Person sitting on couch with theri face not visible behind their laptop

Social Distancing Financial Planning Ideas

The past month has been one that we will never forget.  The coronavirus and its related impacts are the largest stress-test that many of us have ever experienced and may ever experience.  Our lives will continue to be changed forever, and we are finding ourselves with time to fill while we are social distancing or self-isolating.  This article can hopefully provide you with some ideas to help make productive use of your time in the world of personal finance.

Social Distancing Financial Planning Ideas:

  1. Refinance your mortgage

Interest rates have dropped significantly in recent weeks. The cumulative 1% rate cuts made by the Bank of Canada could leave you paying more interest with your current mortgage than you need to.

Refinancing your mortgage could allow you to realize some immediate savings and lower your monthly payments.

When refinancing, “break fees” or penalties are usually charged based on the terms that you agreed to with your lender.

Working with a mortgage broker can help give you access to multiple lenders, and the broker can help do the math for you to determine if there are attractive options for you, given your current situation.  The big banks tend to charge more than smaller lenders, so when in doubt, use a broker.  An added benefit is that working with a broker costs you nothing.

 

  1. Consolidate your debt

If you are carrying multiple balances, you can explore options to consolidate your debt and reduce the interest rate that you are paying.

Credit cards may offer balance transfer options, or your bank could look to roll your debts into a line of credit.

If you are working on refinancing your mortgage, it is also a possibility to roll your other debts into your mortgage and take advantage of the low mortgage rates.

 

  1. Rebalance your portfolio

Markets have changed dramatically over the past month. A typical balanced portfolio is down roughly 14% since the market peak in February.  If you are managing your own investments, you likely now find yourself with your asset allocation out of line with your target allocation.  Most likely, the equity portion of your portfolio has performed poorly, and you might be under-allocated to equity.

 

  1. Contribute to your Investment accounts

If you haven’t made your annual TFSA or RRSP contributions yet, now may be a more attractive period to enter the market than it would have been at the peak on Feb 21.

To quote Warren Buffet,

“Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.”

Make sure to always invest in line with your risk tolerance, and consult with a professional if you are unsure if investments are appropriate for you.

 

  1. File your taxes

It’s not the most fun exercise, but it is that time of year.  An added benefit of this step is that if you are entitled to a refund, you could get your payment sooner rather than later.

That said, investment income slips (T3s and T5s) are due to be sent out by March 30, so make sure that you have all the required tax slips before filing.

If working with a professional tax filer, they now have temporary approval to utilize electronic signatures by the CRA (welcome to 2020!)  The deadline for personal tax filing has also been extended to June 1.  You can read more about the Government of Canada’s changes on their website.

Novel is pleased to be able to offer tax filing services.  Contact us for a no-obligation quote if you need assistance filing your tax taxes.

 

  1. Develop a budget

Doing a review of your spending is never a bad idea. Given our current situation, and the income uncertainty that many are facing, there may never be a more appropriate time.

There are many products/services out there that can assist you

Something to keep in mind with some of these products is their security.

These apps can sync your various accounts and could void the terms of your bank or financial institution.  Consider these risks before you make use of any of these types of products.

 

  1. Shop around for insurance

If you have gone through a home or auto insurance renewal recently, your insurance premiums may have increased significantly.  The insurance industry has been raising rates due to profitability issues all around.

That said, perhaps your carrier may have raised rates more than others.

As such, work with your broker to explore options with other carriers and bundle your home and auto for a multi-product discount.

When shopping for insurance, it is critical to compare options on an apples-to-apples basis.  Coverage limits and deductibles should be similar (or identical where possible) to make sure that pricing differences are due to a lower price and not due to reduced coverage.

 

  1. Get a will

Roughly half of Canadians don’t have a will, which is half too many.

There are many reasons why you need a will.

Schedule a video chat with your executor of choice, and those you wish to care for your children.  Scheduling might also be easier right now, given everyone’s desire to fill some downtime.

Novel recommends Willful as its online will product of choice.  Use the code Novel10 at checkout to save 10% off your will preparation.

