Category Archives for "Personal Finances"

Need Money? Should you Withdraw from your RRSP?

By Randall Orser | Budget , Personal Finances , Personal Income Tax , Retirement

Most of us do not think about withdrawing from our RRSP until we retire, but in some instances it might make sense to cash in a portion of your savings early to help finance your studies, buy a home or help you get through financial difficulties during the present pandemic.  Here are some examples of times you might want to access your RRSP funds.

  • If you want to become a homeowner but you are finding it difficult to save up enough for a down payment, through the Home Buyers' Plan (HBP) you may be able to get the financial boost that you need.  Under this plan you can withdraw up to $35,000 from your RRSP to buy or build a home provided that you are a first time buyer (defined as not having owned a home in the four year period preceding a home purchase).  The amount that you take out is repayable over 15 years.  Repayments are made as a RRSP contribution designated as a repayment on your tax return.  If you don't make a repayment the amount required will be included as income on your tax return.  Contributions must be in the RRSP for 90 days before they can be withdrawn under the HBP.
  • If you want to further your education by learning new skills or training for a new career you can enrol in the Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP) that allows you to withdraw funds from your RRSP to fund your tuition and help with other costs.  The plan allows you to withdraw up to $10,000 in a calendar year up to a total of $20,000.  The funds have to be repaid over a period of ten years avoid it being included as income.  
  • If you have income volatility an early withdrawal might make sense. Only the HBP and the LLP allow you to withdraw funds from your RRSP tax free if you have no other income in the withdrawal year your tax rate may be low.  Alternatively you could move the money from to a TFSA without paying much tax.  In both your RRSP and TFSA you need to make sure when you are making withdrawals and paying back that you do not go over your contribution limit in a year.    
  • If you expect to have a clawback on your OAS and you decide to retire at 60.  In that instance your income will probably drop until you reach age 65 when you will start to receive your company pension, CPP, OAS and money from your RRSP.  As your total income at age 65 may exceed the OAS clawback limit ($79,054 in 2020) your OAS will be subject to a clawback and 15% tax.  It would make sense to withdraw money from your RRSP over these five years probably saving you a lot of tax.  If you don't need the money it might make sense to use your RRSP for income until you reach age 70 as each year you defer claiming your government benefits means that they will increase.

However you decide to use your RRSP you need to do it with caution bearing in mind that the intent of a RRSP is to contribute regularly to a fund and let the money grow over the years until you retire.  Don't forget that any withdrawals are taxable.

From an article by Margaret Craig-Bourdin

Think Carefully Before Lending Money to Relatives or Friends

By Randall Orser | Budget , Personal Finances , Retirement

In this time of Covid-19 it is important to consider all the implications of loaning money to friends or relatives. The pandemic has resulted in many Canadians having financial problems due to losing their job and they inevitably turn to friends and relatives to help them out.  Before you make the decision to loan them money you need to consider the following:

  •  It is important to put yourself first, especially now,  you need to ask yourself if you can really afford to lend money.  Everyone wants to help their friends and family but extending a loan should not cause you to be in financial straits.  It would be better for the loved one to consider applying for the various government programs available especially those for small businesses. You need to keep all the cash that you need and be prepared for the worst case scenario in your own circumstances.   You should not sacrifice your retirement plans to help your kids out even though you want to and you need to be realistic about the risk of not getting your money back.
  • Be prepared to never see your money again, the loan that you make may become a gift as even with their best intentions their circumstances may mean that they are unable to pay you back.  You could ask for collateral against the loan, but that depends on how far you are prepared to go to collect and also protect your relationship with that person. A parent who lends money to a child should also consider other family members and and view the loan not as a debt but as an advance on their inheritance.
  • Ask why they need the money, if you are advancing a loan then you should know why the money is needed so ask questions.  If you are loaning someone money to help maintain a lifestyle that they cannot really maybe it would be better to ask questions to understand their circumstances and advise them as to how they can reduce their spending.  You may be able to help in other ways rather than loaning money such as buying groceries.  
  • Set the terms, establish terms for the loan, specify the amount, the date the loan should be repaid or a repayment schedule and whether or not you will be charging interest. To secure the loan you could register an asset such as a debt free vehicle or the borrower could name you as an irrevocable beneficiary in a life insurance policy.  This makes it possible to protect the loan amount up front from other creditors for example in the event of bankruptcy.
  • Think twice about guaranteeing a loan, as this can be risky, you may end up on hook for not only the debt but the accrued interest.  A lender may not feel that they are involved in the loan if they do not provide the funds but in fact they are taking on a new debt obligation if the borrower defaults.  Be aware that your children may have their eyes on your assets and what they may inherit and may use emotional blackmail to get the money they want.  It can be difficult to say no to them if you have loaned them money before.  Even if you do help out especially to keep a business afloat, it may be a short term solution and the business may not improve its financial situation under the current circumstances and closing down may be inevitable.

