TFSA or RRSP? Cutting through the Confusion

When it comes to choosing between a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) and a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), there are plenty of details to keep you up at night. It’s important to look at the pros and cons of each plan, so you can develop a financial plan that’s right for you.

Your personal Financial Plan should include the income per year you will need after you retire to have the retirement lifestyle you want. Your Plan should also calculate the amount you will need to contribute to TFSA or RRSP per year to achieve this.

This will help you determine the difference between your current tax bracket and the tax bracket you will experience after you retire. It’s easy to assume your income will be less, so your tax bracket will be less, but that is not necessarily accurate. Many government income programs allow clawback provisions that put many seniors in shockingly high tax brackets!

Clawbacks are just like a tax and they can be an unexpected cost. If you look at the breakdown of the three most common clawbacks, you can see the difference between having a TFSA or an RRSP. Here’s how the three clawbacks break down:

1.      Low income (less than $20,000) – 50% clawback on GIS

2.      Middle income ($35,000-$85,000) – 15% clawback on the age credit

3.      High income ($75,000-$120,000) – 15% clawback on OAS

You can own the same investments in your TFSA as your RRSP. The main difference is that RRSP contributions and withdrawals have tax consequences, while TFSA contributions and withdrawals don’t.

Therefore, the answer to TFSA vs. RRSP is primarily based on your marginal tax bracket today compared to when you withdraw after you retire.

Rule of Thumb

RRSP is better if:

  • You will be in a lower marginal tax bracket during retirement. Example: Today you’re making $100,000 and you will receive $35,000 during retirement, you can get a tax refund of 43% on your current deposits and pay only 20% tax on your retirement withdrawals, giving you a gain on the actual value of your RRSP of 23%.

TFSA is better if:

  • You will be in a higher marginal tax bracket during retirement. Example: Today you’re making $40,000 and you will receive $20,000 during retirement, you can get a tax refund of 20% on your current deposits and pay out 70% when you make retirement withdrawals. This figure includes lost GIS from the clawback. This saves you a 50% loss on your entire RRSP.

You can choose either an RRSP or a TFSA if:

  • You will be in the same marginal tax bracket during retirement.

Other Details to Consider

If you are still unsure if an RRSP or a TFSA is right for you, answer these two important questions:

1.      How will I use my tax refund?

  • TFSA is best if you plan on spending your RRSP tax refunds. Example: if you deposit $10,000 to either a TFSA or an RRSP and then spend the refund, the TFSA will give you a higher retirement income. You need to reinvest your tax refund for RRSPs to provide you the same after-tax retirement income as TFSAs.

2.      Is the withdrawal flexibility from my TFSA a pro or a con?

  • Flexibility is good, but if you are tempted to withdraw before retirement, RRSP might be a better choice.

Sound Financial Planning

It is advisable to plan on retiring with a taxable income in the low-to-mid level tax brackets. Since the cash that you live on can vary from your taxable income, it’s important to remember that TFSA withdrawals that are non-taxable. They can give you cash income that is not taxable income. Other tax deductions must be factored in to figure out the tax bracket you will be in.

Example: Basic government pensions are $20,000. OAS is $7,000 maximum, based on your number of years residing in Canada. CPP can range from $0 to $13,000, depending on how much you’ve deposited in the past. From here, calculate your income from your RRSP and TFSA and any other investments. You can generally withdraw 3-4% (depending on how you invest) of your RRSP or TFSA each year and have it last as long as you live.

This should help you determine which plan is right for you. You can plan to be in the right tax bracket. If you currently earn $80,000 and will retire with $50,000, you may be tempted to think TFSA is best since you will get a refund of 31% today but will pay 34% at withdrawal. However, with only $5,000 per year from non-taxed TFSA, your taxable amount is down to $45,000 which puts you in the 23% category, so RRSP is actually better. In this example, you need enough TFSA for the $5,000 per year but the rest should go into RRSP.

Important Note

Don’t forget to adjust for inflation! All of your retirement calculations need to factor in inflation. It will roughly double your cost of living in 20 or 25 years.

Forgetting to include inflation is the most common error many people and advisors make in estimating retirement income and how large of a nest egg you will need.

What about non-registered investments?

In some cases, non-registered investments may actually be better. Just maximizing TFSA and RRSP is not always the best answer. If your taxable income in retirement will be in a higher tax bracket than now, non-registered investments might be a smarter choice. If using your TFSA to the maximum will still leave you in higher tax brackets, non-registered investments will give you more cash at lower tax brackets than RRSP.

Example: Currently you make $80,000 and you plan to retire with $80,000, you get a 31% refund now but will have to pay as much as 44% when you withdraw because of the OAS clawback. Upon retirement, you can only get $45,000 at lower tax bracket rates than your current tax bracket.

If you plan on getting $20,000 from government pension, then you need to plan now for enough RRSP to give you $25,000 income. The rest should be in TFSAs. However, that won’t be enough. You will still need $35,000 more. That’s when non-registered investments might pan out better for you than RRSPs.

