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The coronavirus has created a tremendous financial opportunity for workers with a pension

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Unique opportunities sometimes come in extreme times.

The one detailed below on commuting the value of your pension won’t be an option for many, but for those with the ability to take advantage, it could meaningfully improve their retirement finances for years to come.

This opportunity is based on three fundamental facts.

First, the current or commuted value of your pension is much higher when interest rates on 5 Year Canadian Bonds are low. The five-year bond is trading near historic lows, at 0.57 per cent at the time of writing.

Secondly, you can use the paid-out pension money to buy some very solid long-term Canadian investments with dividend yields of six per cent or more.

Finally, the effective marginal tax rate on Canadian dividends is very low. In Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, you don’t pay any tax on such dividends at $40,000 of taxable income, and only 7.6 per cent at $70,000 of taxable income.

Let’s take a look at each of these facts.

Why low interest rates make your pension worth more today

Canadian money and Why low interest rates make your pension worth more today.This only relates to the one-time value of defined-benefit (DB) pension plans, since defined-contribution plans go up or down in value each month based on the investment value of your account.

Low interest rates can be great for DB plans because they are valued on a specific date — usually monthly. This value is essentially meant to compensate you for what the pension would need to set aside to cover your pension payouts.

Let’s say you needed to get $50,000 a year from a guaranteed investment certificate. If interest rates are 10 per cent, you would need $500,000 invested to generate the $50,000. If interest rates are one per cent, you need $5 million to generate the same amount. Today, the pension plan needs to set aside much more money to ensure it can meet the fixed needs of your lifetime pension.

The value of your pension is made up of several factors. Needing $5 million to generate $50,000 is a very generic example, but the difference could mean getting $250,000 or more on a full mid-level pension if you retire today compared to if you retire when rates are two percentage points higher.

Of particular interest is that pension plan managers do not want you to take the commuted value. They don’t want to lose assets at the best of times, but especially not at the most expensive times when interest rates are low. If they wanted you to take out the cash, they would provide more education to make your decision easier. In our experience, you often have to push hard to get answers to key questions that might help you make better informed decisions.

Keep in mind, too, that with some plans you can make the decision to take the cash instead of the pension right before you retire. With other plans, you have to make the decision to take the commuted value of a pension as early as age 50 or 55. This is an important question to ask your manager.

What to do with a cash payment

One of the keys to making such decisions is to understand that this isn’t play money. This is your retirement pension. You want to invest wisely and lean conservative. If a portfolio won’t do as well as your pension, then you should keep the pension.

We often analyze pensions for clients to determine the break-even point if someone was to live to be 90. This point will depend on whether a pension is fully indexed to inflation, and must account for any other health benefits that might be included.

Having said that, because of the low interest rates at this time, the rate of return required to do better than a pension payout is generally in the range of 2.75 per cent to four per cent today. If the pension funds are invested at, say, a three-per-cent annual return until age 90, and funds are drawn out exactly the same as they would be in a pension, the investments will be worth zero at age 90, the same as they would be for the pension if you pass away at 90 with no survivors.

Over the long term, three per cent is a pretty low hurdle to clear. It is much easier now. As an example, we put together three investments with a combined yield of more than seven per cent that could help you achieve this return.

George Weston Preferred Share – Series D: The current dividend yield on this fixed-rate or perpetual-preferred share is 6.2 per cent (at the time of writing). The share price is still down almost 15 per cent from March, but we believe that you will see some decent price recovery in addition to the dividend.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce common shares: The current dividend yield is 7.5 per cent. No Big 5 Canadian bank has cut its dividend since the 1930s. It is possible they would, but very unlikely. The stock is still trading almost 30 per cent lower than it was in mid-February, but even if the stock price never goes up, and the dividend never rises, 7.5 per cent a year is a decent return. The good news is that both the stock price and dividend are very likely to meaningfully rise during your retirement years.

Bridging Income Fund: Bridging Income is a well-run firm that offers secured private lending and factoring. The fund has delivered consistent annual returns of eight per cent or more, with little correlation to stock markets. It has also provided positive returns for the past 70-plus months without a single negative month. We have worked with the fund since its inception seven years ago, and this has provided investment benefits to our clients.

The above three are clearly not meant to be an investment portfolio, but they represent a sample of what can be purchased today, often at higher yields than normal because of the decline in markets.

Tax and dividend considerations

Usually, the commuted value of a pension is paid out in two forms. The first would be funds that are tax sheltered and paid out into a registered retirement savings plan or similar account. You don’t pay tax on the transfer, but you will pay full income tax on the funds when they are ultimately withdrawn from the account.

The second form usually comes out as a taxable lump sum. There is a maximum transfer value for a pension, with anything above this amount considered taxable income. The general rule is that the larger your annual income as an employee, the higher percentage of your pension payout will likely be taxable. There are some strategies to lower the tax payment, but it is important to fully factor in the tax bill when determining what pension option makes sense.

In the three investments mentioned above, the George Weston and CIBC investments pay out eligible Canadian dividends, while the Bridging Income payout is considered interest income.

