My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant and a partner with BDO. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, April 22, 2019

What is your Wealth Advisor Thinking? One Professional Reveals Lessons Learned from her Clients

Getting professional wealth advice – or really any professional advice – can be frustrating. We are asked to open up our lives and disclose our thoughts to someone who is initially a stranger. Personally, I’d love to know what my professional advisors are thinking on a whole range of issues.

This week senior wealth advisor Carmen McHale of BDO Canada LLP takes a step from behind the desk to share her thoughts on the past five years of dispensing wealth advice. She also wanted to thank two colleagues – Indy Sebastian and Eric Wipf – for their help in reality-checking her thoughts.
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When asked to write about what I have learned from clients in the past five years, my initial thought was – everything. But that might take too long to cover. So instead I’ll focus on one area that I find fascinating: the emotional biases I first learned of in textbooks and now see in investing practice. Emotional biases arise from impulse, intuition and feelings and can result in irrational decision-making. Because they are all about how we feel and react – they are impulses, after all – they are harder to mitigate.

Knowing ourselves is something many of us take for granted, feeling that it comes naturally – but how well do most of us actually know ourselves? We may think that there is no one we know better, but the truth is, we are often blind to our deficiencies. Despite our attempts to stay impartial, our emotions sway us more than we care to admit.

Loss aversion


When a decision is made to invest, it is usually based on what we think we will gain. Although a good advisor will focus on communicating the downside risks associated with investing, it is very hard to know how we will feel about that downside until it actually happens.

When it does happen – because it will – are we going to fall prey to our emotions, or will logic prevail? If your portfolio is down 10% and your advisor is telling you to stay the course, are you going to take that advice? If an investment results in a loss, will you be able to swallow the loss as a sunk cost and sell the investment – or will you want to keep it until it bounces back? Will you want to sell an investment too soon because you are afraid your gains will turn into losses?

So what have I learned? That no two families or situations are the same, and while logical reasoning attempts to quantify risk in an investment policy statement, often when faced with a real investment loss – the experience of seeing it – revisiting the investment policy statement reveals the tolerance for losses is lower than originally thought. With honest communication about how the investment policy is there in part to reflect the tolerance for risk, advisors can help keep a client’s plans on track.

Overconfidence bias


Overconfidence bias is thinking you know more than you do about a certain topic, or thinking you have more control about an outcome than you do. I have worked in Calgary for my entire career, and often deal with professionals in the oil and gas industry – they know the industry and believe in it. This leads them to over-weigh their investments. Their current and future income is based on the price of oil; add to that a large concentration of oil and gas stocks in their portfolio and the risk is amplified.

Unfortunately, this compounded risk reared its ugly head in the last few years in Alberta, setting many oil and gas professionals’ best-laid plans off track. The markets can take down anyone, regardless of investors’ level of knowledge.

So what have I learned? To present alternative scenarios. One that over-weights investments in line with the overconfidence bias and one with a balanced portfolio. Canadians have become better versed in the extremes of markets, and whether it be the oil and gas professional or the real estate speculator I have learned to discuss the lows with clients and hope that the risk and volatility resonates.

Self-control bias


As a lover of chocolate, I am very familiar with this bias. Time after time, I buy a bag of chocolate raisins and think I can limit myself to a handful. We tend towards immediate gratification.

In an investing context, there is the inability to focus on the long-term goals – like not saving enough for retirement and only realizing when you are 55 that you are running out of time. This can lead people to take excessive risks when investing. Clients often think that the markets will solve the problem if their portfolio can just get them a 15% return.

So what have I learned? That for the most part clients really just want to know where they stand. Given a detailed action plan, they can focus on short-term goals while understanding the long-term focus. I have learned I need to be the practical voice and provide the client with the tools and knowledge to make the right decisions, and be there for them along the way.

Regret aversion


This is all about not taking action because you do not want to be wrong – you try to avert regret. When you have this emotional bias, you are more likely to do what everyone else is doing. This can cause investors to over-concentrate their investments in well-known companies. Then, if the position goes down, it is not your fault because you were simply following the herd. Regret aversion is about avoiding making true decisions and then rationalizing the poor decisions that were made.

In these situations, I try to educate clients on the various investment management options that exist in the marketplace. Most are familiar with bank representatives and investment brokers where the advisors assess your risk tolerance, time horizon and performance objectives to determine which asset classes are most suitable - but investors ultimately make the buy and sell decisions, and the advisor’s role is primarily to offer an informed opinion.

On the other hand, I am a big proponent of discretionary investing, which is a more hands-off approach for the client. In discretionary investing, advisors still collaborate with the client to assess their investment goals. But it removes the ultimate investment decisions from the client and transfers them to the advisor, who communicates the investment decisions and reports the results. Discretionary investing provides the necessary framework around investment decisions and helps to remove many of the emotional biases surrounding investment decisions.

