Retirement Planning: Testing the Canadian Government Retirement Savings Calculator

Like me, some of the writers of financial sites I visit are more than half-way through their careers. They’ve been trying to estimate how to drawdown their savings in retirement and to decide when they will have enough saved to start retirement. Their posts made me curious about how we’re doing. Have we saved enough for retirement? Could we manage if we were forced into early retirement? I decided to start experimenting with some of the online calculators to find out. Here’s a review of my attempt to use the federal government’s retirement savings calculator hosted by Service Canada.

Will the Government Know What I Entered Into the Canadian Retirement Income Calculator?


Sort of. The program does not ask you for your name, address, SIN or any other identifying information. But anytime you use the internet you leave a trail. Technically, the government could probably trace back to which computer was used to enter the data. But if you are that concerned about your privacy you have bigger issues than figuring out your retirement income.

What You’ll Need to Know Before Using the Service Canada Retirement Income Calculator

  • What, if any, defined benefit pension payments you will receive
    • whether those payments are realistic (e..g. are they based on the belief that you will keep working for this employer till you retire and how likely is that?)
    • whether they are indexed (increased) to keep up with inflation
    • whether they decrease at a certain age, such as when you turn 65 and may start receiving CPP
  • Your Defined Contribution pension savings, if any
    • how much is in your DC plan
    • how much you and your employer contribute to your DC plan each year
    • what average annual rate of return you expect to get for your plan each year (the program will suggest 3%)
  • Your Deferred Profit-Sharing Plan savings, if any
    • how much is in your DPSP plan
    • how much your company contributes to your DPSP plan per year
    • what average annual rate of return you expect to get for your plan each year (the program will suggest 3%)
  • Your Group RRSP savings, if any
    • how much is in your Group RRSP
    • how much you and your employer contribute to your DC plan each year
    • what average annual rate of return you expect to get for your plan each year (the program will suggest 3%)
  • Your total RRSP savings, if any
    • how much is in your RRSP/s
    • how much you contribute to your RRSP each year
    • what average annual rate of return you expect to get for your plan each year (the program will suggest 3%)
  • Information about any other pensions, income from annuities, survivor benefits etc that will give you income in retirement.
    • You will need to know the amount you expect to receive each month, in today’s dollars.
    • This is where you would include income from your TFSA and/or regular non-registered savings if you have any for retirement.
  • Your estimated CPP monthly payment from a recent CPP Statement of Contributions
  • Your current gross annual income. (This is used to compare with how much income you will have in retirement.)

Some people estimate their retirement income without including any CPP or OAS. That’s great. Personally, I will be dead of starvation if I don’t receive any CPP or OAS, so I’m including it. We don’t have a Defined Benefit pension so it will be our only steady, reliable, partially indexed retirement income.

How to Estimate Your Canada Pension Plan Payments

It’s difficult to get a good estimate of your Canada Pension Plan monthly payment if it’s years before you will retire. Their estimating programs tend to assume you will continue to make the same salary. But if you are forced into early retirement at, say, 55, you will not be contributing at all between then and 65. Or if you are downsized into a lower paying job the same problem results. And of course if you want to retire early and not start taking any CPP till 65 you have a bunch of zero income years which will reduce your CPP.

An article on the RetireHappy site suggests you can roughly estimate what percentage of the maximum CPP you will get based on how many years you contributed the maximum allowable. If you have a recent CPP Statement of Contributions you can quickly count up the Ms. That’s what I did for our test. If we continue to earn well and contribute more, our CPP will be higher. But at least it gives me a number to start with.

(number of Ms from CPP statement on contributions)/40 X (maximum annual CPP today) = possible CPP in today’s dollars

On this basis, I assumed that together my husband and I would get $11 829 / year from CPP if we didn’t contribute anything further.

When planning for retirement, remember that if you are married or living in a legal common-law partnership, if your spouse dies you will NOT automatically get their CPP! The most CPP any one person can receive is the maximum CPP payment per person. So you might get a fraction of your spouse’s CPP payments but you also might get nothing at all. That can be a big financial shock.