If you go the online will preparation route, getting a witness for your will may take some time.  Wills are not considered legal if they have an electronic signature.  As such, once we can re-connect in person, you can get your will signed and make it final.

Don’t let the signature hurdle prevent you from putting the wheels in motion, however.

 

  1. Develop a plan

Financial planning can be completed entirely virtually and digitally.  What better time than now to take control of your financial future?  Working with a planner will allow you to

      • Re-evaluate your investment approach
      • Identify opportunities to save on financial product fees
      • Assess your insurance adequacy
        • Critical Illness
        • Long Term Disability
        • Home/Auto Property and Liability
        • Life Insurance
      • Plan for education savings
      • Plan for retirement
      • Develop an estate plan

Contact us if you would like to schedule a free no-obligation consultation call.

 

Income Generating Ideas While Social Distancing

 

  1. Learn a new skill

The world we live in will be a different place when we come out on the other side of COVID-19.  Perhaps this is an opportunity for you to expand your skill set to better align with the needs of the job market.

Learn to code, graphic design, UX, web design, photography, copywriting, personal trainer, sell insurance, etc.

Skills that are in demand in 2030 may look very different than where we sit today at the start of the decade.  Keeping up with the times in terms of your skills makes sure that you are marketable when the next wave of jobs becomes the norm.

Here are some free online course options available:

  1. Start a side hustle

For those currently unable to work, government benefits may be on the way to assist.  However, creating new income streams is something that someone can do even while fully employed.  Diversifying your income also provides an insurance policy, of sorts, in the event that you were unable to perform your primary job due to injury, illness or change in circumstance.

Several side hustles can also be 100% virtual, which is of increasing importance right now.

Always wanted to be a blogger?

What about being a freelance ghostwriter or blog post editor?

Have you dreamed of starting your own YouTube or Twitch video game channel?

Thought of launching a virtual yoga or TRX studio from your living room?

Currently, content is king with people’s attention up for grabs.  Be creative and go for it!

 

  1. Prep for a garage sale/classified ads sale

Now that you are social distancing, maybe its time to go through your stuff and purge.

Meeting up with a buyer from a classifieds site isn’t recommended right now, but identifying items that you would want to sell is an exercise that you can go through any time.

Selling the goods online via a site like eBay and shipping them remains an option.  At a minimum, now might be an opportunity to take all of the photos needed to post your ads when you are ready to sell.

 

The Brass Tacks

Collectively, we are going through a period that will change us forever.  You can use this time as an opportunity to make positive changes in your life as well.  There are several personal finance and financial planning opportunities that you can implement while social distancing or self-isolating. Stay safe, stay positive, and we will all get through this together.


TAX underlined on a bankbook

You Can File Your Own Taxes!

Originally Published December 29, 2018

Updated February 26, 2020

 

Andy Williams said it best, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Okay, maybe not.

Taxes can be scary. 

Uncomfortable for some.  Frightening for many.

Tax preparers have been making a lucrative living off of the general public for decades.  Similar to the average asset manager or financial advisor, they profit from your fear.  But you really shouldn’t be afraid.  Tax filing for most people and families is very straightforward.  In many cases, filing on your own consists of a very minimal number of steps.  Below I will outline the key things you should be doing and checking off your list to file your own taxes. 

PLEASE NOTE:  This should not be considered a complete guide for personal tax filing and is merely provided to assist with filing your own taxes.  Should you have a more complex tax situation or simply need assistance with filing your taxes, consult a tax professional.

Planning

I know, I get it.

Planning is the step that we typically like to do the least.  It’s the same reason that we don’t check the directions to our destination before we jump in the car and plug it into our GPS or Google Maps or Waze.  Societally, we are being trained to do things on demand.  However, planning is the single most important part of your tax filing.

Since 2019 has come to a close, the majority of the opportunities available for strategic planning have come and gone.  However, as you work through the process for the 2019 filing, this should be able to give you a sense of the opportunities available to you for the 2020 tax year.