If you seriously considering extending a loan to a friend or relative, it might be prudent to get some guidance from a professional beforehand.

From an article by Mathieu de Lajartre

Financial Literacy Lessons Should Begin Early in Life

By Randall Orser | Budget , Investments , Personal Finances , Personal Income Tax

For most of us money management was not a subject taught in our schools.  Today it is recognized that financial literacy should start at an early age and should be taught in schools.  The Ontario government recently announced that this would be a subject that would be included in the 2020 curriculum which would be a win-win situation for both children and their parents enabling children to achieve a more stable financial future.  Other provinces across the country are now also making financial literacy a priority in schools. 

According to Doretta Thompson CPA Canada's financial literacy leader, "financial wellness is a continuum from knowledge, to competency to confidence in making sound financial decisions". "Kids who learn the basics of budgeting, saving, credit and wants versus needs are better prepared to make good financial decisions through post secondary education and beyond." In BC a new provincial curriculum was introduced in 2019 after it was shown that a number of students were graduating with a lack of financial skills.

Experts believe that talking about money and financial management goes beyond dollars and cents, it is also about making choices and being aware of the trade-offs those choices require.  The classroom setting gives children the opportunity to ask questions about money such as creating a budget to allow them to save up for a toy.  It is important that teachers are comfortable teaching financial literacy especially if they are struggling in their own financial situation.

Teaching money management in school is a good foundation for kids to learn but it is important that parents engage with their children about what they are learning.  Other strategies for parents including giving kids an allowance and teach kids about spending and saving, involving them in family financial decisions where appropriate for their age and reviewing the kid's first pay stub to make sure that they understand about deductions and taxes.

Although it can be difficult for parents to discuss money with their kids it is a good idea to use every day examples to teach about money in a way that make it relevant to them.  Examples can pop up all the time such as when grocery shopping or getting gas. 

From an article by Ethan Rotberg

Paying Digitally? – Tips to Stay on Top of Your Finances

By Randall Orser | Budget , Personal Finances

I never thought that debit cards would catch on but plastic has now taken over as most people's most used method of payment. During the pandemic many retailers and other businesses no longer accept cash, instead opting for contact-free forms of payment such as e-transfers, payment apps, and debit or credit cards.   This can make it difficult for some people to control their spending and stick to their budget.

Cashless transactions eliminate the need to go to the bank to withdraw cash or carry it around with you which may be a plus. However there are serious downsides to going cashless such as the risk of identity theft and credit card fraud, and it is so easy to spend more when using plastic. Researchers say that paying with a credit or debit card reduces the "pain of payment" so that it doesn't feel the same as paying with cash even though the expense is the same.

