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A yearly planner sitting on a desktop that is approaching 2020

Year-End Personal Finance Checklist

If the pumpkin spice lattes, turkey comas, copper leaves and jack o’ lanterns weren’t a big enough giveaway, 2019 is coming to an end! As we get ready to unwrap a new calendar, it would serve us all well to pay a little attention to our personal finance to-do lists.  There are several opportunities that you could capitalize on before the end of the year that may disappear – much like the aforementioned espresso concoction.  So, don’t let your chance to make use of all that is available to you go to waste.  Here is your year-end personal finance checklist:

Employee Benefit Plans

Many of us have workplace benefit plans.  Most of those plans have spending limits that reset annually.  Use your coverage for massage, vision, dental, health spending accounts, etc. before they potentially expire forever at the end of the year.  Think of these as gift certificates that have an expiry date.  Schedule appointments to make use of them before they go up in smoke!  Why not give yourself a holiday bonus of a massage (that you are likely already paying for)?

Employer Pension Matching

Many employees are unaware that their companies offer a pension matching program.  The way that these programs typically operate is that your employer would be willing to match a certain amount of contributions that you make into the company defined contribution pension plan.  For example, if an employee contributes 5% of their pay, the company would contribute an additional 3% of their pay to the plan in their name.  This example equates to an automatic 60% investment return on your contributions!  Another way to look at it is that you would be receiving a 3% raise.  I don’t know anyone who is opposed to free money!

There is also a behavioural benefit of enrolling in these plans, as it is essentially forced savings.  The best way to change behaviour is to have it happen automatically.

Since this is the end of the year, your employer may offer a catch-up option if you were not participating in the program throughout the year.  This catch-up option may lapse at the end of the year, and like your benefits plan, the chance to gain from this offer may be lost forever.  As an added benefit, these contributions may be treated like RRSP contributions and could potentially increase your tax refund via the corresponding deduction from your income.  Win, win, win.

Related – The Biggest Money Mistake That You Might Not Even Know You Are Making

TFSA Withdrawals

Most of us know that additional TFSA contribution room accrues every new calendar year, but did you know that TFSA withdrawals are restricted annually as well?  Funds withdrawn from your TFSA cannot be re-deposited until the following year.  As such, if you are planning to withdraw funds from your TFSA early in 2020, you may be better off electing to do so before the end of the year.  This would allow you not to have to wait until 2021 to be able to have that deposit room made available to you again.

RRSP Planning

Will your taxable income change significantly in 2020, relative to 2019?  If your 2019 marginal tax rate will be greater in 2019, you may consider making additional RRSP contributions now to shield additional tax owing for 2019.  RRSP contributions are treated as a deduction from your income, which is one of the most powerful personal tax planning tools out there. 

An added benefit of this approach is that additional RRSP contributions made would also be increasing your tax refund, if eligible, or reducing the amount of tax payable for the year. 

On the flip side, if your 2020 tax rate will be much higher than 2019, you may elect to defer the deduction.  Contributions made in 2019 can always have the deduction deferred to your 2020 tax year, but they would still grow tax-deferred in the interim should you elect to defer the deduction — a true win-win.

All things being equal, additional RRSP contributions may be in your best interest, presuming you don’t need the funds until retirement.  RRSP contributions will also increase your tax refund (if you don’t have a balance owing) by your marginal tax rate.  That extra bump to your tax refund could also be the perfect kickstart to your TFSA contribution in 2020, as well.

As with all RRSP planning, your tax rate in retirement should be a key consideration. You can read my article in the Nov./Dec. issue of Canadian Money Saver magazine on how to Supercharge Your RRSP Savings.

Investment Mix

It’s been a bumpy ride for equity markets in 2019.  The ups and downs may have also had a significant impact on your current asset allocation.  Asset allocation is the distribution of your investments between various asset classes.  For example, a sample portfolio may have 60% Equities (stocks/equity ETFs), 30% Bonds, and 10% Cash and Short-term investments such as GICs. What this means, is that the swing in stock prices may have left your equity exposure too high or too low (i.e. 70% of your total portfolio instead of the 60% target).  Perhaps the gains experienced in early 2019 have offset the recent dip, but perhaps not.  Reviewing your asset allocation periodically, as well as re-assessing your risk appetite, are exercises that should be performed at least annually.