In general, if you have any simple questions, the CRA website is a great resource and is generally well laid out and makes things easy to find.  When in doubt, the search function should get you to the information that you are looking for.  The site typically includes many simple examples laid out for a layperson to understand.

An excellent idea to aid in your tax planning and preparation is to enroll in the CRA e-service My Account for Individuals.  This tool gives you access to your notices of assessment, previous tax returns, RRSP/TFSA contribution room balances, as well as managing your personal information, such as direct deposit information and mailing address.

In addition to planning for your tax preparation, tax planning is a critical component of the Novel Financial Fee-Only Financial Planning Process.  Our mantra is that every taxpayer should pay every single dollar of tax that they owe, but we want to help make sure that you don’t have to pay $1 more than is absolutely necessary through a well-devised Fee-Only Financial Plan.

Document Collection

The most important part of a tax filing may not be the filing that you are thinking of.  Having a good document filing system makes the tax process exponentially easier.  Gathering your documents is a task that is best done throughout the year, and not right at the end.  Find a safe place for you to gather these documents together and make a habit of regularly storing them there.

Given that most of what we do is online today, many of these will be digital files.  Create a folder in your email, create a cloud storage account (such as Dropbox, iCloud Drive or Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, etc.), attach a USB drive to your key-chain or use your computer hard drive (with proper backups for physical storage!).  Novel recommends using a cloud drive, as it ensures that the most up-to-date security practices are used and that you do not need to worry about backups/losing your data. An excellent review of available cloud drive options is available here.  We also recommend that if you do receive hard-copy documents, take a picture and store it digitally.  At the end of the day, find a method that works for you and ensure that you stick to your document storage plan.

Try to store your documents in folders that are grouped based on document type to make things easier come tax time.

Examples of items to gather throughout the year, and that you should group separately:

  • Medical expenses
  • Union or professional dues
  • Charitable donations (official receipts)
  • Childcare costs
  • Moving expenses, if you moved for a new job or for education
  • Licensing examination fees (i.e. Tradesperson or Professional exams)
  • Support payment documentation (i.e. spousal support)

Items to gather at year-end:

NOTE: Not all of the above items listed will be relevant for your situation.

The CRA website offers a full list of deduction and credit opportunities.

Use Tax Software

Save some trees.  The option to paper file is available, but effectively no one does so.

If you haven’t tried using some of the various software out there, you may be surprised at just how easy they are to use.  There are many offerings available, and pricing varies by your needs.  In fact, some options offer a “pay as much as you’d like” option or offer free return filing for simple tax returns.

Here is a full list of NETFILE certified software options.  

As well, here is a review of some of the more prominent tax filing options available.

Tax Filing Time

Now that you are feeling comfortable to tackle the not-so-scary beast that is filing your own taxes, here is a helpful checklist to follow throughout your process.

  • Enroll in a CRA My Account for Individuals
  • Choose a NETFILE certified software provider
  • Start by taking the interview in the tax software or use the search function to find the document types that you have collected.
    • This may also help you identify what
  • Ensure that all of your T slips get entered somewhere in the software
  • Address all of your deduction and credit opportunities available to you
    • A good rule of thumb is that if you have a document saved, ask yourself, how did you use this on your tax return?
  • Be strategic with your RRSPs
    • Ensure that for your 2019 taxes, you have included the Mar – Dec 2019 and the Jan-Feb 2020 RRSP slips
    • Determine if you want to deduct in the current year or defer to 2020. You should potentially consider a deferral if your 2019 income will be much greater than in 2019, or will be in a higher tax bracket.
    • The software packages tend to focus on maximizing your refund in the current year, which may not be appropriate for your situation.
  • Review the errors and warnings in the software
    • The software out there typically provides warnings or suggestions at the end of the process. Determine if these apply to your situation and amend as required.
  • Ask for help
    • The average tax software has either a help or forum function available to help you through the process.
    • Some can even connect you with professional tax preparers to have your questions answered.
  • File your return using NETFILE, via the software that you have chosen
  • Save a copy of your NETFILE confirmation
  • Save a copy of your electronic tax return from the software
    • Select the option for the T1 and all supporting schedules, etc.
  • If provided with a Notice of Assessment at time of filing, save a copy as well
    • This will be your first official 2019 tax planning document!
    • This will also be available via CRA My Account once your return is processed, if not available immediately via the software.