So what have I learned? That many clients like to have a “play” portfolio – where they can invest a specified amount of money in less popular companies. Clients enjoy the opportunity to do their gambling here without having to worry about their nest egg.

Status quo bias


This is the urge to do nothing. As human beings we typically dislike change. Staying with the status quo is much easier. People feel greater regret for bad outcomes that result from a new action taken than for bad consequences that come from doing nothing.

Changes from the status quo will often involve both gains and losses, but the tendency to overemphasize the avoidance of losses – loss aversion – will favour keeping things the way they are. This leads to inaction when action may be called for.

So what have I learned? That most clients meet with me to challenge this bias, and most people when given small, quantifiable actions generally want to challenge this bias.

Lessons and the investment journey


What have I learned from clients over the years? That even the well versed in the irrationalities of the market fall prey to the reality of emotions. And of course, as humans we are creatures of nature – so even when we do know our weaknesses, we may shy away from hearing hard truths. The fear of needing to break detrimental habits built up over a lifetime, or the realization that our behaviors have prevented us from meeting our financial goals.

One of the major roles we fill as advisors is that of the voice of reason. We strive to be the objective practical eyes, guided by experience, assisting our clients in navigating these biases in the context of their overall goals. We strive to help our clients understand that these goals are not achieved by leaps and bounds but by well-considered small steps – that proverbial journey of a thousand miles.

Carmen McHale is a senior wealth advisor for BDO in Calgary. She can be reached at cmchale@bdo.ca, or by calling 403.956.0103.

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.


Monday, April 8, 2019

Confessions of a Tax Season Accountant — 2019 Edition

For the first four years of this blog, I wrote a series titled “Confessions of a Tax Accountant” during income tax season. Those posts would discuss interesting or contentious income tax and filing issues that arose as I prepared my clients’ tax returns. (One of my favourite of that series was this post that also included an ode to the Maple Leafs. I’ve since realized that I should stick to financial topics and leave the odes to professional writers. However, once a Leaf fan, always a Leaf fan. I wish them good luck with the Big Bad Bruins as they start another pursuit of the Cup on Thursday. Go Leafs Go.)

Today, I go old school and bring back the tradition with some new confessions to cleanse my tax soul.

I have only received the tax information for around 53% of my clients as of April 6th; as the remainder are waiting for their final T3 and T5013 slips to arrive and Easter is later this year. But I’ve still accumulated enough confessions to get off my chest. (By the way, the fact the T5013 essentially only has numerical boxes with no written descriptions continues to drive both clients and accountants mad.)

TOSI


This year marks the first year of implementation of the controversial tax on split income (“TOSI”) rules. If you have been a reader of this blog, you will know all about this issue. If you are a new reader or need a refresher, you can read this BDO publication on income splitting.

In general, TOSI has not been a huge issue for my clients this year (tax return wise) when considering their children, because many of them already stopped using their family trusts or private corporations to pay dividends to their children in 2018. This is because of the punitive TOSI rules for children (typically between age 18-24), which became effective January 1, 2018.

However, spouses are another story. Where spouses have received dividends, it must be determined whether the dividend is subject to TOSI or meets one of the exemptions. There is an excluded business exception for any family member who is at least 18 years of age and worked on average at least 20 hours a week in the business in the current year, during the part of the year in which the business operates. This exclusion will also be met if in a total of five previous taxation years of the individual the 20-hours-per-week test has been satisfied. Note that this is true even if the five years occurred at any time in the past. The years do not need to be in succession.

Many clients are still trying to determine whether their spouse's met/meet this test, and we cannot file their returns until that final determination is made.

U.S. capital gains reports


We continue to receive realized capital gains reports for clients for their U.S. brokerage accounts in U.S. dollars only. These reports are deceiving, as they have not converted the original purchase and sale into the Canadian-dollar equivalent at the time of the original purchase and at the sale dates. Thus, by missing the foreign exchange component, the reported gain is often way out of whack.

Donations and medical expenses


Several clients provide their donations and medical receipts in their own packages (i.e., each spouse provides me their own donations and medical receipts). I am not sure if this is done for simplicity or whether they do not realize that in almost all cases, we claim the donations and medical credits on only one spouse’s return to maximize the claim.

Missing T2202A for students


As per the recent blog post “The Top Tax Tips for Students,” students need to print out their T2202A tuition receipt from their student portal. I would say for 80% of the returns for which there is a student in the family, we have not received the receipt and I must request it be printed out. So, students and parents: ensure this form is retrieved.