For a pension payout, we would hold Bridging Income in a tax-sheltered account. For the Canadian dividends, we are very comfortable holding them in a taxable investment account, because of the low tax rates on this income. Even for someone who has a total taxable income of $90,000, the tax rate on Canadian eligible dividends is just 12.2 per cent in Ontario and 7.6 per cent in B.C. and Alberta.

One of the negatives of a pension is that you don’t have control of the cash flow. It comes in every month, fully taxed, whether you need the cash or not. If you take the commuted value of your pension, you have much more control over cash flow and income, and this can be very valuable over time, as shown by the Canadian dividend income example.

The bottom line is that historically low interest rates along with higher-yielding investments can be a very rare opportunity that comes out of unfortunate circumstances. If your company or organization is strong and you are very risk averse, then keep your pension as is. If you don’t fall into that group, you should at least explore your options, especially now.

Reproduced from the National Post newspaper article 14th April 2020.

Ted Rechtshaffen
Written By:
Ted Rechtshaffen, MBA, CFP
President and CEO
tedr@tridelta.ca
(416) 733-3292 x 221

These are the eight sources of retirement income you need to know about

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In RRSP season there is a lot of focus on your RRSP — surprise, surprise.

As most of you know, the RRSP will ultimately turn into a RRIF and be a key source of your income in retirement. What many people don’t always think about is other potential sources of retirement income.

In our work with retirees, we see up to eight different sources of funds that they can pull from to meet their monthly or annual expenses. Some are not thought of that often, but can become important. Not all will apply to everyone, but each one will be important to a segment of retirees.

Without further ado, here are the eight sources of retirement income:

1. Government Pensions — CPP, Old Age Security (OAS), GIS. For some individuals this can be more than $18,000 a year. It can be even higher if delayed receiving until past age 65.

2. Your Investment Portfolios — RRSPs, RRIFs, TFSAs, Defined Contribution Plans and Non-Registered accounts. The key is to determine which ones to draw on and when to minimize taxes. It will be different depending on your age, your health, your relationship status, and your current and expected level of income.

3. Your Defined Benefit Pension Plan — You may be one of those who have a plan through your work that pays you a fixed monthly amount — that may or may not increase based on inflation.

8 sources of retirement income.4. Your Corporate Investment Account — If you have a Corporation, pulling money from here will likely be considered as ineligible dividend income, but could possibly be tax free due to the size of your capital dividend account or shareholder loans. Often there is an opportunity to use insurance for estate planning or even in some cases for Retirement Planning where funds can come out tax free.

5. Annuities — These are essentially lifetime GICs with a locked-in rate that becomes a monthly source of cash flow. They have been less popular due to low interest rates, but for those who bought Annuities thirty years ago and are still alive, they will definitely sing their praises as an option for retirement income.

6. Your Home — If you own a home you can use a Home Equity Line of Credit to draw down cash over time, or maybe a downsize or sale of real estate is a key source of funds for your retirement. In some cases it may even allow for rental income.

7. Insurance Policies — This is sometimes an option and usually a forgotten one. Policy holders can often access cash through the cash surrender value of a policy without hurting the core insurance coverage. Sometimes you can borrow against the policy, or for those in their 30s to 50s, you might even be able to take out a policy on your parents as a form of retirement planning.

8. Your Kids (or other family) — This is usually not a preferred option, but depending on your needs and the family situation, this can be an important source of income.

Behind each of these sources of income is often a fair bit of thought and planning to maximize the income in a tax efficient way. For example, some individuals want less income in retirement. They don’t need the cash flow and they want lower taxes. In that case, they may look to fund Insurance policies in order to lower annual income and increase the estate.

Another scenario is the person with a large RRSP who is in their late 50s or early 60s. A lot of thought might go into the idea of drawing down the RRSP meaningfully over the next 10 years, and delaying taking CPP and OAS until age 70. If they do this effectively, they may be able to receive full OAS instead of getting clawed back, and in addition, they will have a smaller RRIF balance when they die and will face less tax at the end.

Even your home has important retirement income questions. We see people who received full OAS for several years, and then they sold their home and decided to rent. They now have significantly more investment assets and taxable income than they did before selling the house. Suddenly their tax rate goes up and they lose their OAS. In these cases, much more effort needs to go into tax efficient investment, and possibly gifting some assets to family or charity earlier than through the estate.

To help with issues of Retirement Income I have seen a few great Canadian web tools.

The Government of Canada has a solid tool to help manage your Government Pensions.

A website called Savvy New Canadians has a fairly detailed overview of RRSPs, TFSAs, CPP and OAS.

And my firm TriDelta Financial recently put out the 2019 Canadian Retirement Income Guide which provides further insight into how best to manage your various forms of retirement income.

Just like the game of hockey is much more complicated than simply shooting at the net, remember that your retirement income is about much more than simply an RRSP or RRIF. There are hopefully many sources of income for you, but the more sources of income, the more complex some of the tax and planning issues become.

May your biggest challenge be figuring out income sources number one to seven, and not about how to ask for funds from number eight.

Reproduced from the National Post newspaper article 4th February 2019.

Ted Rechtshaffen
Written By:
Ted Rechtshaffen, MBA, CFP
President and CEO
tedr@tridelta.ca
(416) 733-3292 x 221
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