Golden Girl Finance
 
Golden Girl Finance
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Tax

5 things we loved about filing online with H&R Block

March 20th, 2017 by

The rise of the paperless tax return

 
 

The Beatles sang “all you need is love”. H&R Block says, “all you need is a wi-fi connection”.

According to the Canada Revenue Agency, 82 percent of the more than 25 million tax returns filed for 2015 were filed online. This year, some of our team joined that growing number and filed online with H&R Block. And—no surprises—we loved it. 

Here are 5 reasons to file online with H&R Block

  1. Pricing

    Do-it-yourself tax preparation and filing are growing in popularity largely because of the cost savings. H&R Block offers pricing plans that range from free (!) to $24.99. The most comprehensive package includes professional reviews, immediate technical support, audit protection, and return storage. An even more in-depth Expert Review can also be added. That’s a good reason to pass on high accounting fees, or the stress of D.I.Y.
     
  2. Accuracy 

    H&R Block uses CRA's new auto-fill feature making it easy to complete sections of your tax return with increased accuracy and with minimal data entry. The system automatically completes parts of your tax return based on the tax information and income slips the CRA has by the time of your filing. To use the service, register with CRA’s MyAccount and ensure all amounts are correct and appropriately split between you and your spouse, if applicable. 
     
  3. Clarity

    To take the guesswork out of DIY tax filing, H&R Block uses “hot buttons". When you hover the mouse over these orange-coloured question marks located at the top right corner of each page, more in-depth information is available. Click on the button to dig even deeper into the topic in question without losing your place on the form. 
     
  4. Advice

    Near the end of the form, you’ll find personalized H&R Block Tax Tips. Now all relevant tax tips are in one easy-to-access location.  
     
  5. Diligence

    Once you’ve completed all the fields, H&R Block will identify any credits you’ve missed and may be able to claim. Sometimes we don’t fully understand how certain credits work and don’t realize that we’re eligible for them. This system ensures you get every dollar or credit for which you’re eligible.

The bottom line

Easy navigation, a full tax summary, a concise explanation of tax owing and credits earned, and a straightforward way to file online make H&R Block’s online tax filing system one of the best things about tax season. But we love the amount of our tax refund even more! 

Home/Real Estate

Downsizing in an up market

March 13th, 2017 by

Eight tips for handling real estate markets that are hot, hot, hot

 
 

The best part about being a Baby Boomer is the fabulous timing. Buying low and selling high comes naturally to this well-born demographic and Boomer timing in the real estate market is no exception. 

With the Canadian housing market hotter than ever, now is an ideal time to cash in and downsize from a big, sprawling family home into a cozier, more efficient pied-à-terre. A new home base from which to launch your next phase of life: Less work, more travel! Less parenting, more grandparenting! Less stress, more wine! 

Less house, more home

Selling and buying in such a fast-paced housing market, however, can be daunting. Many missteps can be avoided by following these five tips, inspired by the good folks at the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO).

  1. Read and understand everything before you sign. Don’t ‘get it’? Don’t dismiss it! Don’t be shy about asking for more explanation on anything and everything – that is what real estate professionals are for, and ultimately it will be your name on the bottom line.
     
  2. Be sure you and your representative are on the same page. Great minds must think alike! Have an open discussion with your representative about how they will market your property and what you can do to help the process. Make sure you clearly communicate your priorities so that he or she can best represent you and achieve your objectives together. 
     
  3. Leave your emotions at the door. But it’s so hard when those glossy black double doors beckon! Inevitably, you will come across a home whose features really push your buttons and while it might feel like love at first sight, if it’s out of your price range or requires more work than you can handle, then you need to accept it as a mere flirtation, but ultimately, not your home. 
     
  4. Know your tolerance for risk. What keeps you awake at night, the fear of rising interest rates or the fear of prices dropping? The fear of having to carry two properties or the fear of not finding a new place you can afford? Many factors have the ability to affect not just your overall cost of living, but also your peace of mind, so it’s important to recognize your limits.
     
