We’re unduly discouraged about retirement

Pension expert Malcolm Hamilton explains why Canadians needn’t worry so much

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Pension expert and C.D. Howe Institute Fellow Malcolm Hamilton

Pension expert and C.D. Howe Institute senior fellow Malcolm Hamilton

Actuary and pension guru Malcolm Hamilton has already achieved what many MoneySense readers aspire to do one day: retire at 62. But, he confessed at MoneySense’s Retire Rich event on the weekend, despite his vast pension experience and gold medals in mathematics, he probably over saved. “I was cautious and now have more than I need. I have no good use for the money, although I might if we have another 2008.”

Now 63, Hamilton is mostly retired, although he is also a senior fellow for the C.D. Howe Institute and continues to do some writing and speaking. As one of the media’s go-to sources for all things retirement and pensions, he reiterated a theme that has long been picked up by the country’s financial writers. He continues to believe most Canadians don’t need to “replace” 70 or 80% of their working incomes, which are the percentages usually proffered by our financial institutions. Most of us will be able to get by with 50% or even just 40% of what we earned in our working lives. “No one can tell exactly how much we will need to save. Canadians are unduly and irrationally discouraged about their prospects.”

He highlighted several pessimistic headlines produced in recent editions of our newspapers, most of them variations on the theme that Canadians aren’t saving enough. Not making the news were statistics like the fact Canadians’ collective net worth doubled from $4 trillion to $8 trillion in the 13 years between 1999 and 2012, and that’s after inflation is backed out. And that was over a period where interest rates hovered near historic lows, the stock market crashed twice and the world experienced a financial crisis almost as severe as the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Over that same time, Canadians’ retirement savings also doubled, from $1.5 trillion to $3 trillion, Hamilton said. “There’s something good going on that doesn’t seem to be reported.”

Most Canadians retire voluntarily between 60 and 65. On average they retire at 62, although that is “creeping up.” That’s not as early as most retired in the 1990s, he said, but it’s earlier than the late 1960s and 1970s, “when seniors were poor and almost no one retired at 65.”

Like Hamilton himself, most of today’s retired seniors don’t spend the money they have and own houses that are mortgage-free. If they ever face financial duress, he said, they could tap the equity from those homes: renting rooms out, selling or downsizing, or resort to reverse mortgages. But most don’t do any of those things. “They live in their houses as long as they can. They don’t access home equity. They don’t withdraw money from their RRSPs as fast as possible. They continue to save as seniors.”

While the event was billed as “Retire Rich,” Hamilton said “saving for retirement is not about getting rich. If you want to get rich, you save as much as you can all the time and never spend. You live like a pauper but you won’t be happy and your marriage won’t last. Retirement saving isn’t about getting rich; it’s about finding a way to save enough of the income earned in your work life so that in retirement you can have a similar standard of living.”

Those making a minimum wage can save nothing and end up with as much disposable income in retirement as during their working lives. That’s because at age 65, the Government will give a single Ontario resident $19,000, most of it after-tax income. That consists of $7,000 from Old Age Security and $11,000 from the Guaranteed Income Supplement, $2,500 from refundable tax credits and “believe it or not” $500 from CPP, he clarified in a later Q&A session. “There is no poverty for Canadian seniors; the poor people in Canada are young.”

Read: Retirement: A number you’ll love »

MoneySense subscribers attending such an event will of course be aiming for a higher retirement income. Hamilton said a typical Toronto couple with two incomes totalling $120,000 a year probably spend $480,000 on a modest house and have two kids. If they save five times their gross earnings and accumulate $600,000 in capital, they could replace 52% of their income in retirement. To get there, they’d simply need to save 6% of their income between ages 25 and 65, at which point they could retire. They would direct 23% of earnings to taxes, CPP and EI, and another 23% to pay for the house and kids. In all, 52% of their gross working income goes to taxes, savings, the house and children. At 65, all those expenditures disappear. The $600,000 capital will replace 20% of the income they were earning in their working lives, and CPP and OAS will generate 32%, for a total 52% replacement ratio. That will allow them to spend as much on themselves as they did when they were working.

Ironically, childless couples that rent will need to replace more of their working income—probably 70%—because they have been accustomed to having more disposable income. For parents, the house and kids should be the spending priorities in the first half of their working lives. They should be fine if they start to save a reasonable amount by their 40s.

Editor-at-large Jonathan Chevreau blogs at moneysense.ca and a www.findependenceday.com. He can be reached at jonathan@findependenceday.com.

 

 

One comment on “We’re unduly discouraged about retirement

  1. WOW ! Finally some common sense information. Great article, I appreciate your honesty, thank you so much.

    Reply

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