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 a National Accounting Firm in Toronto. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are written solely in my personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which I am affiliated. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humor/sarcasm. You've been warned.

Monday, April 27, 2015

TFSAs - Ease of Access, Discipline and Retirement

Last week’s budget confirmed the badly kept secret that the Tax Free Savings Account (“TFSA”) contribution limit would increase. The Conservative government proposes to increase the limit from $5,500 to $10,000 (although, TFSAs will no longer be indexed) effective January 1, 2015. Although I can’t say I fully understand this from a public policy perspective, I think the increased limit is great from a purely financial perspective.

As there have already been numerous articles discussing the advantages of the increased limit and who will benefit the most (here are links to two very good articles by Rob Carrick of The Globe and Mail  and Adam Mayers of the Toronto Star), today I thought I would take a different tact and discuss how the increased TFSA limit will test our human behavioural traits.

Ease of Access, Discipline and Retirement

Ease of Access - A Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

TFSAs allow you to withdraw your money at any time for any reason. The reason could be financial, for example to help purchase a house, or purely for personal indulgence, such as to go on your dream vacation or buy that sports car you always wanted.

One of the great things about a TFSA is that you have the option to re-contribute any money you withdraw from your TFSA beginning January 1st of the following year. However, my concern is once that money is withdrawn, many people will not re-contribute, especially in respect of discretionary withdrawals where the money provided personal gratification.

I have written a couple times that one of the indefinable benefits of a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (“RRSP”) is that it acts as an invisible barrier to protect you from yourself, as some (not all) people treat their RRSP as sacrosanct and only consider withdrawing money for emergencies, or income smoothing purposes. In contrast, TFSAs are inviting with limited barriers to protect you from yourself.

Discipline - Do You Have It?

The easy accessibility of TFSAs will require us to be disciplined if we are not to squander the funds we sock away. It has been my observation that many of us do not have that financial discipline. I have said this before and will say it again; with respect to accessible monies, the path of least resistance generally ends at the cash register.

Retirement - Are TFSAs the New RRSPs?

Over the last few years, more and more Canadians have decided to fund their TFSAs in lieu of their RRSPs. Many people seem to prefer the flexibility and tax-free status of TFSAs and are willing to forsake today’s tax refund (generated by RRSP contributions), for tax-free withdrawals in retirement (to avoid taxable withdrawals from their RRSPs/RRIFs in the future). While this change in retirement funding makes sense where your marginal tax rate today is lower than it will be in retirement, it does not make income tax sense where your marginal rate is higher today than you anticipate at retirement.

Whether the trend of moving to TFSAs and away from RRSPs makes financial sense or not, assuming the budget proposal becomes law, I can foresee the day where TFSAs will become the dominant retirement vehicle in Canada. 

This brings us back to discipline. Much has been written about how poorly many Canadians have saved for retirement and how we need government pension plans (see Ontario) to save us from ourselves. Yet now, it can be argued, the government has in a way incentivized us to not use our RRSPs and is expecting us to be disciplined and use the money in our TFSAs to fund our retirements.

As the expression goes, I am from Missouri on this issue; you will need to show me that Canadians will be disciplined enough to always choose their retirement over the trip to Tuscany.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.