All posts by Robb Engen

How do Non-Registered Accounts differ from RRSPs and TFSAs?

Canadian investors have several account types at their disposal to build an investment portfolio. This typically starts with registered accounts – RRSPs and TFSAs – to take advantage of tax deductions, tax deferred growth (RRSP), and tax-free growth (TFSA). But registered accounts come with contribution limits, so once those accounts are filled up many investors will open a non-registered account to invest any extra cash flow or a lump sum of money.

In this article I will explain what a non-registered account is, how it works, how it’s taxed, who should use one, and who shouldn’t. Plus, I’ll look at the pros and cons of using a registered account versus a non registered account to save and invest.

What is a non-registered account?

A non-registered account is something that can be used for savings – such as an emergency fund – or as a complement to your other investment accounts. It does not have any special tax attributes, contribution or withdrawal limits, or age restrictions – other than the fact that you must be 18 (or 19 in some provinces) to open an account.

At its core, a non-registered account is a taxable account. That means any investment income earned inside the account will be taxable to the investor each year. Investment income typically comes in the form of interest or dividends. I’ll explain how those are taxed later.

Investors using a non-registered account don’t have to pay tax when their investment(s) increases in value. That taxable event doesn’t occur until an investment is sold inside a non-registered account. If the investment increased in value, the investor would have to pay taxes on 50% of that gain (called capital gains tax). If the investment decreased in value from when it was purchased, the investor could claim a capital loss on 50% of that loss in value. Capital losses can be carried forward indefinitely but can only be used to reduce or eliminate a capital gain.

A non-registered account could be an individual investment account, a joint investment account, or a high-interest savings account.

How does a non-registered account work?

Anyone age 18 or older (or 19 in some provinces) can open a non-registered account for the purpose of saving or investing. For most people, their first non-registered account is a savings account. Any interest earned inside the account is taxable to the investor. For example, if you held $10,000 in a non-registered savings account and earned 1% interest for the entire year – you would add $100 to your taxable income for that year.

A non-registered investment account is typically used by investors who have reached the contribution limit inside their registered accounts – their RRSP and TFSA. There’s no contribution limit in a non-registered account. Some investors may choose to invest in a non-registered account instead of their RRSP if their tax bracket is lower now than it is expected to be later in life.

Investors can purchase stocks, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and other investments inside their non-registered account. Any investment income earned, such as interest on cash savings, interest from bond investments, and dividends distributed by stocks, mutual funds, or ETFs, are taxable in the hands of the investor each year.

Non-registered investors need to pay close attention to their buying and selling activity inside the account. Unlike RRSPs and TFSAs, where investments can be bought and sold without any tax consequences, selling a non-registered investment is a taxable event and subject to capital gains. One tip is to use the website to track your non-registered transactions.

When to use non-registered accounts

Most people should strive to max out the contribution room inside their registered accounts first before opening a non-registered account to invest. But non-registered accounts can and should be used as part of your financial plan for savings and investing.

The easiest way to utilize a non-registered account is to open a high interest savings account to start building your emergency fund, or as a place to fund your short-term goals. I’d suggest doing this in a non-registered savings account rather than your TFSA for two reasons:

  1. Your TFSA should be used to invest for longer term goals like retirement
  2. The taxable interest earned on your “high interest” savings account will likely be so minimal that it’s not worth using up your valuable TFSA contribution room to shelter that interest income

I’ve already mentioned two situations when investors should open a non-registered investment account:

  1. When you’ve maxed out the contribution room inside your RRSP and TFSA and still have extra cash flow available to invest
  2. When you’ve maxed out the contribution room inside your TFSA but your tax bracket is lower now than you expect it to be later in life – meaning an RRSP contribution would be less advantageous today

There’s also a third scenario that makes sense to use a non-registered investment account: If you’re the type of investor who likes to carve out a small percentage of your portfolio to speculate on individual stocks, sector ETFs, or cryptocurrency.

