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Financial planning tips

April 09, 2015

Is household debt a threat to your retirement?

A newly released study on Canadian household finances reveals only 60% of those surveyed say they pay off debt on a regular basis.

The study, conducted for Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada), reveals some troubling findings. Only 60% of the households surveyed said they pay off a portion of their debt on a regular basis and over 51% of non-retired households said they don’t have a reserve fund for unexpected financial emergencies. That’s scary stuff.

Kevin Press, AVP Market Insights for Sun Life Financial, says results from the latest Sun Life Canadian Unretirement Index also found that for the first time since Sun Life began surveying our retirement expectations, the number of Canadians who expect to be working full time past age 65 has surpassed those who believe that they will be fully retired at that age. In addition, one-third of working Canadians believe there is a serious risk that they will outlive their savings.

So, what can you do if you identify with those surveyed? There’s no question that staying on top of debt and saving for retirement can be challenging. But there are some simple steps you can take that can make a huge difference:

1. Set up an automatic retirement savings plan

You’ll be surprised how much a little contribution each month can add up over time. If your employer offers a group pension plan and you make your contributions through payroll deduction, you’ll benefit from immediate tax savings, as your contributions will be made on a pre-tax basis. Plus, if your company offers to match a certain percentage of your contributions, not participating in the plan means you’re essentially giving up free money.

2. Open a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA)

TFSAs were designed to supplement RRSPs. If you’ve maxed out your RRSP, they provide you with another great way to shelter a portion of your investment earnings from income tax. Because withdrawals are not subject to tax, they are also a good option for saving for shorter-term goals such as the down payment on a home, a vacation or an emergency fund.

3. Accelerate your mortgage payments

Paying more than the minimum on your mortgage each year will reduce the amount of interest you pay and save you years of mortgage payments. Most mortgages allow you to make additional annual payments of between 10% and 25%. You can also pay off your mortgage faster by dividing your monthly payment in half and making that payment every two weeks. You’ll end up making 26 half-payments in a year, the equivalent of one full additional monthly payment. Plus, if you’re renewing your mortgage at a lower rate, keep your mortgage payments the same. It’s an easy and painless way to pay the debt down faster.

4. Pay off your credit card in full each month

Credit card statements may only require a “minimum payment” each month, but if you don’t pay off the full monthly balance, the interest charges will quickly add up. It’s far better to treat your credit card like a debit card and set up a direct debit from your bank account to pay it off automatically in full each month.

5. Get advice on your finances

A financial advisor can help you develop a plan to enable you achieve both your short-term and long-term goals. It can also provide you with a roadmap for how you can save, invest, borrow and insure to help achieve those goals.

“Each year, our research shows a difference in confidence levels between those who do or don't have a financial advisor,” says Press. “Canadians who work with financial advisors are more likely to say they are optimistic about retirement and less likely to be worried about their financial future.”

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