Financial Retirement Planning


Biggest Money Mistakes

October 7th, 2011 ernie Posted in Investing 1 Comment »

Biggest Money MistakesWe recently read an article online that discussed the standard money mistakes that the average consumer makes over their life time. Although this was a great article, we decided to write our own biggest money mistakes with some of our own real life situations that we have encountered. Here are our list of biggest money mistakes.

Biggest Money Mistakes

Selling an Investment Property too Soon:

Buying an investment property is probably the second biggest money decision most people make next to the decision to buy their own home. We purchased an investment property back in the 80’s with the idea of renting it out and watching the investment grow. Well after about 6 years and no appreciation we decided to sell. Had we waited another 5 years we would have tripled our original investment. Real estate is a long term investment!

Paying for Something Before it was Delivered:

We all have done this. We have paid for something that will be delivered in a few days or weeks in good faith. More and more often now, goods are not coming though on delivery due to delays are at worst companies going bankrupt. Now I always go for the 10% down and the rest on delivery. At least this way I only lose 10% if something happens.

Not Selling High: Classic greed is all this is:

Holding a stock that has gain like crazy, expecting it to go higher and then it cracks and nosedive. Nortel is the classic case in recent memory. Sell at least half of your stock so that you capture some of the profits and lock them in. Sell them all when you have made a decent amount of money. Avoid being greedy!

Buying a Vacation Home as an Investment:

Some vacation homes will be a good investment, however it is the old issue of supply and demand. Vacation homes can fall into over supply and or low demand depending on the economy. If you can buy a place such as a cottage were no additional building is allowed, then you may be ok. Buying a vacation home in Las Vegas is the other extreme and really follows the over supply and low demand phenomenon at the present time.

Keeping too Much Money in Employers Stock:

We have all heard the horror stories were someones total savings are locked up in company stock which is losing ground.  Never do this. Diversify your savings or retirement portfolio to protect yourself from the troubles a single company may have.

Too Risk Adverse for My Age:

Common theory these days is to move from high risk investments to safer investments that are income driven as we get older. If you have a company pension then you can afford to take more risk, while people who depend on their savings for income should move to lower risk investments as they get older.

Trusted an Advisers Guidance, and Ignored Fee’s: 

Following an advisers guidance to invest in a high load mutual fund is probably the worst you can do. There are high fees that the mutual funds pay to the advisers. Also trading stocks often is another way the advisers make their money. Always look at the investment and don’t blindly follow the investment advice.

Chased Hot Stocks:

Sometimes you win, but most times you lose. Most of us are to far removed from the investment to be able to react quickly enough to a hot stock that has suddenly gone cold. Unless you can follow a stock almost 24 hours a day, stick with blue chip stocks that pay a good return.

Short Term Money into Hot Stocks:

Money that you can only invest for a short term should be put in something that is guaranteed to return your original investment. Never go with short term hot stocks for money that you will need soon. It may not be there when you need it.

Failed to Re-balance:

Re-balancing stocks and funds in your savings plans on a regular basis makes sure that you continue to follow a diversified portfolio investment plan. This approach lowers your risk and ensures that you are not overexposed in one sector.

Panic When the Market Dropped:

I just spoke with an adviser who is a friend of ours and he mentioned that out of 400 clients, 2 sold and got out of the market when it crashed in 2008. The rest stayed pat and recovered all of their investments and then some. Once you get out of the market at a low point, that money that you lost is gone and can never be gained back.

Good luck with your investments and hopefully these ideas and money mistakes can be avoided in your future. Comments welcome.

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New Years Resolutions

January 2nd, 2011 ernie Posted in Investing 1 Comment »

New Years is just around the corner and it is time to give some thought regarding what yours will be! Everyone makes  New Year’s resolutions usually associated with losing weight and New Years Resolutionsfinances that are healthy promises easily made and easily broken sometimes the next day. If you are the type that has done this in the past, then this year when you make New Years resolutions, write them down and post them somewhere you can see them every day. Remind yourself of these resolutions so you at least think about them every day. You still might not keep them all of the time, but even if you keep them every second day, you are ahead of the game! This is one of the most difficult things that most people face. How do they actually meet their New Years Resolutions? For more ideas, read on!

Motivation to Keep New Years Resolutions

That is of course if you really have the motivation to keep them. Many people just make them so they can say they are making New Years resolutions and then forget them the next day. This post is not going to help these people that are not serious at all so don’t waste your time. On the other hand if you are serious about New Years resolutions, then maybe you have a chance of keeping them. Take a moment and read the rest of this post. Even if you pick out one nugget of information that helps you, you are ahead of the game! Pick something that is achievable, that will take some commitment. If you select something that is outside your ability to achieve, you may just get discouraged and quit. Everyone wants to be a winner!

New Years Resolutions – Surveys

According to a Sun Life Financial survey conducted by Ipsos Reid, with the new year quickly approaching, three-quarters of Canadians are resolving to improve something about themselves. Health-based resolutions are by far the most popular with over two-thirds of those making resolutions (74 per cent) stating they resolve to either increase exercise or lose weight in 2011. Eating healthier (31 per cent) rounded out the top three choices.