Related: The Problem With Core and Explore

Speculative investments are more likely to suffer losses than a broadly diversified portfolio of passive index ETFs. Why use your valuable RRSP and TFSA contribution room to speculate and potentially lose money on an investment when there are no tax advantages? Furthermore, any money lost on a bad investment means contribution room is also lost forever.

Instead, if you must scratch that itch, use a non-registered investment account to house your speculative bets on meme stocks, tech ETFs, and crypto coins. If you strike it rich and then sell, only 50% of the gains are taxable. And, more likely, if your investments lose money, you can sell and claim 50% of the loss as a capital loss. This can offset future capital gains down the road.

Types of non-registered investment accounts

Outside of the non-registered savings account there are two types of non-registered investment accounts: a cash account and a margin account.

A cash account is a regular non-registered investment account that can be used to hold cash, bonds, stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, and other investments. These accounts can be held individually or jointly.

A margin account can hold the same investments as a cash account, but with a margin account the investor will have the ability to borrow money to invest – i.e., use leverage. Investors cannot use margin in a registered account.

Certain online brokerages have different names for their non-registered accounts. I’ve heard it called a non-registered account, an unregistered account, a cash account, an open account, or a margin account. Questrade calls its non-registered accounts “margin accounts,” even though investors don’t need to use margin to invest in one. Wealthsimple Trade calls its non-registered account a “personal account.”

Pros and cons of non-registered investments

Here are the pros of using a non-registered account:

  • No contribution or withdrawal limits
  • Anyone can open an account once they’ve reached the age of majority in their province
  • Capital gains are only taxed when sold, and only 50% of the gain is subject to taxes
  • 50% of investment losses can be used to reduce or eliminate future capital gains.
  • Useful when you’ve reached the contribution limits of your registered accounts, or when you don’t want to use your RRSP or TFSA contribution room to hold your emergency savings or speculative investments Continue Reading…

The Vanguard Effect on Mutual Funds, Fees and Performance


Vanguard is best known in Canada for its low cost, passively managed ETFs. Indeed, since entering the Canadian market in 2011, Vanguard now boasts a line-up of 37 ETFs with more than $40 billion in assets under management – making it the third largest ETF provider in Canada.

Keeping costs low is in Vanguard’s DNA. Their low fee philosophy hasn’t only benefited investors in Vanguard ETFs – it’s helped drive down costs across the Canadian ETF industry. This process has come to be known as the “Vanguard Effect.”

The cost of Vanguard ETFs is 54% lower than the industry average. Since 2011, they’ve cut their ETF’s average MER by almost half – saving their investors more than $10 million.

The Vanguard Effect has made a noticeable difference for ETF investors in Canada, but the vast majority of Canadian investments are still held in actively managed mutual funds.

  • Mutual fund assets totalled $1.896 trillion at the end of May 2021.
  • ETF assets totalled $297.4 billion at the end of May 2021.

The Vanguard Effect on Mutual Funds

Vanguard took aim at the Canadian mutual fund market three years ago with the launch of four actively managed funds, including the Vanguard Global Balanced Fund (VIC100), the Vanguard Global Dividend Fund (VIC200), the Vanguard U.S. Value Windsor Fund (VIC300) and the Vanguard International Growth Fund (VIC400).

Ticker Name Category Management Fee MER
VIC100 Vanguard Global Balanced Series F Global Equity Balanced 0.34% 0.54%
VIC200 Vanguard Global Dividend Series F Global Equity 0.30% 0.48%
VIC300 Vanguard Windsor U.S Value Series F US Equity 0.36% 0.54%
VIC400 Vanguard International Growth Series F International Equity 0.40% 0.58%

With three years under their belt in the Canadian mutual fund space, I thought I’d check in on the performance of Vanguard’s mutual funds.

While investors can’t glean much over a three-year period, the Vanguard funds have performed well compared to their benchmarks and industry peers.