RRSP withholdings


I had a couple of clients withdraw money from their RRSP this year for income smoothing purposes. The problem is the statutory withholding tax for RRSPs is only 10% for withdrawals up to $5,000, only 20% for withdrawals between $5,000 and $15,000 and 30% for withdrawals over $15,000. These withholding rates are often less than the actual marginal tax rate of the client and result in a surprise tax liability. For example, if you took out $15,000, the withholding rate is only 20%, but the actual tax rate when you file your return could be 42% — thus you would have a 22% shortfall.

That’s it for my confessions. I hope your tax return results in a refund or at least less tax than you anticipated.

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.


Monday, March 25, 2019

The Top Tax Tips for Students

Many people say their college or university years were the best time of their lives. We leave home for the first time, gain some independence, meet new people from all walks of life, and binge-watch the antics of John Belushi and Co. in the classic campus movie Animal House. But with costs going up to attend post-secondary institutions, it has become more important than ever for students to understand how they can maximize their funds during the student years. One potential avenue? Saving money at tax time.

This week Christopher Bell joins The Blunt Bean Counter to break down the top tax tips for students.
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Tuition tax credit


The biggest credit in terms of dollar value is typically the tuition tax credit. In any given year, students are eligible to claim a federal non-refundable tax credit equal to 15% of eligible tuition fees.

The tuition tax credit is granted to students who attend a qualifying educational institution in Canada. These typically include universities, colleges, and other post-secondary level institutions (including select occupational skills courses as of 2017). To obtain this credit, students need to download Form T2202a from their university website.

Provincial credits are available for students in provinces other than Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. In those three provinces, the tuition tax credit was eliminated in recent years - students who have amounts to carry forward will be allowed to continue to do so.

A student can transfer up to $5,000 of current year tuition amounts to a spouse, common-law partner, parent, or grandparent for a federal tax credit; provincial transfer amount limits may differ from the federal amount depending on the province. Students can carry forward any unused credits to deduct against income earned in future years.

Students who attend foreign educational institutions will need a copy of Form TL11A completed by the school’s registrar to claim tuition credits. These credits can turn into massive carryforward amounts that can result in large refunds when the student graduates and starts working. Students could consider paying mom and dad back if they helped to pay for your tuition and for their support with … or scratch that: go buy yourself something nice. You deserve it (and they won’t mind).

Education and textbook credits


Some bad news for students came on January 1, 2017 as the federal government eliminated the federal education and textbook credits. The education credit – like the tuition credit – relates to a student’s time on campus. However, it is calculated not based on tuition dollars but rather on the number of months the student is enrolled.

Yukon, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick also eliminated their provincial education credits, and British Columbia eliminated its education credit as of January 1, 2019. Nunavut is the only province that will continue to offer a provincial textbook amount on top of its provincial education credit.

Students in all provinces and territories who have unused education and textbook credits from prior years can claim them on their 2018 tax returns, or continue to carry them forward to future taxation years if unused.

Scholarships and bursaries


Students can often apply for scholarships through their educational institution. They are a great way to help ease the burden of the large financial cost of post-secondary programs, and are typically awarded in the form of scholarships, bursaries, and research grants.

Here’s some good news: you may not have to include these amounts in income at all. Typically, the first $500 is exempted automatically. Not only that: most awards received from university or college programs are eligible for a full exemption. It is important to discuss this with an advisor, as there are additional implications to consider if these awards were received in relation to a student’s employment or business.

Registered Education Savings Plans


Another popular means of paying for schooling is making withdrawals from a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP). One advantage of these plans is that the student (and the contributors) can withdraw the original contribution amount tax-free when required. This is because RESP contributions are made using after-tax dollars.

When the student makes a withdrawal from their RESP, any interest, dividends, or gains earned from the investment of the contributions, including any government grants or incentives (e.g., Canada Education Savings Grant), will be taxed in the hands of the student. These payments are referred to as Education Assistance Payments (EAPs), and can only be made if the student is enrolled in qualifying programs (most full-time and part-time programs in both college and university qualify). If a student decides to attend a foreign educational institution, there are specified criteria that the program must meet in order to qualify, so be sure to contact your advisor for assistance.

There is a tax savings opportunity available if a student has multiple income sources during the year and they are drawing from the funds within their RESP. If a student is expecting to owe taxes at the end of the year, it would be advisable to make withdrawals on the contribution amounts rather than taking EAPs during the year to remove any tax liability created from receiving the payments. A student should plan with their advisor which types of withdrawals to take in each year, but it is important to ensure that any grant money received from the government on the funds contributed to their RESP is withdrawn prior to graduation; otherwise, these funds will need to be repaid to the government. It is also important to note that if a student does not withdraw the entire balance of the investment income (the amounts that would qualify as EAPs), these amounts will be brought into income after graduating, at potentially higher tax rates.

