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Deciding when to start receiving Old Age Security benefits

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The baby boom generation, which is now in or near retirement, has always been able to factor receiving Old Age Security benefits, once they turn 65, into their retirement income plans. While receipt of such benefits can be still be assumed by the majority of Canadian retirees, the age at which such income will commence is no longer a fixed number. Retirees are now faced with a choice about when they want those benefits to start. For the past four years, Canadians have had the option of deferring receipt of their Old Age Security benefits, for months or for years past the age of 65, and that election to defer continues to be available. The difficulty that can arise is how to determine, on an individual basis, whether it makes sense to defer receipt of OAS benefits and, if so, for how long. It’s a consequential choice and decision, since any election made to defer is irrevocable.

Under the rules now in place, Canadians who are eligible to receive OAS benefits can defer receipt of those benefits for up to five years, when they turn 70 years of age. For each month that an individual Canadian defers receipt of those benefits, the amount of benefit eventually received would increase by 0.6%. The longer the period of deferral, the greater the amount of monthly benefit eventually received. Where receipt of OAS benefits is deferred for a full 5 years, until age 70, the monthly benefit received is increased by 36%.

The decision of whether to defer receipt of OAS benefits and for how long is very much an individual one — there really aren’t any “one size fits all” rules. There are, however, some general considerations which are common to most taxpayers:

  • The first consideration in determining when to begin receiving OAS benefits is how much total income will be required, at the age of 65 by determining what other sources of income are available to meet those needs, both currently and in the future.  Once income needs and sources and the possible timing of each is clear, it’s necessary to consider the income tax implications of the structuring and timing of those sources of income.  Taxpayers need to be aware of the following income tax thresholds and cut-offs.
    • Income in the first federal tax bracket is taxed at 15%, while income in the second bracket is taxed at 20.5%. For 2017, that second income tax bracket begins when taxable income reaches $45,916.
    • The Canadian tax system provides (for 2017) a non-refundable tax credit of $7,225 for taxpayers who are over the age of 65 at the end of the tax year. That amount of that credit is reduced once the taxpayer’s net income for the year exceeds $36,430, and disappears entirely for taxpayers with net income over $84,597.
    • Individuals can receive a GST/HST refundable tax credit, which is paid quarterly. For 2017, the full credit is payable to individual taxpayers whose family net income is less than $36,429.
    • Taxpayers who receive Old Age Security benefits and have income over a specified amount are required to repay a portion of those benefits, through a mechanism known as the “OAS recovery tax”, or clawback.   For the July 2017 to June 2018 benefit period, taxpayers whose income for 2016 was more than $73,756 will have a portion of their OAS benefit entitlement “clawed-back”. OAS entitlement for that time period is entirely eliminated where taxpayer income for 2016 was more than $119,615.

The goal is to ensure sufficient income to finance a comfortable lifestyle while at the same time minimizing both the tax bite and the potential loss of tax credits, or the need to repay OAS benefits received. Taxpayers who are trying to decide when to begin receiving OAS benefits could, depending on their circumstances, be affected by one or more of the following considerations.

  • What other sources of income are currently available?
  • Is the taxpayer eligible for Canada Pension Plan retirement benefits, and at what age will those benefits commence?
  • Does the taxpayer have private retirement savings through an RRSP?

Finally, not all the factors in deciding how to structure retirement income are based on purely financial and tax considerations. There are other, more personal issues and choices which come into play. Those include the state of one’s health at age 65 and the consequent implications for longevity, which might argue for accelerating receipt of any available income. Conversely, individuals who have a family history of longevity and who plan to continue working for as long as they can may be better off deferring receipt of retirement income where such deferral is possible.

Many Canadians put off plans, like a desire to travel, until their retirement years. Realistically, from a health standpoint, such plans are more likely to be possible earlier rather than later in retirement. The early years of retirement are usually the most active ones, and consequently are the years in which expenses for activities are likely to be highest. Having plans for significant expenditures in the early retirement years might argue for accelerating income into those years, when it can be used to make those plans a reality.

The ability to defer receipt of OAS benefits does provide Canadians with more flexibility when it comes to structuring retirement income. The price of that flexibility is increased complexity, particularly where, as is the case for most retirees, multiple sources of income and the timing of each of those income sources must be considered, and none can be considered in isolation from the others.

Individuals who are facing that decision-making process will find some assistance on the Service Canada website. That website provides a Retirement Income Calculator, which, based on information input by the user, will calculate the amount of OAS which would be payable at different ages. The calculator will also determine, based on current RRSP savings, the monthly income amount which those RRSP funds will provide during retirement. Finally, taxpayers who have a Canada Pension Plan Statement of Contributions which outlines their CPP entitlement at age 65 will be able to determine the monthly benefit which would be payable where CPP retirement benefits commence at different ages between 60 and 70.

The Retirement Income Calculator can be found at https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/publicpensions/cpp/retirement-income-calculator.html

The Debt load of Canadian households – onward and upward?

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The fact that Canadian households are carrying a significant amount of debt is not news.  In fact, debt loads seem to continually set new records. For several years, both private sector financial advisers and federal government banking and finance officials have warned of the risks being taken by Canadians who took advantage of historically low interest rates by continuing to increase their secured and unsecured debt.