  • Vanguard Global Balanced Fund (VIC100): +9.28% – VIC100 is a global balanced strategy with a strategic mix of 35% fixed income and 65% equities. It was designed to mirror the Vanguard Global Wellington Fund offered in the US – a 5-star rated fund by Morningstar. VIC100’s returns place it in the first quartile of its Global Equity Balanced category since inception.
  • Global Dividend Fund-Series F (VIC200): +6.06% – VIC200 invests in higher dividend yielding securities across the globe. Its style has been out of favour for most of the time since inception as markets have preferred high growth companies that don’t pay dividends. That has changed Year-to-Date (YTD), and VIC200’s returns are in the first quartile of its Global Equity category.
  • Windsor U.S. Value Fund-Series F (VIC300): +11.28% – VIC300 is the sister fund to the Vanguard Windsor Fund, offered in the US. The fund offers exposure to US large and mid-cap value stocks. Its value orientation was out of favour for the last few years but it’s ahead of its Russell 1000 Value Benchmark after fees since inception. As value has roared back, the fund is in the first decile of the US Equity category in Canada YTD.
  • International Growth Fund-Series F (VIC400): +19.20% – VIC400 has been a top performing fund since inception. It offers exposure to stocks primarily outside of North America. It mirrors a fund of the same name offered to US investors since 1981. The US fund is rated 5-stars by Morningstar. VIC400 has outperformed its benchmark by 12% per year.
As of Jun 30, 2021 – Peers beaten in the fund’s Morningstar category
Ticker Name Category Annlzd 3 Yr % Peers beaten 3 Yr
VIC100 Vanguard Global Balanced Series F Global Equity Balanced 9.28% 79%
VIC200 Vanguard Global Dividend Series F Global Equity 6.06% 12%
VIC300 Vanguard Windsor U.S Value Series F US Equity 11.28% 30%
VIC400 Vanguard International Growth Series F International Equity 19.20% 98%

[Editor’s Note: in September, Vanguard Canada launched two more mutual funds: VIC500 and VIC600]

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Tim Huver, Head of Intermediary Sales at Vanguard Investments Canada about the success of their mutual funds and what we can expect in the future. Continue Reading…

When should Early Retirees start their CPP benefits?

When should you take your Canada Pension Plan (CPP) benefits? Like many personal finance decisions, the answer depends on your unique circumstances. In general, it makes sense to defer taking CPP until age 70. The caveat is that you need to have other resources to draw from while you wait for your CPP benefits to kick in. After all, who wants to delay spending in their “go-go” retirement years just to shore up their income in their 70s and beyond?

I’ve written before about when it makes sense to take CPP at age 60, why taking CPP at age 65 is never the optimal decision, and why taking CPP at age 70 can lead to $100,000 or more lifetime income.

But one question I often receive from readers and clients is when should early retirees take CPP? Here’s a reader named Keith, who decided to retire at the end of last year at age 60:

“My understanding is that since I won’t earn any income from now to 65, those five years will add to the CPP average calculation and potentially lower my eligible monthly amounts. If that’s the case, should I apply for CPP right away, or choose to defer it to 65 or 70? If I apply today, will those five years of zero income still be included in the average CPP calculation?”

It’s a great question. CPP is a contributory program based on how much you contributed (relative to the yearly maximum pensionable earnings) and how many years you contributed between ages 18 to 65.

To receive the maximum CPP benefit at age 65 you would need 39 years of maximum contributions. You can drop out your eight lowest years (more if you are eligible for the child rearing drop-out provision) from the calculation.

Related: How Much Will You Get From Canada Pension Plan?

You can see the problem for early retirees. They’re going to have more “zero” contribution years, which will reduce the amount of their CPP benefits.

Not so fast.

You will always get more CPP by waiting, even if you’re not working.

CPP expert Doug Runchey says that your “calculated (age-65) retirement pension” may decrease if you’re not working between age 60 and 65, but the age-adjustment factor will always make up for that decrease, and then some.

In that situation I use the expression that you will receive a larger piece of a smaller pie if you wait, but you will always get more pie,” he said.

CPP checklist for early retirees

Here’s what to do if you’re in the early retirement camp and want to know when to take your CPP benefits. Log into your My Service Canada Account online and click on “Canada Pension Plan / Old Age Security.” My Service Canada Account

Scroll down to the “contributions” section and click on “Estimated Monthly CPP Benefits.”

