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.


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.

RRSP Contributions should be planned to maxmize your nest egg

Beware of RRSP Season

Originally Published on February 5, 2019

Updated January 23, 2020

 

By any chance, have you been off the grid for the last month or so?  No?  Then I am certain that you have seen an advertisement for RRSPs during that time.

This is a big season for the average bank, fund provider, asset manager and just about anyone else involved in the investment or financial services industry.

The reason that this is such an important time is simple – RRSP sales.  And why are RRSP sales so important? RRSPs stay invested – for a long time.

Let’s use a simple example.  In this example, you invest $10,000 in an average mutual fund within your RRSP.  You are 30 years old when you contribute and plan to retire at the age of 65.  Let’s say this mutual fund has a 2% Management Expense Ratio (MER) and grows at a rate of 5% a year.   By the time you reach retirement, the mutual fund will have earned $10,326 in fees over that 35-year period.  $10,000 of income, from a single contribution!  In addition, you will keep your funds invested throughout your retirement as you withdraw from your RRSP as a source of income.  This example doesn’t contemplate admin fees, transaction fees, or management fees paid to your advisors.  These fees would be over and above the MER for the mutual fund.

As you can see, RRSPs are BIG business for the industry.

The problem with the sales cycle that we all endure during the early part of the year is that it doesn’t contemplate the most important factor.  YOU!

Blindly contributing to your RRSP is not a winning financial strategy.  When deciding whether you should contribute to your RRSP, you should take into consideration your individual financial situation. 

Isn’t Saving For Retirement A Good Thing?

Absolutely!  Start saving.  Right now.  Start yesterday if you are somehow able to do that.

According to a study by BDO, nearly two-thirds of Canadians say that they don’t have much, or anything, saved for retirement.  A key statistic from the report is that 47% of millennials have no retirement savings.

Saving for retirement helps to solidify your financial future.  Of the people surveyed in the study, 75% of those who haven’t retired yet expect to work longer than their parents did. 

Saving for your retirement is critical and I encourage you to do so, but blindly contributing to an RRSP is not the only way to achieve either your retirement or your broader financial goals.

Is An RRSP Contribution Right For Me During RRSP Season?

There are several considerations to take into account when determining your tax and retirement strategy.  RRSPs are an integral component of both.  Here are a few of the key items that you should keep in mind.

  1. Am I carrying credit card debt?

Not only is it RRSP season, but it is also the time of year that we have to pay off our credit cards from the December spending spree.  Paying down high-interest credit card and other types of debt should be prioritized over contributing to your RRSP.

  1. Do I have an emergency fund?

Retirement is a long way away for some.  You need to get there first.

An often-overlooked area for most, an emergency fund is mandatory to weather the ups and downs of life.  Identity theft, cracked foundations, leaky roofs, unexpected medical expenses, job loss, serious injury, elderly parents in need of care, vehicle breakdown or a surprise baby on the way.  These are just a sampling of the reasons that you should ensure that you have an adequate emergency fund at the ready.

  1. Can I lock these funds in until retirement?

An RRSP isn’t a typical savings account.  When you put money into one, the general expectation is that you will keep the money there until it is time to fund your retirement.  As such, you won’t have access to the funds without penalty.  Funds that are withdrawn early experience 2 major consequences.

First, the funds withdrawn have a withholding tax applied against them.  The Federal withholding tax rate is 10% for withdrawals up to $5,000, 20% for withdrawals between $5,000 and $15,000, and 30% for withdrawals over $15,000.  In addition, if you live in Quebec, there is also a provincial withholding tax.  This means, that if you live in Ontario will need access to $15,000, you need to withdraw roughly $19,500 in order to be left with the cash that you need after federal withholding tax.  When you file your tax return for the year of withdrawal, the $19,500 would be included in your income.  If you have a marginal rate below the 30%, you should receive a refund for the difference, but you have just given the government an interest-free loan for the period between your withdrawal date and when your tax refund gets paid out.  If your marginal rate is greater than 30%, then you now need additional cash to cover the tax bill for the difference in tax rates.

Second, you lose the RRSP contribution room forever.  Unlike a TFSA, when you make a withdrawal from an RRSP, you do not get to put the withdrawal back in.  With a TFSA, you can re-contribute the amount that you withdrew in the following year.

  1. What is my marginal tax rate, and what will my tax rate in retirement be?

This is the money maker when it comes to using RRSPs.  The best use of an RRSP is when you contribute money at a higher marginal tax rate than your planned marginal tax rate in retirement.  In a simple example, if you contribute at a 30% tax rate, but withdraw at a 35% tax rate, you will be paying more tax than you would have saved on the contribution.