Tax Loss Selling

Given the bumpy ride of the market, you may have found yourself in an unrealized loss position in your stock or ETF positions.  Selling your underwater holdings for a loss would allow you to lock in the unrealized losses on your investments.  The realized capital loss could be used to reduce tax payable on realized gains in the current year. 

Note: This would only be applicable to non-registered accounts, as gains and losses in either TFSA or RRSP accounts are not taxable.

There is a caveat for this approach, however.  To avoid the loss being deemed a superficial loss by the taxman, you would not be allowed to repurchase the identical security for at least 30 days.  Also, in the case of ETFs, switching between two similar ETFs would also be deemed a superficial loss.  For example, selling an IShares TSX ETF and purchasing a Vanguard TSX ETF would be considered a repurchase of an identical security, despite them being different securities in reality.

You could also combine the previous two strategies above and sell your losers in an effort to rebalance your portfolio.

Assess The Impact Of Life Changes

Got married?  Had a child? Bought a home or new property? Started a business?

2019 might have been full of exciting changes.  All of which might impact your insurance needs and your estate planning.

Ensure that you have adequate life insurance to cover your new home’s mortgage or provide for your children and spouse.

Review your will to determine if your beneficiaries need to be updated, or if new significant assets need to be contemplated, like a new business or home.

This item may seem like there is no hard deadline like the end of the year, which is true.  However, with all of life’s uncertainties and surprises, this may be the most pressing of all.

The Brass Tacks On The Year-End Personal Finance Checklist

The prospect of a new year brings hope and optimism.  Make your 2020 resolution to take control of your financial wellbeing.  Not all of these ideas may be appropriate for your situation.  However, I hope that some of these may be useful for you to kick off the new year right!

If you would like assistance with the implementation of any of the above strategies, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a consultation.

Have a question or an idea for an article?  Let me know in the comments.


Man holding credit card while online shopping

How To Use Your Tax Refund

You were a good citizen. You were organized, gathered all of your tax forms, receipts and filed your taxes promptly.

As a result, you are now the recipient of a nice chunk of change from Justin and the Premiers in the form of your tax refund!

Your tax refund might feel like free money, but it is not. In actuality, this is the repayment of an interest-free loan that you gave the government without even knowing it. Throughout the year, you either make periodic remittances if you are self-employed (or otherwise required) or you have tax taken off each paycheque by your employer. Your tax refund is the return of overpayments that you made relative to the income tax that you actually owed at the end of the year. Hence, this is why it is called a refund. Your tax refund was indeed your money all along.

But now, the big question is, “How should I use my tax refund?”

Before you buy that new iPad or fly to Jamaica, here are a handful of recommendations.

How You Should Use Your Tax Refund

1. Pay Down Consumer Debt

Consumer debt is debt related to consumption, instead of debt that is tied to an asset that can appreciate.

This is priority #1. This would likely be priority #1 on any list for that matter.  Paying down your consumer debt is so important that it should likely be #1, #2 and #3 on this list.

This prolonged low-interest rate environment that we have lived in seems to have lulled many Canadians into a false sense of security around carrying consumer debt. According to the 2018 BDO Affordability Index, 46% of Canadian households don’t earn enough income to live debt free.

But not all debt is created equal. The largest area of concern is high-interest debt.  High-interest debt generally comes in the form of credit cards (up to 20% APR), payday loans (>100% APR and upward), and high-interest lines of credit (10% APR or more).  Rates mentioned are illustrative and not a minimum threshold for concern.

If you are carrying high-interest debt, paying it down will almost always be the best use of your funds. You should focus on paying down your debt with the highest interest rate first.

In essence, consumer debt is what you owe for the material things or that you already have or the experiences that you have already had. To put it another way, instead of using your tax refund to buy an iPad, you still need to pay for the iPad that you purchased years ago.

2. Open An RESP For a Family Member

Education costs are continually on the rise.  A year of post-secondary education at a Canadian university can cost up to $20,000. Starting to save early in a child’s life is prudent given the rising costs.

RESPs are an excellent way to save for a child’s education for a few reasons.

  • Free Money!

