All posts by Pat McKeough

Which investments are best inside and outside RRSPs

As we stated in an earlier article on RRSPs (What you need to know to build a productive RRSP) your investments gain doubly in your RRSP. Instead of paying up to 50% of your profit to the government in taxes, you keep 100% of your money working for you.

When you lose, however, you take a double loss. You lose the money you’ve invested as well as the opportunity to have the money grow for years, or even decades, sheltered from taxes.

So don’t use it as a place to find out if you have a talent for stock trading.

Successful investors put only their safest investments in RRSPs. These investments have the greatest potential to increase in value over time and therefore benefit from the RRSP’s continuing protection from taxes.

If these investors indulge in penny stocks, stock options or short-term trading, they do so outside their RRSPs.

If you hold speculative investments like this in an RRSP and they drop, you lose more than the money you invested in them. You also lose the tax-deduction value of a loss outside your RRSP. Outside your RRSP, you can use capital losses to offset taxable capital gains in the current year, the three previous years, or any future year.

If you invest in mutual funds, you have another set of tax concerns. At the end of the year, mutual funds distribute any capital gains they have made during the year, after deducting any capital losses, to their unitholders. So, you may have to pay capital gains taxes on your mutual-fund holdings, even though you haven’t sold.

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How to set your Retirement savings target

How much to save for retirement depends on the type of lifestyle you’re   aiming for

How much to save for retirement varies for each investor. A fulfilling retirement is not simply a matter of accumulating sufficient wealth to give you peace of mind. It is equally a matter of knowing what you will do — in effect, ensuring that you will be as active and productive with your time as you were during your working days.

These days, more investors suffer from what you might call “pre-retirement financial stress syndrome.” That’s the malady that strikes when it dawns on you that you don’t have enough money saved to be able to earn the retirement income stream you were banking on.

To alleviate this worry, we recommend that you base your retirement planning on a sound financial plan. Here are the four key variables that your plan should address to ensure you have sufficient retirement income:

  • How much you expect to save prior to retirement;
  • The return you expect on your savings;
  • How much of that return you’ll have left after taxes;
  • How much retirement income you’ll need once you’ve left the workforce.

Consider taxes when determining how much to save for retirement

As for the tax structure, it keeps changing. But it’s safe to assume that you’ll pay a lower rate of tax on dividends and capital gains than on interest, and that you’ll generally pay taxes on capital gains only when you sell.

As for the return you expect, it’s best to aim low. If you invest in bonds, assume you will earn the current yield; don’t assume you can make money trading in bonds. For stocks, the market returned 10% or so yearly on average over the past 80 or so years. Aim lower — 8% a year, say — to allow for unforeseeable problems and setbacks.

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How to make realistic retirement calculations for your future

When you’re investing and planning for retirement, make realistic calculations rather than indulging in wishful thinking.

If you plan to retire at 65, and you’re 50, you won’t be dipping into your investments for 15 years. If you are in reasonably good health, you could live well into your 80s: possibly longer.

Let’s say you have $200,000 in your RRSP, and expect to add $15,000 in each of the next 15 years.

To determine if this is enough, you need to make some realistic retirement calculations about investment returns and income needs.

What you can expect

Long-term studies show that the stock market as a whole generally produces total pre-tax annual returns of 8% to 10%, or around 6% after inflation. For the purposes of retirement planning, we’ll assume a 6% yearly return, and disregard inflation. Your $200,000 grows to $479,312*, and your yearly $15,000 RRSP contributions add up to $370,088, for total retirement savings of $849,400.

*Be sure to check your math. There are many compound-return calculators available online. For example, you can find a comprehensive compound-return calculator at the Bank of Canada’s web site.

Income and outgo

If you continue to earn 6% a year, and you withdraw $50,964 a year (6% of the $849,400 in your RRSP), you can avoid dipping into capital until your mid-70s, when RRIF rules require a larger withdrawal.

However, if you start taking money out faster, or earn lower returns, you’ll run out of money.
If you withdraw $90,000 a year while earning 6%, the money you’ve accumulated will last just over 13 years. If you earn 5% but withdraw $90,000 a year, your money will be gone in just over 12 years.

Beware of getting caught in a vicious circle

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Bad investment advice & clichés you should ignore

If you take bad investment advice from others, you may end up selling a stock too early or engaging in unprofitable investing strategies

Most investor sayings and clichés have at least a hint of truth. But they can still lead you to take good or bad investment advice, depending on how you apply them.

For instance, you’ll sometimes hear investors say that you shouldn’t fall in love with your stocks. This seems to make sense. You should keep an open mind on your investments, rather than falling in love with them and holding them forever, despite any adverse changes in their business or the field in which they operate. However, investors sometimes use this tidbit of advice as a justification for selling a stock that has shot up unexpectedly.

Unexpected strength in a stock you like is a bad reason to sell

The stock may be stronger than you expected because you underestimated the growth potential or competitive advantages that led you to like it in the first place. Experienced investors can tell you that some of their best stock picks started going up out of proportion to what they expected, and kept outperforming for years. By the time the first significant “dip” or setback comes along in a stock like this, it may have tripled.

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Choosing ETFs: the best ones are diversified and have low MERs

If you want to include the best ETF investments in your portfolio, then it’s important to consider a variety of components. That’s because all Exchange-Traded Funds aren’t created equal

ETFs are one of the most popular and most benign investing innovations of our time: and the best ETF investments can be great low-fee ways to hold shares in multiple companies with a single investment.

The best ETFs practice “passive” fund management

The best ETFs practice “passive” fund management, in contrast to the “active” management that conventional mutual funds or some new ETFs provide at much higher costs. Traditional ETFs stick with this passive management: they follow the lead of the sponsor of the index (for example, Standard & Poors).

Sponsors of stock indexes do from time to time change the stocks that make up the index, but generally only when the market weighting of stocks change. They don’t attempt to pick and choose which stocks they think have the best prospects.

This traditional, passive style also keeps turnover very low, and that in turn keeps trading costs for your ETF investments down.

We think you should stick with “traditional” ETFs.

The best ETF investments have lower MERs

The MERs (Management Expense Ratios) are generally much lower on ETFs than on conventional mutual funds. Continue Reading…