Loan interest


Even with help from parents, working a part-time job and savings, students are often forced to turn to government loans or private lenders in order to fund their education. When it comes to government loans, remember that sometimes the assistance is broken down into grants and loans. The grant portions do not need to be repaid, but the loan component requires repayment, and has interest associated with it.

Typically, the interest begins to accumulate at the end of a student’s studies at their educational institution, while repayment of the loan (and associated interest) is not required for the first six months after graduating. Recently, the Ontario government eliminated this six-month grace period, so for students in Ontario, loan repayment begins as soon as the student graduates.

The interest paid on student loans qualifies for both a federal and provincial tax credit if it was issued under certain government Acts related to loans or financial assistance. If the credits are unused at the end of the year, they can be carried forward for up to five years to be deducted against future income earned.

Moving Expenses


If a student moved to begin attending a post-secondary institution on a full-time basis, and assuming the move enabled them to be at least 40 kilometres closer to the school, they may be eligible to deduct select moving expenses. Note that these moving expenses can only be deducted against any taxable scholarships, bursaries, or research grants that they received during the year that did not meet the exemption criteria. These expenses can be carried forward to later years and deducted against the same type of income if they are not fully utilized in the year in which they were incurred.

If a student moved during the year for employment-related purposes, whether it was for a summer job or a co-op placement, and they moved at least 40 kilometres away, they can also make a claim for these moving expenses during the year. Note that these expenses can only be deducted against the employment income they earned from the job they moved closer to. These moving expenses are not allowed to be carried forward to future years unless income is earned from the same or a related job in another year.

Please consult with a trusted advisor if you have any questions or concerns, or simply want to better understand how to optimize your tax position.

Christopher Bell is a senior tax accountant working out of BDO’s Markham office. He can be reached at cbell@bdo.ca, or by calling 905-946-1066. 

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.



Monday, March 11, 2019

Ecommerce Sales Tax in the U.S.: The Road to Wayfair

Taxation can be slow to change, but legislatures, courts and other government bodies eventually cause the tax laws to catch up. That’s what happened last year with a landmark U.S. court decision affectionately known as Wayfair. (The full title is South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc.)­

This decision from the U.S. Supreme Court brought sales tax into the 21st century by finally ushering ecommerce into the sales tax tent. Now ecommerce companies — even Canadian companies — will need to think about collecting state sales tax. And while Wayfair was triggered by ecommerce, other Canadian companies will also feel the impact when doing business with the U.S.

Today Naomi Cutler, Senior Manager, U.S. State and Local Tax at BDO, zooms out to reflect on the events leading up to this key decision — and how Canadian business owners and leaders need to adapt.
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How U.S. state sales tax works


Most U.S. states impose sales tax on purchases of goods, and many also tax some services. For those states with a sales tax, the tax revenues often account for the largest income line item in the budget.

Businesses resident in the state are required to collect the tax. Over 25 years ago, the federal Supreme Court ruled that out-of-state businesses must have a physical presence in-state for sales tax collection laws to apply to them.

E-commerce


With the rise of e-commerce came deficits in state budgets. Most e-commerce retailers were not required to collect sales tax, so many transactions were going “un-taxed.” Bricks and mortar stores were also suffering from lost revenue, partially attributable to not being able to compete with the “sales tax discount” available to consumers who purchase online.

Congress drafted several “Marketplace Fairness Acts” in efforts to create sales tax parity between online retailers and their competitors with retail storefronts. None of these passed through both the House and Senate. Vocal states like New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die state, derided the idea that their local businesses should be stuck with the headache of collection of any state’s tax.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy made a comment in passing, suggesting that it was time to bring a new case to the Supreme Court to test prior rulings on physical presence.

Several states took up the challenge, and South Dakota was the first to make it to court. Its legislature drafted a law that looked to be unconstitutional: Per the law, an out-of-state business will need to collect state sales tax, once it has $100,000 of sales to South Dakota in a year, or had 200 transactions in a year. The company Wayfair and several other similar businesses did not abide by the new law. The state of South Dakota took them to district court, and eventually the case made its way to the Supreme Court.

The Wayfair ruling came back on June 21, 2018: The requirements set out by South Dakota seem reasonable. Physical presence was no longer required to make companies liable for sales tax. (Fittingly, Justice Kennedy wrote the judgement; it was one of his final decisions before retiring.)

The world after Wayfair


Since June 21, many states have enacted laws similar to South Dakota’s, and have begun to enforce those laws. The expectation is there will now be a level playing field between bricks and mortar and ecommerce.