The Government of Canada matches 20% of your contributions, up to a maximum of $500 per year. This is called the Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG).

There is also lifetime maximum for CESG contributions that the government will make of $7,200.

  • Tax-deferred investment growth

Money held within an RESP grows tax-deferred. Similar to an RRSP, all of the growth of the funds within the RESP has the benefit of tax-deferred compounding. Tax-deferred investment growth has been proven to be a winning wealth builder.

  • Taxed in the hands of the beneficiary

Unlike an RRSP, contributions made by yourself into the RESP are not deductible from your income. As such, you will be contributing after-tax dollars into the account, similar to a TFSA.

However, the CESG amounts and the investment income are then taxed in the hands of the beneficiary (i.e. your child or niece/nephew) upon withdrawal. This can provide significant tax savings. Students are typically in a low-income period of their lives during schooling, and they should generally be in a lower tax bracket than the contributor during this time.

These advantages should be capitalized on early and often in the life of the beneficiary to maximize the CESG and tax deferral. Use your tax refund to start an RESP and take the free money!

3. Contribute to your RRSP/TFSA

If you don’t require the free CESG money for a family member, you can shift your attention to your personal savings.

Whether you contribute to your TFSA or your RRSP will vary based on your individual situation. I prepared a rundown on things to consider when answering the question, “Is an RRSP contribution right for me?

When making your determination of where to put the money, the primary question that you should ask is “When will I need the money?”

Funds in your RRSP are intended for your retirement, but they could also be withdrawn to buy a home using the Home Buyers Plan or to go back to school via the Lifelong Learning Plan.

Another perk of an RRSP contribution is that it can increase your tax refund for next year if you deduct it against your 2019 income.

If you need this money for the near term (other than for purchasing a home or for going back to school), TFSAs provide added flexibility around withdrawals. This is an ideal place to keep your emergency fund. If you do not have an emergency fund in place, then bump this up ahead of the RESP plan in terms of priority.

If you have questions around what option is best for you, you should speak with a financial planner.

4. Mortgage Paydown

The market is sending mixed messages about where interest rates are going in the intermediate term. However, we know that we have been experiencing a prolonged low-interest-rate environment.

The party should come to an end sooner-or-later, and rates could rise.

There are a few key benefits to paying down your mortgage:

  • Defence against rising rates

As rates rise, so will your mortgage payments on a variable mortgage. Even if you have a fixed rate mortgage, it will come up for renewal inevitably, and all else being equal, your payments will increase along with the interest rate.

  • Guaranteed rate of return

Let’s assume that you have a mortgage rate of 3.5%. By paying down a portion of your mortgage, you have just achieved a guaranteed after-tax return on your investment of 3.5%! I challenge you to find a guaranteed investment that will pay you that rate of return after-tax.
This guarantee, however, doesn’t contemplate foreclosure risk, or any of the other risks associated with homeownership. That said, paying down your mortgage is an excellent way to achieve your long-term financial goals.

  • Lower monthly payments

As you lower your outstanding balance, your monthly payments become lower.  Some mortgages implement these changes immediately, while others will update the payments a set interval.  In either case, when you have less to pay back, you can pay less each month.

  • Mortgage renewal flexibility

A lot of digital ink has been used lately discussing the challenge that some are facing renewing their mortgages.

The Government of Canada introduced rules to stress-test an individual’s ability to afford their mortgage payments when rates rise. As interest rates rise, so does the benchmark rate for the stress-test.

By paying down your mortgage, your outstanding balance and future payments will be reduced, and this will ease the challenge of meeting the stress test.

When deciding whether or not to use your tax refund to pay down your mortgage, you should investigate the repayment terms before making your decision. Some are flexible, while some are stringent and may come with fees or penalties. Speak with a professional to understand the implications of making a pre-payment against your mortgage.

5. Get a Fee-Only Financial Plan

Naturally, this is a self-serving recommendation, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention it.

A financial plan is an investment in your overall financial well-being.  Having a solid financial footing sets you up for success in all other aspects of your life.

A good financial plan can help you better understand your spending, ensure that your investment mix matches your risk tolerance, identify if your current savings will allow you to reach your goals, assess your risk management, or map out how to make your savings last through retirement. And let’s face it, if you are reading this article, then you probably have questions about how to optimize your financial situation.