CPP Contributions

You’ll see your expected CPP benefits at age 60, age 65, and age 70.

CPP benefit estimates

Now take that calculation and throw it in the garbage because it’s completely useless. That’s right. The CPP estimates you see here assume that you continue contributing at the same rate until age 65. That’s problematic if you plan to retire at age 58 or 60 and will no longer be contributing to CPP.

Go back to the previous screen and click on your CPP contributions. There you will find a web version* of your Statement of Contributions – a history of your contributions dating back to age 18. Right click on this page and “save as” (format: webpage, HTML only).

*Note you can request a copy of your Statement of Contributions in the mail, but you won’t need that for the next step.

Now visit and sign up for the website with your first name and email address. You’ll receive a confirmation email from the site founder David Field (co-created by Doug Runchey) to activate your account, followed by another email to login to the site and run your own unique CPP calculation. Continue Reading…

How Robb Engen invests his own money

*Updated for August, 2022*

Regular blog readers know that I’m a big proponent of passive investing with low cost, globally diversified index funds and ETFs. Why? Low fees are the best predictor of future returns. Global diversification reduces the risk within your portfolio. Index funds and ETFs allow investors to hold thousands of securities for a very small fee.

Investors who eventually come to understand these three principles want to know how to build their own index portfolio. There are several ways to do this: pick your own ETFs through a discount broker, invest with a robo-advisor, or buy your bank’s index mutual funds.

Still, the amount of information can be overwhelming. There are more than 1,000 ETFs, thousands of mutual funds, a dozen or more discount brokerage platforms, and nearly as many robo advisors. The choices are enough to make your head spin.

I narrowed these investment options down when I wrote about the best ETFs and model portfolios for Canadians. I’ve also explained how you can retire up to 30% wealthier by switching to index funds. Finally, I shared why you should hold the same asset mix across all of your accounts for maximum simplicity.

Now, I’ll explain exactly how I invest my own money so you can see that I practice what I preach.

My Investing Journey

I started investing when I was 19, putting $25 a month into a mutual fund. When I began my career in hospitality, I contributed to a group RRSP with an employer match. The catch was that the investments were held at HSBC and invested in expensive mutual funds.

When I left the industry I transferred my money (about $25,000) to TD’s discount brokerage platform. That’s when I started investing in Canadian dividend-paying stocks. I followed the dividend approach after reading Norm Rothery’s “best dividend stocks” in Canada articles in MoneySense.

I later found dividend growth stock guru Tom Connolly (plus a devoted community of dividend investing bloggers) and started paying more attention to stocks with a long history of paying and growing their dividends.

Five years later I had built up a $100,000 portfolio with 24 Canadian dividend stocks. My performance as a DIY stock picker was quite good. I had outperformed both the TSX and my dividend stock benchmark (iShares’ CDZ) from 2009 – 2014. My annual rate of return since 2009 was 14.79%, compared to 13.41% for CDZ and 7.88% for XIU (Canadian index benchmark).

But something wasn’t quite right. I started obsessing over oil & gas stocks that had recently tanked. I had a difficult time coming up with new dividend stocks to buy. I read more and more opposing views to my dividend growth strategy and realized I was limiting myself to a small subset of stocks in a country that represents just 3-4% of the global stock market.

Related: How my behavioural biases prevented me from becoming an indexer

Furthermore, new products were coming down the pike – including the introduction of Vanguard’s All World ex Canada ETF (VXC). Now I could buy a tiny piece of thousands of companies from around the world with just one product.

So, in early 2015 I sold all of my dividend stocks and built my new two-ETF solution (VCN and VXC). I called it my four-minute portfolio because it literally took me four minutes a year to monitor and add new money. No more obsessing over which stocks to buy or worrying if a stock was going to go to zero.

Fast-forward to 2019 and another product revolution made my portfolio even simpler. Vanguard introduced its suite of asset allocation ETFs, including VEQT – my new one-ticket investing solution.