Not just ecommerce


To be clear — the change in rules was targeted to recoup losses from ecommerce, but it reaches a lot further than that. Many Canadian B2B companies have in the past successfully sold into the U.S. market without sufficient presence in the U.S. to trigger sales tax collection responsibilities. These rules may change that. What has not changed is that sales tax is still only collectable from the end user and that often machinery and equipment sales are exempt. Sellers should collect and retain sufficient documentation to maintain rights to these exemptions.

The changes brought about by Wayfair are very complex. Please contact your professional advisors or seek advice from a U.S. state tax specialist to understand how this case impacts your business.

To learn more about managing your taxes when doing business in the U.S., read this new guide.

Naomi Cutler is Senior Manager, U.S. State and Local Tax, with BDO Canada LLP. She can be reached at ncutler@bdo.ca or by phone at 647.730.6762.


The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.




Monday, February 25, 2019

Bridging the Financial Literacy Gap with your Spouse

We have all heard the expression about affairs of the heart: opposites attract. However, how do these opposites operate when managing a family’s financial affairs? Spouses and common-law partners sometimes come to the relationship with differing levels of financial literacy.

When meeting with couples to discuss their financial affairs, it has always amazed me how one spouse often takes control of that aspect of their lives and the other spouse, in many cases, abdicates that responsibility. Of course, in some families, the financial duties are shared and both spouses have an understanding of the family’s finances, but I would suggest this is the exception rather than the rule.

How do you as the “financial spouse” involve the other spouse in spite of their indifference or reticence? How can you help them overcome their comparative lack of financial literacy? Why would you even want to?

Why your spouse should raise their financial literacy


I will start with the why. Here are three reasons:

  • For the sake of your marriage — it is best to have consensus on financial decisions.
  • You may die first — your spouse needs to be aware of and understand family finances, or it could lead to severe financial consequences. At minimum it could create significant stress for them after you die.
  • Get a new view — it may be useful to have a different perspective on financial issues.

How to improve your spouse’s financial literacy


Here’s how you can involve your spouse in the family’s financial affairs:

  •  Plan, document and communicate
  •  Introduce your spouse to your advisors
  •  Review the budget together
  •  Ask your spouse to pay some bills
  • Share yearly investment reports
  •  Discuss daily financial events

Plan, document, and communicate


An estate organizer is a great tool to plan, document, and communicate with your spouse on key financial issues. It doesn’t help just your spouse — it assists your entire family and your executor on your death.

While this estate organizer is really a future document, you can use it to educate your spouse now. If you have not prepared this document, do so; if you have already prepared it, you should review it with your spouse. Walk through each section. It will provide clarity on your affairs to your spouse and they will at least have some familiarity with this document if your death precedes theirs.

Introduce your spouse to your advisors


Introducing your spouse to your advisors means involving them in meetings. Introductions to your advisors will help your spouse develop a comfort level with the advisors. This will go a long way if you pass away and are not around to continue the relationships. On a current basis, if your spouse attends these meetings, they will begin to gain at least a minimum understanding of your affairs.

Review the budget together


If you create a family budget, you should review it with your spouse. A non-financial spouse will often consider this a form of financial torture, so keep the review brief and hit on points that your spouse is responsible for or will affect them. Seeing that you spent x dollars on restaurants may crystallize your concern about eating out too much to your spouse. Along similar lines, reviewing your interest expense will highlight the need to reduce debt. Any number of issues can be discussed.

Your spouse may surprise you. Sometimes showing the raw numbers in black and white can trigger an interest in financial affairs that – after all – affect them just as much as they affect you.

Ask your spouse to pay some bills


It may help to have your spouse be responsible for paying certain bills. This teaches them how to pay bills, especially online. I am often shocked by how many spouses have no clue about banking and paying bills. By taking an active role in this crucial activity, they can see first-hand the budget issues your family may have. In addition, should you pass away, it is vital your spouse have basic banking and bill paying skills.

Share yearly investment reports


I have always stressed the importance of looking at your investments annually to review your returns, fees and asset allocation. While your spouse may not care about the minutia, they may be interested in your yearly returns.

Discuss daily financial events


When there is a significant financial event – Brexit, an interest rate hike, trade agreement negotiations, or even relevant tweets from U.S. President Donald Trump – you may wish to have discussions with your spouse, so they are aware and understand the potential impact on your day-to-day lives.

Finding the right financial conversation


There are many practical ways to get your spouse involved in the family’s financial affairs. Feel free to discuss them in the comments below.

While there are some people who do not really want their spouse to have too much knowledge of their financial affairs, let’s hope these spouses are few and far between. For everyone else, the benefits of improving your spouse’s financial literacy are significant. I would suggest that you consider implementing some or all of the steps I discuss above to improve your spouse’s financial literacy and your family’s financial and estate planning. Your marriage and finances with be all the better for it. 

