Part 2 of Money on Trees Q&A on Financial Independence

Part 2 of the question-and-answer session with Money on Trees has been posted, here.

Part 1 went up last week, here.

In both cases, the focus is heavily on young people getting started in the working world and how they can establish early the habits that will lead to ultimate “findependence.”

Financial Independence Q&A with Money on Trees

Here’s a Q&A about Financial Independence conducted with Money on Trees. The first part of the interview was posted Thursday morning here, with the second part scheduled for next Tuesday.

Note that I’ll be giving a similar talk about Findependence, real estate and personal finance tonight in Brampton (Pearson Convention Center) for the Real Estate Investment Network (REIN). REIN members attending will receive an e-book version of the MoneySense Beginner’s Guide to Personal Finance, plus the just-published April issue of the magazine, and possibly a copy of Findependence Day.

Interview with Dale Pinkert

Here’s a 20-minute audio interview conducted Friday with Dale Pinkert of FXStreet’s Live Analysis Room.

The chat touches on findependence, global currencies, central bank money printing and gold, currency hedging by investors in various countries, the loonie vs the US dollar, the need for portfolio rebalancing, MoneySense magazine, the aging of the baby boomers, the views of Harry Dent Jr. and Currency Wars author James Rickard, and more:

Click here to listen.

 

 

What you should do this weekend

While taxes don’t have to be filed until April 30th, I always like to do a preliminary runthrough with TurboTax (formerly QuickTax) before the end of February. When I did this a few days ago, I was glad I did because I discovered I had a bit more RRSP contribution room than I’d guestimated, and I still had time to act before Monday’s March 3rd RRSP deadline.

In my case, I contribute regularly through a group RRSP at work, so I don’t normally regard the looming RRSP deadline with any trepidation. But if you’re in employer sponsored pensions, Pension Adjustments may vary up and down. You really don’t know the precise RRSP room until you get your Notice of Assessment after filing the prior year’s taxes.

Don’t file until second week of April

By now, you should have received your T-4 slips and most RRSP receipts, which is sufficient for the purpose of a preliminary runthrough. I like to use the online edition of TurboTax, which makes it easy to carry forward your information from the prior year, including RRSP contributions and unused room from prior years. If you also use an online discount broker, you can make an RRSP contribution easily online, just by transferring funds into your RRSP account: that should generate the needed RRSP receipt that you will use to back up your claim: you still have two months for that receipt to arrive and to finish inputting other data into your return — T5s,T3s and the like can be expected to dribble in until the end of March and first week of April, which is why I always hold off actually filing (NetFiling) until the second week of April. If you have significant non-registered (taxable) investments, you may as well wait till then as well: filing adjustments after the fact would just be an unnecessary hassle.

But do the preliminary work this weekend, just in case you miscalculated RRSP room and while you still have time to rectify the situation. I’m glad I did, because there was $1,400 of unexpected extra room. Remember too that there’s $2,000 worth of overcontribution leeway just because people do make these kinds of miscalculations or errors. I don’t deliberately overcontribute that much but if you’re in the opposite situation as I was — making too high rather than too low contributions — it’s nice to have a little flexibility.

TFSAs our number 1 tax shelter

One of the first acts of the new year for our family was topping up our Tax Free Savings Accounts or TFSAs. You’ll see a number of TFSA stories running this week on the MoneySense.ca web site, some of them from the most recent edition of MoneySense magazine, which I edit. Julie Cazzin’s feature story on the Great TFSA Race should whet your appetite on the potential of this vehicle, with the winner racking up an incredible $300,000 in his TFSA, and runnerups at $72,212 and $61,700.

Of course, such returns can come only from capital gains on shrewdly picked stocks, and probably concentrated positions in relatively risky smaller stocks. If you make the mistake of parking your TFSA in GICs or some version of cash, your growth will be negligible. Assuming you put in $5,000 in January 2009 and maxed out every year thereafter, with $5,500 a year ago and $5,500 early in 2014, you would now have $31,000 cumulative contribution room: six years worth. Of course, if you’re one half of a couple, then your spouse also has $31,000 room for a combined $62,000. That’s what I would call significant money: enough to buy a luxury new car or to put a down payment on a first home.

