To all readers of FindependenceDay.com, we wish a very happy — and Findependent! –2016.
A reminder that as of January 1st, 2016, you can contribute a further $5,500 to your Tax-free Savings Account or TFSA. That’s the first thing they remind you of at RBC Direct Investing, one of the main two financial institutions our family uses.
I have to admit that personally I’ve made no formal list of New Year’s Resolutions, although I have declared that I’d like to take my stress levels down a tad, perhaps by using the word “No” a little more often. We’ll see.
In the meantime, for a good formal list of financial New Year’s Resolutions, the Financial Post’s Angela Hickman recently published a good starting point. Click on Five financial resolutions for 2016, and how to (really) make them happen.
Below, I’ve taken the liberty of summarizing the 5 points. Again, click the red link above for the full piece.
1.) I resolve to figure out my finances
2. I resolve to stick to a budget
3. ) I resolve to get out of debt
4.) I resolve to save more
5.) I resolve to stop wasting money
These are all valid suggestions and especially useful for younger folks for whom financial independence is still a faraway goal.
7 eternal truths can also become New Year’s Resolutions
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Below is the jointly written article that ran last week at the Hub:
TFSAs let you earn investment income—including interest, dividends and capital gains—tax free.
The federal government first made the Tax-free Savings Account (TFSA) available to Canadian investors in January 2009. These accounts let you earn investment income — including interest, dividends and capital gains — tax free. You could contribute $5,000 in 2009 to start your Tax-free Savings Account.
Every year until 2013, you could contribute an additional $5,000 to your TFSA. If you contribute less than the maximum to your TFSA in any given year, you can carry the difference forward. That means your TFSA contributions for 2009 and 2010 totalled $10,000, rising to $15,000 in 2011, $20,000 in 2012 and so on.
As of January 1, 2013 the annual contribution limit increased to $5,500, in line with the initial promise to adjust limits with rising inflation. It remains at $5,500 for 2015. That means that if you haven’t contributed yet (and were 18 years or older in 2009) you can now contribute up to $36,500. At some point, once the federal books are balanced, the Conservative government is on record that it will boost the annual TFSA limit to $10,000.
Use your TFSA to complement your RRSP.
Generally speaking, your TFSA can hold the same investments as an RRSP. This includes cash, mutual funds, publicly traded stocks, GICs and bonds.
Contributions are not tax deductible, as they are with an RRSP. However, unlike withdrawals from RRSPs (or withdrawals for RRIFs to which most RRSPs are converted), withdrawals from a TFSA are not taxed. In this respect, RRSPs and TFSAs are mirror images of each other in the way they impact your taxes.
This makes the TFSA a good vehicle for more short-term savings goals, like saving up for a down payment on a first home. If funds are limited, you may need to choose between RRSP and TFSA contributions. RRSPs may be the better choice in years of high income when you’re in the top tax brackets, since RRSP contributions are deductible from your taxable income. In years of low or no income — such as when you’re in school, beginning your career or between jobs — TFSAs may be the better choice.
Investing in a TFSA in low-income years will provide a real benefit in retirement. When you’re retired, you can draw down your TFSA first, incurring zero tax liabilities. After that, you can begin making taxable RRSP withdrawals.
Hold low-risk investments in your TFSA. Read more
… 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.
For more, see my latest MoneySense blog just posted here.
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.