Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

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Potential Dangers of RRSP. Yes or No?

January 29, 2011

Though I am being a bit derivative by posting this I thought it was a very important consideration for those of you who rely solely on RRSP’s strategies for their source of future wealth. I had not previously come across this research, or this thesis, but I believe it to be worthy of note.

Very briefly, it suggests that we are all told to invest heavily in RRSP’s in order to earn investment gains and defer paying tax until much later in life, when presumably your marginal tax rate will be lower (i.e. when you retire and have less annual income). It claims that this will do the investor no good since your tax rate may not actually be lower in the future. Either you will retain enough disposable income to maintain your MTR, or the Government of Canada will continue to increase the tax rates.  In either of these cases, it maintains, at retirement you will either see no taxable advantage or, in other cases, you may even lose money since your tax rate could actually higher than it was when you first begun making your contributions.

Yesterday (and coincidentally), I posted an article on Twitter (@nextgeninvestor) called “The Great RRSP//RRIF tax-grab” (http://opinion.financialpost.com/2011/01/28/the-great-rrsprrif-tax-grab-one-ex-pats-solution/). This article spoke about this exact phenomenon. In this case, retiring Canadians realized that they would lose money on their RRSP withdrawals due to the fact that the promised-lower-tax-rate-in-retirement was, in reality, actually higher. They claim the Government new this and conveniently raised the tax brackets to take advantage of a huge amount of the population having a huge amount of money in RRSP’s that it was soon looking to withdraw.  To combat this, the Reiterees actually withdrew everything, left the country, and became ex-pats. It is another interesting consideration.

Regarding these arguments, I will save my recommendations  for a later time. At this point I will allow you to draw your own conclusions. I will say, however, that it says nothing of income splitting (that is transferring your RRSP deposit to the lowest tax paying spouse)  and that it assumes a government increase in tax rates over time. Furthermore, I suppose that this would only effect those who are relatively close to the next tax bracket in the first place. For others, it would likely take a substantial increase in the rates by the Governenment to make it disadvantageous for them to not invest for a time when they will not be taking as much taxable income.  Whatever the case may be, it does make a good argument against having all your retirement eggs in one basket.

RRSPs and rising cost of government

By: Larry MacDonald

Tue, 25 Jan 2011 19:40:13 +0000

It’s generally accepted that persons in the lower tax brackets are better off contributing to TFSAs instead of RRSPs. But could all tax brackets be better off avoiding RRSPs? I’ve lately come across comments in discussion forums, blogs etc. that suggest as much.

RRSPs should be avoided by everybody, the comments say, because taxes seem to always go up – so by the time one gets to retirement, their tax rate will be higher than the rate at which they made RRSP contributions. Here’s a sampling of the comments, from 3 different persons:

1. “I wouldn’t sock away thousands a year in RRSPs like some people are doing…you save some income tax now, but when you retire, and start using your contributions, you will be paying more in income tax (I’ve never heard of the government lowering their taxes).”

2. “RRSPs are a form of gambling. You roll the dice that your tax rate in retirement will be lower than when you’re working – which was true for most people in decades past. But how can income taxes in Canada possibly stay at current levels, now that our national debt has erupted and the deficit made structural?”

3. “If taxes are going to go higher and higher over the next 10-20 years, then why should we put money in an RRSP just so that it will be taxed under those higher rates when we convert to a RRIF? Wouldn’t we be better off paying today’s taxes and investing outside the RSP?”

Could their fears be substantiated by future events? After all, the pattern over previous decades has been for tax burdens to rise.

According to the Fraser Institute’s Canadian Consumer Tax Index, the total average tax bill of the Canadian family has climbed from 33.5 per cent of income in 1961 to 41.7% in 2009 (if the large deficits in government finances during 2009 are assumed to represent deferred taxes, then the tax burden in 2009 is closer to 44% of income).