TFSAs are too good to use on spending

However, the tax allure of TFSAs is such that it seems a terrible shame to have to actually spend the money, when its potential to grow into a huge nest egg is such an enticing alternative. Fortunately, the bitter pill of breaking into capital is sweetened somewhat by the fact you can replenish the TFSA, so you’re not actually losing contribution room. Because you can’t repay until the following year, however, you’ll keep more tax-free growth by cashing out towards the end of a calendar year, rather than early in the new year.

Note that in the case of the big winners of the TFSA Race, the bigger the TFSA when you cash out, the more contribution room you’ll eventually have when you recontribute. So in the case of Jim Nykyforuk, if he were to take his entire $300,000 out this year, in 2015 he’d be able to recontribute the same $300,000, plus of course the new $5,500 room he and everyone will qualify for by January 2015.

Those are big numbers but as I wrote in the editor’s note for the current issue (Dec/Jan 2014), it’s unlikely that most TFSAs will have grown anywhere near that much, even if they are in stocks. The risk-takers who won the contest had plenty of other money in other vehicles and they were willing to risk the TFSA capital for a big win, fully understanding it’s as easy to strike out as hit a grand-slam home run.

Diversified equities more prudent

I wouldn’t even recommend that most people emulate those aggressive strategies. From my correspondence with the kind of readers who gravitate to a “Couch Potato” portfolio so often seen in the pages of MoneySense, a typical all-equity TFSA would have grown from the original $25,500 contribution room to somewhere in the low $30,000 range at the end of 2013. In our family, for example, our TFSAs ranged from $32,000 to $34,000 and as of the January 2014 top-up would be just shy of $40,000 each. (This includes our daughter, whose aggressive investing strategy was unveiled in MoneySense in an earlier feature by Julie: How TFSAs can make your child a millionaire; Dec/Jan 2013)

The temptation to dip into such growing nest eggs must be considerable for younger people but when you consider the power of tax-free compounding, I’d still urge most to keep their hands off their TFSA for 30 or 40 years. Yes, those who have maxed out to this point now have enough to buy a brand new car, but I’d urge them to instead go with a used vehicle or take advantage of zero financing or ultra low interest rate deals on new cars. The other big temptation would be to dip into TFSAs for a down payment on a home but here again, I’d look first at the Home Buyer’s Plan provision of RRSPs first, or perhaps hit parents up for a down payment.

TFSAs should be priority for those with modest incomes

I’d think most MoneySense readers are in a position to do BOTH an RRSP AND a TFSA contribution but for those who aren’t, the TFSA should probably get the nod. If you can’t do both, odds are your income is relatively modest, in which case you may be in a lower tax bracket, which in turn makes the RRSP argument less compelling. By the same token, if your salary is relatively low and you want to maximize future sources of government retirement income like Old Age Security and/or the Guaranteed Income Supplement, then again the TFSA is compelling: all withdrawals will be totally tax free and not trigger dreaded “clawbacks” of OAS or GIS. Say you’re currently 47 years old and have $10,000 saved in a TFSA. In 20 years, you could contribute $5,500 20 times, for another $110,000 (and probably more if the government keeps adjusting the limit to inflation.) Even if growth was negligible because it’s invested in laddered 5-year GICs or a bond ETF equivalent, let’s assume you can get 2.5% interest (a figure that will likely be much higher 20 years from now.)

Even with no employer pension or other sources of income, someone living on some combination of CPP, OAS and GIS taken at age 67 would be able to generate some $3,250 a year of safe interest income from a nest egg that (conservatively) might have grown to $130,000 over that time. That’s almost $300 a month, guaranteed and tax free.