The risks most commonly cited by those advising more borrowing restraint was the impact that an increase in interest rates would have on the ability of those debtors to repay  the debt which they had accumulated. As well, to the extent that such borrowings were secured by home equity, the risk was that a downturn in the real estate market could put those borrowers at risk.

Both of those circumstances have started to materialize in the last two calendar quarters. The Canada-wide real estate market is not in a downturn. However, the expectation among borrowers that real estate values in major urban markets would simply continue to increase without limit has been tempered by the drop in real estate sales in the Greater Toronto Area since the spring of this year. While real estate prices in that market are still up, as measured on a year-over-year basis, they have declined, overall, from the highs recorded in the winter and early spring of 2017.

The long-anticipated increase in interest rates has finally occurred as well; The Bank of Canada raised the interest rate for the first time since September 2010. Financial institutions responded by increasing their mortgage and other loan interest rates.

The end of June, just prior to The Bank of Canada’s first interest rate increase, marked the end of second quarter of 2017. And, as is usually the case, many government and non-government organizations issued statistics and analysis of the current state of Canadian consumer debt. Given the timing, those figures will create a kind of benchmark against which future statistical summaries will be compared, as they create a “snapshot” of the state of Canadian consumer debt taken just as interest rates began to rise, at the end of the ultra-low interest rate environment which began in 2009, and as the ultra-hot real estate market started to cool down.

As of the end of June, the debt to disposable income ratio stood at $1.68, meaning that the average Canadian household carried $1.68 in debt for each $1.00 of disposable (after-tax) income.

While it’s easy to see that an increasing debt-to disposable income ratio means that Canadians are taking on more debt. What is striking is the growth of that ratio over the past quarter century and, especially, since 2005.

In 1990, that percentage stood at 93%, meaning that the debt load of the average Canadian household was 93% of disposable income. By 2005, the debt-to-disposable ratio had risen to 108%. It took 15 years for the percentage to increase from 93% (in 1990) to 108% (in 2005). From that point, the debt to disposable income ratio accelerated dramatically, as it rose from 108% in 2005 to 150% just five years later, in 2010. The ratio now stands, as of the second quarter of 2017, at 168%.

The StatsCanada figure captures all forms of debt; secured and unsecured, meaning that it includes mortgages, car loans, installment loans of all kinds, lines of credit, and credit card debt. There are a couple of significant differences between secured and unsecured debt — secured debt, by definition, is secured against an asset, so that in the event the borrower goes into default, the lender can seize the asset in payment of the secured debt. The value of that asset is always, at the time of borrowing, greater than the amount borrowed. Unsecured debt is provided on no more than the borrower’s promise to repay. For both those reasons, it’s more likely that borrowers, when faced with an interest rate increase which bumps up their cost of borrowing, will get into difficulty with unsecured debt. And, as of the second quarter of 2017, the average unsecured debt owed by individual Canadians was for the first time, over $22,000.

That figure — $22,154 average debt load per individual borrower — appeared in a summary issued by TransUnion. The summary also outlines the average balance per borrower by the kind of debt incurred, as follows:

Bank card (credit card) ………… $4,069

Automobile …………………………… $20,447

Line of Credit ………………………… $30,108

Installment Loan …………………… $25,455

And, as recently reported by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, recent trends in secured debt patterns may also give rise to concern going forward.

One of the fastest growing consumer credit products in Canada is the home equity line of credit (HELOC). A HELOC is similar to a mortgage, in that the debt is secured against the homeowner’s equity in the property. However, under a HELOC, a lender agrees to provide credit to a borrower, not for a fixed amount, but up to a maximum amount, based on the value of the property. Once the HELOC is in place, the available funds can be used for any purpose, whether that purpose is related to home ownership or not. And, while monthly payments are required, the borrower can usually, if he or she wishes, pay only the interest amount which has accrued since the last payment, without reducing the principal at all.

The number of households that have a HELOC and a mortgage secured against their home has increased by nearly 40 percent since 2011.

  • 40 percent of consumers do not make regular payments toward their HELOC principal.
  • 25 percent of consumers pay only the interest or make the minimum payment.
  • Most consumers do not repay their HELOC in full until they sell their home.

If there is good news in the figures summarizing the ever-increasing debt load of Canadians, from all sources, it’s in the fact that borrowers are still managing to keep payment of those debts in good standing. In fact, delinquency rates (meaning debts on which payments are more than 90 days late) are, for the most part, down during the second quarter of this year, as measured on both a quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year basis. Whether that trend will continue or be reversed as the impact of the recent interest rate increases takes hold remains to be seen.

Legal fees — what’s deductible and when?

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For most Canadians, having to pay for legal services is an infrequent occurrence. In many instances, the need to seek out and obtain legal services is associated with life’s more unwelcome occurrences and experiences, such as a divorce, a dispute over a family estate, or a job loss. About the only thing that mitigates the pain of paying legal fees would be being able to claim a tax credit or deduction for the fees paid.