However, when it comes to making permanent changes, eight out of ten respondents admit they’ve failed to keep past resolutions with a lack of motivation and willpower (76 per cent) identified as the main barrier to maintaining new year lifestyle changes. Thirty-eight per cent also cited a lack of money followed by lack of time (35 per cent).

So How do You Keep New years Resolutions

All resolutions are good ideas and often will improve your overall life style and quality of life regardless of what they are. So we are all off to a good start, however the easy part is making them and the hard part is to keep them. Talk is cheap!

Select relatively easy resolutions to keep and set stages or milestones that take you in the direction of completing your resolution. This way you will feel that you have achieved something each time you reach a new milestone.  We all need positive feedback and to see progress. This is one way to ensure that you get both.

People who set resolutions that are fun to achieve such as travel or visiting with relatives are easier to keep than others that are more difficult such as losing weight. Chances are you will keep the good ones that are fun and not some of the others unless you make a real effort with a firm plan.

Smoking, Drinking, Saving, Reducing Debt

These are all very difficult resolutions to keep if you are trying to smoke less, drink less, save more and reduce your debt.  Each one requires commitment and a specific plan with dates and objectives if you are going to have any success at all in meeting your goals.

Some people can go cold turkey regarding smoking less or stopping. Most cannot and the relapse rate is pretty high. Other people will gradually cut back until they are hardly smoking at all. They may only smoke at parties or in stressful situations. This is like placing candy in front of a child and telling him not to eat it.

Whatever your plan, select wisely and select goals that you can reasonably achieve. If you would like to leave a comment that will benefit our readers please do so. Comments that help our readers or give ideas are well received and supported by this site.

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Interest Rate Fluctuations

May 14th, 2010 ernie Posted in Investing 1 Comment »

Interest Rate FluctuationsDoes interest rate fluctuations mean that  interest rates going up? One of the good things about the past recession or depression as some people would call it is that the interest we pay on loans and mortgages have been at historical lows. Many people would say this might be the only thing good thing about this  recession. If you lost your job, or your home or have gone further in debt you probably are not interested in what is occurring with loan and mortgage interest rates.

Interest Rate Fluctuations – Will they Change

However many of the worlds governments are letting their constituents know that interest rates are about to begin rising.  How much and exactly when interest rates will begin to rise is not yet known, yet most informed sources feel that they will begin to rise in the second half of 2010. There are various strategies that one should consider depending on whether you are an investor or a borrower.

Note that any suggested advice we discuss in this blog is just that advice. We do not have a crystal ball and we really have no idea what will occur, however it is one writers opinion. Make your own assessment , read lots of material and make your own independent decisions.

Investor Strategies

If you are an informed investor, then you probably have a diverse investment portfolio with blue chip investments distributed among stocks, mutual funds and bonds across the various market sectors. That’s a big mouthful, however the message is do not ever put all of your eggs in one basket!

Typically when interest rates go up, existing bond values fall to maintain the overall yield, while new bonds being issued will have to offer higher interest rate yields to match the market interest rate. Dividend paying stocks also will decline so that overall yields will match the going interest rates on the market.  Of course many other events can influence the value of the stock, such as corporate earnings and other market issues which will impact the overall value of the stocks value.

So what should you do when you see that the government is about to increase interest rates. If you are betting that the increases will be relatively minor, that they will not need to fight serious inflation, then you can take your time and be somewhat more careful about your plans.

Most people are long term investors, aiming at generating income and growth of their portfolios. With this in mind, fluctuations in interest rates and their corresponding impact are less troublesome. However there are some things you can do to make sure you take advantage of increasing interest rates and avoid the loss of income as interest rates decline.

Interest Rate Fluctuations – Bond Ladders

Creating a bond ladder allows you to invest in bonds with maturities over various years. For example if you have $100,000 , then investing $10,000 with a maturity in subsequent years lets you take advantage of bonds maturing every year instead of all at once when interest rates are low. You may not be able to invest all of your money at the highest interest rates, however your overall average will be higher than the lowest market interest rate.

As interest rates drop, you may find that bond lenders may call their bonds early. With this option, which many bonds have, the bond owners can pay off their bonds early and issue new bonds at a much lower interest and save thousands of dollars. This is not a good situation for many investors who might be counting on this income. As you invest in bonds, always inquire whether the bond is callable or not and when. You will need to make your decision to purchase a callable bond, based on your assessment of where interest rates are headed.

We really like bond ladders with non callable bonds when interest rates are declining and especially when they are rising. We also like keeping approximately 5 to 10% of our portfolio in cash if interest rates are headed up so that we can take advantage of the increasing rates.  By cash we mean money markets or GICs with early maturity dates. You will not make much money, but every little bit counts  and you will be ready when a good deal comes along.

What to do If you are Borrowing Money

With interest rates currently expected to rise, what should you do if you have a mortgage or a loan, or planning to borrow a large sum of money?