If you put it into Canadian blue chip stocks, you’d have a much bigger nest egg but either way, it’s nice to have an emergency fund and a source of regular income that’s independent of what government authorities provide — my idea of a modicum of financial independence even for those with modest means. Yes, I realize it’s tough for some to put aside even $5,500: if that’s the case, then at least shoot for $2,000 or $3,000 a year, even if it means going without expendable luxuries like alcohol, tobacco, fine dining, lottery tickets or even the much maligned daily latte habit at your local coffee shop. Find just $50 a week for your future and you’ll be on your way!

As for dual-income couples making good money, to me it’s a no-brainer that the TFSA should be maximized each and every year, and managed for maximum (or balanced) growth. The moment you make your January contribution, you should start accruing for the next year’s installment, even if it means parking in short-term cash vehicles and paying a little tax for the balance of the calendar year.

 

 

 

The new American dream: Living debt-free and attaining findependence

bookwithelecsignConventionally, the American dream refers to a well-paid job, a family of two or three children and a new home along with a sturdy retirement nest egg. However, the impact of the economic meltdown as well as over trillion dollar student loan debt has left many to reconsider that dream. They are now introspecting a lot about the reasons for their own financial plight. Moreover, they are looking for ways to resolve the issues that plague their financial independence or “findependence.”

A new survey by Credit.com and GfK Custom Research found 25% of respondents defined their version of the American dream as being able to lead a debt-free life. Such a response comes second only to the definition of becoming financially stable by the time one reaches the age of 65.

This answer came mostly from the group who belong to the retirement age of 65 or above. In addition, 18% of the survey participants have responded that they dream to buy a house of their own, while 7% want to opt for higher studies and pay off their education loans.

Despite the continuous grim economic outlook, people are positive regarding their ability to fulfill their customized American dream. Another survey by Credit.com has revealed that 54% have a belief they are about to fulfill their dream, while another 24% declared they have already attained it. This summed up to a total of 78% who were affirmative about their retirement prospects.

The advantages of being findependent

Post the the Great Recession of 2008, Americans have chosen a path that is not wrought with underwater-mortgages, overwhelming credit card balances, tedious car loans and multiple lines of student loans.

Instead, their new road leads them to a life that is debt-free – where they’re no longer burdened with an exhausting budget, a dreadful mailbox and life that’s controlled by the debt collectors and spiralling interest rates.

There are numerous benefits to living debt-free that would entice anyone living on the edge of bankruptcy to start following a debt management  strategy to get rid of his or her financial woes. Some are as follows:

Reduced interest charges – CreditCards.com has said that, on an average, rate of interest on credit cards is 14.95%. The average credit card debt for the consumer carrying a balance is almost $5,000. So, a lot of interest is paid by people that is also weighing down their monthly budgets. However, these are just the averages. For people with bad credit histories, the rate of interest could be several notches higher. Hence, being debt-free allows you to steer clear of wasting your hard-earned money on interests that would leave little tangible benefit for you to use at a later stage.

Increased retirement fund – According to a combined statistical data compiled by the Federal Reserve, the U.S Census Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of 2012, 25% of American households do not have any savings whatsoever. What’s more surprising is the average retirement fund is only $35,000. Indeed, avoiding sky-high interest debts could leave these people with more disposable income. It isn’t difficult to understand there are numerous ways to dodge long-term debt.

More, they could even find out the ways to direct their income as well as increase their savings at the end of it all. The bottom line is the absence of monthly bills with exorbitant interest lets you save all the more aggressively for retirement, home purchase, college and even build up an emergency fund.

Finally, that one benefit sought by everyone is complete solace and peace of mind. Hence, being debt free and attaining financial independence would translate into a life with less worries. These are a few of the advantages of findependence that you cannot support with a survey report or reflect through statistics.

 This blog was written by Zindaida Grace, a financial writer and researcher associated with the Oak View Law Group.  

 

 

How to find a fee-for-service planner

What I call the “Findependence Day Model” dervived from the book is simply the combination of three things.

All three deal with cutting investment costs or brokerage costs. The first is using a discount brokerage to make your own trades, typically at $10 per transaction. The second is to take advantage of broadly diversified, tax-efficient and low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which can also be purchased at a discount brokerage.