  5. Be flexible and have a backup plan in place. When you get a great offer on your home, or you find the perfect nest, the competitive nature of today’s market means you need to act swiftly and decisively. Being physically – and psychologically – prepared for moving, purging stuff, storing things and finding temporary accommodations, will help smooth the transition.

    In our own experience of buying and selling numerous homes over the years, we have learned a few things too. We’d like to add our own three tips for soon-to-be downsizers….
     
  6. Good decisions are informed decisions. It is so much easier to make decisions when you feel confident in your knowledge. A real estate professional can access invaluable background details, such as comparable sales around the neighbourhood, sales histories of individual homes and local intelligence in the marketplace, such as new developments, zoning changes and demographic shifts. 
     
  7. Cooler heads prevail. We have always sought out the savvy real estate professionals who know our neighbourhoods and have either “seen it all”, or work within a team that contributes a vast amount of experience. When it comes to negotiating a deal, a great professional will instinctively know how to push for factors that concern you, can suggest areas where you might concede and know how to calmly and quickly close that deal!
     
  8. Quality of investment and quality of life are not mutually exclusive!  The trick is to see a potential home, not for its crown moldings (which can always be added or removed), but rather for its quality as an investment and how it will contribute to the quality of your life. Again, it is your trusty real estate professional who can help you crunch the numbers and figure out what you need to be comfortable, while allowing ample room in your budget for wining, dining and visiting the grandkids!

For more excellent real estate tips and information visit: Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO)

This post has been generously sponsored by the Real Estate Council of Ontario, the opinions and language are our own.

Other

From pickling mania to silver lining, here's what's trending for 2017

December 18th, 2016 by

Eight crazes that will shape the next year

 
 

Perhaps one of the loveliest parts of achieving a “certain age” is enjoying the freedom to look at trends with a gimlet eye, taking what suits and tossing the rest. Here’s what’s trending in 2017. See anything you like?

Top trends for 2017

Conscious hydration…. What is in those $40 S’well bottles? Reverse osmosis. Ionized water. Cucumber infusions. Apparently, increasing the alkaline in your aqua can boost metabolism, reduce bone loss, annihilate free radicals and provide antioxidant, anti-aging benefits. All that in a sip of water and a fancy thermos. If you don’t believe us, (and why would you, we are not nutritionists), just ask Dr. Oz.

Grey tresses… Once a hair colour reserved for grandparents and aging California hippies, the hottest hair today is grey, baby. Kylie Jenner, Rihanna and Lady Gaga have all faked it in attempts to emulate silvery tones. If you’re not ready for the full effect, think: “grey ombré”. Nice, right? Now waiting for crows’ feet to make it into fashion. #grannyhair

Keeping profits… The best part about successfully investing your savings is the mo’ money part. The downside is parting with a chunk of the profits due to capital gains tax. Saving in an RRSP can offset this, but won’t help if you need the money before you retire, say for a cottage or vacation. Smart cookies are putting cash into Tax-Free Savings Accounts – a brilliant way to save money and use it, not lose it.

Haute houseplants – Pantone’s 2017 colour of the year is “greenery” and by no coincidence, houseplants are back – they perk up a room, freshen the air and pump out oxygen like it’s Las Vegas. Now that you no longer pull all-nighters and sustain yourself on crackers and beer, it’s passé to humble-brag that you’re too busy to keep a plant alive. Green thumbs are a source of pride and gratification.

Nipple butter… Pregnant in your mid-40s? Pffft, who isn’t these days? Janet Jackson though, pregnant at the age of 50, now that’s hot. According to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, nearly 750 women between the ages of 50-54 gave birth in 2014, an increase of nearly 10% over 2013 and 300% since 2002. Anti-aging treatments for ovaries… oh, it’s happening.  

Smarter plastic…With so many credit card choices, there’s no reason to have pointless plastic taking up precious wallet space. If you want to travel, get the card with the highest travel points. If you’re charitable, get the card that gives every time you buy. Life is too short to spend with the wrong card.

Hygge is big… This Danish lifestyle trend is not going anywhere, it’s only expanding from the 20-somethings who started pinning it, to the 30-somethings who brought it into their living rooms, to the 40-somethings who secretly Google it, to the 50-somethings who are now at the precipice of asking, “What’s hygge?”. See: Pinterest/hygge.

