The “4% Rule” is a common rule in personal finance. It’s a basic rule of thumb that suggests you can withdraw 4% from a well diversified portfolio and have a reasonably high chance of having money left over in 30-years.
Like any personal finance rule, it’s a bit of an oversimplification of a rule that contains many nuances. This rule is based on a famous study called “The Trinity Study”. That study was built on top of the work of Bill Bengen who used historical stock/bond/inflation rates to determine that a retiree can withdraw 4% of their initial portfolio value, adjusted for inflation each year, and have a reasonably high chance of success.
This is an amazing piece of work and has enabled many individuals to formulate their own retirement plans. But for Canadians it might be too low & too pessimistic.
When using the 4% rule it’s important to remember that “success” in the Trinity Study and in Bengen’s analysis means that there is at least $1 left after 30-years. It does not mean that investment principal will be left untouched. It’s very possible that a retiree could end up with just $1 in their account after 30-years and that would be considered success.
The nice thing about the 4% rule is that it’s pretty easy to find your target “retirement number”. All you have to do is estimate your annual retirement spending (including tax!) and multiplying by 25. If I wanted to retire with $50k/year before tax, according to the 4 percent rule, I would need $1,250,000 (25x $50,000/year)
The issue with the 4% withdrawal rule is that for Canadians it’s too low, it’s too pessimistic, and it leads people to forget about other types of retirement income and perhaps save too much. If you’re retiring in your 50’s to early 60’s then you could start withdrawing at a higher rate and still be successful.
(Disclaimer: Everyone’s situation is different. What works for one retiree may not work for another. Make sure to review your retirement plans with an advice-only financial planner to ensure your plan is successful)
Retirees in their 50’s or early 60’s will be eligible for two large government benefits just a few years after retirement. CPP and OAS can easily provide 25%+ of a retirees annual spending. Ignoring these benefits will mean you might save too much! Aiming for a portfolio that is 25x your annual spending is overkill because it doesn’t take into account these large government benefits.
For many retirees in their 50’s and early 60’s they can withdrawal MORE than 4% from their portfolio at the beginning of retirement. This is because a few years down the road they’ll be eligible for CPP and OAS. Once these benefits kick in their withdrawal rate will be much, much lower.
But, the earlier you retire the closer to the 4 percent withdrawal rate you need to be. Retiring early means you need to have closer to 25x your annual spending to bridge the gap between early retirement and government benefits. Bridging a 5-year gap between age 55, when retirement starts, and age 60, the earliest CPP can begin, is much different than retiring at 45 and waiting 15+ years for CPP.
Not only does retiring early create a larger gap between your retirement date and CPP/OAS but there are other risks too. One of the biggest risks is a change to OAS.
OAS is funded through government revenue. This means it’s not guaranteed the same way CPP is guaranteed. In fact, we’ve already seen OAS change twice in the last decade. OAS briefly went from age 65 to age 67 and then back again. This didn’t affect people who were already 55 but for those 55 and under they saw their earliest OAS date pushed later and later.
Still, for anyone in their early 50’s to early 60’s it’s reasonable to assume CPP and OAS will be available in its current form (but nothing is 100% guaranteed!)
Let’s look at two scenarios, one where retirement starts at age 55 and the initial withdrawal rate is above the “4% safe withdrawal rate”, and a second scenario where retirement starts at age 45 with the same withdrawal rate. For each scenario we’ll look at the success rate (how likely it is that we won’t run out of money before age 100).
One of the biggest financial planning opportunities for regular people is around government benefits. Unless you’re earning an extremely high income you will probably receive some form of government benefit over the course of your life.
As a student, you may receive GST/HST credits. When you have a family, you may receive the Canada Child Benefit. And when you’re a senior you may receive Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.
Understanding how government benefits work can help you optimize how much you receive both now and in the future. A few simple changes can increase your benefits by $1,000’s per year and help you save more, increase your financial security, and general increase your peace of mind.
Some families may be doing this already, but not realize it. Other families may not be doing it at all, and losing $1,000’s.
Most benefits are based on your net income and most benefits have claw back rates associated with them. As your income increases, your benefit will go down based on this claw back rate. But not all income is created equal, and some types of saving will increase your benefits.
One of the best ways to optimize your benefits is by carefully planning RRSP contributions. RRSP contributions decrease your family net income and increase your benefits. This increase in benefits can provide a big incentive to save. Depending on the number of children, for some families, the increase in benefits from an RRSP contribution is worth more than the tax refund! In total, some families can get back $0.60-$0.70 for each $1 they contribute to RRSPs.