But don’t forget the taxes. Non-registered investments are not always tax free, depending on how they are invested, and the interest is always taxable. Capital gains, however, are only half taxable. Dividends are given preferred tax rates but they also get higher clawbacks because the income for determining clawbacks is the “grossed-up dividend”, which is 38% more than the dividend.

Let’s look at a worst-case scenario for non-registered investments: a senior making $20,000 gets a dividend of $1,000 which has a clawback of $690 (50% of $1,380). In this case, there is no income tax, but you still lose $690 out of the $1,000 in reduced GIS income.

If you sell a bit of your non-registered investments each month, you can get a nice, low tax rate on the cash. My term for this is “self-made dividends.” Since your cash income is made up of your capital gains and your original investment, the tax is very low, often only 10% of your withdrawal.

Bottom Line

1.      RRSP –

  • medium working income $50-80,000 and modest retirement savings
  • high working income over $90,000

2.      TFSA –

  • low working income under $45,000
  • medium to high working income with no retirement savings
  • medium to high working income with large retirement portfolio

How much should I save?

Generally speaking, a modest savings would be $500,000-$700,000 when you retire. Factoring in inflation, this would amount to approximately $1 million to $1.4 million if you plan to retire in two decades.

Plan in Place

Now is the time to prepare a Financial Plan that will help you sift through the options while understanding all the details such as tax brackets, clawbacks and inflation. In my experience, when my retired clients have a portfolio consisting of a good RRSP or pension, a strong TFSA and some non-registered investments, we can come up with a good plan for how much they can withdraw annually while minimizing the amount of taxes that are required.

With a mix of fully-taxed, low taxed and non-taxed sources of income, we can plan effectively for you to receive the cash for the retirement you want, while remaining in lower tax brackets.

A sound financial plan that cuts through the confusion of TFSAs and RRSPs set you up for a comfortable and worry-free retirement. It will have the optimal strategies that are right for you.

Understanding the Differences Between Financial Advisors and Brokers

Advice Channel
Advisors Channel

As a fee-only financial advisor, I am surely biased to this type of advisor. I do think everyday investors are much better off if they have someone in their corner who is recommending a particular investment product because it actually is the best product for them, given their circumstances and life stage. Not because there’s a commission on the sale at the end of the day.

That doesn’t mean, though, that you shouldn’t be mindful of possible issues – and that’s for any financial advisor, whether fee-based or full-service brokers. For that matter, you also should be mindful of potential drawbacks to other options that may seem (superficially, at least) appealing.

Let’s look at the options.

Fee-only financial advisors are considered advantageous because there’s no inherent conflict of interest as there can be with full-service or commission-based brokers. Brokers often recommend investments owned by their company, which is an inherent conflict.  You simply have to consider whether the products recommended are going to be best for your personal financial goals.

What you pay for is financial guidance, planning and assistance. This may be a flat fee. Some advisors charge a percentage of your account’s assets. You may be able to negotiate the amount. But, the fees you pay do not fluctuate according to the type of investments that are being recommended. What you get with this approach is objectivity and investment advice that’s unbiased. Your interests and your advisor’s are aligned.

The commission-based approach to financial advisory services is less the norm today than in the past. You open an account or buy a stock or bond and your advisor gets a percentage. Recurrent trading may also be encouraged – which may not be good for investors with a longer-term perspective. This all can pose a conflict with your best interests and goals.

And on the do-it-yourself front? Well, as attractive as this might sound on the surface, consider the relevance of the saying about the attorney who represents himself. For investment purposes, you might find good information online, but it’s just as likely you’ll find speculative information, if not real fake news. Investing is a risky business; if you don’t have the time or the expertise to do an adequate job of qualifying research, get a professional to help. Your future – financial and otherwise – depends on it.

Speaking of your financial future, it’s never too early to start planning for it. That means Millennials – and even the oldest Generation Zs who are just entering the workforce – should be putting money aside as they think about their long-term financial goals. It’s a challenge, of course, especially for those who are still trying to pay off college. Retirement is maybe too much to think about, right?

With that said, I’ve developed a service package to make it less painless. My new Robo-Advisor Professional service package is specifically targeted to the needs of Millennials and utilizes an in-depth financial data collection sheet, as well as a plan discussion with myself, to collect essential information about your financial background and goals.  This provides a strong base of understanding for clients to invest in ETFs through WealthSimple with a superior portfolio manager with a track record of beating the index.

ETFs are ideal for those with more limited resources, as a “wrapper” around a group of securities. They have a cost advantage over individual stocks and can be traded commission free. They’re similar to mutual funds, but with more flexibility as they can be traded throughout the day, not just once.

Ed Rempel Org

What is The Cash Flow Dam?

What Is The Cash Dam and How Does It Work?

 The Cash Dam (sometimes referred to as a “cash flow dam”) is a simple but powerful concept, and it’s an especially attractive option for those who are familiar with the Smith Manoeuvre or other tax minimization strategies. Cash Dam can help you with tax optimization if you have a mortgage and own either a small business or a rental property.

What is cash damming?

