Defined benefit pensions are often an enormous advantage when it comes to retirement planning but there are also some very complex decisions that need to be made. One of those decisions could be whether or not you should take the commuted value of a pension.
The commuted value represents the lump-sum value of a defined benefit pension… it is the amount that the actuary feels your pension is worth in today’s dollars… and it can be very very large.
A reasonable defined benefit pension could have a commuted value worth $250,000+, or $500,000+, or even $1,000,000+
Seeing all those zeros can be very enticing. This can cause many people to consider taking the commuted value rather than the lifetime retirement benefit offered by a defined benefit pension.
But should you take the commuted value of a pension? There are often many things to consider when deciding to take the commuted value of a pension and the size of the commuted value itself is one just one piece of the puzzle.
Let’s take a look at a few of the factors that you may want to consider, but first, what is a commuted value exactly?
How much money do you need to retire? Well that depends, the more appropriate question might be how much do you want to spend? In this post we’re going to look at three real life retirement examples, one high spending around $200,000 per year, one moderate spending around $70,000 per year, and one low spending at $30,000 per year.
Retirement planning is always driven by spending assumptions in retirement. Spending levels have an enormous impact on how we can plan draw down, how we can manage taxes, and most importantly… how successful the plan is during periods of low investment returns. This is why it’s so important to accurately estimate spending when doing a retirement plan.
Spending doesn’t just include your regular day to day spending, it should also include things like one-time expenses for children’s weddings or once-in-a-lifetime trips. And it should always include an estimate for infrequent expenses like home repairs, vehicle repairs, and vehicle upgrades.
Determining how much money you want to spend in retirement will go a long way to helping to determine how much money you need to retire.
That being said, spending is important, but it isn’t everything…
Other income sources like government pensions, private pensions, and government benefits are also an important factor to consider. Income from government pensions can easily represent 25% to 50% of a retirees spending goal in retirement. Government benefits like GIS and GAINS in Ontario can easily add up to $10,000+ per year for low-income retirees.
The other factor to consider is how much income tax you’ll be paying in retirement. Not all income sources are created equal. Income from a defined benefit pension can be split between partners before age 65, a huge tax planning advantage. Income from CPP, OAS, RRSPs etc are all fully taxable whereas income from TFSAs or non-registered accounts are not. In some provinces non-registered eligible dividends from a Canadian company can actually have a negative tax rate, a big advantage when determining how to best draw down assets in retirement.
To determine how much money you need in retirement often requires a very custom financial plan. This retirement plan looks specifically at your income sources, your financial assets, and your spending goals to determine how much you actually need to retire (and often it’s less than you think!).
In this post we’re going to look at three real life retirement planning examples. These examples are from case studies that we’ve done in the past with the Financial Post or other personal finance websites. We’ve chosen three in particular. One high income retirement planning example. One moderate income retirement planning example. And one low income retirement planning example.
Should anything change when investing after retirement? Are there specific investment options for after retirement? Should you change your asset allocation after you’ve retired?
For the average retiree their investment portfolio will make up a significant portion of their retirement income. Most of us will receive some government pension from CPP and OAS. Some of us may also receive retirement income from a defined benefit pension as well. But even in those situations we’re probably still creating some retirement income from an investment portfolio each year and this income is critical to help us reach our spending goals.
Given investment income is such an important part of most retirement plans, should anything change when investing after retirement?
For some people the answer might be yes. But for most of us the answer is probably no.
There are a few important factors to consider when investing after retirement and the three big ones are asset allocation, investment fees, and complexity.
These three factors are important to consider when investing after retirement. Depending on how your investment portfolio currently stands against these three factors it may warrant making some changes before entering retirement.
There are three main pension arrangements in Canada and most people, if they have a pension plan, have one of these three main types. There are defined benefit pensions, defined contribution pensions, and group-RRSPs. Each of these have their pros and cons. (There are also some unique pension plans but these are typically intended for high income executives or business owners.)
Having an employer pension plan can be a huge benefit for retirement. An employer pension makes saving for retirement easier by taking deductions directly off your income, plus it also typically comes with employer matching. This employer matching can be worth anywhere from a few percent of your salary all the way up to 18% of your salary (depending on the plan and the retirement benefits provided).
The automatic nature of pension contributions make them a great way to save for retirement. This “forced savings” is a huge benefit in itself, regardless of the employer matching.
Depending on the type of pension you have, this money gets paid out in different ways at retirement. Some plans cannot start before a certain age while others can be accessed earlier. Depending on your retirement goals this flexibility (or lack of flexibility) is an important consideration in your financial plan.
Some pensions, specifically defined benefit pensions, may also come with health benefits, travel benefits, or life insurance benefits after retirement. This can be another important benefit of a defined benefit pension plan, one that shouldn’t be ignored (especially when deciding between a defined benefit pension and a commuted value option).
It pretty much always makes sense to participate in an employer pension plan, but the different plans do have their pros and cons. Let’s explore the three main types of plans in Canada and their pros and cons.
Income splitting is often talked about in reference to high-income earners, but what about the average Canadian family? For high-income earners there are income splitting strategies like spousal loans or “income sprinkling”. Spousal loans are for families with lots of non-registered savings and a large difference in marginal tax rates between spouses. “Income sprinkling” can be used by families who own a corporation (although with the new TOSI rules has changed dramatically).
But what about your average Canadian household? Are there are income splitting options for them?
One very accessible type of income splitting is a spousal RRSP. Unlike other income splitting strategies this one is very easy to set up, it doesn’t require a lawyer, and it’s easy to understand.
The big benefit of a spousal RRSP is that the average family can use it to “equalize” their registered assets before retirement. This allows for a more equal distribution of income in retirement and a lower overall tax bill for a household.
In addition to lower income tax it also opens up more opportunities to maximize government benefits in retirement.
But you might be wondering, isn’t it possible to split income after age 65 anyway?
While its true that after age 65 income splitting is much easier to do, it’s still a best practice to try to equalize registered assets before age 65. This allows for the maximum flexibility when creating a retirement drawdown strategy, especially when retiring early.
Equalizing registered assets can be extremely beneficial, especially before the age of 65 when there are fewer income splitting opportunities, for this reason we sometimes want to look at using a spousal RRSP to help split income in the future.
Having an emergency budget is not a new concept, it’s something we’ve written about before, but for retirees it’s particularly important.
An emergency budget is a slightly reduced budget that can be executed in times of uncertainty.
For retirees, “uncertainty” is at its highest during a recession, when investment assets have drastically reduced in price. But “uncertainty” could also be high during a long periods of below average investment returns, stagnate economic growth, or high inflation rates.
Emergency budgets are important for retirees that rely on investment assets to fund part of their retirement spending.
Often, retirement projections are done using an average rate of return. This provides a nice pretty graph but doesn’t accurately represent the range of investment returns retirees may experience in retirement.
Variable investment returns are one of the largest risks a retiree will face. A period of low or negative investment returns early in retirement can be devastating to a retirement plan. This is known as sequence of returns risk. The sequence in which a retiree experiences investment returns can have a big impact on their retirement plan. A series of low or negative investment returns early in retirement can have a very negative effect.
One important way to counteract the effect of sequence of returns risk is to reduce the draw on investment assets during periods when stock market returns are low and/or negative for a period of time.
Reducing the draw on investments, even by a small amount, helps increase the success rate of a retirement plan.
There are a few important factors when creating an emergency budget.