Here are some tips to help you to keep your spending in line when using your cards:

  1. Keep track of your transactions as you go using a budgeting app or a spreadsheet.  
  2. Limit your options, don't use multiple credit cards try and keep your methods of payment to your bank account on a debit card and one credit card.  Once you have control of these payment sources you can add more options but keep things simple.
  3. Pay off your credit cards, in 2019 only 56% of Canadians paid off their credit cards in full by the end of the month and the other 44% were paying the high interest from having a balance.  This is not a good situation to be in because it means that you are spending more than you make.  If you do have a credit card balance with high interest think about getting a card with a lower interest rate and no annual fees even if you have to forgo the travel points for now.
  4. Going cashless means we are more likely to impulse buy.  If you are buying on-line pause before you finalize the sale to consider if you really need the item.  Also companies track whether you have completed a transaction or not and if not they may contact you with a better price to encourage you to buy.
  5. When your mortgage comes up for renewal don't just accept your bank's offer.  Shop around to  see if you can get a better deal.  Reducing your interest rate by only 0.5% could mean that you will save thousands of dollars.
  6. Stay away from targeted ads.  Everyone is on-line a lot these days and ads on social media will target you using information from previous purchases.
  7. Check your credit score - this will not always affect your credit score as many banks offer a credit-checking feature using a simple button on their app.  Use it to check for any errors or discrepancies.

From an article by Margaret Craig-Bourdin

Over-contributed to your TFSA or RRSP? Here’s what you should do.

By Randall Orser | Investments , Personal Finances , Personal Income Tax , Retirement

It can be an easy mistake to over contribute to your TFSA or RRSP especially if you have an amount automatically contributed each month. If you find that has happened to you there are some basics that you should know to remedy this situation.

RRSP Contributions

The penalty for RRSP over contributions is 1% per month for each month that you are over the limit.  The CRA  does allow you a $2000 grace amount for over contributions but that amount is not tax deductible.  The best way for you to correct an overpayment is to withdraw the amount, though it will be subject to taxes.  You will be able to claim an offsetting deduction if you meet certain conditions (link to CRA Website).  The main condition is that you make sure the the over contribution is withdrawn in the year that it was made, the year in which you receive an assessment for the year of contribution, or in the year following each of these years.

If you meet the conditions for offsetting deduction you can have withholding tax waived on the withdrawal by filing form T3012A.  If you don't do this then the tax withheld at source can be claimed as tax paid on your tax return.  It is very important to keep track of your RRSP contributions and make sure that you withdraw any over contribution so as to penalties that may arise.

TFSA Contributions

Over contributions to TFSA's happens often especially when people have multiple accounts in different banks and they lose track of those accounts over time.  As the limits allowable have varied depending on the year it can become really confusing to contributors.  Two common mistakes are:

  • Replacing a TFSA withdrawal in the same year - if your contribution limit has already been reached you have to wait to replace a withdrawal until January in the next calendar year.  This often happens when the TFSA account is used in the same way as a savings account with repeated withdrawals and contributions which can create an over-contribution as withdrawals do not lower the contribution limit.
  • When a TFSA balance is transferred to another institution, if this is not done as a direct transfer it will be counted as a second contribution and the withdrawal amount will not be added to your  TFSA room until the following year.

TFSA over contributions are 1% per month over the term of the over-contribution until the year end based on the highest excess amount for the month.  There is no $2000 grace amount as with a RRSP and penalties for over contribution must be paid by June 30th.

For more information on TFSA contributions see the CRA's TFSA Guide (RC4466) which also provides you with a RC343 worksheet  for you to keep track of your contributions and withdrawals.  It is also important to review your notice of assessment that you receive from the CRA which states how much contribution room that you have in your TFSA and RRSP for the current year.  It is a good idea to compare the CRA amounts with your own records.   In addition you can get a copy of your contribution history from the CRA's My Account service.

From an article by Denise Deveau

Financial Considerations for First Time Home Buyers

By Randall Orser | Investments , Personal Finances , Personal Income Tax

The Covid-19 pandemic has not stopped people from wanting to buy a home for the first time.  However it is necessary to do some long term planning including preparation for the unknown before taking the plunge into the housing market.

Canadian house sales rebounded by 63% month over month in June showing that the real estate market seems to be holding steady despite the financial problems that the pandemic has caused.  However the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) predicts that home prices will fall up to 18% due to job losses, declining income, stalling construction and it has now tightened lending restrictions.  Despite this, Canadians are still feeling optimistic about the real estate market mostly due to the all time historic low interest rates.