And the third is to use a fee-for-service financial planner, that is, a planner whose services are billed either by time (usually by the hour) or by the project (as in a one-time financial plan) but NOT via annual fees levied as a percentage of client assets under management. The problem with the latter is it gets prohibitively expensive as wealth grows, unless the fees are tapered down accordingly. I recently heard from a reader complaining that a 1% fee on a $4 million portfolio cost $40,000 a year — an amount many people could live on. Clearly in such case, you should negotiate a lower fee: say 0.5% for starters, or look for another firm that will negotiate, or go the DIY route described in this blog and find a true fee-for-service planner.

What the heck does “fee-only” really mean?

Note there is much confusion over the term “fee-only.” As Preet Banerjee writes in the current issue of MoneySense — here — the term fee-only does not necessarily mean fee-for-service. All that fee-only means is that it is NOT old-time commission-based, levying commissions per transaction. In fact, commission-based is not that bad a deal, particularly if you’re a buy-and-hold investor.

Sadly, many journalists and even advisers themselves have used the term “fee-only” when they really were referring to fee-for-service. As a result of the definition used in the US NAPFA, an asset-based financial planner (like the one charging our reader 1% of a $4 million portfolio) is well within their rights to refer to themselves as “fee-only.” Fee-only can mean EITHER  fee-for-service OR asset-based financial planning, rendering it almost meaningless. And mea culpa, even in the two editions of Findependence Day, I use the term fee-only when I should have used “fee-for-service.” Future editions will fix that and editions of MoneySense magazine will going forward make this distinction clear.

MoneySense’s new Fee-for-Service online directory

Because of this, we at MoneySense have revamped the previous online directory of “fee-only” planners. Click here for the new directory, or rather TWO directories: one for true fee-for-service (i.e. by hourly or project billing) and one for financial planners who are primarily asset-based (at least 60% of revenues) but who do offer clients the option of time-based or fee-for-service billing.

I might add that other aspects of the Findependence Day model have also been rolled out in MoneySense throughout the year 2013. Our Feb/March issue on RRSPs introduced the ETF All-.Stars, which will be revisited in the Feb/March 2014 issue. And our June 2013 issue introduced MoneySense’s first survey of Canada’s best discount brokerages, a second version of which will run next summer. Both features were written by MoneySense editor at large Dan Bortolotti, more about which can be found below.

For those who missed those two issues of the magazine, here’s a tip. It costs only $20 a year to subscribe to MoneySense magazine (7 issues), which also gets you free access to the web site at MoneySense.ca PLUS the iPad edition. We recently went behind a paywall (or technically a pay fence) but the iPad edition also gives you the back issues, including the ones mentioned above and in fact all the issues since I became editor starting with the June 2012 issue.

Upcoming iShares educational event in partnership with MoneySense

Finally, those in the greater Toronto area may find an event coming Saturday, November 16th of interest. Dan, mentioned above and pictured on the left, will be talking about ETFs and portfolio construction along with “Ask MoneySense” columnist and broadcaster Bruce Sellery, and various iShares ETF experts from BlackRock Canada . Dan will be taking readers through some of the concepts I’ve described above, as outlined in the book he authored for the magazine: the MoneySense Guide to the Perfect Portfolio, copies of which will be given away at the event, along with the current issue of the magazine, parking and breakfast. (more than recouping the $25 charge).

I might add that Dan is in the process of becoming a financial planner himself. He is already working with PWL Capital, whose firm is listed in the new directory as primarily asset-based. Dan himself is in the fee-for-service camp.

Details for the iShares/MoneySense event can be found here.

 

Findependence Day for Teens

I’ve not previously given this site over to guest bloggers before but I really liked the concept of Findependence Day for Teens, so I’m happy to run this piece by Dave Landry Jr., a debt relief counsellor who recently has begun to blog. Over to you, Dave!

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Findpendence Day for Teens

By Dave Landry Jr.

