Mar. 6, 2013

The Power of Compounding

I'm going to be doing a presentation tomorrow to my classmates about investing while you're young. I came across this fantastic article on the Bank of Montreal Website that demonstrates the power of investing while you're young

In this example, two different investors invest $1800 a year for their retirement. However, Catherine invested while she was young, and look at the difference it makes! Peter had to invest for more than 3 times the length that Catherine did just from waiting to save.

Feb. 27, 2013

Investing in Technology Companies: Prepare for a Roller Coaster Ride

Not sure what it's like to invest in technology companies? Here are a few facts:

  • If you invested $5,000 in Apple on April 11, 2003, your investment would now be worth $340,906.50 as of February 27, 2013. A 5800% increase. However, since September you would have watched your Apple investment decrease 38% from its peak.
  • If you invested $100,000 in RIM (Blackberry) on July 20, 2007, your investment would now be worth $5,729.59 as of February 27, 2013. A 94% decline.
  • In many cases, you can watch your investment go down to 0.
Be careful what you wish for. Technology stocks aren't always the romance they are made out to be.

Feb. 20, 2013

Canadian Bank Stocks Always a Great Option

If you're someone that is looking for higher returns than what your bank offers in Savings Accounts or GICs, you may have looked into the stock market. However, the potential volatility may have turned you the other direction. Look no further than the Canadian Banks.

Unlike banks in the USA, Canadian banks are moderately regulated, making them much more risk adverse. However, they continue to grow; most recently by taking advantage of the weaker economy by completing international acquisitions. Essentially, the Canadian banks are "taking advantage" of the opportunities that are presenting themselves from other banks not recovering as quickly from the recession. Bank of Nova Scotia has most recently purchased a 51% stake in Columbian bank, Banco Colpatria Red Multibanca Colpatria SA. The acquisition totalled around 1-billion dollars. They are also waiting on China's approval to purchase nearly 20% of Bank of Guangzhou for 719-million dollars. 

The Canadian banks have demonstrated resilience from market volatility, with most yielding over 30% over the past 3 years. They also offer very attractive dividends between 3.65% and 4.55% per year.

If you're willing to look outside of standard investments like GICs and Savings accounts, don't be afraid of the stock market. You can always take a cautious step in.

Feb. 12, 2013

Tips for Canadians Investing in the U.S. Stock Market

I have been self-investing in the U.S. stock market in recent years, and it’s not as simple as it may seem. The purchase process may be similar to that of the Canadian market, but there are vital factors to be aware of. If you’re interested in purchasing stocks on the U.S. market, here are some basic tips that I recommend you take note of:

Currency Exchange:
If your funds are in Canadian currency, you will have to convert the funds to U.S. currency. However, your financial institution / stock brokerage service will likely charge approximately 2.5 cents on the dollar. In other words, you will incur about a 2.5% fee on your original investment. You will incur the same fee when you sell your investment if you want to have the funds converted back to Canadian dollars. As a result, you will lose approximately 5% of your original investment just for investing on the U.S. market. To put that into perspective, if your plan is to invest for one year, and you earn a 7% return, you really only made about 2%.

Dividend Withholding Tax:
When investing in U.S. dividend stocks, your dividend payout will be subject to approximately 30% withholding tax. However, if you contact your stock brokerage service and fill out a W8-BEN form to prove you’re a Canadian citizen, you can lower the withholding tax to 15%. You can get the withholding tax back through the Foreign non-business tax credit.

Registered Accounts:
Some brokerage services allow you to invest in RRSP and TFSA accounts with U.S. stocks. However, you are unable to retrieve the 15% dividend withholding tax if they are under the TFSA umbrella.

The U.S. stock market definitely gives investors more stock options, however be aware about what I mentioned above. Specifically, if you are a "small-time" investor, the currency exchange can be a major issue. If you have any questions, leave a comment below. Happy investing!

Feb. 7, 2013

5 Tips to Help you Pay off your Student Debt

I know I know, there’s not really a simple answer. But there are a few things you can keep in mind if you are fresh out of school with that student debt lingering over your head.

1. Attack highest interest debt first: If you have other debt besides student debt, pay that down first - assuming it's at a higher interest rate. Especially if you have that dreaded Credit Card debt where you’re owing 20% interest.

2. Is your debt with OSAP?: See if you qualify for the “Cap on Debt” program. The program ensures you only owe back $7,300 per standard 2 term academic year.

3. Consolidate if you need to: If you are feeling overwhelmed with debt beyond just your student debt, speak with a financial advisor at your local branch. They may be able to consolidate your debt together and give you a simple payment structure that will work for your budget.

4. Don’t let it get out of control: Coming up with a plan to deal with debt today is better than letting it get out of your control tomorrow. Deal with it today.

5. Budget: Once you’ve discovered how much you can pay down per month on your debt – stick to it. Don’t spend money you don’t have. To learn how to budget as a student, visit A Student’s Guide to Spending.

I know none of the options are that appealing (besides the Cap on Debt program), but you can do it. And it’s better to attack the debt now than deal with an even worse situation later.

