How the wealthy can qualify for “Senior’s Welfare.”

Fred Vettese, Morneau Shepell

My column in this weekend’s Financial Post looks at the collision course between Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) to Old Age Security.

This is a followup to a curious strategy unveiled by Mornell Shapeau senior actuary Fred Vettese a few weeks ago in the Post. I also touched on it in a subsequent MoneySense blog. (Note the comments there).

Vettese showed how even relatively rich couples can contort their finances so they too can collect GIS for three years: generating over $60,000 of tax-free income between age 67 and 70. The furor over this gambit suggests either GIS or TFSA rules may eventually have to be tweaked as a result.

The strategy consists of postponing receipt of employer pensions, CPP benefits and RRSP income until age 70. Addressing younger people now 40, Vettese envisaged taking OAS and GIS at age 67 while drawing on joint TFSAs worth $320,000.

Normally, the wealthy don’t even consider the possibility of collecting GIS because of the low clawback threshold. In fact, the truly rich are resigned not only to not qualifying for GIS but realize even their OAS may get clawed back, in whole or in part.

Hypothetical scenario still far away?

Asked about this, the Department of Finance said it was a hypothetical scenario still far away, but that  “the tax system is continuously under review to ensure it is as fair and as current as possible.”

Advocates for low-income seniors quoted in the article say they should avoid RRSPs and invest in TFSAs instead, since they will result in neither tax nor OAS or GIS clawbacks. And they suggest some simple rule changes to the TFSA or GIS that would nip this “end-run for the wealthy” in the bud.

Those who are wealthy may not wish to go to the trouble Vettese describes to get three years of GIS payments (GIS is however tax-free!). But it may be wise to keep maxing out TFSA contributions while you still can, including for your children 18 or over.


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