The campaign of Working Canadians to save the $10,000 limit on Tax-free Savings Accounts is really gaining momentum.
We have always known Canadians love their TFSAs for their simplicity, flexibility and as a valuable tool to permit tax-efficient retirement savings.
Just this week our campaign was bolstered by an Angus-Reid public opinion poll, which reveals that the promise by the new federal government to reduce the TFSA limit is opposed by a majority of Canadians. So of the 11 million who have money in a TFSA, more than 5.5 million of them like the higher limit of $10,000 implemented by the Conservative administration earlier this year.
As well they should. The facts have convincingly shown that the justifications the Liberals claim to support the limit reduction – that “TFSAs are mostly a tool for the rich and cost the treasury too much in foregone revenue” – are just plain wrong.
All we want is pension parity for the middle class
When the federal government continues to pour tens of billions of our tax dollars into generous, indexed public-sector pensions every year, it’s hard to swallow the fact that a billion or so “lost” to TFSAs is somehow unacceptable. These public-sector pensions are also grossly underfunded. Read more
Details are still sketchy but both major daily newspapers are reporting a plan by the Conservative Government that would let Canadians boost their payouts from the Canada Pension Plan by letting them voluntarily contribute more.
Whether this constitutes enough federal action to get the much-criticized Ontario government proposal for an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP) overhauled or aborted remains to be seen. All along, it seems, Ontario went out on a limb with ORPP out of frustration that the federal government seemed disinclined to expand the CPP. Certainly an involuntary expansion that would have forced businesses to take on higher payroll expenses would not have been an easy sell but a voluntary scheme is quite a different matter.
Consultations will be held in the summer to flesh out the details, Finance Minister Joe Oliver said in the House of Commons Tuesday. The Globe observes that labor groups and seniors advocates like CARP do not believe that voluntary savings vehicles work and that therefore a mandatory expansion of the CPP is needed to make sure Canadians save enough for retirement.
Oliver sees the voluntary expansion working in concert with the new improved TFSAs as well as Ottawa’s PRPPs (Pooled Registered Pension Plans).
Voluntary CPP expansion makes sense, especially for those who lack true DB pensions
The voluntary expansion of CPP makes sense to me, since — like RRSPs and TFSAs — it involves individual discretion. One attractive thing about the CPP is that it acts like a real inflation-indexed pension, just like the employer sponsored Defined Benefit plans that so many politicians and government workers will be counting on in their old age.
As finance professor and author Moshe Milevsky has argued in the new second edition of his book, PensionIze Your Nest Egg, RRSPs, RRIFs, TFSAs and even Defined Contribution plans (like the PRPP), are not true pension plans but are capital-appreciation plans. In order to get the guarantee of an income for life, they must be converted into life annuities or hybrid vehicles like variable annuities.
In fact, so valuable are government pensions like the CPP and Old Age Security that many near-retirees who lack true DB pensions plan to delay receiving CPP/OAS benefits until their late 60s or age 70, in order to get much bigger payouts of CPP and OAS. The greater your expectations for living to a long and healthy old age, the more valuable true pensions become.
Based on what little we know so far, a voluntary CPP expansion sounds promising but the devil of course is always in the details. If, for example, Ottawa created a mechanism to allocate some portion of severance packages into voluntary extra CPP contributions, that would be a boon to anyone caught in corporate downsizings and mergers. And there are many other ways a more flexible voluntary CPP expansion could be made to work.
My latest MoneySense blog compares the tax-sheltered contribution room available for RRSPs and Individual Pension Plans or IPPs.
For archival purposes and continuity, I reproduce the text below.
Stephen Cheng, Westcoast Actuaries Inc.
A few weeks ago, we looked at the topic of raising RRSP limits. As noted then, it was based on a C.D. Howe Institute report that suggested one possible solution to the alleged retirement crisis was simply to go back to the half-century-plus RRSP and raise contribution limits for the (relatively) few affluent people who are forced to save in taxable accounts because they’ve maxed out on RRSP room.
If you’re at top executive or own your own business and are 40 years of age or older, there may be another way to get the benefits of RRSPs. The Individual Pension Plan or IPP is an employer-provided program that replaces RRSP savings by an employee, says Stephen Cheng, managing director of Vancouver-based Westcoast Actuaries Inc. To be eligible for an IPP, you need to receive pension-eligible T-4 employment income. Self-employment income, partnership income and dividend income are not pension-eligible, Cheng says. So if you own your own business, you’d have to pay yourself a regular salary that generates T-4 employment income.
IPP assets are creditor-proof
One advantage is that all eligible employer contributions are tax-deductible for corporation tax purposes, but won’t be taxable to the employee until the plan starts to generate pension income. Also, if the IPP is in deficit after the three-year actuarial valuation, the employer can top it up with further contributions. In addition, IPP assets are creditor-proof: always a plus for the self-employed; and as with traditional Registered Pension Plans, pension income can be split up to 50% with one’s spouse, for income tax purposes (pension splitting).
