Getting a fix on your retirement income - Akler Browning LLP

November 17, 2019by AB

Most Canadians expend a considerable amount of time and effort in order to put money aside for retirement. Especially in an era in which the majority of workers can’t look forward to receiving an employer-sponsored pension plan, Canadians are well aware that the bulk of their income during retirement will have to come from government sources and from their own savings efforts.

One of the difficulties in saving for retirement is the near impossibility of knowing how to set a savings goal which meets the twin goals of sufficiency and attainability. As well, while many savers focus on identifying the “magic number” which will ensure a comfortable retirement, the fact is that the total amount saved is only one component of retirement financial planning. The reality is that most Canadians will receive income in retirement from at least three sources – private savings accumulated in a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) or tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs), a Canada Pension Plan retirement pension, and Old Age Security benefits. The real question for most Canadians is how to determine the amount of annual income which all those sources of income will generate during their retirement years, and that is not a simple calculation.

Money can be withdrawn from an RRSP or TFSA at any age, a CPP retirement pension can start any time from age 60 to age 70, and Old Age Security benefits can be received as early as age 65 or as late as age 70. For both CPP and OAS, benefits will rise with each month that receipt of such benefits is deferred. Many Canadians continue to work, on a full or part-time basis, while receiving CPP and OAS benefits. As well, income from the different types of retirement income may be subject to different tax treatment, meaning that the after-tax amount received on $100 of income may vary widely, depending on the nature and source of that income.

The number of factors to consider and, especially, the complexity which results from the interaction of those factors could reasonably lead the average Canadian to conclude that it’s just not possible to make an accurate determination of the best way to structure their income in retirement, in order to ensure a reasonable income throughout their retirement years. But, help is at hand – and it’s free! That help is in the form of a Retirement Income Calculator which is available on the Government of Canada website at

Using that calculator, individual Canadian taxpayers can enter their personal data, including their date of birth, gender, and planned age of retirement, without the need to provide any personal identifying information. The user is then asked to provide information on income amounts which will be received from various sources, including any employer pension and Canada Pension Plan amounts and the age at which the user plans to begin receiving such income. Information is requested on the user’s period of residency in Canada, in order to determine whether he or she will be eligible to receive Old Age Security benefits and the amount of OAS benefits which will be provided at different ages. The calculator also allows the user to input the total amount of savings accumulated to date. Finally, information is requested on any other sources of income which will be available (e.g., income arising from part-time employment during retirement).

Using that data, the calculator estimates the amount of income which will be available to the individual from each source during each year of his or her retirement and generates a bar graph and a table showing those income amounts.

The real benefit of the calculator, however, lies in the user’s ability to vary the inputs – to create “what-if” scenarios in order to determine the effect any changes made will have on retirement income at various ages. Users can change the age at which they choose to receive government-sponsored retirement benefits like CPP and OAS, or can specify a different rate of return (pre or post retirement) earned on retirement savings. They can also change the period of time (i.e., life expectancy) over which retirement income will be spread. That way, the user can obtain answers to frequently asked questions like the following:

How much more will I receive if I delay receipt of Canada Pension Plan or Old Age Security benefits, or both, for one, two, or more years?

What if I work an additional year or two after age 65 before starting RRSP withdrawals?

What if I earn income from part-time employment during retirement?

What if I choose to begin receiving CPP and OAS as soon as I am eligible, but defer making RRSP withdrawals?

What if I live longer than the average life expectancy?

For each of these what-if fact scenarios, the calculator will determine the effect that particular change will have on the amount of income receivable from each different retirement income source, and will provide a summary of income for each year of retirement from all such sources under each fact scenario created by the user.

There are, of course, some factors which can’t be incorporated into any calculator because they cannot be predicted or planned for. No one can predict how long their retirement will last (although the calculator does project retirement income based on average life expectancy for individuals of the age and gender of the user). Similarly, it’s never possible to know what investment returns will be earned on retirement savings during retirement, or what the rate of inflation will be. The calculator’s ability to estimate future income data based on a number of different fact patterns does, however, allow users to create retirement income projections under both best-case and worst-case retirement income scenarios – and to plan for both.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.