If you believe interest rates are going to rise significantly, it may be time to lock in your mortgage or loan so that you will not be hit by a financial shock when they do increase. You may find that there are hundreds of dollars added to your monthly payment when interest rates do rise.

On the other hand if interest rates stay low for some time, you can actually save money by staying with an open mortgage with the interest rate tied to the bank rate. There is some risk to this approach because you could get caught if interest rates increase rapidly.

Bottom Line

If you are a risk taker, then you will probably take a more aggressive approach to keeping low interest rates on your loans and avoiding locking in your mortgage or loan for up to 5 years or more. On the other hand if you worry a lot or cannot withstand a financial shock, stay awake at night worrying about your debts, then locking in your mortgage and loan interest rates will protect you from fluctuations in the monthly payments as interest rates change! At least you will not lie awake at night worrying about this issue.

Comments are welcome as are suggestions about what to do in this current situation.

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Ten Financial Rules to Follow

March 14th, 2010 ernie Posted in Investing 1 Comment »

Ten Financial Rules to FollowWhen you are in control of your finances, your income and your debt the feeling is truly empowering. Now is the time to get control. Interest rates, which have been low for some time, will begin to rise in late 2017 or 2018 and that usually means inflation is not far behind. Now is the time to focus and make sure your financial game is in perfect working order. Here are Ten Financial Rules to Follow for your investment plans.

Ten Financial Rules to Follow

Take control of your finances

Take the time to develop your  financial plan that meets your personal goals. Brush up on your financial know-how through courses and seminars. Whether you are a small investor or have a large investment base, getting in control will truly be empowering and it will set you free from worry about your finances. Map out a plan and follow it. Adjust it as the financial landscape changes. Review it regularly and fine tune it as needed.

Pay down your  debt

Paying your own debt first is an obvious kind of thing to do, however there is a priority in terms of which debt to pay. Store credit cards carry the highest interest rates, sometimes upward of 28%. This debt is what you should focus on and pay off first. You will and must meet all of your obligations at the same time. Make sure you pay all of the monthly installment payments on your other debt to avoid bad credit ratings. Once you pay the credit card debt, focus on the next highest interest debt that you have until it is paid off .

Spend less

Once you decide to pay off your credit cards, you will have less to spend, however you want to make sure you are not racking up new debt at the same time. Set a budget that allows you to live within your means. Spend less at least for a while . You will find that the extra money you gain will be useful in reducing debt and also saving for the future.  This is a life changing habit to form and it is important to spend less so that you can reduce debt as well as not create new debt.

Save more

Most Canadians save on average less than 5% of their personal income. We used to save about twice that and the folks in the US save even less than we do on average. Try to get into the habit of saving 10% and have it taken directly off your pay check so that you do not even need to think about it. After while it will be just another deduction on your pay check and you will benefit by building your savings that will come in handy if you are laid off or better still for retirement.

Develop a personal investment policy statement

Large companies do this because it is a professional way to manage money and manage a business. Why should you not do this as well? Write out your goals and review them at a minimum of once per year, more often if the market is volatile or you have additional money to add to your portfolio. Take into account your tolerance to risk and also decide between growth of stocks vs. income from dividend stocks and bonds/GICs.

Re-balance

As part of your investment plan review, review the balance of investments that you have between bonds, stocks and mutual funds or other investment vehicles that you may have. Try to diversify your investments and strike the right balance of stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Does your current investment mix meet your investment goals and your investment plan? As the markets increase and recede, you may need to re-balance your investments to keep the right balance in your investment account.

Get tax efficient

Being tax efficient is just good business sense. Take advantage of all of the programs to defer or decrease your taxes. Can you increase your deductions, or defer taxes to another year or share your taxes with your spouse? If you do not have the time, if you are uncomfortable, if you just do not want to do your taxes, hire an accountant to review your taxes to make sure that you are getting all the tax deductions you are entitled to. Even if you do your own taxes every year, you might benefit from having an accountant to review your taxes for one year to see if you missed anything.

Get insured

Most people have car and house insurance. Many do not have life insurance or disability insurance. If you have this kind of insurance through your job , review it to make sure that your family could continue to live comfortably without your income. If you do not have life insurance or disability insurance, consider purchasing this type of insurance. You do not want to leave your family destitute and poor.

Don’t give up

If you are investing in high quality stocks, bonds and mutual funds, chances are you can weather any storm. In 2009, we saw one of the largest drops in the stock market in history. Watching your investments drop in some cases up to 40% is very hard to take. Staying true with your investment plan and sticking with high quality investments will usually bring consistent returns as well as withstand financial shocks over the long term.

Review, adjust and enjoy

Consumers really need to take responsibility for their own investment plans and their own retirement. Continue to review your plan. review your investments and make adjustment as  time goes on and the markets fluctuate. Maintain diversity and maintain a balance with your investments . Stick to blue chip and remember the golden rules of investing.

Diversify, never put all of your hard earned money in one stock etc or even with one investment adviser.

If it is too good to be true, then it probably is not true.

Take control of your investments and learn what you need to know to make informed decisions.