On the other side, when you’re ready to withdrawal from your RRSPs, these withdrawals need to be carefully planned. RRSP withdrawals increase family net income and can potentially trigger claw backs on GIS and OAS. With claw backs on GIS reaching up to 75% it’s important to plan RRSP withdrawals carefully to avoid losing 50%-75% of every $1 you withdraw from RRSPs in retirement.
If you’re earning a normal/average income understanding government benefits can potentially provide a big boost to your long-term financial security. Ignoring government benefits can make things unnecessarily difficult.
Did you know? Your marginal effective tax rate could be as high as 60-70%?!?
You might be thinking….
What is a “Marginal Effective Tax Rate” anyway, and why is it so high?!?
Well….. let’s start with a term you might be more familiar with, your marginal tax rate (no effective).
You marginal tax rate is how much tax you pay on the next dollar you earn. For high income earners this can be above 53%. For the next $100 they earn, $53 goes to taxes and only $47 goes in their pocket.
Thankfully, with our progressive tax system, low and moderate income earners pay a much lower rate, typically in the 20% to 40% range depending on their income. This means a low or moderate income household will only lose $20 to $40 of the next $100 they earn to income tax.
Your marginal effective tax rate is your marginal tax rate plus the claw back from government programs. These claw backs are based on your net income and work much the same way that income tax does, the more you earn, the more of your government benefits get clawed back.
This is a very important consideration when planning your finances. For some low and moderate income households these government claw backs can exceed 30%. This can push Marginal Effective Tax Rate (METR) over 60%. That means $60 of the next $100 they earn will be lost to taxes and claw backs!!!
For example, a family with two children (my situation) who is earning ~$50,000 per year will lose 32.5% of the next dollar to claw backs and 29.7% to income taxes. Their combined marginal effective tax rate is 62.2%!
A family of four earning $50,000 can easily have a marginal effective tax rate that is higher than a single person earning $220,000+.
Two things greatly affect METRs, marital status and children. These two factors affect government benefits the most so in this post I’ll look at how different family situations can affect your METR and I’ll show you in detail how I calculated the METR for my family, including the income level where each government benefit gets clawed back.
There are many government benefit programs that are “income tested”.
You might be asking… “What does “income tested” mean exactly?!?”
This means that the benefits you receive will fluctuate with your net income.
Higher income means lower benefits. Lower income means higher benefits. For low or moderate income households this becomes a very important consideration when creating a financial plan.
At the most extreme, a family with two children earning around $50,000 can expect to lose 32.5% of the next dollar they earn due to these benefit claw backs. This is on top of their marginal tax rate of 29.65%. That means that between claw backs and income taxes over 60% of the next dollar earned will go to the government. Ouch!
While this is an extreme case it does illustrate the impact of these claw backs on certain income levels and family types.
The challenge with these benefits is that the calculation is often not straightforward. Specific rules and claw back rates are often hidden and not easily found. There are also considerations like marital status, number of dependents, disability, income and deductions. This makes it difficult to understand your particular claw back rate.
In addition, many income tested benefits are not based on gross income but on net income, more specifically adjusted family net income (AFNI). In the most basic sense this is your gross income minus any deductions.
One of the most interesting financial planning opportunities this creates is with RRSP contributions.
RRSP contributions are considered a tax deduction and will decrease your net income. This in turn will increase your government benefits. That’s right, the government will increase your benefits today if you save for the future. For low and moderate income households this can sometimes make RRSP contributions more appealing vs TFSA contributions.
This is a BIG post, there are eight government programs we’ll cover.
For each benefit program, we include the benefit amount, the claw back rate and the income level at which the benefit disappears entirely.
When you first have children, there is a lot going on. Sleep deprivation, diapers, crying, screaming, feeding, more diapers, cribs, car seats, more crying. It’s overwhelming. So it’s entirely understandable that making RESP contributions for your child is the last thing on your mind.
Even for someone like me, who’s a bit of a personal finance geek, opening an RESP and making contributions was the least of my concerns. For at least 12 months I put off opening an RESP.
Putting off opening an RESP for a little while is ok. But put it off too long and you may miss some free money from the government.
Here’s what you need to know about opening an RESP, making RESP contributions and catching up on the free money from the government.
For most of us retirement is a long way off. That shouldn’t stop you from thinking about your retirement plan. Having a solid retirement plan usually means starting early. Having even a rough retirement plan in your 20’s and 30’s can help alleviate a lot of financial worry.
A big part of retirement planning revolves around government run retirement plans like CPP.
CPP stands for Canada Pension Plan and the goal of CPP is to replace around 25% of your income in retirement up to a maximum amount of $13,370/year.
There are many factors that could affect your CPP however. Being aware of these factors will help you create a good estimate of how much you need to save for retirement.