A financial plan can also help you assess each of the above options for the use of your tax refund based on your individual situation.

An additional benefit is that many of Novel’s clients have been able to achieve significant savings on their investments by executing a Novel Fee-Only Financial Plan. This ultimately means that, depending on your current investment products, the cost of a fee-only financial plan can pay for itself, even in the first year!  Investment options that can pay for themselves tend to be few and far between in this day and age.  Taking steps to secure your financial well-being is an excellent use of your tax refund.

The Brass Tacks On Using Your Tax Refund

Don’t be so quick to spend that tax refund. After all, it was your money to begin with, not the government’s. There are several things that you can do to put that money to work for you.  Each of the options have pros and cons, and they may not all be appropriate for your situation. Resist the urge to spend it frivolously and instead use your tax refund wisely. Then again, sometimes you just need to go to Jamaica.

If you would like to schedule a free consultation to discuss your options for maximizing the use of your tax refund, please contact us.


Why You Need A Will

Why You Need A Will

Do you have a will?

Talking about death is something that we all look forward to, no doubt…  But the reality is that contemplating our own mortality is less about the impact that it has on ourselves, but rather the effect that it has on those around us.  Estate planning is not just for the uber-rich, but rather a critical aspect of financial planning for all Canadians.

According to a recent study by the Angus Reid Institute, 49% of Canadians surveyed either don’t have a will in place, or their will is outdated.  This number skyrockets to 85% for those in the 18-34 age bracket.  With so many Canadians leaving themselves exposed, it is probably a good idea to go over what happens if you die without a will.

NOTE: This post should not be considered legal advice.  If you have any estate planning questions, please consult with a professional to assess your individual situation.

Why You Need A Will

In Ontario, the Succession Law Reform Act governs what happens when someone passes away without a will in place, known as dying “intestate”.  In this case, your affairs will be handled in a prescribed manner.

Personal Representative

A key reason why you need a will is that you can name the executor of your estate.  The executor is responsible for the administration and distribution of your estate along with the wishes that you have expressed in your will.  When you pass away intestate, you have no executor named.  As such, your closest relative will likely be appointed as your personal representative.  In many cases, this may not be an issue.  However, in some cases, you may not want the individual named to be acting on your estate’s behalf.

The added benefit of naming an executor is that they can be adequately prepared for the responsibility.  Before appointing someone as your executor, you should have a conversation with them to ensure that they are up to the task and related responsibilities.  The role of executor tends to be time-consuming, and you should be mindful of this when naming someone to the position.

Child Care Without a Will

If you have children, it is non-negotiable that you have a will.  If you die intestate, you will have lost the opportunity to dictate who should be responsible for your children.  In this scenario, the courts will determine who is the most suitable to become your children’s guardian.

An added piece of importance is in the situation where you have a dependent child.  Without leaving instructions for their care, or setting aside specific funds, your dependent child may not receive the long-term care that you had intended.

Division of Estate Property

Your property is distributed based on the following:

1) You have a spouse, but no children

Your entire estate goes to your spouse. However, this only applies to legally married spouses. Common-law spouses are not automatically entitled to receive anything if you die intestate.

2) You have a spouse and children

Your spouse is entitled to a preferential share of your estate, up-to-the first $200,000. What remains is now referred to as the residue. If anything is left over, the residue will be divided between your spouse and your children.

3) You have children, but no spouse

The children each inherit an equal portion of your estate. If any of your children have passed away, then their share would pass on to their children (i.e. your grandchildren).

4) You have no spouse and no children

Your parents inherit your estate.

5) You have no spouse, no children, and no parents

Your brothers and sisters (or their children if a sibling has passed away) receive an equal share of your estate.

6) You also have no brothers and sisters

Your nieces and nephews each inherit an equal portion of your estate.

7) You have no nieces and nephews

All other next of kin inherit an equal portion of your estate.  The determination of next of kin is performed using the table of Consanguinity (courtesy of Wikipedia).

8) You have no living next of kin:

Your estate goes to the Ontario government.  Not who you had in mind for a charitable donation to as part of your estate plan was it?

Here is a helpful infographic on the topic.