The recent economic and stock market downturns have taught people the need to spend responsibly, within the context of a financial plan and their lifestyle. Having a solid financial foundation in place frees you up to do all those things that give your life more meaning.

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Consolidating Investments

March 7th, 2010 ernie Posted in Investing 1 Comment »

Consolidating InvestmentsI believe quite strongly in diversification to avoid jeopardizing your total investment and possibly loosing your entire portfolio.  There have been recent examples of people who have placed their nest eggs with one person  ( recent ponsi schemes ) and lost everything. The returns sounded good and these people wanted to consolidate their investments in one place so it was more easily managed.

Consolidating Investments

I read several articles recently were the writer indicated that there were some reasons that you would want to consolidate your investments. I will repeat them here for your consideration and then discuss them in a bit more detail.

  • It is easier to track and re-balance  your assets
  • Lower Fees
  • Fewer dead trees
  • No more orphan accounts
  • Peace of mind

There is always a balance between diversification and consolidating accounts under one investment adviser or one set of investments. The fundamental rule is that you do not want to risk everything you have with one adviser or one investment. If the adviser is not what he purports to be or if the investment goes south then you have lost everything.

There is a case for having a reasonable amount of diversification and there is a case for consolidating many accounts and investments into several to avoid a financial meltdown while making it easier to manage over all. Never put all of your eggs in one basket. Lets look at a few of the suggestions in more detail.

It is easier to track and re-balance  your assets

There is no question that it would be easier to track your assets and re-balance them as needed if all of your assets are in one place. One of the benefits of having everything in one place is monitoring asset allocation and  making sure you are investing following the guidelines appropriate for your risk assessment.

Still, our belief is that you really should diversify across several accounts with different advisers to avoid all of the eggs in one basket syndrome. A benefit of this approach is that you now can get advice from two advisers and compare their suggestions and strategies to then make the best decision for your personal investments. This takes more time and effort, however it is the best long term strategy by far.

Lower Fees

There is no question that if you have multiple accounts, you are going to have to pay multiple fees , one for each account. It may be $50 an account, but that is $50 you do not have. Consolidating accounts can certainly save you money in this area .

Compare the advantage to diversification. You have $100,000 to invest. You can place this all in one account and have it managed by a single adviser with a $50 fee each year for the account. All o your eggs are in one basket and if that adviser does not do what he or she is supposed to do, then your full $100,000 is at risk.

Diversifying across advisers certainly means you will probably pay $50 twice, but at least if one adviser goes bad, you still have $50,000 of your money. We just have to look at the recent ponsi schemes that even sophisticated investors got caught up in.

Fewer dead trees

Consolidation of accounts certainly means less paper and less mail to your home with account statements. That is an advantage for sure. But all you are doing is reducing a bit of paper.

Compare to receiving paper for two accounts with diverse investment advise and guidance that allows you to compare and make more informed decisions. Sure you get more paper m but won’t you feel better and worry less if the advice from two advisers match up?  I think again the diversification angle is much more valuable than saving a couple of pages.

No more orphan accounts

This is a weak benefit at best. True there are less accounts to worry about should you move and forget to advise the institution about were you are moving to . The institution does not know were you are , cannot find you and the account becomes orphaned. This does happen, however if you are dealing with a credible investment adviser, you will be discussing your investments on a monthly basis.

This will occur with any account. The solution is to make sure that you always update the company with your up to date contact information. Also you should be providing next of kin and back up contact information for every account. Again a little more attention on your part will also make sure this never happens.

Peace of mind

This is one of the weakest points anyone could make. I would be more worried if all of my investments were invested through one adviser or even worse in one investment. There is certainly no peace of mind in locking everything you own in one investment.  With all of the various schemes that are going on and have been in the news recently, I would be lying in bed awake at night worried if I had done the right thing. Even so called friends of the family have been found to be as corrupt as anyone when it comes to money. Protect yourself and make sure that you are well diversified at all levels.

Hopefully this post makes sense to readers. If you agree or disagree, I would like to hear your thoughts on what you think about consolidating investments vs. diversification of your life savings.

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Variable vs Fixed Interest Rates

February 28th, 2010 ernie Posted in Investing 2 Comments »

Variable vs Fixed Interest RatesThere has long been a discussion around whether variable rate interest rate for mortgages and loans are better than a fixed interest rate for these same financial vehicles. The debate always gets interesting when interest rates are about to change. Consumers get worried whether they will end up paying more interest because rates are rising and they did not lock in soon enough. Conversely many consumers also worry that they locked in too soon when interest rates start to fall. So what is the right strategy for consumers around this huge issue of fixed vs variable interest rates? After all it is your money.

Variable vs Fixed Interest Rates

Well , we think there are a number of factors to consider and they will vary in importance for most people. As a result it is a very personal decision based on the financial position you are in. The plans you have for the future regarding your property and you ability to deal with risk associated with changing interest rates. We will try to discuss the major issues and provoke people to think about their situation before they make a decision. At the present time in early 2016, it looks like interest rates will stay flat for another year. You can never tell when they will change, but that is what the experts are saying at the present time.

