Hub Blogs

Hub Blogs contains fresh contributions written by Financial Independence Hub staff or contributors that have not appeared elsewhere first, or have been modified or customized for the Hub by the original blogger. In contrast, Top Blogs shows links to the best external financial blogs around the world.

Why “Topping up to bracket” makes sense if you’re temporarily in a low tax bracket

My latest column in Wednesday’s Globe & Mail looks at a strategy called “Topping up to Bracket,” which can be useful to anyone who is temporarily in a lower tax bracket.

Click on the highlighted headline to access the online version, assuming you have Globe subscriber privileges or haven’t exceeded the monthly free click quota: A strong tax case for early RRSP withdrawals.

When might you be “temporarily” in a lower tax bracket than usual? This can of course happen when you lose a job or if you’re in your Sixties and transitioning between full employment (typically earning in higher tax brackets) and Semi-Retirement, when it’s tempting to “bask” in lower tax brackets.

Temporary because as Semi-Retirement progresses, you can end up moving back into higher tax brackets: for example, if you start to receive Old Age Security (OAS) at 65, then take Canada Pension Plan (CPP) a few years later, these are both taxable sources of income.

And the big hit can come at the end of the year you turn 71, when RRSPs must be converted to Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs) or else annualized or cashed out. RRIFs entail forced annual withdrawal rates that keep rising between your 70s and your mid 90s.

So that makes “Topping up to Bracket” (a term used in a BMO Wealth Institute paper on the topic, published around 2013) a strategy not to be ignored. In practice it means making sure that in those low-earning years you at least bring into your hands each and every year the roughly $12,000 of untaxed earnings that’s called the Basic Personal Amount (BPA). And as the G&M column explains, it’s also a good idea to at least bring in the dollars that are in the lowest tax bracket (15% federally, 5% in Ontario), or roughly $42,000. There are of course higher tax brackets above that but the law of diminishing returns starts to kick in beyond the $42,000.

Note too that this is a “use it or lose it” proposition. If for example a year went by that you failed even to bring in even that $12,000 income that would not have been taxed, you can’t carry forward the opportunity to benefit from it the following year. You will of course have another opportunity for the BPA that year but it won’t double up because you neglected to earn low- or non-taxed income the previous year. Continue Reading…

Do men and women have different Savings Habits?

By Danielle Kubes

Special to the Financial Independence Hub

In an online survey about savings habits, financial comparison site reports that although Canadian men and women save almost the same amount of money, men have a greater level of confidence in their financial planning.

Inspired by 2014 Statistics Canada data that says Canadian women have lower financial literacy scores than men and were less likely to consider themselves “financially knowledgeable” (31% of women versus 43% of men), set out to discover if there truly is a gender divide. 

The company digitally surveyed a random sample of 1,087 Canadians in November, with respondents self-identifying their gender.

“Our survey revealed that while men and women differ in aspects of their financial planning, at the core, their personal finance goals and concerns are nearly identical,” the report says.

Both genders have similar financial goals

Indeed, both genders report almost the exact same financial goals. At the top of list of priorities is retirement, followed by travel and then having an emergency fund.

Both men and women prefer to save and invest in registered accounts, especially the registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) and tax-free savings account (TFSA). What they choose to invest in within these accounts — guaranteed income certificates (GICs), exchange traded funds (ETFs), stocks, or other products — is unknown.

Yet men and women diverge most in how confident they are that they’ll have enough money to retire: less than half of women, 41%, say they’re confident compared to over half of men surveyed, at 56%.

Odd, because both genders save almost the same amount of their salaries, with women saving 26% and men 29%.

The gap could potentially be explained in how able they are to grow those savings through investing. Eighty-five per cent of men invest their money, while only 76% of women do.

Of those that do invest, less women than men self-manage their investments, potentially indicating another worrisome lack of confidence in their financial knowledge.

This is supported by the original Statistics Canada data, which found women were less likely to state they “know enough about investments to choose the right ones that are suitable for their circumstances.”

Confidence doesn’t mean financial knowledge

But does confidence translate to actual financial knowledge? Apparently not. When Statistics Canada quizzed Canadians who rated themselves financially literate, one in every three women failed, while one in every four men failed. Continue Reading…

TREB vows to take battle over housing market data to Supreme Court

By Penelope Graham, Zoocasa

Special to the Financial Independence Hub

Real estate consumers will have to wait a little longer to access transparent housing market data: the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) has vowed it will take its fight to keep such information private all the way to the nation’s highest court, in response to losing its latest appeal.

The Federal Court of Appeal has rejected the real estate board’s arguments that the sharing of its database would violate both its copyright and home sellers’ privacy. It contains extensive details on past sold homes, including their asking versus sale prices, the length of time they lingered on the market, as well as the commissions earned by real estate agents.

Currently, agents can only divulge this info directly to their clients; posting it publicly on a website or emailing it to a subscriber base has been prohibited by TREB (and it has aggressively shut down past attempts to do so, including Zoocasa’s past solds emails in 2015).