How to Estimate Your OAS Payments

This one is easy if you’ve been a Canadian living in Canada every day since you turned 18. It will be much more complex if you immigrated to Canada as an adult or if you lived elsewhere for a number of years.

For those of us who are Canadian and who lived in Canada for 40 years after turning 18, our OAS payments (before any tax claw backs) are the maximum OAS possible.

So starting at 67, my husband and I could be receiving $13 248 per year.

This particular retirement calculator will try to estimate your OAS for you, so I didn’t really need to know this number.

But What If CPP is Cut and OAS Is Gone When I Retire?

Yeah well what if there’s another World War or the USA decides to invade so that it can legally own our fresh water and petroleum resources? There are a lot of “ifs” in the future.
The obvious answer is that the more concerned you are that you won’t get OAS or CPP the more you should save for retirement. It’s not like there’s anything else you can do. Oh, and maybe vote for whichever government you think might keep CPP and OAS to your benefit.

What Assumptions Does the Service Canada Retirement Income Calculator Use?

The program assumes

  • inflation is 2% per year
  • the rate of return on your investments will decrease by 1% per year when you start receiving your pension
  • contributions are made only at the end of each year
  • all savings are used up by the age at which you have a 50% chance of being dead OR the age you type in

It’s not clear whether it expects Other Income sources to increase to keep up with the rate of inflation. I suspect it does.

It doesn’t say whether you should enter the expected rate of return after fees/MERs and other costs. But of course you should.

How to Use the Service Canada Retirement Income Calculator

Introduction

  1. Go to http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/services/pensions/cric.shtml
    Read through the information provided then click Continue.
  2. Read through the next set of information provided then click Continue.
  3. Enter your date of birth and gender. This is used to estimate OAS, to estimate how long you will live (!) and to estimate how many years you have before retirement for your investments (e.g. RRSPs etc.) to grow. Click Next.

OAS

  1. Read through the information about how OAS is calculated, then click Next.
  2. Confirm whether you will have lived 40 years in Canada after turning 18 by selecting Yes or No. I selected Yes. (If you select No it will give you a few screens to enter the information about how many years you will have qualified for OAS.) Click Next.
  3. If desired, you can experiment with delaying starting your OAS payments to increase their amount. I did not choose to do that. Click Next.

CPP

  1. Read the information about CPP then click Next.
  2. Confirm that you can estimate your CPP by selecting Yes then click Next.
  3. Type in the amount you expect to receive each month from CPP. You can experiment delaying starting your CPP payments to increase their amount. I did not choose to do that. Click Next.
  4. If you want to experiment with how your future earnings will impact your CPP, you can choose Yes. I chose No and clicked Next.

Employer Pensions

  1. If you will receive a pension, including a Defined Contribution or Group RRSP pension, from a Canadian employer, click Yes or No. I clicked Yes. Then click Next.
  2. The program lists 4 types of possible employer pensions:
    • Defined Benefit Plan
    • Defined Contribution Plan
    • Deferred Profit-Sharing Plan
    • Group RRSPs
  3. Click to select the first pension type you will receive, then click Next.

If you select Defined Benefit Pension Plan

  1. Read the provided information.
  2. Type in your best estimate of your annual income from your defined benefit pension.
  3. From the drop-down list, select at what age that pension will begin.
  4. Select Yes or No for whether you have another employer pension plan.
  5. Click Next.

If you select Defined Contribution Plan

  1. From the drop-down list, select the age at which you expect to start receiving this pension.
  2. The program will assume you die at a certain specified age. You can change that age, however.
    I’d suggest you change the age to at least 100 by typing it in the Different Age field.
  3. Type in how much is in your DC plan.
  4. Type in how much your company contributes to your DC plan per year.
  5. Type in how much you contribute to your DC plan per year.
  6. Estimate the plan’s average annual rate of return.
    Read the note explaining that the program will decrease this rate of return at retirement by 1%.
  7. Click Next.
  8. Read the Employer Pension Results.
  9. Select Yes or No for whether you have another employer pension plan.
  10. Click Next.