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Exploding 19 Common RRSP Myths

It’s that time of year again. We have just a few weeks left until the Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) deadline, and despite its almost 60 years in existence, there are still plenty of myths and misconceptions surrounding this popular retirement savings plan.

Today, Sarah Rahme, CFP, a wealth advisor with BDO Canada LLP, gets us ready for the 2019 RRSP deadline by demystifying 19 common RRSP myths.
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Myth #1: RRSPs are for everyone


The reality is that every Canadian needs to evaluate their own fit for an RRSP. We generally say that Canadians earning a lower income (under $50,000 yearly) should use a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) instead. Moderate earners have to weigh the pros and cons before deciding which option will work better for them in the long run. This typically entails weighing the tax savings you would gain today versus the tax cost when you withdraw your RRSP or Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) in the future and how quickly you may need to access the funds in your TFSA.

Myth #2: RRSPs aren’t worth it, since you need to pay tax on withdrawals


Some of you may wonder: what is the point of sheltering tax now since you will be paying it back at some point? Needless to say, should your tax bracket be lower in retirement, you will benefit from significant tax savings and tax-free compounded returns.

But what if your tax rate ends up being higher during retirement? We believe depending upon your specific situation, you may still be ahead based on the long-term tax-free compounding effect.

Myth #3: RRSPs have one use — retirement


An RRSP can also be used for two other key purposes:
  • purchase your first property through the Home Buyer's Plan (HBP) (up to $25,000 to purchase your first home)
  • finance your or your spouse’s training or education with the Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP) ($10,000 per year up to $20,000 in total to finance your education at a qualifying institution).

Myth #4: I should pay off my mortgage and other debt first


Let’s distinguish between two types of debt: high-interest and low-interest. For high-interest debt – the best example is credit cards, which can carry rates of up to 29.99% – absolutely, paying off debt should take precedence. But when it comes to low-interest debt, such as a mortgage, be careful not to scrimp on retirement savings. As long as you can generate a return on your investments that is higher than your cost of borrowing, it may make more sense to invest rather than pay down that low-interest debt.

Myth #5: I cannot make a withdrawal from my RRSP until I retire


Technically, funds in an RRSP are available to the plan holder at any time, even if there is a withholding tax on the funds withdrawn. (The exception, of course, is withdrawals under the Home Buyer's Plan or Lifelong Learning Plan, which are tax-free.) That being said, unless you really need the money, try to withdraw RRSP money at a time when your tax bracket is the same or lower than it was at the time of the contribution. Be aware that the statutory tax withholding may be significantly less than the actual income tax you owe in April, so plan for this shortfall.

Myth #6: It doesn’t matter when I make my spousal RRSP contribution


This may be the case if you don’t intend to make a withdrawal from the plan in the next three years, but if you do, the contribution timing matters.

As a reminder, spousal RRSPs allow one spouse to contribute to the other’s RRSP. This can often be a sound tax strategy when one spouse earns significantly more money than the other. However, spousal RRSPs come with conditions. One big one is that funds withdrawn within three years are attributed as income to the contributor and taxed accordingly.

Withdrawal rules are based on calendar years, which means that if you make a contribution for 2019 by December 2019, you’ll be able to withdraw money attributed to the plan holder as soon as January 2022. If you make that same contribution sometime in the first 60 days of 2020, you’ll have to wait until January 2023 before withdrawals are taxed in the plan holder’s hands.

Myth #7: I’ll have more money to contribute when I’m older


This is not always the case. It’s true that your student loans will be paid off, and you’ll most likely generate more income. But you may also have new obligations, such as a mortgage or the financial responsibilities of child-rearing.

Myth #8: If I die, the proceeds of my RRSP are subject to taxation


Not always – there are two scenarios:
  • If the beneficiary of the deceased is a surviving spouse or common-law partner, the funds will roll over tax-free into their RRSP or RRIF.
  • If you have a child or grandchild who was dependent on you due to physical or mental infirmity, the funds will roll over tax-free into their RRSP or RRIF.

Myth #9: I don’t have enough money to start investing


Like with all investing, the secret formula is compounding. If you begin your investment journey, even with small sums, a long-term strategy will build those initial amounts into greater wealth.

Myth #10: I have to take my deduction in the year I contribute


Well, you can definitely claim your RRSP deduction every year – and benefit from the tax deduction immediately. But remember: If you think your tax bracket will be higher in subsequent years, you may want keep the deduction in your back pocket and maximize your tax savings.

Myth #11: I can only convert my RRSP to a RRIF when I turn 71


It is true that you must convert your holdings by the end of the year in which you turn 71. You can, however, convert a portion, or the entire amount, at any earlier age. In fact, it may make sense to withdraw $2,000 per year from your RRSP to utilize your pension tax credit to offset the taxes on the RRIF income once you turn 65.