Challenging Information gatekeepers

However, restricting this data was challenged by the Competition Bureau of Canada, which took TREB to the Competition Tribunal in 2011. After the case was initially dismissed and appealed, the Bureau won in 2016 (a decision immediately appealed by TREB).

The Bureau successfully argued that withholding the data was not only to the detriment of consumers, but hurt the business models of virtual online offices (VOWs for short, referring to online real estate brokerages).

The Appeals Court upheld this ruling last week, saying TREB’s database did not qualify for copyright protection, and throwing out their privacy argument. While based around the Toronto real estate market, the implications could be nationwide, setting an important precedent for how all real estate boards collect and distribute data. Currently, only Nova Scotia releases it in Canada, though it is common practice in the United States.

Better data benefits consumers

Lauren Haw, Zoocasa’s Broker of Record, says better access to sold data will help consumers make educated decisions when buying or selling real estate. For example, having access to comparable solds records can help buyers determine whether a Toronto townhouse, condo or detached home is fairly priced.

“The ability to share and display market data (such as past-sold prices) with consumers is a positive development for the real estate industry,” she says. “We strongly believe in a model where consumers are educated and able to work with experienced agents that act in an advisor capacity: not as gatekeepers of information.”

Continue Reading…

How high investment fees can diminish Investment Returns

By Chris Ambridge, Transcend

Special to the Financial Independence Hub

The objective for most investors is to earn value-added performance. Unfortunately there are fees and other costs that can diminish investment returns. The reality is that the costs associated with investing in these products can lead to underperformance when measured against industry standard benchmarks.

The above chart shows the average annual fees and their impact on investment performance for Equity Mutual Funds, Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), robo-advisors and Transcend’s Pay-for-Performance™ model. This is illustrated by comparing their returns against a benchmark. The benchmark is a universally accepted representation of a particular stock market that is used to measure the performance of a portfolio manager.  For example, a benchmark for Canadian equities is the S&P/TSX and a benchmark for U.S. equities is the S&P 500.

Ultimately, excessive fees reduce clients’ investment performance and hampers their ability to reach their financial goals.

While ETFs and robo-advisors are gaining in popularity, mutual funds are still the prevalent investment product for retail investors despite numerous studies that have confirmed the weak investment returns of equity mutual funds relative to their benchmarks. In Canada, a fairly new approach developed by S&P Dow Jones Indices called the SPIVA Canada Scorecard confirms performance failings. The latest result based upon five years of data ending December 2016 confirms that equity mutual funds have underperformed their benchmark, often because fees have such a negative impact on the overall portfolio results.

Mutual funds can charge management fees as well as administrative costs and custodial fees. They can also charge clients for trading, legal, audit and other operational expenses. In the chart above, these fees plus investment related underperformance add up to the average true cost (-2.37%) of investing during the last five years for equity mutual funds.

Even low-cost ETFs, which are designed to mirror a benchmark, tend to disappoint. The performance lag can be tied to the level of fees of 0.32%, plus trading and rebalancing costs as well as a potential cash balancing drag of up to 0.42%, based on 2015 data from the Management Reports of Fund Performance (MRFP) found on the website. This analysis does not include the negative impact of brokerage costs to buy and sell, and potential custodian or registration fees. With that in mind, the chart reveals that ETF investors underperform the market appropriate benchmark by -0.74%.

Robo-advisors to the rescue?

Another relatively new entrant to the low cost investment marketplace is the robo-advisor. Employing several common assumptions such as an average portfolio size of $50,000 and trading costs of 0.2% per year, it can be determined that the average robo-advisor fee in Canada is 0.63%.

This cost shows that it is more efficient than traditional wealth management fees, but still lags behind the Pay-for-Performance™ model. While everyone is talking about robo-advisors, the true question should be about getting value for your money and how much fees can impact actual outcomes. Continue Reading…

John Bogle’s 7 tips for successful investing

Vanguard founder John C. Bogle

Investing is not a one-way ticket to riches. Both novice and expert investors have periods of good and poor performance. Success or failure is driven largely by the markets, but how we behave also has a huge impact.

In a recent article for Financial Analysts Journal, Vanguard founder Jack Bogle summarized the rules for successful investing he developed over his 65-year career. They’ve been tried and tested through different market conditions, and we’re reproducing them here so everyone can potentially benefit.

1.) Invest you must

The biggest impediment investors face is not market volatility, but not investing in the first place. History shows that investing — as opposed to simply saving — is necessary to generate a reasonable return over the long run.

2.) Time is your friend

Investing is a virtuous habit best started as early as possible. Thanks to the “magic” of compounding (simple math, really), even modest investments made in one’s 20s can grow to surprising amounts over the course of an investment lifetime.

3.) Impulse is your enemy

Eliminate emotion from your investment programme. Have rational expectations for future returns, and avoid changing those expectations in response to the ephemeral noise coming from Wall Street. Understand that what may seem like unique insights are typically shared by millions of others. Continue Reading…