Unfortunately, while there are some circumstances in which such a deduction can be claimed, those circumstances don’t usually include the routine reasons — purchasing a home, getting a divorce, establishing custody rights, or seeking legal advice about the disposition of a family estate. Generally, personal legal fees become deductible for most Canadian taxpayers only where they are seeking to recover amounts which they believe are owed to them, particularly where those amounts involved employment or employment-related income or, in some cases, family support obligations.

The first situation in which legal fees paid may be deductible is that of an employee seeking to collect (or to establish a right to collect) salary or wages. In all Canadian provinces and territories, employment standards laws provide that an employee who is about to lose his or her job (for reasons not involving fault on the part of the employee) is entitled to receive a specified amount of notice, or salary or wages equivalent to such notice. However, the employee can establish a right to a period of notice (or payment in lieu) greater than the statutory minimum. The amount of notice or payment in lieu of notice which is payable can then become a matter of negotiation between the employer and its former employee, and such negotiations usually involve legal representation, legal fees incurred by the employee to establish a right to amounts allegedly owed by the employer are deductible by that former employee. If a court action is necessary and the Court requires the employer to reimburse its former employee for some or all of the legal fees incurred, the amount of that reimbursement must be subtracted from any deduction claimed.

In some situations, an employee or former employee seeks legal help in order to collect or to establish a right to collect a retiring allowance or pension benefits. In such situations, the legal fees incurred can be deducted, up to the total amount of the retiring allowance or pension income actually received for that year. Where part of the retiring allowance or pension benefits received in a particular year is contributed to an RRSP or registered pension plan, the amount contributed must be subtracted from the total amount received when calculating the maximum allowable deduction for legal fees.

The rules covering the deduction of legal fees incurred where an employee claims amounts from an employer or former employer are relatively straightforward. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the rules governing the deductibility of legal fees paid in connection with family support obligations. Those rules have evolved over the past number of years in a somewhat piecemeal fashion. The current rules are as follows:

  • Legal fees incurred by either party in the course of negotiating a separation agreement or obtaining a divorce are not deductible. Such fees paid to establish child custody or visitation rights are similarly not deductible by either parent.

Legal fees paid for the following purposes will be deductible by the person receiving those support payments:

  1. Collecting late support payments;
  2. Establishing the amount of support payments from a current or former spouse or common-law partner;
  3. Establishing the amount of support payments from the legal parent of that person’s child (who is not a current or former spouse or common-law partner). However, in these circumstances the deduction is allowed only where the support is payable under a court order, not simply under the terms of an agreement between the parties; or
  4. Seeking an increase in support payments;

On the payment side of the support payment/receipt equation, the situation is not so favourable, as a deduction for legal fees incurred will generally not be allowed to a person paying support. More specifically, as outlined on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website, a person paying support cannot claim legal fees incurred in order to “establish, negotiate or contest the amount of support payments”.

Finally, where the CRA reviews or challenges income amounts, deductions, or credits reported or claimed by a taxpayer for a tax year, any fees paid for advice or assistance in dealing with the CRA’s review, assessment or reassessment, or in objecting to that assessment or reassessment, can be deducted by the taxpayer. A deduction can similarly be claimed where the taxpayer incurs such fees in relation to a dispute involving employment insurance, the Canada Pension Plan or the Quebec Pension Plan.

Segal LLP A 2017 Best of the Best Firm

best2017INSIDE Public Accounting (IPA) has named Segal LLP a Best of the Best Canadian Firm for the second consecutive year.  Segal is honoured to be one of only 5 Canadian CPA firms ranked as a 2017 Best of the Best firm based on a wide variety of financial and operational performance.

“We are honoured to once again be named a Best of the Best in Canada; it is a vote of confidence in our people and in Segal’s unwavering commitment to client service, our vision and our approach to our business” said Dan Natale, Managing Partner at Segal.

“Best of the Best firms excel by achieving the delicate balance of focus on culture, clients, team and financial results,” says Michael Platt, principal of the Platt Group and publisher of the accounting trade publication, INSIDE Public Accounting.

Proposed New Tax Rules – Have Your Say

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On July 28, 2017, the Segal team shared a summary of the proposed tax changes that Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau presented on July 18, 2017. You can review that summary here: http://www.segalllp.com/2017/07/28/new-tax-rules-effecting-private-corporations/

As professionals and business owners, we have studied and developed a better understanding of these proposals, and implications of these rules are far reaching and did not contemplate the negative consequences if adopted. The “marketing” of these proposals by Mr. Morneau and the government was very different than the actual content within the proposal language. As a business owner, these rules will affect you adversely as they relate to all privately held Canadian corporations.

We believe as Canadian professionals and taxpayers, that the Members of Parliament (MP) need to hear and understand our concerns so that they can be communicated to the Finance Minister. Attached is a letter that the Segal partners, principals and team are sending to their Member of Parliament to express their concerns on new rules that will fundamentally change the way private corporations are taxed.

We are sharing it with you should you be considering providing the Minister of Finance with the feedback he has asked for; the 75-day consultation period ends October 2, 2017. Feel free to use any part of this letter in your communications with your Member of Parliament and copy Minister Morneau. You can find your MP’s contact information here: https://www.ourcommons.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members?view=List