If you select Deferred Profit-Sharing Plan

  1. From the drop-down list, select the age at which you expect to start receiving this pension.
  2. The program will assume you die at a certain specified age. You can change that age, however.
    I’d suggest you change the age to at least 100 by typing it in the Different Age field.
  3. Type in how much is in your DPSP plan.
  4. Type in how much your company contributes to your DPSP plan per year.
  5. Estimate the plan’s average annual rate of return.
    Read the note explaining that the program will decrease this rate of return at retirement by 1%.
  6. Click Next.
  7. Read the Employer Pension Results.
  8. Select Yes or No for whether you have another employer pension plan.
  9. Click Next.

If you select Group RRSPs

  1. From the drop-down list, select the age at which you expect to start receiving this pension.
  2. The program will assume you die at a certain specified age. You can change that age, however.
    I’d suggest you change the age to at least 100 by typing it in the Different Age field.
  3. Type in how much is in your plan.
  4. Type in how much your company contributes to your plan per year.
  5. Type in how much you contribute to your plan per year.
  6. Estimate the plan’s average annual rate of return.
    Read the note explaining that the program will decrease this rate of return at retirement by 1%.
  7. Click Next.
  8. Read the Employer Pension Results.
  9. Select Yes or No for whether you have another employer pension plan.
  10. Click Next.

Read the information about RRSPs.
Select Yes or No for whether you have any RRSPs and click Next.

For Your RRSP

  1. From the drop-down list, select the age at which you expect to start receiving this pension.
  2. The program will assume you die at a certain specified age. You can change that age, however.
    I’d suggest you change the age to at least 100 by typing it in the Different Age field.
  3. Type in how much is in your RRSP/s.
  4. Type in how much you contribute to your RRSP per year.
  5. Estimate the RRSP’s average annual rate of return.
    Read the note explaining that the program will decrease this rate of return at retirement by 1%.
  6. Click Next.
  7. Read the RRSP Results and click Next.

Other Income

  1. This is where you can type in income you expect to receive each month from any other sources during retirement.
    You can enter different values for three age brackets:

    • While you are under 60
    • While you are 60-64 and
    • While you are 65 and over
  2. After you have typed in the values, click Next.
  3. The next screen will report the totals of your other income. Click Next.

Summary
This screen will summarize all of your expected income from

  • OAS
  • CPP
  • Employer Pensions
  • Defined Benefit
  • Defined Contribution
  • Deferred Profit Sharing
  • Group RRSPs
  • RRSPs that you have already saved
  • RRSPs that you expect to save between now and retirement
  • Other Income

Click Next.

Gross Annual Income
Type in your current gross annual income. It does not appear that this value is used to calculate your CPP payment or tax rate.
Click Next.

Summary
The program will compare your retirement income with your current income.
The program asks if you would like to change your RRSP contribution numbers. Select Yes or No.
Click Next.

If you select Yes, you go back to the screen where you can enter your RRSP contributions. Then you click Next a few times to get back to the final comparison of your retirement income with your current income.

If you select No, you reach the screen telling you that you have completed the Canadian Retirement Income Calculator. Click on the link to open and print a Summary of your work.

If desired click on the Feedback Form link to provide information to Service Canada.

If desired, click on the Post Retirement Benefit Calculator link to experiment further.

When you are finished and close the browser session you will lose all of the date you entered. It is not stored on or offline.

My Review of the Service Canada Retirement Income Calculator

I was left a bit uncertain by this calculator.

It doesn’t clearly state many of its assumptions. For example, I don’t know if it assumes that any “Other Income” I receive is indexed for inflation.

I would have preferred to enter some even lower rates of return but that was not allowed. The lowest I can enter is 3% (with 2% inflation) until retirement for any Defined Contribution, DPSP or Group RRSP amounts. For RRSPs, however, I can put in 2% return (with 2% inflation.)

I like that I can enter the age to which I want to receive a pension. While some of our relatives have died unpleasantly young, others have managed to outlive annuities that lasted till they were 95. (Not a great situation but fortunately they have loving family who could support them.)

It was interesting but I will be trying other calculators to compare.

What Did Service Canada Say About Our Joint Retirement Income?

Yay! It says we’ll live!

Basically what was nice to read is that we would have enough income at 67 to match our current spending (with everything back in today’s dollars) even if we don’t save any more for retirement.