If you are thinking about purchasing your first home you should consider the following:

1.  Adjusting your expectations - even if you are relatively unscathed by the pandemic and still have stable employment it is a good idea to weigh your needs against what you want to own and adjusting your expectations.  For example do you really need a single detached home?  If you are working remotely would living outside of the city where property is usually cheaper to buy be an option?  Do you really need a backyard? if not would a condo work for you?  Making adjustments to your expectations will help you to better assess what you can comfortably afford while maybe retaining some of your savings.

2.  What you can afford should be based on your lifestyle not low interest rates. You should not be stretching yourself beyond the limits of what you can really afford while still retaining your lifestyle.  Though low interest rates are a plus for many the CMHC says it is important to consider the losses that you may suffer should house prices decline. Making a bigger downpayment will help to protect you against these possible future losses. 

3.  Align your budget - make sure your budget is realistic and something that you can stick to. Use it to determine the down payment that you can make while accounting for your expenses and leaving some money for savings.  You should consider your cash flow and liquidity and make contingency plans preparing for a worst case scenario such as job loss or unexpected costs.   It is important to maintain your savings rather than relying on credit to help you pull through difficult times.  

4.  Plan for hidden costs - purchasing a home involves a lot more than just your down payment, mortgage payments and the interest rate and you need to be prepared for these extra costs.  These include:

  • Closing costs - legal and administration fees which can account for 1.5 to 4% of the purchase price, land transfer tax, and title insurance.
  • Upfront costs - such as property inspections, condominium fees and mortgage default insurance if required.
  • Less obvious expenses that may vary depending on where you live but for new developments can include infrastructure, planning approval and zoning fees.  It is advisable to seek legal advice to review this type of purchase agreements as the fees can mount up and it is important to set some preset limits on what they are going to be.
  • Additional expenses - besides property taxes, utilities and insurance homeowners should also have a fund to cover repairs and other unexpected costs that pop up.

From an article by Sophie Nicholls Jones

Recent and Outlandish Covid-19 Scams

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Personal Finances , Scams

During the pandemic fraudsters are endlessly devising new scams to trick us into parting with our money.  Jeff Thomson from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says that " Fraudsters are always targeting Canada with new and old scams.  In 2019 the CAFC received more than 20,000 fraud reports involving more than $43 million in losses.  

Some of the most outlandish scams that have hit the news include: 

  • Homeland Security Agents intercepting a number of fake Covid-19 tests inside a parcel.  Toronto police tracked down the the sender and charged him with fraud and possession of a forgery device.  
  • A Toronto resident received a text message inviting her to click on a link to claim $1375.50 in emergency relief funds and her personal information was stolen.  
  • A California actor who promised a $300,000,00 return on investment to anyone who invested $1 million to back his fraudulent coronavirus cures.
  • An American company offering a coronavirus protocol kit containing tea and cannabinoid tinctures.  The FDA stopped this company from selling a product that claimed to prevent, treat or cure the virus.

Here are some of the latest scams to watch out for:

  1. Social Insurance Number scam - Getting a call from someone pretending to be from Service Canada who says that your SIN has been compromised.  This is the latest variation on the caller id scam when fraudsters disguise the ID display on a phone to trick victims into answering the phone.  Do not provide any personal information to this person as you could be at risk of identity fraud.  If you get such a call hang up then call the number on your account statement or government website to verify.  
  2. Email money transfer fraud - Often seen as a safe and secure way to transfer funds there were 371 million e transfers in 2019 worth more than $132 billion according to figures from Interac Corp.  However the method is not foolproof, the anti-fraud centre received 163 reports in 2018 of bank accounts being compromised and money e transferred out.  
    • To protect yourself from this make sure your password is strong and do not share it with anyone.  
    • Use one password per website and continually change them, choose security questions that are not easy to guess.
    • Use filters to protect from viruses and spyware.
    • Look for strange passwords such as $ being used after the amount.  
    • If you accidentally fill out personal information in a link from a phishing scam change your online banking password and inform your bank immediately.
  3. Bank Investigator Scam - There are many variations of this scam but generally victims receive a call from someone posing as a store employee inquiring about a recent purchase on a credit card and are asked to call the number on the back of their card to verify the the validity of the call.  When victims believe that they have hung up, the original caller who has not disconnected redirects the victims to imposters. To protect yourself from these type of scams.
    • As most of these calls occur early in the morning often when a victim is still sleeping so it is important that you always stay alert when dealing with your finances.
    • Do not assume that phone numbers on your call display are accurate, it easy for scammers to use call spoofing technology.
    • Financial institutions will never ask you to transfer funds to an external account for security.
    • Never give remote access to your computer systems to unknown callers.
  4. Scams targeting lawyers and trust funds - In these scams fraudsters pretend to be a client or someone authorized to give instructions on a client's behalf.  In one case a company was tricked into transferring almost half a million dollars held in trust to a different account than the original set up for the client.  In this case the email used by the trickster was identical to the one used by the client.  To protect yourself:
    • As any client or lawyer's account can be hacked, lawyers or other financial professionals should ensure that any changes to payment instructions should be confirmed by direct contact with the client.
    • Due diligence protocols should are established for transferring funds and it should be ensured that all staff receive training and adhere to the rules.
    • Be on high alert for scams during vacations.  Arrange for a competent staff member to supervise your practice and provide your contact information to your staff.

Identity theft and fraud are big concerns for Canadians so it is important that everyone is aware of ways that they can protect themselves.

From an article by Margaret Craig-Bourdin

Why the Pandemic is Open Season for Scammers

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Personal Finances , Scams , Technology

Did you find that during the first few months of the pandemic you got a lot less scammer phone calls?  Now the scammers are back in full force exploiting people's fears about the pandemic.  Everything from free masks (you just pay the shipping), fake testing kits, miracle cures and even cleaning services claiming to rid your air vents of the virus.  Between March 6 and April 23rd the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre logged 643 fraud reports and 158 confirmed victims, though this is probably less than the true total as many people are too embarrassed to report that they have fallen for a scam.

The pandemic has created perfect conditions for con artists as people are alone, anxious, on-line, watching frightening news and worrying about their jobs, finances and relatives who are at high risk.  Jeffrey Thomson a CAFC criminal intelligence analyst says "It's prime time for fraudsters, an extortion scam is trying to create fear and anxiety in people to get them to react.  Now people are more likely to be constantly in that state."  

One of the most common scams is getting a text or email from someone claiming to be the government directing you to provide your SIN and banking information to claim the CERB.  As Thomson says successful scams are a game of numbers and as this one is going out in huge amounts it is taking more victims.

Phishing, extortion and emergency scams are also on the rise.  Most common are a brand offering you loyalty points in exchange for your banking information or someone impersonating a friend or relative stuck abroad and needing you to send money.  Here are some of the warning signs that you should be looking for to avoid getting scammed.

  • Be suspicious if you did not initiate contact and don't respond to unsolicited messages that sound a bit fishy.
  • Think twice before clicking any links in a text or an email from an unknown source.
  • If a friend messages via social media for financial help call them to confirm.
  • Verify any websites claiming to be the government.
  • Make sure the seller is reputable when shopping on line.
  • If a deal on Covid-19 products seems too good to be true, it probably is.

If you do fall victim to a scam collect all the details and events in chronological order and report them to the police, the CAFC, the credit bureau and your bank and credit card providers.  Even if you cannot recover your own money you may help other Canadians to avoid losing theirs.

From an article by Sinead Mulhern

Benefits and Impacts of Deferring your Mortgage Payments

By Randall Orser | Budget , Covid-19 , Personal Finances

The impacts of Covid-19 have been felt by everyone in Canada, and many are struggling financially due to loss of work or decreased hours.  For those needing help there are financial relief programs that can offer much needed breathing room.

The ability to defer a mortgage payment is an option that has been offered by most lenders. It enables people to free up cash for the short term by deferring a significant financial obligation but it is not the right decision for everyone.   Here are some of the pros and cons of deferring your mortgage payments:

1. Being able to defer your mortgage payments can provide much needed peace of mind in these difficult times.  It will improve your monthly cash flow which will cover your urgent life expenses if you are experiencing a reduction of income .

