One question advisors get all the time is, “How do I withdraw money when I retire?” The answer can be complicated, as successful savers have often taken advantage of the tax-deferral benefits of various accounts, including RRSPs, TFSAs and corporate investment accounts.
Although this article focuses on retirement, it is not about how much Canadians need to retire or what investments they should make each year. Instead, we outline a process to help decide how to withdraw money once a steady paycheque is no longer a part of one’s financial picture. By creating a structured approach to determine how to turn successful savings into lifestyle spending, anyone can make this process work regardless of age.
Upon retirement, we strongly recommend having a detailed, custom financial plan. The plan should outline and answer key financial concerns, such as how much you can spend during your life, and it should also consider all factors and assumptions you and your advisor have agreed on. Once completed, the plan should be reviewed regularly. Most important, it must give you a detailed road map that enables annual monitoring to know whether or not you are on track.
At Mercer, many private wealth counsellors employ a program that outlines how much you should have in investments at the end of each year of your retirement. If you’re on track, we can discuss potential options to help your family flourish, such as charitable giving or helping kids and grandkids. And if you have less than what you need to fulfill your goals, we can recommend corrective action to get back on track. The six steps below outline the process we follow to help clients answer these complex and essential questions.
1. What do you need to live on this year?
This is what you expect to spend and is based on your financial plan. But keep in mind that you cannot predict every event, so you’ll need to discuss with your advisor how best to allow for unplanned expenses that may come up.
2. What are my fixed sources of income?
When you retire, there are many sources of income you cannot change. These create a floor of taxable income. For instance, although you can somewhat control the timing, the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and minimum registered retirement income fund (RRIF) withdrawals must happen at certain ages.
RRIF withdrawals are perhaps the most well-known example. Canadians can put off taking registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) withdrawals, but the year they reach age 71, they must convert the RRSP to a RRIF and take out a minimum annual percentage.
In addition to these types of withdrawals, there may be other amounts from company pensions or personal pension plans that increase a retiree’s taxable income floor.
3. What about my variable sources of income?
The income sources outlined in step 2 above are the obvious sources of fixed income, but you may need to consider other income sources.
What about the investment income earned in my taxable, non-registered investment account?
Tax must be paid on dividends and interest earned in this account regardless of whether you spend or reinvest. Many long-term investors reinvest within their non-registered accounts automatically and miss including this income in their tax planning.
What happens if I don’t take this holistic view to managing accounts and withdrawals?
Although investors may have to estimate how much investment income will be earned in their nonregistered accounts, this is a crucial step that should not be missed. Not factoring this information into the equation may lead retirees to take out more assets from their RRSPs or RRIFs, thereby increasing their taxable income.
Choosing to draw money out of an investment account instead of a RRIF account can lead to a better after-tax outcome. Remember, in this scenario, you are not taking out more cash overall, you’re just taking it from different sources in a more tax-effective manner. The amount you have overall in investments is the same; it’s just in different accounts.
Although this idea is not unique, we believe successful savers should always integrate their retirement income planning with overall tax planning. This step enables investors to improve their tax efficiency and create a better after-tax situation.
4. If my spending needs are higher than the cash flow from step 2 above, how do I get the additional money I need tax-efficiently?
In steps 2 and 3, we worked to identify sources of income. In step 4, we reconcile these sources with the spending needs outlined in step 1. The key to step 4 is getting the necessary cash flow as tax-efficiently as possible.
As an example, let us assume a retiree needs $70,000 annually to live and receives the following as fixed payments:
Annual spending needs:
Minimum RRIF payments:
What are my options to make up for this shortfall?
Here are some common solutions:
Maximum personal tax rates (using Ontario as of 2021)
Notes on personal rates and tax planning:
Maximum Canadian small business rates (using Ontario as of 2021)
Notes on corporate tax rates:
How do I know which accounts to withdraw from first?
Withdrawing from accounts can have short- and long-term tax implications that depend on an investor’s personal tax rate now and in the future. As a result, estimating these effects can be complex, and you should seek professional accounting and financial advice.
However, if you are at the highest marginal tax bracket and own a corporation or holding company, an initial withdrawal plan might start with this ordering:
As you can see, you may need the help of your accountant and private wealth counsellor to coordinate tax consequences from these various accounts and customize the order for your situation and goals. However, using this holistic planning approach to spending can improve your overall tax situation.
5. Monitor your cash flow and income sources
Most people set their budgets for the year, and that is their plan. However, as the year continues, changing circumstances may require fine-tuning your budget. For OAS, CPP and minimum RRIF payments, you know what they are precisely because these amounts are set once per year. Although there may be some minor cost-of-living adjustments for OAS and CPP, these are small.
For other sources of income, such as investment income earned in non-registered accounts or any other income that comes your way, updating your estimates partway through the year and making any adjustments can be valuable tax planning.
6. Repeat the process
If you take these steps throughout your retirement life, you will not only have a good handle on where your money comes from and goes, but you’ll have a real understanding of your overall financial health. It will also reduce potential stress along the way and keep your financial plan front and center.
We hope this paper has helped to kindle your thinking on spending during retirement. Everyone’s situation is different, and some of these strategies come with caveats and require complex calculations. Please reach out to your private wealth counsellor for help and advice. Although no one can predict exactly what will happen in the future, if you have a plan and a financial roadmap, you can handle the twists and turns that come your way.