 The Cash Dam allows the owner of a small business or rental property to more quickly pay down their non-deductible mortgage on their home. It’s a variation on the Smith Manoeuvre, but without additional investing. The Cash Dam is essentially an expedient way to change bad debt into good debt.

For someone who’s using the Cash Dam, what it involves is using a line of credit to pay for business expenses. Then, while using the increased business cash flow, you pay down a non-deductible mortgage or loan. This, in turn, produces an increasing tax-deductible business loan, while paying down a non-deductible mortgage or loan. Be advised that the Cash Dam as described above will only work for those who own a non-incorporated personal or partnership-based small business or a rental property.

Example:

 If you own a small non-incorporated business that has $2,000 in expenses each month and you also have a readvanceable mortgage, then the $2,000 per month expense would be paid by the home equity line of credit (HELOC). You then use the additional $2,000 you have in your business expense account to make a payment on your non-deductible mortgage. Interest paid on money that’s borrowed for business expenses is tax-deductible; by using the Cash Dam, you’ll be left with a tax-deductible business loan and a non-deductible mortgage that’s been quickly paid down.

One of the keys to the Cash Dam, however, is capitalizing the interest on the business line of credit. That way, you avoid using any of your own cash flow and you keep the business line of credit tax-deductible.

How does the Cash Dam differ from the Smith Manoeuvre?

The Cash Dam relies on using a tax-deductible business loan to allow you to pay down a non-deductible debt, while the Smith Manoeuvre allows you to buy investments. Investing from your credit line is why the Smith Manoeuvre has much higher risk and return than the Cash Dam.

Potential applications

 Say that you’re a rental investor, instead of using your own cash flow to pay for rental-related expenses, you can use the Cash Dam and a line of credit. In this instance, using the Cash Dam would help you pay for your personal mortgage and help you satisfy your tax obligations as well.

And if you are a small business owner, the Cash Dam can be extremely advantageous. The strategy gives you a way to quickly pay down your non-deductible mortgage and convert that debt into a tax-deductible business loan.

Ed Rempel Org

Ed Rempel – Not Sold on ETF’s and Index Funds

Why I Won’t Own an Index Fund or ETF

 Skilled Fund Managers

Many investors are skeptical that there exist fund managers who have skill and who can beat the index over the long-term. Other investors believe that there are fund managers who have skill, but that it’s impossible to identify them ahead of time.

There are skilled fund managers that can be identified ahead of time. I know quite a few of them. You just have to look using the right criteria.

Identifying Skill

When looking at funds, many investors take an objective approach and study recent returns, look at ratings or statistics, or try to forecast which sectors will perform well.

Other kinds of skill evaluations are more subjective and rely on insider judgments, e.g., doctors assessing other doctors, or even actors judging performances of their peers.

The evaluation of a fund manager falls somewhere in between those two approaches, the objective and the subjective. I believe that, to find the best fund managers, you have to study them, not the fund.

Start by finding fund managers that have beaten their index over their career or long periods of time. This could be in more than one fund. They do not need to beat the index every year – just over time. Then study them to find out how they do it. Is it because of stock-picking skill?

Outperforming the appropriate indexes is just one factor in the criteria. Top fund managers are usually not trying to secretly follow the index–they’re more likely to have an effective style (like value investing), and have high “active share,” which means that they’re investing in a way that differs from the index; they also often have great experience and have their own money invested in the funds that they manage, i.e. “skin in the game”.

My All-Star Fund Managers

One of my special skills is identifying all-star fund managers — it’s essentially my main focus related to investments. I’ve found around 50 fund managers over the years who I would characterize as having superior skill, and all of them have beaten their index over long periods of time.

Most of those 50 managers are on my “watch list”. I own only a handful of those funds. Although I’m resistant to the idea of sharing statistics about my own personal investments, mostly because my investment style may not be suitable for every investor, I want to emphasize that it’s possible to identify skilled fund managers early and ahead of time.

Why I Will Never Own an ETF or Index Fund

I won’t ever own an ETF or an index fund because I’m not happy with below-index returns. I choose investments based on the fund managers–I want to invest with the Albert Einstein of investors, the absolute best. ETFs and index funds don’t have fund managers, so I’m not interested. The goal of investing is to obtain the highest long-term return after fees, and a skilled fund manager provides enough value to pay for those fees and more.

Above-Index Returns

There are really two options when you’re pursuing above-index returns: one, you can find yourself an all-star fund manager, or, second, you can choose a portfolio manager who’s paid by performance fee. When portfolio managers are paid by performance fee, they’re motivated to beat their index. If they don’t beat the index, the fees are similar to ETFs. If they do beat the index, the fee pays for itself.

Getting above-index returns is all about finding skill.

Ed Rempel CFS

Ed Rempel Top Key Note Speaker at The Canadian Financial Summit

Ed Rempel is a well known Canadian “Financial” Keynote Speaker and shares his enthusiasm and many years of experience to primed financial audiences that want, need and deserve more and better insight and information. Join Ed Rempel a senior financial industry expert with a host of other top speakers at the Canadian Financial Summit. www.canadianfinancialsummit.com September 13-16 Online Event.