Myth #12: Converting my RRSP to a RRIF is my only option when I turn 71


You also have two other options:
  • take out the account value as a lump sum cash payment. In this case, you’d need to pay tax on the whole payment.
  • buy a life annuity that would pay income at regular intervals for the rest of your life.

Myth #13: A Spousal RRSP doubles my contributing room


Your personal RRSP contribution limit doesn’t change just because you have two accounts at your disposal. You have a choice to use your own RRSP, your spousal RRSP or a combination of both, but only up to your personal RRSP limit.

Myth #14: I have to use cash to make my RRSP contribution


RRSP contribution rules offer you more ways to contribute than just cash. You can also use stocks and bonds and make what is known as a contribution-in-kind. However, if you transfer stocks or bonds with an unrealized gain, you will trigger a capital gain, and if the stocks or bonds are in a loss position, your capital loss will be denied.

Myth #15: I should borrow money to contribute


Sure, that’s an option. But it’s probably better to make contributions to your RRSP throughout the year. Many people do this via a regular payroll deduction. This both helps your long-term savings and decreases your debt obligations.

Myth #16: I should contribute a lump sum just before the Feb. 28 deadline


Many Canadians do follow that strategy, but it’s suboptimal. First of all, you lose out on a year of tax-free growth for your funds. Besides that, are you convinced you’ll have access to the necessary funds in the waning days of February?

Myth #17: I have to wait until I turn 18 to open an RRSP


This is a common source of confusion. In reality, an RRSP can be opened at any age. A TFSA, on the other hand, can only be opened by someone 18 years or older. That being said, typically it will not make income tax sense to contribute before you are earning substantial income.

Myth #18: I can hold any types of investments in my RRSP


The RRSP rules do restrict some investment vehicles, such as precious metals and land. Some other vehicles are permitted but can be problematic and complex. These include mortgages and shares of a private corporation. Speak with your financial advisor to learn more about holding these vehicles in your RRSP.

Myth #19: My employer sponsored pension plan does not affect my RRSP contributions


Registered pension plans and deferred profit-sharing plans affect your RRSP contribution limit in the same way. Your annual T4 information slip from your employer includes a pension adjustment amount which reduces your RRSP contribution room.

The general formula is as follows: Your RRSP deduction limit for a tax year starts with contribution room carried forward plus your current year’s contribution room, minus any Pension Adjustment or Past Service Pension Adjustment and plus any Pension Adjustment Reversal.

Sarah Rahme, CFP, is a wealth advisor with BDO Canada LLP and covers Eastern Canada. If you would like help structuring a customized comprehensive financial plan for you and your family, contact Sarah at SRahme@bdo.ca or 613 739-8221, ext. 4520. For other parts of Canada, contact Sarah and she will direct you to the BDO contact person in your region.

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms. 




Monday, January 28, 2019

How to Use the BDO Estate Organizer

Two weeks ago, I posted the BDO estate organizer. In that post I emphasized the importance of writing your financial story and ensuring your financial information and wishes are documented.

Not to be morbid, but since Roma Luciw of The Globe and Mail has called me “morbid Mark,” I reiterate once again: if you do not communicate and document your financial affairs for your family or executors, you at best leave your family a messy estate at a time of distress and at worst cost your estate and family thousands of dollars.

Today I will walk you through completing the Organizer and some of the important issues that arise in completing the document.

Key Tips in Using the Organizer


Family Information (p.2)

The most important item in this section is citizenship. Many Canadian don’t realize this, but parts of your estate can trigger tax consequences if you are a citizen of another country. This typically applies to U.S. citizens, since the U.S. taxes based on citizenship; while most other countries tax based on residency.

Perhaps the biggest issue for U.S. citizens is home ownership. As discussed in this blog post, the U.S. has a $250,000 or $500,000 principal residence exemption, depending upon your marital and citizenship status. The fact that a tax-free home sale in Canada can result in taxes in the U.S. is often very shocking to Canadians filing U.S. tax returns.

Your U.S. citizenship can trigger many other tax consequences — such as U.S. estate tax —based on differing laws south of the border. And of course, U.S. tax compliance should begin well before estate planning makes an appearance in your life. If you are a U.S. citizen or green card holder, you should be filing U.S. tax returns. If you are not filing, you should seek U.S. tax advice.

If you are a citizen of another country, you may want to determine if citizenship in that country would have any income tax consequences upon your passing.

In addition, depending upon the politics of your home country and your children’s familiarity with that country, you may wish to sell your foreign assets as you age to simplify your estate.

Important Documents (p.5)

My Will 

If you do not have a will, it's time to have one drafted. As discussed in this blog post, 65% of Canadians do not even have a will and 12% of wills are outdated. Yes, your read that correctly: only 3 of 10 Canadians have an up-to-date will. 

