Call for Tax-Free Pension Plans that act like TFSAs

By The IJ Staff | April 10 2019 11:30AM

Photo: Freepik

Research from the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) is calling for the creation of workplace Tax-Free Pension Plans (TFPPs) to better support financial security in retirement for the people who need it the most.

“Workplace pension plans are a key element to retirement income security due to features like automatic savings, employer contributions, substantial fee reductions via economies of scale, potentially higher risk-adjusted investment returns, and possible pooling of longevity and other risks,” says Dr. Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald, the NIA’s Director of Financial Security Research.

“TFSAs have been very popular for personal savings, and the same option could be provided to workplace pension plans. It would open the pension plan world to many more Canadians, particularly those at risk of becoming Canada’s more financially vulnerable seniors in the future.”

According to the NIA report, Filling the Cracks in Pension Coverage: Introducing Workplace Tax Free Pension Plans, Canadians without workplace pension plans only have $3,000 on average in retirement savings. More than three quarters of workers in the private sector not covered by workplace plans at all.

Under the current workplace Registered Pension Plan (RPP) model, lower to middle income Canadians are essentially discouraged from saving for retirement due to potential financial penalties from income tax dynamics as well as income testing for social benefits later in life, says the report.

This is because workplace RPPs are built similar RRSPs in terms of income-tax treatment and senior social benefits calculations. Like RRSPs, RPP contributions are tax-deductible at the point of contribution but payouts in retirement are taxable as income. This can negatively affect lower-income earners who collect Guaranteed Income Supplement and other government programs that have an income-tested clawback.  

TFPPs would operate in a “tax-free” environment like TFSAs. Similar to a TFSA contribution, TFPP contributions would use after-tax dollars and would not receive a tax deduction. It would grow free of tax, and withdrawals would not be taxed or added to taxable income. This means pension income from TFPPs would not be considered when determining eligibility for federal or provincial income-tested benefits, credits and subsidies.

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