That being said, the tax-deferred treatment of the investments within an RRSP can still result in a positive outcome despite the above tax rate scenario.  This will depend heavily on investment performance and the length of time the funds are invested.  Whether or not this will make sense for you will depend on several factors, however.

  1. How much tax do I have to pay this year?

One of the immediate benefits of an RRSP is that it reduces your tax payable in the current year.  contributions made in tax years with higher marginal rates than are typical for you, provide the best bang for your buck.  If you contribute too much in the wrong year, you may be wasting some of the taxation magic that an RRSP contribution can provide given that contribution room is limited.   Which is a great segue…

  1. How much contribution room do I have?

Unfortunately, the benefits of an RRSP are not unlimited.  You accrue 18% of your employment income as RRSP contribution room every year, up to a maximum of $27,230 in 2020.  If you have a limited amount of contribution room, you may be better served by using it in a later year when your marginal tax rate is higher.

  1. Do I already have enough in my RRSP?

There is also the possibility that you don’t need to make any contributions.  If you have a workplace defined benefit pension, this may satisfy your retirement income needs by itself.  This is not a typical scenario, however. 

Another scenario of note is where you have ample RRSP savings already to fund your retirement needs.  In this case, additional contributions you could put yourself in a position where when you convert the RRSP to an RRIF you will end up in too high a tax bracket.  If this is the case, TFSA, non-registered accounts or Spousal RRSP contributions are more appropriate for your situation.

Buyer Beware: RRSP Loans

Another tactic that the financial industry likes to use is the offering of RRSP loans.

The general idea is that you take out a loan to contribute to your RRSPs, and then pay off as much of the loan as you can with your tax refund.

The major problem with this approach is that when you borrow money to invest in an RRSP, the interest that you pay on the loan is not tax-deductible.  In addition, as with most loans, there is an inherent risk.  The risk here is that unforeseen events could arise, or you simply get invited to go on a great spring break trip, and you may not pay the loan off in full.  All the while, you can’t deduct the interest because it was used to fund your RRSP.  Not a winning play.

Your Bonus & RRSP Season

Another item to consider is that this also happens to be around the time when many employee bonuses are paid out.  If your employer offers a savings program, such as a Group RRSP, then typically your employer will provide you with the option of having your bonus paid straight into your workplace RRSP plan.  In addition to the items mentioned above, there are additional considerations to keep in mind around this option.

  1. What is the timing of the bonus payment?

This is critical from an RRSP perspective.  If the bonus will not be paid until after March 1, 2020, then it won’t be eligible for your 2019 tax year filing.  If this is paid prior to March 1, and you elect to contribute it to your Group RRSP, then you would have the option to apply it to either the 2019 or 2020 tax year. 

A word of caution on the prior to March 1 example – your bonus will be taxed as income in 2020 regardless.  If you contribute it and elect to use the RRSP deduction for the 2019 year, you would still have to pay the income tax on it in the 2020 tax year, but with the cash flow of the bonus to cover the tax owing.  As such, this would not be a generally recommended approach. 

  1. What are the fees associated with my Group RRSP?

This is one that you will have to do some research around.  Mind you, this is research that I would recommend you perform no matter what.  Gaining an understanding of the investment products that are offered as part of your employer-based savings plans, and their fees will help piece together the overall cost of your portfolio.  While the fees associated with the products offered can vary, there may be an offsetting benefit to utilizing the savings plan, such as an employer savings match.  For example, if you contribute 5% of your savings each month into the plan, they may offer to match this 5%.  A 100% match of your money will offset the increased fees that they may offer. 

However, when it comes to your bonus, there won’t be an accompanying match on your contribution (like a standard pension contribution).  High fees may make this option an unattractive one.

  1. Do I need the cash from the bonus payment for another purpose?

If you do not contribute your bonus to the savings plan, this will be paid out just like your normal paycheque.  However, there will be one key difference.  When the bonus gets paid out, there will typically be a withholding tax at a fairly high marginal rate, along with CPP and EI deductions.  Similar to the early RRSP withdrawal example above, this means that some of your money may be tied up until you file your tax return in 2021, for the 2020 tax year, and get your refund.

The Brass Tacks

RRSPs are powerful financial tools. 

The financial industry is full of intimidating salespeople.

The combination of these facts can result in some unwise decisions being made.

In order to determine whether contributing to your RRSP is the right thing for you, there are a number of important factors to consider.  You shouldn’t simply blindly contribute to your RRSP like the salespeople would like you to.

To discuss your tax and RRSP strategy for the coming year as part of a Fee-Only Financial Plan please contact us.

Did you find this blog post helpful?  Anything else you think that we should include?

Please let us know in the comments below.


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.