That means if we can keep working and not incur any debt we are already somewhat ready for retirement.

BUT

  • remember what I said about cuts to OAS and CPP?
  • and what about runaway inflation or market collapses? (OK we have very little in the market so that last one doesn’t affect us as much as some others but still.)
  • what about renovating our home some more;
  • taking some nice vacations; or
  • helping our children over some of the hurdles of higher education, boomeranging, buying first homes etc etc.

We’ll keep saving. But it’s wonderful to know that we are getting darn close!

Or are we? Now it’s time to test the same numbers with some other calculators. After all the government one comes with a big disclaimer that says “The calculator’s results are rough estimates for information purposes only – not financial planning.”


Related Reading

Retirement Planning

Join In
Have you puttered around with retirement calculators? Did they scare you into dropping the mouse and shrieking as if you’d just tried unexpectedly to scroll down with a real Deer Mouse? Or did the results bring a momentary smile and sigh of relief? Please share your insights with a comment.

2 thoughts on “Retirement Planning: Testing the Canadian Government Retirement Savings Calculator

  1. I’m just starting to ‘poke’ around retirement planning websites. I did do the work on the Service Canada one you referenced above, but they don’t neceesarily prompt you for the actual info. that you’d like to add. What I’m really after (and have spent already tooo much time this Sunday morning trying to find) is a good, simple, Canadian retirement planner that allows you to do a “couples” analysis at one time, for my wife and I. This would be helpful, rather than trying to divide our assets & securities which are all joint. The only personal question I have is this….you sound like you’re in pretty good shape retirement-wise (as are we), but that you have little in the markets. I was curious as to what ideas you’ve had for parking your money (investments)? Thanks and good luck!

    • I’m glad to hear you’re in a comfortable place financially and even more so that you’re planning ahead so you’ll stay that way. : )

      I haven’t been able to find a good calculator either. I usually end up typing in all of our joint RRSP/DC funds as if they’re owned by one person, and using only one CPP and one OAS. I figure that gives us a conservative estimate. And if, hopefully not!, one of us dies much younger than the other, it’s somewhat more realistic too as the CPP survivor benefits can be almost 0 and the OAS doesn’t double if your partner dies.

      I wish I’d found a good place to put our money and keep it safe. Our habit since we graduated has been to save a LOT and keep most of it safe in GICs. Obviously that won’t work for someone starting late or who doesn’t like/can’t save much of their income.

      Right now, a large amount is in GICs at (currently) terrible rates. I optimize the GICs as best I can by laddering them across the months as well as the years, by buying them through brokerages and through watching for promo rates. I’ve considered using a fiscal agent but haven’t tried one yet.

      Another big slice is in a PH&N Bond fund through a DC pension. (Bonds are becoming riskier by the day though as we are about to enter a rising interest rate environment that could last for 10+ years. I’m dithering a lot about whether to back out some or all of our investment: but doing so would force mt to put the money into equity funds and not even ones I particularly want to buy.)

      Some is in REITs and income trusts.

      The rest is split about 50/50 and in the market: Half of it is in a DC pension where it is invested in very low MER “match the S&P TSX Comp capped” and “match the world including 50% US” index funds.

      The other half is in “defensive” stocks, some of which I listed in http://financialcrooks.com/how-defensive-stocks-behave-market-down-dip/ I don’t pick the stocks myself: I have advice from a newsletter from which I pick a small number of the ones that best suit my risk tolerance.

      I tried a preferred share for a few months this past year but I became very nervous about loss of capital if/when interest rates start to rise as there was no option to convert it to common shares. I might check this angle again when actually retired, though, especially if it doesn’t look like we’re at much risk of runaway inflation so I only need to get a reasonable yield to keep holding the preferred shares till I die. (I remember the days of 10-14% GICs and even had a few, so I don’t really trust governments and their ability to manage inflation.)

      I keep reading and looking for other choices but I haven’t found any that appeal to me yet. I’m not a “real estate” kind of person, although I do have some REIT holdings.

      Any suggestions of things to check into are always welcome!

      Good luck with your own retirement plans and I hope that you’ll share a good calculator if you find one before I do!

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