Personal provisions…. Dinner parties, family meals, meh, that’s kids’ stuff. Far more interesting is creating your own ingredients. The recently semi-retired are nuts about making cashew butter with rosemary from their herb gardens. Making marmalade is their jam. Pantries are filling up with homemade preserved lemons, coconut milk and habanero hot sauce. And everything is getting pickled. 

Just getting started...

Surely there are more but we have holiday shopping to do. Wishing you a happy and hyggey new year!

Personal Finance

The best advice you never got

December 5th, 2016 by

An exclusive Q&A with Ahmad Dajani, Scotiabank's VP of Retail Deposits and Investments

 
 

Quick, would you rather: give advice or get advice? If you have ever dated, married, been pregnant, raised kids, adopted a dog or embarked on a slimming program, then you will recall what it feels like to be inundated with advice. When it comes to decisions about handling your finances however, do you find your friends and family uncharacteristically quiet?

Maybe they feel unqualified or perhaps they worry there is too much at risk. Women in particular often consider finances a “private” topic and just won’t dish. And yet… is there any other topic where we couldn’t all stand to learn a little more and benefit from some good advice?

This is why we feel Financial Literacy Month is so important — it gets the conversations going! Earlier this month we were lucky to score an interview with Ahmad Dajani, Scotiabank’s VP of Retail Deposits and Investments. Scotiabank financial advisors offer personalized advice and tools to help people understand their finances and their financial health. We asked Ahmad for his best professional advice on balancing saving priorities, the benefits of investing and how to get started.

GGF: What are the benefits of starting young when it comes to investing? What is an easy “entry level” type of investment for a first time investor? 

AD: The earlier you start to invest the better off you will be financially. Investing even a small amount can grow to a surprising figure over time, with the power of compound interest.  

No two savers/investors are the same and therefore there is no one size fits all type of investment. In addition to your risk tolerance, consider the goals you are saving for and when you’ll need the money. Different goals will require different investment strategies. Of course, being a young investor means you’ll have many years ahead of you, so you’ll want to try and maximize your return. I always recommend speaking to a Scotiabank advisor who can help you create a financial plan along with the investing strategies that fit your unique needs. You don’t need a minimum portfolio size to create a financial plan with the help of advisors at Scotiabank, and they are available at no cost.    

GGF: What is better – paying down debt or putting money aside for saving and investing? I struggle to pay my credit card balance each month, so how can I find the money to save and invest too?

AD: This is a common situation.  While it can be difficult, we recommend that you try to do both, while recognizing that carrying high interest debt is not in your best interest and paying it off needs to be a top priority. 

The best approach to saving would be to Pay Yourself First. What I mean by this, is putting aside a portion of your income to save, before you begin to pay any other expenses.  And, by making saving automatic using a pre-authorized contribution, saving becomes a habit. Even starting with a contribution of $25.00 a pay cheque will help set you up for success and you can always revisit how much you contribute as your situation and goals change.   

Keep in mind it is always a good idea to create a budget in order to understand where your money is going. And of course, seek out the assistance of a financial expert to create a customized plan for you with strategies on how to become better off.

GGF: I would like to work with an advisor but don’t you need a lot of money for that? Are there minimum amounts you need to invest to be able to work with an advisor?

AD: Anyone can meet with a Scotiabank advisor – they are available at no cost and no minimum portfolio is needed to create a financial plan.  While some investments may require a minimum to start, many other investments don’t.  Whether you are planning for retirement, a big purchase, or your child’s education, Scotiabank advisors will work with you to help you achieve your goals. 

GGF: If I save $2,500 this year, would it be better to put it into an RESP for my child, or into an RRSP for myself?

AD: The decision on whether to invest in one versus the other is not straightforward. Ideally you should contribute to both based on your goals.    

An RESP is a great way to save for your child’s post-secondary education. You don’t pay any tax on the investment income earned while your funds are in the RESP and best of all; federal grants are available up to a maximum of $7,200 per child, along with provincial incentives too in some provinces. RESPs are a key vehicle to help you maximize educational savings – so please don’t miss out.