Jan. 30, 2013

What are RRSPs and How do They Work?

RRSPs are becoming more and more popular these days, and rightfully so. As fewer companies offer pensions for employees to rely on, an increasing number of Canadians are using RRSPs to help fund their retirement. Moreover, many employers now offer RRSP contribution plans where they will match your RRSP contributions (usually around 3-6% of your paycheque). Are you not sure what Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSP) are?

Here are a few pointers for you to help clear the air:

I won't get too in-depth here considering there are so many little quirks, but here are the basics. Before I continue, first things first: If you ever hear people referring to RSPs instead of RRSPs, stop confusing yourself - it's the same thing.

1. Overview: RRSPs are a way to shelter your investments for the longterm to help you save for retirement. Just like a TFSA, you do not pay tax on any money earned from your RRSP investment.

2. Type: Just like TFSAs, you can have an RRSP as a typical savings account, GICs, Mutual Funds, Stocks, etc. Think of RRSPs as an umbrella, and you're simply sheltering your money underneath it from tax. What type of investment you shelter it in is up to you.

3. Tax Benefits: As stated earlier, any money earned from your RRSP investment isn't claimed as income until you withdrawal the funds from your RRSP. This is a big deal, especially if you're building up your RRSP over a long period of time.

4. Tax Benefits Continued: Any money you contribute to your RRSP comes off your income earned for that tax year. In other words, you are lowering your taxable income. This is huge.

For example: If you earned $20,000 in 2012, but contributed $2000 to your RRSP, it is as if you only earned $18,000.

As a result, you save a lot of money when it comes to filing your taxes. Over the longterm, the money you save in your RRSP from not paying taxes will reap rewards in the future.

5. Limits: You can contribute up to 18% of your overall income to your RRSP. Make sure you watch what your employer is matching to ensure you don't go over the limit. However, if you earn more than $125,000 per year, you are capped at contributing $22,970 for the 2012 tax year.

6. Withdrawal of your RRSP: You can withdrawal your RRSPs at any time, however when you do, the money you take out is actually considered income for that year. So be careful, and try to avoid doing this until retirement (or buying your first home - see number 8).

7. Timeframe: You can contribute to your RRSP at any time, however the timeframe is extended for an additional two months each calendar year. In other words, you can contribute to your RRSP for the 2012 tax year in January and February of 2013. This may be beneficial to you if you know you're going to have to pay significant taxes for the 2012 tax year.

8. Buying a home: If you are buying your first home, there is an exemption where you can actually withdrawal your RRSPs tax free. This is called the Home Buyers' Plan (HBP). You then have to recontribute the funds you withdrew over a 15 year time period. 

Hope that helps! If this didn't answer your questions, just leave a comment or head on over to the official Government RRSP page.

Jan. 28, 2013

What is a TFSA and How Does it Work?

Many Canadians are confused as to what a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) is, and how it works exactly.

Here, I'll give you the basic points to help clear the air:

1. Why: The main purpose of a TFSA allows you to save money and not have to claim any interest earned as income. 

For example: If you earn $200 on a normal investment, you would normally have to claim that $200 as income earned on your taxes. Therefore, after you file your taxes, you would be left with far less than $200. However, if your investment is under the TFSA umbrella, you do not have to claim any of your interest earned as income. Therefore, you keep the whole $200. 

This doesn't sound like a big difference, but if you make greater returns using the stock market for example, then it becomes a big deal. Moreover, if you're in a high income tax bracket, you can lose close to half of your interest earned if your investment wasn't in a TFSA.

2. Type: A TFSA can be applied to almost any personal investment. Whether it's a normal savings account, GIC, or invested in the stock market, you can shelter the investment in a TFSA. Just make sure you don't go over your limit between your different TFSAs. Keep in mind a TFSA can't be joint with anyone else. It is a registered product with the Government.

3. Limits: As of 2013, the maximum you can contribute to your TFSA is $25,500. The government will announce how much will be added next year to the total, however it generally increases by about $5000.

4. Contributing: Be sure to understand how contributions work. If you over contribute, you may receive a penalty from the Government. If you open a TFSA this year and have never contributed before, you can contribute the full $25,500 if you have it. You are then allowed to withdrawal some of the funds if you need to during that year, however you can't re-deposit funds until the following year. 

For example: At the end of 2012, you have $20,000 + interest in your TFSA. You then contribute $5,500 to your TFSA in 2013 to top up to the limit of $25,500. Then you withdrawal $8000 due to a family emergency.  You are not allowed to re-deposit that $8000 in 2013. You have to wait until 2014 to re-deposit the $8000. Additionally, you are also allowed to contribute whatever amount the Government raises the limit to.

5. Demographics: You may not be entitled to the same limit as the majority of others depending on your age, and how long you have been a Canadian citizen. As of 2013, if you have been a Canadian citizen for less than 5 years, or are under the age of 23, please check here to view what your contribution limit would be:

If you have any other questions that I didn't answer here, just leave a comment or go to the Official Government TFSA Page. Hope that helps!