How your property is distributed in Ontario if you die without a will

Pet Care Without a Will

Unlike your children, the courts will not make a separate determination of whom the best caregiver will be.  Pets under Ontario law are considered Property.  As such, they will be subject to the division of property rules above.

Tax Efficiency

When you pass away, your representatives must file a final income tax return on your behalf.  This return comes with very particular tax planning opportunities, which are lost when you don’t leave a will behind.

When it comes time to validate your will, it goes through a process called probate. Probate is also required for those that die without a will.  According to the Ministry of the Attorney General, the probate process exists to:

  • give a person the authority to act as the estate trustee of an estate; or
  • confirm the authority of a person named as the estate trustee in the deceased’s will
  • formally approve that the deceased’s will is their valid last will.

Part of the process involves the Estate Administration Tax (EAT), or what is more commonly referred to as the ‘Probate Tax’.  EAT is charged on your residual estate (i.e. everything that is left over after filing your final tax return).  Between your final income tax return and the EAT, significant taxes could end up being paid that could have been avoided if you do not have a legal will in place.

Funeral and Burial Arrangements

Without a legal will in place, the arrangements will be left solely up to the discretion of your personal representative.  As mentioned above, this individual will be court appointed and may not know your wishes.

So, What’s Keeping Canadians From Getting A Will?

As per the Angus Reid study, there are a few key reasons that our estates are not adequately planned for.

“Of course, 18-34-year-olds without a will are significantly more likely than other Canadians to say they are too young to worry about having one written – nearly half (46%) indicate as much. As they get older, Canadians are more likely to cite a lack of assets as the reason they do not have a will in place.”

Surprisingly, only 8% of respondents listed “not wanting to think about death” as their primary reason for not having a legal will in place.  So, it appears the morbidity of the topic is not the deterrent that we may have thought it was.

The 3rd most frequent answer provided as their deterrent was cost.  18% of respondents indicated that ‘It’s too expensive to get a will written’.  As with many industries, estate planning has seen its share of ‘disruption’.  No longer do you have to travel to a stuffy lawyer’s office and be gouged for their expertise. Not requiring a lawyer is especially true for the average Canadian whose estates are not very complicated.  This is likely the case for the 48% of respondents who thought that they were either too young or didn’t have any assets to consider.

For those with simple estates, who live in Alberta or Ontario, Novel recommends Willful as a great option to obtain a legal will in as little as 30 minutes. Their premium package includes a will as well as a power of attorney for property and a living will for $150 plus tax.  Also, we have negotiated a 10% discount with them if you use the promotional code ‘Novel10’ at checkout (read more about our affiliate policy).

The best part of using Willful’s service is that your will can be updated as many times as you would like, for free, forever!
Yes, free.
Yes, forever!

That means that there won’t be any legal costs incurred to update your estate when you move to a new home, purchase a new car, or welcome a newborn for example.  Just remember, when you do make updates to your will, all previous copies should be destroyed.

Do I Need A Lawyer To Write My Will?

No!

Similar to Willful, there are a number of options out there that can provide you with templates or documents that you can work with.  That said, you should never draft your own documents and any templates that you use should have been reviewed by a lawyer.  And rest assured, Willful has had a many lawyers aid in the drafting of their documents.

Once you have a will drafted using one of the various methods out there, you need to have the documents witnessed/signed by two parties who are not named in the will.  For example, your executor cannot serve as the witness.

Once signed, the hard copy location needs to be shared with your executor.  This will ensure that your executor can quickly access it and begin the process.  Unfortunately, at present, digital wills are not acceptable.  Hard copies with signatures must be kept as the official document for your will and power of attorneys.

That’s it.  You now have a legal will!

The Brass Tacks On Why You Need A Will

In 2019, far too many Canadians still either don’t have a will or their will is out of date.  Don’t leave your loved ones in a precarious position, by not having a will.  Not having an up to date legal will can create many complications for your estate, and your wishes may not be addressed appropriately.  Many tools are available for you to create your will and keep it up to date.

If you would like to discuss your estate planning or discuss it as part of a Fee-Only Financial Plan, please contact us to set up a consultation.

Did you find this article helpful?  Did we miss anything?  Please let us know in the comments.