The next change to my investment portfolio was in January 2020 when I moved my RRSP and TFSA from TD Direct Investing over to Wealthsimple Trade to take advantage of zero-commission trading. Continue Reading…

How to plan your own Revenge Travel Year


Most of you know the story by now. The short version goes: I quit my job at the end of 2019 to focus full-time on financial planning and freelance writing. The underlying motivation was to have more time to travel.

No longer bound by a set number of vacation days, and with work that could be done from anywhere with an internet connection, we planned some epic trips for 2020.

You know what happened next. Trip to Italy – cancelled. Trip to the UK – cancelled. Two years later, with a lot of pent-up demand to continue this vision of our rich life, we embarked on our revenge travel year.

A week in Maui, 3.5 weeks in Italy, 3.5 weeks in the UK, and another eight days coming up in Paris this fall. It has been a crazy and exciting year.

Planning your Revenge Travel Year

Many of you also have a pent-up demand for travel, and have either managed to get away this year or plan to do so in 2023.

Your ideal destinations may differ from mine, but if you’re itching to travel soon then I suggest you start planning now. Here’s how to plan your own revenge travel year:

Time and Place

My wife and I like to plan our trips at least a year or two in advance so we can properly allocate our travel spending.

Like any financial goal, it helps to have a rough idea of how much you’ll spend, plus a time-frame so you can work backwards and ensure an appropriate savings plan.

For example, you might budget $5,000 for a warm holiday next February. That means saving $833 per month for the next six months to reach your goal.

A budget nerd like me maps out spending for an entire year, so I know which months will incur the big expenses.

A more sensible approach might be to set up a sub-savings account for your travel goal. That kind of mental accounting can be a useful part of your financial plan.

Transportation and Accommodation

How will you get there? Plane, train, automobile? Where will you stay? Hotel, Airbnb, in a friend’s guest room?

Are you a luxury traveller, flying business class and staying at the Ritz Carlton? Or are you happy with an economy flight and a Best Western? Will you need to rent a car?

We flew business class from Calgary to Rome, and then again from London to Calgary. I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty nice to actually get some rest in a lie-flat seat and not arrive completely wiped out after a nine-hour flight. But, the economy flight back from Rome wasn’t all that bad.

We also love staying in nice hotels when it’s just me and my wife enjoying a kid-free getaway. Otherwise it’s Airbnbs for the extra space and the kitchen.

I bring up transportation and accommodation because it’s helpful to know which airline you’re going to fly with, which hotel chain you’ll stay at, and which rental car agency you’ll use.

Most airlines, hotels, and car rental agencies have their own loyalty program or belong to a coalition where you can earn points, get discounts, and receive other perks. Sticking to the same 1-2 brands and joining their loyalty programs can help augment your travel budget each and every year.

Rewards and Loyalty Programs

I’ve been a credit card rewards addict for many years. But I don’t just blindly apply for any credit card with a decent welcome bonus. Instead, I’m laser focused on earning points that I can use when I travel, and using credit cards that can help me accumulate those points in a hurry.

My top loyalty programs for travel include:

  • Aeroplan
  • WestJet / RBC Rewards
  • Marriott Bonvoy
  • Scotia Scene+
  • TD Rewards

Aeroplan is easily the best value of the bunch. Expect to redeem Aeroplan points at a value of 2 cents per mile. That’s at least twice the value of most other programs, where you can expect to redeem points at a rate of 0.50 cents to 1 cent per point.

We focus on Aeroplan because flights for four of us to Europe or Maui are expensive. Redeeming Aeroplan points has helped us save thousands of dollars on flights.

I also collect WestJet Dollars from time-to-time, as WestJet is sometimes a good choice for flying out of Lethbridge and for short haul trips to Vancouver. It’s good to have options. RBC Rewards can also be converted to WestJet Dollars.

I collect Bonvoy points because Marriott has the largest collection of hotels in the world and will almost always have an option in the area if we need a hotel.