It’s doubtful many teenagers think about financial independence. After all, middle age, not to mention old age, is as far away as it can be and the idea of saving for the future when you have so much of it in front of you doesn’t seem like a priority. Of course, this doesn’t mean that many teenagers don’t plan their financial futures, but it does mean that all of them should. The reasoning is the same for a teenager as it is for an adult: Namely, the sooner you begin planning for your findependence day, the sooner you can achieve it. And believe it or not there are many things that most teenagers can start doing right away to ensure that their financial independence comes sooner rather than later.

1.) Stay out of debt. Since it’s doubtful you’ll have the income to put down a payment on a house, what we’re talking about here is consumer debt; most specifically, credit cards. If you do take out credit cards, pay off your minimum balances each month and plan ahead for spending in large amounts. Should one fall into debt’s way, there are services available that can assist in managing the situation and ease the transition of filing for bankruptcy or consolidating.

Of course, even if you are forced to make a large purchase on a credit card that you cannot pay back immediately or maybe you even wish to bump your credit score up by maintaining a balance for a short period then you can still stay out of debt by planning ahead. Just make sure you give yourself the shortest period of time to pay it off. You may realize what an interest rate is, but make sure you understand the implications of one and how it alters the repayment period of your temporary loan.

2.) Begin building your cash cushion. Keep some of your money in a savings account that you don’t touch except to make deposits. At this point, you may not think you’ll save a lot but you’d be surprised how money can accumulate once you plan ahead. You may want to go with a traditional savings account for this but do remember that there are alternatives. A certificate of deposit (CD in the USA) or Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC in Canada) won’t let you touch your money for a period of time but if you don’t need access to it then this is a safe and easy way to let your money start making money for you.

Mostly though, developing the practice of saving money in any form is what you’re after. Make sure you try doing it as a percentage of your income instead of a lump dollar amount. This will ensure that when you work jobs with higher income in the future, your savings rate will remain similar in your mind but the total amount saved will be significantly larger.

3.) Invest if you can. If you have extra money and want to begin investing, then there is a lot to consider. The safest bets might be with government bonds, municipal bonds, and even corporate bonds. Each one has its own sets of risks and rewards, so doing your homework is important. Also, consider mutual funds. There is tremendous diversity with mutual funds and what’s better they can begin exposing you to the stock market. This means that you can begin building small cash surpluses while you learn what to do with them in the future.

4.) Account for college. Take your future school costs into consideration now before you take out student loans. By understanding what taking out a loan entails and by utilizing a budget before you ever go to school you can avoid the burden of significant student loan debt and the lack of a plan to repay it. More than anything, what you’re building in your teenage years are good habits. And just as this is true in social settings, professional settings, and educational settings, it can also be true of you financial future.

 

Dave Landry Jr. is a personal finance manager and debt relief counselor who has only recently started blogging to share his expertise on those matters and more. He hopes that you enjoy this article.

 

Toginet Radio interview with Steve Jorgenson

togonet_logo.jpgHere is a 15-minute Internet interview about Findependence Day with Toginet Radio’s Steve Jorgenson, which aired this morning (Sunday, August 18th).

It you have difficulty accessing the clip, just go to Toginet.com and check the schedule for Sunday, August 18th: the 11 am time slot. It’s under Recent Shows over to the right.

The clip contains interviews with three authors: the Findependence Day interview with me is the second of three, and you can go directly to about the 19.48 minute mark on iTunes if you don’t have time to listen to them all.

The host does a nice job in teasing out where the name Findependence came from, to explain what the expression “Freedom, Not Stuff” means, the need for financial literacy, the difference between retirement and findependence and other things.

Why Findependence is a Better Goal than Retirement

Here’s a guest blog I wrote that’s just published on the Retirement and Good Living site, a boomer lifestyle site whose audience is 75-80% American with the balance Canadian. The theme is of course why, especially for younger folk, Financial Independence may be a more accessible, less threatening goal than traditional Retirement. The link is here.

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