If you already have a will, you should review it to determine if there have been any significant life events since you last updated it. In addition, you will want to ensure all your beneficiary designations (RRSP and TFSA, for example) agree to your will and are up to date. Many people have inadvertently left significant assets to ex-spouses by not updating their designations.

There have been substantial changes to the tax laws in the last few years, which can affect the tax treatment of trusts created by will and provisions for disabled children. If you have created trusts in your will or have a disabled child, you may want to contact your accountant or lawyer to see if these changes necessitate any change to your will.

Some provinces allow for dual wills, one for assets subject to probate and one for assets not subject to probate. If you live in Ontario and have two wills, a recent case (Milne Estate, 2018 ONSC 4174) may have nullified the benefit of your will that is not subject to probate. If your lawyer has not contacted you to discuss the impact this case has on your wills, contact them yourself immediately.

News Flash: the Milne decision was overturned last Thursday.

Powers of Attorney

You should have two powers of attorney (POAs), one for your financial affairs and one for your health care.

POA’s for health care have evolved over the last few years for such matters as heroic measures and even assisted-death provisions. You may want to consider updating this document depending upon your personal and religious views on these issues.

Financial Information (p.6)

As noted earlier, you will want to ensure that the beneficiary designations for pension plans and registered plans are in line with your will and your intentions. Often these designations are out of date.

After completing the Financial Information: Liabilities section of the organizer, review and ensure you have enough insurance (see discussion below) or liquid assets to pay off any of these liabilities should you pass away. You may also wish to assess whether this is a good time to have a financial or retirement plan prepared or updated.

Insurance Information (p.11)

After completing this section, sit back and consider these three things: 

1. Do you have any unnecessary insurance policies you purchased long ago and never cancelled?

2. Do you have enough insurance based on how much you spend annually, the debt you hold and significant funding expenses you still need to incur, such as tuition for your children? 

3. If you have significant funds in your corporation (especially if you will have excess funds in your corporation you will not need in retirement), have you considered purchasing a corporate-funded insurance policy?

Employment Information(p.13)

Some issues to consider is this section are:

Ensure that you detail any stock options, deferred stock units, deferred profit-sharing plans or any other of these more complex plans. Heirs often face confusion with these plans when someone passes away, so the more clarity you can provide (e.g., dates, units, tax cost basis, purchase price), the easier it will be for your family to deal with these plans.

Most employers are very good at assisting the family after the death of a loved one, but you will put your family in the best position possible by providing as many details as you can.

Income Details (p.14)

Some issues to consider in this section are: 

1. Are you taking advantage of all income splitting opportunities? You should review this with your accountant, especially given the implementation of the Tax on Split Income (TOSI) rules.

2. Consider if your investment returns are in line with your expectations and whether you even know what your returns are. See this blog post for a discussion of this topic and some useful links.

Real Estate (p.15)

Prepare a free-form schedule that should include the following at a minimum: 

1. A notation of the year you last claimed the principal residence exemption (PRE) on the sale of your home. This will allow your executor and estate to tax plan upon death or going forward in respect of future PRE claims if you have, say, a house and cottage. See this blog post for the new reporting rules on PRE claims.

2. If you elected in 1994 to crystalize $100,000 of capital gains on property you still hold, attach a copy of your 1994 form T664 to this document. The government allowed one final election to utilize your capital gains exemption before phasing out the exemption on real estate and marketable securities in 1994.

Note: Qualified small business corporations (QSBCs) continue to be eligible for the capital gains exemption — see this blog post for details.

Financial Advisors (p.16)

Ensure you have introduced your spouse or significant other to all your financial advisors. It is much easier for a surviving spouse to deal with the aftermath of a passing when they already have a level of comfort with the advisors they will have to deal with. 

Executors (p.17)

You should review your executor appointments to ensure they are the correct people for the job.

If you have not informed your executors they have been named, you should inform them. You may want to inform the executor that you have completed the organizer so that they will know it exists and where they can find it.

If you do not have someone you can name as an executor or there is possible family conflict, consider naming an institution as an executor. 

Digital Information (p.18)

If you have digital assets of value (e.g., cryptocurrency, websites), ensure you have obtained tax and legal advice and have considered them in your will. See this blog post on the topic from estate lawyer Katy Basi.

Katy also guest posted this excellent piece on a 21st century issue: how to deal with reproductive assets in your will.

Funeral Arrangements (p.19)

This is truly a morbid topic, but ensure someone is aware of any pre-paid or funeral wishes.

Final Comments


This estate organizer is one heck of a homework assignment. But it is one of the most selfless things you can do for your family, especially if you have significant assets or complex financial affairs.
The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.