We had a lovely stay at the Sheraton in Edinburgh and at the Westin Dublin in 2019, and with Marriott’s fifth-night free option we saved a bundle. We also like the free night certificate that comes attached to their Amex affiliated credit card.

Finally, a couple of supplementary loyalty programs (like Scotia Scene+ and TD Rewards) always come in handy to redeem for car rentals, hotels, or tickets to an attraction.

For example, I had more than 100,000 TD Rewards points ($500) and redeemed the points for a car rental in England this summer.

The point is to zero-in on a select few rewards programs that align with your trip or with the way you like to travel, and start racking up points.

Maybe you can shave off $1,000 from that $5,000 trip just by strategically using your points. Or, like I do sometimes, use those points to enhance your stay with a business class ticket, upgrade to a suite with a view, or to see an attraction you might have otherwise deemed too expensive.

Top Credit Cards for Travel

Okay, so which credit cards are best to use for collecting travel points? I wish there was an easy answer, but if you’re planning a revenge travel year soon you’re going to need a complete overhaul of your wallet.

Here’s what I’m packing:

  1. American Express Cobalt Card – Simply put, this is the best credit card in Canada for earning points for travel. New cardholders will get 2,500 points for each month in which they spend $500 (30,000 total). That’s in addition to earning 5x points on groceries. Sign up for this card, use it for $500 per month worth of your grocery (or dining) spending, and after 12 months you’ll have 60,000 Membership Rewards Points. These can be transferred to Aeroplan or Marriott, or used to redeem against purchases made on your card.
  2. American Express Platinum Card – Go big or go home. You’ve got an epic year of travel planned, you need an epic credit card (even for just one year). Yes, the Amex Platinum card comes with a $699 annual fee. But do the math and you’ll see the card easily pays for itself and more. Sign up for this card and you’ll get: Airport lounge access, a $200 travel credit, plus 115,000 points when you spend $6,000 in the first three months. Again, these can be transferred to Aeroplan or Marriott, or used to redeem against purchases made on your card. Time this application to coincide with a large one-time purchase (home or auto insurance for us). Cancel the card after your year of revenge travel, or keep it if you find it useful (I do).
  3. American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card – Another premium card option for a big year of travel ahead. This one comes with a $599 annual fee, but also some incredible perks like Maple Leaf Lounge Access, priority check-in, boarding, and baggage handling (all of which came in handy for us this year). Sign up for this card and you can earn up to 115,000 Aeroplan points when you reach the minimum spending thresholds.
  4. Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card – I’ve held this card for years because of the annual free night certificate, which I think easily pays for the $120 annual fee. We redeemed the hotel certificate for one-night stays in London and in Rome near the airport before our flight, and at the Marriott in-terminal hotel in Calgary before an early departure. Sign up for this card and earn 70,000 Bonvoy points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. As I said, this one is a long-term keeper.

Next, I have a strategy to earn additional points from holding RBC and TD Cards. Here’s what I do:

  1. WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard / RBC Avion Visa Infinite – I’ve held each of these cards at one time or another. They often have great sign-up bonuses for doing very little (welcome bonus on approval, or on first purchase), which makes them a no-brainer option for someone looking to accumulate points quickly and hassle-free.
  2. TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite / TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card – Same idea, I will often hold one or both of these cards to collect easy sign-up bonuses. The Aeroplan Visa obviously helps accelerate your Aeroplan points, while the First Class Travel Visa earns TD Rewards, which can be redeemed for a number of things – most notably through Expedia for TD (where I redeemed points for that rental car in England).

What I like about the TD and RBC cards, besides the easy to earn welcome bonuses, is that you don’t have to cancel your card before the next year’s annual fee comes due. You can downgrade to a no-fee card, or make a “product switch” from Aeroplan to First Class (and vice-versa), or from Avion to WestJet (and vice-versa), so you keep your credit file open and won’t take a credit hit for closing the account.

Ready Player Two?

Most credit cards come with the option of having a supplementary card: a second card for your spouse or partner to use on the same credit card account. Some even charge an annual fee for this “privilege.” No thanks! Continue Reading…