As the capacity for raising taxes on employment income nears exhaustion, new sources of tax revenue could be targeted, notably the billions of dollars held in RRSPs (which many think are the savings of the well-to-do). It might be assumed the voting power of retirees would render retirements benefits sacred cows no politician would dare touch — but it has been contemplated before.

In the early 1990s when Canada was dealing with a fiscal crisis, the federal government considered a number of measures to bring its budget deficit and debt under control. Two trial balloons floated involved imposing a capital tax on RRSPs and a capital levy on institutions administering RRSPs, as Hansard shows (http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:L9o7CjZlZNwJ:www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx%3FDocId%3D1105168%26Language%3DE%26Mode%3D1%26Parl%3D37%26Ses%3D1+%22former+finance+minister+floated+another+trial+balloon+in+early+December%22&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca) (search on “trial balloon”).

 

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Poor Spending and our Genetics?

January 21, 2011

A Halifax advisor colleague of mine Stephanie Holmes-Winton (see her excellent blog at www.advisordefusingdebt.wordpress.com) discusses the research done by Dr. Santos of Yale University. Dr Santos was curious to determine if the poor spending habits of humans comes from a genetic predisposition.  The following is an exerpt from http://www.advisor.ca dated Jan 14, 2011:

Dr. Santos and her team gave their small community of capuchin lab monkeys some money – not real money of course, rather unmarked coins the primates could use like money. This was to be her monkey economy and the coins were the currency. The team of researchers introduced the monkeys to a monkey market which they had created for them. They taught the monkeys how to use their coins to gain food and treats. Our primate cousins quickly got the hang of it and began using their monkey money with ease.

As it turns out, the monkeys got up to a few bad behaviors humans sometimes exhibit, like stealing the coins when no one was looking or taking them from other monkeys.

Things were humming along at the monkey market and then came the twist: the monkeys were given situations where they had to take risks. Dr. Santos wanted to see if the primitive friends would make the same mistakes we humans do when presented with financial risk. What they found is that monkeys, just like humans dislike loss more than they like gains.

In the end, Santos and her team discovered that indeed those impulses that drive our financial behavior were no different than those of our very prehistoric relative “Ida”, the lemur. Our financial behavior is indeed to some extent is in our DNA and a 35-million-year-old habit can be hard to break.

I surmise that the very same carnal impulse that causes us to zig when we should zag in the market also drive our behaviors around spending and debt. The very instincts that once upon a time kept us alive don’t always serve our financial best interest. The best part of Santos’ discovery is that we are not destined to repeat the monkey’s behavior or even our own. Our ability to see what we have done and make a different choice is remarkable.

Make no mistake behavior is a huge part of finance from the panicked investor wanting to sell at the worst possible time to the borrower purchasing a house they can’t afford. It’s coming from the same place in our brains. Offering clients’ behavior change recommendations as part of their work with you may go a long way to helping them make meaningful financial change without allowing irrational instincts to sabotage their efforts.

To add somewhat to this I ask you if you really should be upset because our neighbor bought a new SUV and you have no kids. What the hell do you need such a ridiculous new vehicle for if yours is perfectly acceptable and paid for and running well. This need to compete is undoubtedly also part of our genetics as well and is often a major part of our financial undoing. It is a self-conscious “tell” of our weakened emotional state and only leads us into unnecessary debt. Your emotional health should be based on how much cash flow you retain, not how much you display.

So, what do we do with this new found knowledge?  Again, I turn to Stephanie for a creative resolution for 2011:

As the new car smell of 2011 wears off and the excitement of promises made during a champagne induced pledge to be better this year fades, I’ve got a challenge for you.  Let’s start a resolution revolution.  Every year millions of us make a resolution to do better with our money, but generally by the third week of January we’ve abandoned the thought and gone right back to what we were doing before.

If you change nothing, you change nothing.  One thing I know is that our clients will not listen to advice that we are not willing to follow ourselves.  So for the next four weeks I dare you to be the change!  From today until midnight 28 days from now change the way you spend.