Some Background First

A fixed interest rate loan or mortgage is just that. The interest will not change for an agreed to time frame, usually called the “term”. At the end of the term, the bank will offer you a new interest rate and term for your loan or mortgage if you have not already paid it off.

A variable interest rate loan or mortgage will vary in relation to the prevailing bank rate announced by the Fed in Canada or the United States. If it goes up, your bank is likely to increase the rate they charge you. If it goes down, they will lower the rate they charge as well.

When the bank rate is, let’s assume 2%, then the banks will charge you one or 2 % over that level. It depends on how competitive your bank is for a total interest rate of 3 or 4%.

Factors to Consider

These factors are not listed in any relation to importance, since individual consumers may rank them quite differently based on their personal situation.

Stress – Some people just cannot deal with the unknown of whether the interest rate will change and whether your monthly payments will change or not. If it keeps you up at night worrying, why put up with that , lock it in.

Changing Monthly Payments – each time the interest rate changes, the amount of interest you owe and the corresponding monthly payment will change. As long as it is going down it is ok, however if the interest rate is going up and if there is going to be a significant impact on your budget, then you may want to switch to a fixed interest rate loan or mortgage.

Planning to Sell

When you sign up for a fixed rate mortgage you are saying that you will pay a certain amount for the life of the term based on the agreed to interest rate. If you plan to sell during that period of time and the interest rates have fallen, the bank is going to charge you a penalty plus administration fees to discharge the mortgage when you sell your home. The penalty will roughly amount to the difference in your rate and the rate that the bank will lend the money out at the time you close. This can amount to thousands of dollars, so it is good idea to think about this.

With a variable rate mortgage often you will only pay the administration fees to discharge the mortgage.

Saving Money – Variable rate loans and mortgages often have lower interest rates than the fixed rate loans and mortgages being offered by banks. This is only true at the time you take out the mortgage. Interest rates do change and they can go up and down, however at the time you sign, the variable interest rate is usually lower than the prevailing fixed interest rates. This is an excellent way to save money especially if you feel that for the foreseeable future , interest rates are not likely to change much.

Volatile Interest Rates

In periods of high inflation or in periods of economic down turns and depressions / recessions, the interest rate that is quoted by the banks can change often. During periods of economic growth and high inflation interest rates tend to rise. During recessions and depressions, interest rates tend to decline in order to stimulate the economy and get things moving.

Consumers should take this forecast of interest rate volatility into account when they are making their decision along with the other factors mention as part of their decisions to take a variable or fixed interest rate loan or mortgage.

Competitive Rates – Many news papers will list current interest rates offered by banks and other lending institutions each week. For the most part they are all pretty close since competition is pretty fierce, however it never hurts to have a discussion with your loan officer to see what kind of deal they may give you.

Sometimes even shaving a quarter percent off can make a big different in the total amount of interest you pay. It never hurts to ask and the worst that will happen is that they will say no!

In Summary

Assess your risk tolerance for changing interest rates, assess the impact on your monthly payments, assess your plans to sell or keep your home and assess the next several years in terms of were you think interest rates are headed as inputs to your decision. Note that you can and should compare fixed and variable interest loans and mortgages from various companies to ensure that you obtain the most competitive rates.

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Tax Efficient RRSP Investing

February 21st, 2010 ernie Posted in Investing No Comments »

Tax Efficient RRSP InvestingWith the March 1st Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) contribution deadline for Canadians now past, the 2013 RRSP season has come to a close and time has run out, now is a good time for investors to save on tax now while saving for the future they want and plan for this year. While this post focuses on the Canadian system, Americans can follow the same general guidelines to maximize their retirement benefits as well.

When investing for retirement, no other registered plan offers tax advantages as compelling as the RRSP. Your annual RRSP contribution not only goes toward reducing the amount of tax you pay on income but your qualified investments grow tax-deferred within the plan until withdrawal, when you may be taxed at a lower rate after you retire. If you are a member of a company pension plan, you will even be better off by also having an RRSP. If everything goes well you will be able to collect your pension and your RRSP as well.

Tax Efficient RRSP Investing

Your RRSP can also be an insurance plan. More and more people are either losing their jobs, retiring early or finding out that their companies have gone bankrupt with no provision for the retirement benefits. Don’t depend on anyone else but yourself. Put a plan together which is diverse and plans for emergencies and unforeseen conditions. An RRSP is one of the building blocks for this plan.

The following tips may help investors invest efficiently and maximize their savings for retirement to ensure a retired life that is comfortable and allows you to do the things that you plan to do.

Know your contribution limits

As RRSP contributions are 18% of an individual’s earnings from the prior year, the amount of income needed in 2009 to generate the maximum contribution room of $21,000 is $122,222. Looking ahead, the RRSP contribution limit for 2010 has been increased to $22,000. If you were unable to maximize your contribution in previous years, you may be able to contribute even more than $22,000 for 2010.

