Posted by Robert on December 27, 2010
Tim’s post on pension reform struck a chord with me. I agree with him that the proposals by government for expanding the CPP are a bad idea. I have three major problems with this idea, only one of which I will explore in detail. First, the idea that Canadians aren’t saving enough is based on too many assumptions for me to be convinced. It’s also the result of a conflict of interest, in that the CPP investment board would rather manage more funds. But whether or not the conclusion is correct, my second problem is that $127.6 billion (or more) is too much money to entrust to the care of a small group of people. Third, CPP doesn’t offer Canadians a good deal. This is the idea that I want to explore.
Let’s begin by looking at how much is saved each year on your behalf. The total contribution, employer + employee, is 9.9% of your pensionable income (maximum of about $47,200). That is an increase from 3.6% in 1985. For 2010, the maximum contribution (for anyone earning over $47,200) is $4672.80 (for self-employed people, or split equally between employer and employee). Benefits are calculated based on 25% of average pensionable earnings, so for this example we will assume that the maximum was saved each year.
For the purpose of this example, let’s assume an individual graduates from university at age 22 and begins working with an income of $47,200 (or more) and maintains at least this level of earnings over their career. They retire at age 65, having worked for 43 years. We will use constant dollars, ignoring the effect of inflation since benefits are adjusted for inflation. This means that the 22 year-old graduate will contribute, either personally or from the employer, $4627.80 each year for 23 years. The total contributions will be $107,474.40.
The resulting amount of capital, $107,474.40, includes no investment return. To see what rate of return is implied by CPP benefits, let’s look at the current cost of annuities. (Disclaimer: this uses data for a female, whereas an annuity for a male at the same age would cost less, implying a lower return from CPP.) At age 65, a woman can expect an annuity to pay out interest and capital at a rate of about 6.84% per year. This will last to the end of her life, with no value at death. In this way, it works exactly like CPP. At age 65, the maximum CPP benefit is $960.00 per month. This is the amount of the benefit that would be earned in the example given above. In order to buy an annuity with a similar benefit, assuming a 6.84% payout rate, would cost $168,421. An indexed income, which CPP provides, would cost somewhat more than this.
Now it’s time to complete a future value of money calculation. Saving $4627.80 each year over 23 years and finishing with $168,421 implies a rate of return of 3.95% per year compounded. Add to this the fact that CPP may be around 20% funded, with the goal of being 30% funded by 2075. The fact that the fund is transitioning from pay-as-you-go (ie. current workers pay for current retirees) to a hybrid structure (ie. partly funded by current workers saving for their own future benefits) explains the low rate of return. The difference between this and the expected (market) return is what increases the funding level and the stability of the plan.
Personally, I expect not to rely on CPP. I can get a better return than 3.95% and I can take responsibility to save for my own retirement. And it’s a good thing, since I won’t even have the option of paying into CPP if I have no earned income. When I retire early and begin to rely on investment income (or move abroad), my contributions to CPP will end and my expected benefit at age 65 will stop increasing. People who are self-employed also have this option. If they take their income as dividends instead of salary, they don’t contribute to CPP and are wholly responsible for their own savings.
I don’t believe CPP is a bad idea. It provides a minimum income so that elderly Canadians are less likely to live in poverty. A couple who receives maximum CPP for a single spouse and OAS for each spouse should receive around $2000 per month. But it doesn’t mean we should expand CPP. It provides only a safety net and, as was mentioned in the comments to Tim’s prior post, different people prepare themselves in different ways. Who am I to say that choosing to reduce your spending, choosing to move to a lower cost country or choosing to reverse mortgage your house aren’t equally valid ways to deal with the need for income in retirement.
How do you feel about CPP? Do you appreciate the safety net it provides? Should people be forced to save more? Is it the government’s place to help us retire?