… contributing as much as $5,500 to your TFSA (Tax Free Savings Account) if you’re Canadian. Launched at this time in 2009 and behaving somewhat like America’s “Roth” IRAs, it’s hard to believe this is already the seventh time you can contribute. By my calculations, that means $36,500 of collective contribution room plus any investment growth. That’s four years at $5,000 and now three years at $5,500: the maximum was boosted by $500 as an inflation adjustment for calendar 2013.
So if you’re one half of a couple, that means $73,000 in joint contribution room, even if you left it in interest-bearing investments paying almost zero. If you’ve been investing mostly in equities (either stocks or equity ETFs), it’s likely your TFSA had reached $40,000 or more by year-end, so it’s quite conceivable that some couples now have close to $100,000 invested in TFSAs between them.
Thursday, Jan. 1 was of course a holiday. While Friday, Jan. 2, 2015 is likely to be a quiet day for most, there’s no reason why you can’t contribute the next $5,500 to your TFSA that day, particularly if you use online banking and/or discount brokerages.
Good place for equity ETFs
What to invest in? In retrospect, those who invested in US investments with unhedged exposure to the US dollar would have done best up till now. Our daughter’s TFSA is more than half invested in US tech stocks and broader ETFs and the exposure to the greenback has boosted her TFSA to several thousand more than our own TFSAs with more exposure to the loonie.
Generally, I think a Couch Potato approach to investing in TFSAs makes the most sense, using broadly based ETFs from firms like Vanguard or iShares. Those closer to retirement may want a healthy exposure to Canadian dividends: foreign dividends will lose a bit of withheld tax in a TFSA and are better held in RRSPs for that reason. But for younger investors it may make sense to hold non-dividend paying US tech stocks in a TFSA for both the extra growth potential and the exposure to a strong US dollar that is showing no signs of weakening.
I still say the TFSA and Roths are the best games in an over-taxed town. While it’s true that many had hoped the 2015 limit would be more than $5,500, remember that unlike RRSPs, you can continue to contribute to TFSAs well past age 70 or 71: in fact, if you live that long you could still be contributing if you’re a hundred or more.
The key is to get the money in there as soon as you can and let it grow. And that means early January each and every year. While I think the benefit is particularly powerful for the young, they should balance the growth potential with debt repayment. There’s not much point in paying close to 20% a year in credit-card interest if you’re only earning 2% interest in a GIC or cash equivalent contained in a TFSA.
In researching the post-Findependence lifestyle, I’ve come across a lot of books that invoke the phrase “Never Work Again” in the title, or variants that suggest much the same thing. There is, for example, a free e-book with that precise title (shown on the left) but you soon discover that these kinds of books equate the word “Work” with the corporate 9 to 5 routine.
Most of them, like the Tim Ferriss book we looked at earlier this summer, involve leveraging the Internet to create a mobile lifestyle that can earn money anywhere in the world. Other examples are The Laptop Millionaire and Click Millionaires. In the case of Erland Bakke, author of the book shown at the top, if you follow your passion and the money eventually follows, this is no longer defined as “work,” even though for all intents and purposes it is.
These books propose business ownership and the pursuit of multiple clients and at some point leverage their personal time to either employ one or more assistants, or to outsource various pieces of “work” that one either lacks the skills for (like web-site development) or lacks the inclination to focus on.
Better to sell products than time
The fundamental decision is whether to continue to sell one’s time – this is what salaried employees do, as do “one-man band” freelancers – or to pursue the sale of products. The latter route, whether of tangible products or web-based information products, contains the seeds of potentially greater wealth, but of course requires a lot of upfront-time, energy and often capital in order to establish the infrastructure that will later deliver a sort of “freedom.”
I’d still call this work, even if it’s the supposedly glamorous field of “internet marketing.” Certainly, the covers of these books and e-books suggest the hybrid nature of this lifestyle. Typical are the two covers I’ve used to illustrate this blog: you see someone lounging on a beach somewhere – we’ve probably run versions of this idyllic scene in various “Retirement” covers in MoneySense – but instead of the lounger languidly sipping a pina colada and reading a trashy paperback, we see instead a laptop computer perched on their stomach. They are in fact “working,” however idyllic the environment, not unlike the photo I ran of myself “lazing” in the back yard in this blog earlier in the summer.
Working and Living become intertwined
Far from “stop working, start living,” (to borrow from the title of Dianne Nahirny’s book on early retirement), the philosophy of these books is to combine living with working, taking advantage of the global infrastructure of the World Wide Web to engage in money-making activities anywhere in the world.