While in recent years, RRSP contribution limits have been increasing by $1,000 per year, 2011 will mark the first year that the RRSP limit increase will be indexed to inflation, at $22,450, generated when 2009’s income is at least $124,722.

Leverage a Spousal RRSP

Higher-income earners can take advantage of their spouse or partner’s lower tax rate once they begin withdrawing from their RRSP in retirement by contributing to a Spousal RRSP now. Higher-income contributors receive a tax deduction for contributions made to their spouse or partner’s plan and spousal contributions do not interfere with the other spouse’s or partner’s own RRSP limit.

Remember that a Spousal RRSP does not allow an individual to exceed their personal RRSP maximum contribution threshold which can be allocated between the individual’s own account and that of their spouse.

Remember RRSPs are for more than retirement

RRSPs can be used to invest in financial goals other than retirement, such as education or a first home. First-time homebuyers can withdraw up to $25,000 tax-free from an RRSP under the Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP) and can repay the funds, interest-free, over a 15 year period. However, failure to repay will cause the amount to be included in income.

Under the Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP) investors can also withdraw up to $10,000 in a calendar year and up to $20,000 in total from an RRSP to help pay for training or education for yourself or your spouse or partner. The LLP withdrawal must also be repaid, over a 10-year period to avoid having it included in income.

Even though early with drawls generate taxable income, sometimes you will have no choice but to with draw early to replace lost income. This is not something you should plan to do, but it can be part of your income insurance plan.

Contribute early, contribute often

If you can afford to contribute to an RRSP, do so. It’s never too early to start contributing but you might regret not doing so sooner as with all investments, the more time you can give your plan to grow, the better.
Many investors find it much easier to make small but regular contributions than to come up with large lump sums annually. Consider setting up a regular investment plan to help make contributing to your RRSP a priority all year long.

After making your RRSP contribution, apply to the CRA using Form T1213 for a reduction of payroll tax at source. By doing so, you can benefit from your tax reduction throughout the year on each pay check, instead of waiting until you file your tax return in the spring of 2011.

Discuss your plans with your adviser

Make time to discuss your options with a professional financial adviser.
Remember, you’re building a long-term plan so take time to sit down with an advisor, get their help in choosing the right solutions and get started today in saving for the retirement lifestyle you want. Also discuss your plan with your spouse and make sure that he or she knows where you are invested and what your contributions are. Involve your spouse in discussions with your financial advisor. Both you and your spouse should have joint financial plans with similar goals, practice diversity, and avoid investing in too good to be true investments. Before you leap, talk it over with someone and think about it for several days.

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Ten Percent Investment Plan

February 7th, 2010 ernie Posted in Investing 1 Comment »

Ten Percent Investment PlanMany of us are like the ostrich with the head in the sand when danger is around when it comes to thinking about and planning for our retirement.  For the young it is so far off that there is no need to think about it while for people in the middle of their lives, they just have too many other financial pressures to give it much thought. By the time we are in our 50’s and 60’s, panic has set in when we realize that we will not have the kind of retirement that we had all planned since our savings are just too low. This usually means working a lot longer, in some cases well past the age of 65. Some people want to work, while others never want to work again. let’s at least have a choice.

How Can we Avoid this Panic

The answer is actually quite simple. It does take some will power and some perseverance, however if you start early enough saving for your retirement, it can be quite easy to have a large retirement savings at the time you retire. The best part is that after a short while you will not even miss the money that you are saving each week from your paycheck. Just take 10% and put it in a savings account were you cannot touch it for any reason until you retire. Let’s illustrate by a couple of small examples.

If you were to start setting aside $100 a month until retirement at age 60, at an average of 7% interest rate you would have $239k set aside in your savings for retirement. If you retired at age 60 and lived until age 80, you would receive $22k per year. Not bad for just setting aside $100 per month!

We use this example to illustrate just how easy it is to build up a retirement plan by saving a small amount each month. In fact we go a bit further by suggesting that a person should set aside 10% of their salary every year for retirement.  Ten percent is certainly affordable and once you get used to being without the money, you do not even think about that 10% you are setting aside.

The Ten Percent Investment Plan Solution

Lets assume that you make $50 thousand a year and you are disciplined to set aside 10% or $5000 per year in your retirement savings plan.  $5000 per year sounds like a lot , but it is only $416 a month. You might have done with out a car or some other convenience, but that should be an easy sacrifice to make your retirement comfortable.

So with our example, you are going to set aside an average of $5000 a year into a savings plan at an average of 7% interest rate until age 60. By the time you are age 60 you will have $998k or almost a million dollars saved. If you live for another 20 years until age 80, you can afford to draw $94k per year from your retirement plan. Wow that is not too shabby! All for just setting aside 10% a year.

Some Issues to Consider

Now some people will say that there is no way I can afford to set aside %5000 a year in my early 20’s . True our best earning years are later in life. However if you always invest 10%, you may end up only setting aside $2k a year initially, but in later years as salaries increase you may find that 10% means you are investing as much as $10k a year. This will more than make up for the difference in the beginning years.