Advantage rises with age
The older you are, the more the relative room can be held in an IPP relative to an RRSP. For those in the top tax bracket, the maximum RRSP contribution is currently $24,270, an amount that does not vary by age. However, IPP room gets larger the closer you are to retirement. Maximum IPP contribution room at age 40 is $26,097, rising to $31,488 by age 50, $38,005 at 60 and a whopping $41,282 at age 65. In the latter case, the IPP has a contribution room advantage over the RRSP of a massive $17,012 a year!
Employers can make past service contributions to a new IPP in 2014, Cheng says, providing the employee received pension-eligible T-4 type employment income over the years being calculated. The employee must transfer an amount from his or her personal RRSP into the IPP (since 1997 the maximum transfer amount required for each service year has been $24,330, with lesser amounts between 1991 and 1996). For all years between 1991 and 2013, the combined maximum that can be transferred into an IPP from an RRSP comes to $510,470: just over half a million dollars! If the IPP is set up in 2014, the RRSP deduction limit will be reduced to $600 each year, starting in 2015.
The calculations are not simple but you can find a free customized IPP quote online here.
Up, up and away for RRSP limits? Photo J. Chevreau
As I noted Thursday in this blog and elsewhere, I’ve always believed Canadians should have higher RRSP contribution limits and/or the equivalent space in registered pension plans.
It seems the C.D. Howe Institute agrees, based on this paper released Thursday, and which has already created a fair bit of publicity. I’ve received some email on this site (via firstname.lastname@example.org) to the effect that “only the rich” benefit from more RRSP room and that, in any case, low-income earners are better off with TFSAs.
I’ll quote from some of the skeptics below, but first let me reiterate the point that Ottawa will eventually get any tax revenue it may lose by raising RRSP limits now. As any retiree with a substantial RRIF knows, forced annual RRIF withdrawals will be fully taxable and may even result in the clawback of OAS or other benefits. That’s why some question my statement that higher-income earners should welcome more RRSP room.
Two pluses, one minus
I know those with big RRSPs will eventually pay the piper but remember two things. One, several years or decades of deferred and compounded growth on investments is worth a lot. Second, most of us can expect to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement than when we were working. If you can defer tax while you’re in a 46% tax bracket and pay it many years later when you have no other income and are in a 23% tax bracket, that to me is a fair trade.
A 72-year old reader with the first name James makes the following counterpoints:
… when the other shoe drops and you are withdrawing money, here are the nasty realities:
1. You may be paying higher tax rates than when you put it in! This is true in my case and you do not have to have amassed a huge fortune for that to occur.
2. The whole nasty business of clawback, which has huge potential marginal tax rates.
3. The fact that the government controls the rate at which you reacquire your own money – regardless of your needs and limitations.
Any reform of RRSPs therefore should not only deal with maximum deposit limits but should remove any restriction on the amount and the timing of withdrawals. If I want to leave it in there until I die I should be able to and it can then by taxed in my estate (as a lump sum, which the government would love!) or passed on to one more generation – the spouse.
In the absence of hard numbers on this situation, I tried very hard to come up with my own scenarios using a sophisticated hand-held financial computer, and concluded it was better to collapse my entire RRSP before my 72nd birthday, but I may be on shaky ground without stronger financial planning tools than I had access to.
What if we didn’t tax CPP and OAS benefits?
Another reader, James from British Columbia, makes a suggestion that has occurred to me in the past. Instead of introducing an expanded CPP that will antagonize employers by in effect hiking their payroll costs, why not just make CPP and OAS income go further in old age by not taxing the income?
There could be a means test to apply some tax rate for high income earners, as there is now on OAS, but people who earn under $75,000 per year, for example, would pay no taxes on CPP and OAS benefits.
That simple, stroke-of-the-pen policy change by Ottawa would boost retirees incomes by at least 15% on those sources and not cost a single job. Nor would it require any provincial consensus.
It would cost Ottawa tax revenue, so of course it’s a nonstarter, but it’s not difficult to eliminate the job-killer argument if the federal government really has the will to help low-income retirees.
My take on a C.D. Howe brief issued Thursday on the case for raising RRSP contribution limits can be found in my Financial Post column today here. Also note the many comments that follow the piece, some reflective of the emails I will highlight in Friday’s blog. You can find the full e-brief here.
And in case it’s not clear in the column, I absolutely think this is a good idea: always have. It’s true those with lower incomes may not need RRSPs. TFSAs may be a better solution for them, especially if they want to avoid clawbacks of OAS or GIS in old age. But the vast majority in the middle class who lack employer pension plans (especially the lucrative DB plans) could benefit from higher limits. If, as is likely, they will retire in a lower tax bracket than they were in their high-earning years, then an RRSP is almost a necessity. And as I point out in the piece, since only a minority of Canadians are in a position to max out their RRSPs, it shouldn’t cost Ottawa all that much because of more upfront tax deductions. And unlike the TFSA, which will reap no bonanza for federal coffers on withdrawals, RRIF income will eventually bring in lots of tax revenue for the government once we retire.
Seems like a win-win to me. Stay tuned for more reader feedback tomorrow.