And… ta-dah! You have officially filed your own taxes.  Was it truly that daunting?  I believe that you will have found that filing your own taxes isn’t as difficult as you might have thought.  Another benefit of doing this for yourself is that you now understand the process and typical items that could be potential tax planning/saving opportunities.  Novel would be happy to discuss potential tax planning opportunities for 2020 with you as part of your Fee-Only Financial Plan.  Contact us to discuss tax planning strategies as well as to discuss how to best utilize your tax refund!

Conversely, if you are still uncomfortable filing on your own or have questions, Novel can support you through the planning process and will refer you to qualified tax preparers.

Questions, comments, anything to add?  Please reply in the comments section.  We would love to hear from you.


Person offering their debit card to make a payment while shopping

Wealthsimple Cash – Not A Chequing Account

Remember the first time you got into an UBER or streamed a show on Netflix?

Every so often, a new product or service comes along that takes aim at the norms that we all grow accustomed to. January of 2020 may turn out to be one of those times. Financial products typically don’t face disruption quickly, as there are many barriers to change.  Cumbersome barriers such as fees, administration around account opening, transfers, etc.  There are a number of reasons why we don’t see new mainstream financial product disruptors all that often, but we may very well be in the midst of one with respect to traditional day-to-day banking.

This week, although it is still early days for the product, Wealthsimple introduced a new product called Wealthsimple Cash.  The new product is similar to a savings account.

What’s so special about a savings account, you ask?

Well, this account is more of a hybrid account that allows you to spend out of it, while also saving.

This account pays a “non-promotional” interest rate of 2.4%.  I use quotes around “non-promotional” because rates offered by any account are subject to change. 

However, unlike a savings account, this account will let you spend like a traditional bank account.  The account will offer a “Cash card” and will operate like a Visa debit card with no transaction limits or transaction fees.

Day-to-day spending accounts rarely offer high interest on the daily balance.  This is truly where the primary differentiation exists.

Currently, spending functionality is not active.  This will, however, be turned on in the coming months.

You may find other write-ups on this new account calling it a chequing account.  Wealthsimple Cash isn’t a chequing account.  It cannot replace all of the functionality of your current chequing account.  According to their customer service line, chequing is not planned to be offered for these accounts.  Similarly, you could not obtain a bank draft or certified cheque via this account.  Anyone who has entered into (or tried to enter into) a house or condo purchase recently will understand the importance of being able to get access to a bank draft. 

Changing bank accounts is so hard, you say?

I can’t emphasize enough how great the account setup experience was.  Start to finish it took less than 10 minutes and was done completely online.

No forms to sign.

No wait time for the account opening to be processed.

It was a very impressive onboarding experience.

Now that you spent 10 minutes opening your account, funding is the next step.

You are able to link your existing account from major institutions (i.e. TD, Tangerine, etc.) via a software tool called Plaid.  Plaid’s approach is one that allows your banking credentials to remain protected, according to their website, by using an API to connect to your current bank.

How are they able to offer this type of account?

The account is based on a partnership with banks.  For example, their previous product Wealthsimple Save was in partnership with Equitable Bank.  Wealthsimple will then take the cash held in your account and deposit it in savings accounts at their partner banks.  If we looked at Equitable Bank, for example, their current savings rate was just raised to 2.45% (likely as a result of the Wealthsimple offering) and has held fairly steady in the >2% range since the accounts launched back in late 2017 under the operating name EQ Bank.

Wealthsimple may change partners or account structures in the future, and as such, the rates that they may be able to offer can change in the future.

So, it’s a bank account?

Not exactly.

Welathsimple is not a bank.

Wealthsimple operates as a brokerage (through an entity called Canadian ShareOwner Investments Inc.).