2.  Don't just miss a payment as this comes with negative consequences such as your mortgage becoming delinquent causing a negative impact to your credit rating and risking potential foreclosure.  It is important to seek advice sooner rather than later to explore your options and make informed decisions.  Work with your mortgage lender to set up the deferral if you decide that this the best action for you to take.

3. When making the decision to defer your mortgage payments it is important to understand that the unpaid interest accrued during the skipping period will be added to the outstanding principal on your mortgage, which means that you will owe more on your mortgage in the long run than if you did not defer any payments.  Reducing your monthly payments will also lead to a longer repayment period and payment of more interest over time.

4. There are other ways to free up funds if you don't think that deferring mortgage payments is a good idea for you:

  • Refinancing your Mortgage - if you have equity built up in your property you may be able to access it to pay out other debts or create some cash flow.
  • Increasing your Mortgage Amortization - this will help you to lower your monthly payments but you will be spreading out your payments over a longer period of time.
  • Adjusting your Monthly Budget - staying at home will probably have decreased your monthly spending so it is a good idea to identify where you are saving money and make sure you allocate it to necessities rather than things that you don't need.
  • Look at other deferral options - you may be able to defer your property taxes, utility payments and payments on credit cards and loans these might be better options than deferring mortgage payments.

Deferring your mortgage payments can help your immediate financial situation but you need to carefully consider the potential future financial impacts.  You should speak with your financial advisor to determine if this is the best thing for you to do or if there are better options for you to free up cash to tide you over.

From an article by Diane Amato

Bubble Friendly Ways to Vacation

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Personal Finances

Industry watchers have called this summer "the summer fun forgot" and even though the economy is slowly coming to life again people are still being cautious when it comes to vacations and travel.  Even though countries in Europe and the Caribbean have opened their borders and there are some flight deals the federal travel advisory to avoid non-essential international travel is keeping people from travelling.  A recent Travel Week survey found that 42.7% pf respondents would travel within Canada even if global travel resumed tomorrow.

Frederic Dimanche director of the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University say that "trust" is the operative word this year.  "Vacationers will want to travel with p people that they know well, are likely to stick to small groups and their own bubble.  Many people will do road trips instead of flying and return to family camping trips or drives to the lake, back to holidays they experienced in the past."

Here are someways to make your vacations memorable:

1.  Head to Cottage Country - many will be looking to rent a cottage if they don't own one and will plan to visit people who do have a cottage.  

2.  Those who want to stay inside their bubble are travelling the open road in an RV or by car but most are not travelling too far from home usually remaining in their own province.

3.  Finding adventure close to home - those who love adventure think they need to look offshore to find it but this year they are exploring their own backyard.  Companies are ready to provide private and custom trips including backpacking tours in the Coast Mountains.

4. Communing with Nature - Camping has become very popular as a vacation option but campers are advised to still keep their groups small and not mix with other households.  All campgrounds have cautions and protections in place and advise people to prepare to be self sufficient and bring extra hygiene supplies, hand sanitizer, wipes, water and food.

5. Volunteering - Transfer your vacation into a learning experience by volunteering.WWOOF is an organization that provides opportunities to work on organic farms and learn about organic food and agriculture.

6 Hop on your Bike - Biking has become the number 1 pastime during the pandemic and is a good vacation choice for many as it allows you to keep fit while enjoying the scenery.  There are plenty of places to explore by bike especially on Vancouver Island.

7. Make it a sporting holiday while still physical distancing - two sports that are ideal for this are golf and tennis.  You could also consider fishing, or rock climbing or canoeing.

8 Find new entertainment while Staycationing - there are many activities that promote family bonding such as working on your family tree or writing your family history.  You can take a variety of classes including the ever popular on-line cooking classes.  Think about that project that you have been putting off for so long, now might be the time to tackle it that might include DIY home repairs or furniture restoration both of which help increase business at your local building supply centre.

Whatever type of vacation you choose this year, there is a good chance that you will save some money which is good for your budget.

From an article by Margaret Craig-Bourdin

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