Personally, I envisage such activity as a supplement to the traditional sources of “retirement” income we write about regularly in MoneySense. My faith in the stock market was shaken sufficiently by the events of 2008 that I’d be reluctant to count exclusively on dividend income, however diversified the portfolio. And we all know that the phenomenon of “financial repression” practiced by the world’s central banks has conspired to keep interest rates low for the foreseeable future, which makes counting on highly taxed interest income from fixed-income investments equally dodgy. If I were a real estate tycoon, which I am not, I’d want to add rental income. As I am not, I envisage some combination of selling my editorial services and creating new web-based products. These blogs will continue to report on this adventure as time goes on.
A belated Happy New Year to all readers and a reminder that every adult Canadian can take a big step this week towards their ultimate financial independence. I refer of course to the fact we can all contribute another $5,500 to our Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs), bringing the total cumulative room to $25,500 (going back to the program’s launch in 2009). For the benefit of any American readers, Canada’s TFSA is the equivalent of the U.S. Roth plans, albeit with different rules.
In other words, if you acted at this time each year, you’d have contributed $5,000 in each of 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Now that it’s 2013, the annual limit has been raised to $5,500, the first time the limit has been adjusted to accommodate inflation.
Of course, assuming you invested wisely in each of those years, your balance should by now be well north of $25,500, and in some cases may have grown past $30,000.
TFSAs a particular boon for young people
I truly believe that maximizing the TFSA is the single biggest step Canadians can take in their quest for financial freedom. As we noted in Julie Cazzin’s “Make Your Child a Millionaire” feature in the current issue of MoneySense, the TFSA is especially a boon to young people because they have such a long investment time horizon ahead of them.
Unlike RRSPs, which require earned income the prior year, an 18 year old can qualify for the full TFSA $5,500 limit this year (they may need parental assistance to come up with the money, but that’s permitted by the rules. Think of it as a tax-effective early inheritance!). Not only that, but they can contribute to TFSAs well into old age, unlike RRSPs, which end after age 71. You better believe that half a century of maximizing TFSAs and investing wisely will mean multi-millions down the road.
Do this right from the get-go and you may not even have to worry about RRSP contributions, although those in higher tax brackets should probably do both.
But how to invest wisely? For the young in particular, but also older people seeking income, I think equities are the only way to go in TFSAs, especially with interest rates being so low as they are now.
I’m all for international investing but if you already have lots of RRSP contribution room, I’d use the RRSP for US dividend-paying stocks, since the tax treaty shelters Canadians from the 15% foreign withholding tax.
Despite the “tax-free” moniker, TFSAs won’t stop you from being dinged by that tax on foreign securities. For this reason, I like TFSAs for Canadian dividend-paying stocks. Yes, I realize the dividend tax credit makes Canadian dividends a good choice for non-registered (taxable) accounts, since the tax is roughly half what it is on interest income. However, Canadian dividends also result in the annoying “gross-up” calculation come tax-time, and such phantom dividend income can ultimately hurt you on the OAS clawback. And to me, zero tax is preferable to even a “low” rate of tax, especially if you plan to reinvest those dividends.
Canadian Dividend ETFs are my choice
For all these reasons, my personal choice for TFSAs this year are Canadian dividend-paying ETFs. A year ago, when it was part of the Claymore family, I publicly stated that the iShares S&P/TSX Canadian Dividend Aristocrats Index Fund (CDZ/TSX) was a tempting choice, at least for those who already have plenty of exposure to the big Canadian banks. To be included in that index a stock has to be a common stock or income trust listed on the TSE and have increased dividends for at least five consecutive years.
This year, there is a valid new alternative from Vanguard Canada: the Vanguard FTSE Canadian High Dividend Yield Index ETF (VDY/TSX). The management fee on VDY is just 0.30%, half the 0.60% of CDZ. (MER is 0.67%, we don’t yet know what VDY’s MER will be). But keep in mind that VDY amounts to a big bet on the major banks: a whopping 59% of the ETF is in Canadian financials and in fact the top four holdings are all the big banks. CDZ has much less exposure to financials (just 21%) and minimal exposure to the big six banks in particular.
Half and half is one compromise
One way to go might be to split your contribution between both ETFs: say $2,750 in each. Remember, though, this assumes you have plenty of US and foreign stock exposure in your RRSP. Younger people for whom the TFSA comprises the lion’s share of their wealth should strive for plenty of US and foreign stock exposure through similar types of ETFs. We’ll be looking in depth at these in the next issue of MoneySense, currently in production.