent transfer of the title of his family home, but others seniors with paid up homes have not been so lucky.

On MoneyWise, Sean Cooper wrote Turning an RSP Into Income: My Mom’s Story. Like many baby boomers, Maureen found herself ‘house rich, cash poor’. After working so hard to pay down her mortgage she wasn’t too keen on a reverse mortgage, so she sold her house for top dollar and moved to a low maintenance, less costly condo.

Many bloggers make a career out of passing on their tips for living frugally, Barry Choi on Money We Have talks about Money Well Spent for a change. I agree that travel and eating out (if you can afford it) are two of life’s great pleasures. We also have a Kitchen Aid Mixer, but I have never felt the need for a Vitamix.

If you are wondering what the drop in the Bank of Canada’s lending rate to .75% this week could mean for your finances, take a look at Tim Shufelt’s piece in the Globe and Mail The winners and losers following the Bank of Canada’s surprise rate cut.

And for all of you who have been day-dreaming about a new car but realistically need to stick with your current vehicle for a few more years, Stephen Weyman on HowToSaveMoney.ca gives helpful hints on How to make your new car last forever. A good rust-proofing job, finding the right mechanic, knowing how much car repairs should cost and buying your own parts for up to 90% off will help.

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 with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

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