Can you make an average of 7% return every year ? Probably over the lifetime of your savings plan. Some years you will make significantly less while other years you will make significantly more. It should average out to around 7% over the 40 years or even a bit higher based on past statistics for the markets.

But the government will tax me and take a lot of my earnings. This is true and that is why you need to invest your money in a tax free savings account ( Canada) or an RRSP ( Canada ) or a 401 K ( United States ). These accounts will let you build up your nest egg without being taxed by the government while you are saving for your retirement. When you do retire, and begin with drawing funds, you will be taxed at the tax rate commensurate with your total income at the time of retirement.

This is Your Life, Take Care of Yourself

We have seen over the past decade that a number of really big companies have suffered badly or gone out of business. Also the volatility of the markets have caused many people who are retired or are pre-retirement to wonder if they will have enough money to be comfortable.

The message we have all learned is that we must look after our selves and not depend on our company or our government to look after us.That means we must take responsibility for our own savings investments and practice good savings techniques as well as good investment strategies. This means we need to be involved with our investments.

Diversify

Be extremely careful and invest wisely. Avoid placing all of your investments in one place. If it is too good to be true then it probably is. Just think about the recent ponsi schemes that have come to light as of late. Investors lost millions of dollars when the invested in something that was too good to be true.

Diversify investments across multiple companies, and diversify investments across multiple advisers and then pump them for information to make your own decisions about what the best approach is for your investment strategy.

Summary

Invest 10% of your income every year into triple A investments, inside a tax free account, diversify your investments and avoid investments that sound too good to be true. Start early in your life with your 10% plan and in not time at all you will have a retirement nest egg that will help to ensure your comfort during retirement.

It takes discipline , to place the 10% in your investment saving s plan every year. It also takes discipline to not touch this nest egg when you are short of money or need to buy a house.

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Investment Diversification

January 30th, 2010 ernie Posted in Investing 2 Comments »

Investment DiversificationImagine the sinking feeling you get when you open your statement for your RRSP or your 401k. The market has tumbled and your investments have tumbled with it. What could be worse? At least you were invested across blue chip stocks in a variety of industries and when the market turns around these blue chip companies will be firing on all cylinders and your investments will surge. This is a good news scenario since you are well diversified and this is just a blip in the long term investment strategy. You sit back and relax.

Meanwhile your neighbor also just got his investment statement. Instead of the tried and true diversification, he put all his investment into GM or Enron. Not only is it down, it is gone. Sure you had some in GM as well and lost a fraction of your investment. But your neighbor had it all in, sure that the company would pull out and the share price would rebound. The lesson we have all learned in the last two years is that investment diversification is key to a long term strategy that will yield financial returns for our retirement.

What Do They Really Mean by Investment Diversification

There are numerous ways to interpret diversification. The most simple and straightforward approach is to invest across a wide spectrum of companies, healthy companies with good balance sheets and a proven business plan. The fly by night companies simply cannot pass the business plan test so stay away from them.

You might also pick one company, the one with the best balance sheet and revenue in each industry. Choosing companies across industries is a great idea to diversify and also protect yourself if one part of the economy takes a dive for a short period of time.

Another approach is to also add to the mix mutual funds that meet your investment strategy. Today you can choose from mutual funds that invest in bonds to precious metals to foreign to dividend stocks and more. This gets a bit more complicated. You will need to decide how much risk you want to take, whether you want income generating funds or growth type mutual funds. There are many different types and it is easy to diversify, however you should pay attention to the risk of each type. Bond mutual funds are considered the least risky , while precious metals might qualify as the most risky.

Bonds, both corporate and government represent another area to invest in. Bonds are rated from junk bonds to triple A. For most investors A , AA and triple A are the way to go. Essentially there is a good chance you will get your money back when the bonds mature.

Spread Your Money

Many of the banks have good tools to help you decide what type of investor you are. Can you tolerate risk or do you need something really secure? Do you want income for your retirement or do you want to take more risk and focus on long term grown? There are a few categories that I have found that they do not always talk to investors about.

First of all they are only selling their own investments. Some banks for example will only sell you mutual funds run by their bank. Some will not offer investments directly in bonds. Instead you can invest in a bond fund. My suggestion is that you spread your total investment between two different investment advisers. This way you will get advice from more than one source and you will build a little competition between them.

Set Diversification Limits

Another area that investment advisers may not necessarily discuss is setting limits of how much you have invested in a given area. Someone nearing retirement might lean towards bonds and income generating investments higher than others.  You might aim for 50% in bonds, 30% in stocks or mutual funds and 20% in GIC’s for rainy day needs. If the market starts to swing significantly, then only 30% of your portfolio is exposed. With proper bond laddering, interest rate changes will not have much impact on your bonds.

Bond Laddering

Bond laddering is simply splitting the maturity of your bonds across several years so that even if interest rates are low in the year your bonds are maturing, you only will need to reinvest a small portion of your investments.  Bonds are a great vehicle providing you stick to A rated bonds. Generally they pay reasonable interest rates, however most have what is called a “Call Option” . This means that the bond issuer can decide to recall the bonds. They will pay back the principle to you plus any accrued interest. Corporations will do this to reduce debt load and also if interest rates are now lower than the original bond value.