Go On A Cash-Diet

Don’t worry; there are no pesky points or weigh-ins on this diet.  All you have to do is this:

  • Gather your family  (if your are single, get a few friends together to join you in your resolution);
  • Decide how much money you are willing to spend on a weekly basis on emotionally affected expenses such as food, clothing, entertainment, gifts, coffee, eating out, liquor, etc.;
  • Elect one person to retrieve your family’s weekly cash amount;
  • Divide the funds based on who normally does what, making sure everyone has at least a small amount to spend on themselves only;
  • And repeat for four weeks.

Rules

  • NO ADVANCES.  Take the cash on the same day every week.
  • TELL EVERYONE.  The more people you tell about your little resolution the more revolutionary it will become.  Tell clients too; they might just start to open up about their cash flow knowing you are working on yours.

You can do just about anything for four weeks.  I myself live like this most of the time, and I’ll be on it with you because I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do.  The limit isn’t as important as the fact that there is a limit.  So, in the words of a very famous active wear company … just do it!

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Government bailouts for illness? Whose responsibility is it?

December 2, 2010

I posted this before Christmas and I still feel it is important for the average Canadian to assist, (if not be mostly responsible) the Government in this responsibility. I am looking presently for opportunities to develop a workshop on this matter for Valley area families. The following is an unedited repost of my previous post:

Interestingly, I noted today that the Liberal Government is proposing a Family Care Plan. As I see it, this has arisen because Canadians have not been properly planning for the impact of traumatic health events that they pretend don’t exist; especially not to them. As I read in Scott Brison’s newsletter (www.brison.ca): “caring for an ill parent, grandparent, spouse or child can be a challenge for millions of Canadians with many having to use personal savings or miss one or more months of work to provide care.”

With the unwillingness to properly address the inevitability of financially devastating health events in our lives, we are left with a Government proposition that claims that it is the responsibility of everyone to pay for what I deem to be negligent financial planning on the part of Canadians themselves.

The article continues by saying: “Like the loved ones they are caring for, many of these care givers are in the fight of their lives, and want their government to show leadership to address this pressing priority for Canadian families.”

Now, I am as liberal as the next person, but with Canadian’s spending $1.45 for every $1.0o and with our reticence to put income protection measures in place in favor of speculative investment strategies that rely upon the health of the individual, it’s no wonder that 80% of Canadian home foreclosures are a result of a traumatic health event of the mortgagee. Government social spending and bailouts cannot be implemented for every self-imposed negligence.  People cash out their RRSP’s and throw away 50% of their earnings growth (because of the tax consequences of doing so) but are unwilling to spend 75 dollars a month to cover their income in the event of a traumatic health event.  These products have been out there for quite some time now and are mandatory in my planning. It is poor business and poor ethics to speculate with people’s money when a single event can wipe it out. Not only that, people often ignore the consequences for the entire family when a loved one gets sick. Do you want your kids to sell their home to fund the costs of treating for you? Well, this happens all the time.

The Family Care Plan would introduce the following measures: 1: “A new six-month Family Care EI Benefit. This is similar to parental leave so that Canadians can care for gravely ill family members at home without having to quite their jobs.” 2. “A new Family Care Tax Benefit. Modeled on the Child Tax Benefit, to help low to middle-income family caregivers who provide essential care to a family member at home.”

Now perhaps I can accept an additional tax benefit to low-income family caregivers, but anyone over a certain threshold should be, in my opinion, on their own. The Government is in precarious waters when it chooses to provide an EI-type benefit to family members who have had sufficient means and opportunity to plan and pay for private critical illness and/or disability coverage.  In this largely self-imposed financial climate, is that where we should be spending money? I am open to debate on the matter, but I don’t know where the money will come from.

In sum, I am perhaps not as liberal as I normally am on this topic. Social programs are necessary, yes. But should we not be sharing the risk a little bit?  Is it not more than ever the responsibility of the advisor to protect your income before telling you he/she can make you 6 figures and then put all your money in an investment account that you cannot access without significant tax liabilities? Remember these questions, when you think about your situation.