Brokerages are covered under the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF).  The CIPF is a trust fund set up to protect investors’ assets in the event that a CIPF member firm becomes insolvent.  The CIPF covers up to $1 million per account type

The CIPF, however, does not cover when the issuer of the underlying security goes under.  In this case, the underlying asset is a savings account at a bank.

Banks are covered by the Canadian Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC)  .  The CDIC is a federally operated corporation whose purpose is to protect the money that you save at a federally regulated bank or credit union.  The CDIC is funded by its member institutions (i.e. the Banks)

The CDIC will insure up to $100,000 per account category in cash and marketable securities (GIC’s with up to 5-year maturities) in the event that a bank goes under.  Learn more at their website.

The accounts that Wealthsimple has at its partner banks are NOT covered by the CDIC.

Given the above, there are some questions as to whether or not these accounts are as safe as a standard savings account at a CDIC member bank or credit union.

So, what does this all mean?

Given this addition to WealthSimple’s already impressive product offering, which includes Wealthsimple Trade (self-directed brokerage), Wealthsimple Invest (robo-advisor) and SimpleTax (personal tax filing) this gives them a leg up on competitors …..but for how long?

Questrade has filed an application for a banking license to make a similar move into the cash account space.
If you are a current Questrade customer, then you may be better served to wait and see what their future holds with respect to a similar offering.
Wealthsimple does not offer account transfer fee rebates.  These costs can add up if you have to move multiple accounts (RRSP, TFSA, LIRA, RESP, etc) for both you and your spouse/family members.  Given the lack of a rebate, moving everything to Wealthsimple may be a bit premature.
In addition, as of this writing, Questrade’s robo-advisor is still the lowest cost option in the marketplace.
Another looming question is, what will be the response from the banks?

2.4% is not the leading rate for a savings account in the marketplace, but it is on the higher end of the range.  At this time, Laurentian Bank offers a 3.3% savings account (rate subject to change).

Most traditional bank accounts typically have transaction limits or fees associated with transactions.  Some of the mid-tier banks and credit unions offer no-fee/unlimited accounts as well.  However, these institutions tend not to be tied to discount brokerages and low-cost robo-advisors.  Perhaps the big banks will be forced to adjust their approach with the millennial-friendly institutions like Wealthsimple encroaching on their territory.

As you can see, Wealthsimple Cash is not the only solution in the market, but it is an intriguing one with lots of potential

The Brass Tacks

If you are a current Wealthsimple customer, opening one of these accounts feels like a no-brainer.

Given that there are no low balance fees, opening an account seems about as low risk as you can get.

As the spending functionality begins to come online, this account’s usefulness will only increase, as well as put pressure on the banks to respond to potential shifts in customer expectations.

If you are not currently a Wealthsimple customer, you may be better served by waiting to see what their competitors to as a response.  On the flip side, if you are an early adopter by nature, I couldn’t blame you for jumping in with two feet.

Here is a summary of the characteristics of the account.

Pros

  • 2.4% “non-promotional” interest rate
  • No fees
  • No minimum balance
  • Connect directly to existing accounts
  • Setup automatic deposits/contributions from your existing bank accounts
  • Simple 10-minute onboarding and account setup process
  • Uses Plaid APIs to connect other institutions
  • CIPF protected in the event that Wealthsimple becomes insolvent

Cons

  • No TFSA/RRSP options
  • No chequing is planned to be offered
  • No drafts or certified cheques available
  • Underlying bank accounts are not CDIC protected – and there appears to be some potential risk of loss if the banks were to become insolvent.
  • No current spending functionality (but coming soon)

Future Enhancements

  • Cash card – which operates like a Visa Debit card – and associated spending functionality
  • No-fee foreign exchange transactions
  • ATM fee reimbursement
  • Email transfers
  • Pre-authorized debits for rent, mortgage, condo fee payments, etc.
  • Automatic deposit of payroll
NOTE: Information regarding the Wealthsimple Cash account was obtained from their website, or via their telephone support line, if not otherwise referenced in this article and is subject to change.