Investment Maximums

Another area to think about is the amount of money you will invest in any individual investment. Even though the interest rate on a bond is fantastic, or you are buying into a stock that is very low relative to its overall value, do you really want to place a large percentage of your investment at risk.Some people will set a limit of 10% of their total investments for each individual investment. Others will set it between 5% and 10%.

Many Ways to Diversify Your 401K or RRSP

As we have discussed there are many ways to diversify. We will list them here for your consideration:

  • Across investment vehicles e.g. bonds, mutual funds, GIC’s and stocks
  • Across investment advisers
  • Across industries
  • Foreign and domestic
  • Set limits on the amount of any single investment
  • Set limits on the amount of any investment type

Depending on the size of your investment you may want to develop this model over time for your personal needs. What ever you do, never put all of your investments in one basket. If it sounds to good to be true then it probably is too good to be true.

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Common Investment Mistakes

January 25th, 2010 ernie Posted in Investing 1 Comment »

Common Investment Mistakes There are six common investment mistakes that most investors make, which can have a significant impact on their overall savings and retirement income. Most people do not pay as much attention and time to their investments as they do to Monday night football or some other past time. As a result the following mistakes are often made contributing to less than stellar performance of their investments.

Common Investment Mistakes

These six mistakes include – Over Confidence; Following the Herd; Timing & Selection; Control of Your Investments; Paying too Much for Fees; Trust in your Adviser.

Over Confidence

Investing is a lifetime exercise since savings while you are young are being put away for your retirement. As a rule we tend to make decisions based on our level of confidence as well as gut feel and not sound business analysis. If you did well pre technology boom in 2000, then you probably felt that the boom would continue and all you need to do is ride the wave. Warren Buffet was criticized for not getting on the band wagon when the tech boom was taking off. His rational was that he did not understand the tech boom and did not understand how many companies could sustain a long term profit / income profile. In fact he was ridiculed as being passe.

Well it turns out that all of the over confident people were wrong and he was right.  Many companies suffered badly when the tech boom crashed and many went out of business. Warren Buffet is still as successful as ever.

Following the Herd

Following the herd is also a common mistake that many investors make. They assume that someone must know what they are doing and if so many people are investing in this manner it must be a good thing. The Housing bubble and the Tech bubble in recent times have shown us that following the herd is not always the right strategy.

Long term investing in quality equities that can withstand the test of market volatility and turmoil are often the better investment strategies. Following the herd also often means that the market is rising and investors are flocking to get on board at a time when equities and mutual funds are over inflated. This defeats the rule of buy low and sell high!

Timing & Selection

Many investors try to time their investments to catch an upswing in the market and sell as a downswing is starting. Some are in deed successful and numerous stories are told of massive profits of investors that have successfully timed the market. Unfortunately the majority are not able to time the market well for a variety or reasons and as a result do not make the massive profits that other investors are able to reap.

In fact studies have shown that the buy and hold investor is able to make 2 % more than the investor who tries to time the market. In addition buying selective high quality stocks further increases the probability of doing well with a buy and hold strategy instead of timing your investments.

Control of Your Investments

Control of your investments is really a myth. The stock market follows its own random volatility which investors cannot control. Following a fad such as the Santa Claus rally is totally outside your control since many investors are trying to time their investments around the Santa Claus rally and as a result changing the timing and the shape of the rally.

Paying too Much for Fees

The fundamental message here is that your investment adviser is working to make his income and not yours. It is true that if you do well , then their reputation increases, however they do not make money from reputations. Instead they make money from trades, whether it is selling equities, mutual funds or bonds. Every investment adviser makes money from more sales and that is one of the reasons they are constantly recommending additional investments for you to consider.

Doing a lot of trades may not always be the best answer. Trade commissions eat into your profits and enhance the income of your adviser. A buy and hold approach will significantly decrease the investment trade costs for you and improve your profit level from asset growth and dividend payments. Your adviser may not be happy with this approach and will no doubt try to sell you some additional investments. Review all with open eyes and what is best for you.

Trust in your Adviser

Trust in your adviser goes hand in hand with paying too many fees. Granted we are looking at our investment adviser for guidance and recommendations, however these all should be taken with a grain of salt. Examine the benefit to you for every investment you are about to make. Your adviser may be motivated by the commissions he or she will get and not necessarily whether it is the best long term approach.

This is not to suggest that they are dishonest, however when faced with recommending two different investments with perceived equal advantages to the inverter, the adviser will recommend the one that makes him or her the most money every time.

In Summary

While these are not the only mistakes investors make, we can be confident if you are able to manage these six areas, chances are your investment return will be higher on average than the index’s and most investment adviser.

A key question to ask yourself. Did your adviser recommend that you sell prior to the downturn in the markets in 2009? Or was he pushing investments as if everything was going to continue to grow? Perhaps that is unfair, but then that is supposedly what you pay them commissions for.

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