An RRSP helps you maximize your retirement savings by reducing the tax you pay today on contributions made. Earnings within an RSP are tax sheltered.  When you withdraw money at retirement, you pay tax on your withdrawals, but perhaps at a lower tax bracket since your income may have decreased.  

An investment expert can help you to review your options and eligibility criteria for each. 

GGF: All my savings are in an RRSP account. Is it a good idea to use funds from an RRSP for a down payment on a first home?

AD: The Home Buyers Plan (HBP) is a good option for first time homebuyers. It allows you to withdraw funds from your Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) to help pay for your down payment. You can withdraw up to $25,000 ($50,000 when combined with a spouse) towards the down payment of your home. Just remember that you have 15 years to repay the withdrawn amount back into your RRSP. 

GGF: Is it better to save money in an RRSP or a TFSA?

AD: Both are great plans and offer different features and benefits that complement one another. Canadians can have both and should if possible.

A Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) is a registered plan that allows your investments and savings to grow tax-free. A TFSA gives you the flexibility to withdraw your savings without penalty, at any time for any purpose. This is great for someone who is saving to purchase a car or go on a big trip, for example, as they can save tax free and withdraw when they are ready. 

An RRSP helps you maximize your retirement savings by reducing the tax you pay today on contributions made. Earnings within an RSP are also tax sheltered. When you withdraw money at retirement, you pay tax on your withdrawals, but perhaps at a lower tax bracket since your income may have decreased.   

There are circumstances where maximizing your available contributions to a TFSA may be more beneficial than an RSP, or vice versa.  Please speak to our advisors and they can help you create strategies for your unique situation.

GGF: What are some other simple ways to help Canadians maximum their savings? 

AD: We love the concept of allowing Canadians to save while they spend.    

For example, Scotiabank’s credit card rewards programs provide rich rewards, with a simple way to both earn and then redeem those rewards for travel, retail and cashback. Another example is Scotiabank’s ‘Bank the Rest’ program, which allows you to round-up your debit purchase to the next $1 or $5.  You pocket the difference in your savings account and overtime you’ll see the dollars and cents really add up.  

GGF: If I have a goal of buying a car, or a house or a cottage, or saving for my kids’ education, can someone at the bank help me devise a strategy to achieve that?

AD: A Scotiabank advisor is one of the best resources to help you create a financial plan and devise a strategy to achieve your goals. You can work with them to build a financial plan for free and they have the experience to help you create a plan that fits your unique goals.  

GGF: Help! I haven’t ever felt I had enough income to save for retirement and now I’m 50. Is it too late to get started? How do I start a retirement plan later in life?

AD: It’s never too late to get started and very important that you are addressing your retirement goals today. A couple of tips that I would recommend to get started:

  1. Meet with a financial expert. They can help you determine a realistic retirement savings goal and how to get there faster. An advisor can map it out for you to help you realize your objectives. 
  2. Paying yourself first using pre-authorized contributions will help make saving a habit. Align your pre-authorized contributions with your pay cycle - you won’t miss the money after a few cycles and the savings will add up quickly.

GGF: Thanks for the great advice Ahmad!  

What is the best financial advice you’ve ever received? Share it with Scotiabank for a chance to win $1,000.  

Retirement

Get a life! Canadian retirees need to relax and enjoy their golden years

November 1st, 2016 by

Survey reveals retirees may be too financially cautious and missing out on life

 
 

Well now, here is something you don’t see everyday: a financial institution suggesting that people (and not just any people: retired people!) ought to loosen their purse strings and spend a little more money to pursue their dreams. Wait, was that a little pink pig we just saw flying past the window? Has Kim Kardashian declared a moratorium on selfies? Did Alex Rodriguez, one of the highest achieving baseball players of all time, just get fired from the New York Yankees?

No, no and yes, actually. We doubt we need to worry about A-Rod’s ability to enjoy his retirement (beginning at the ripe old age of 41) nor his ability to fund his golden years, having earned a record $400 million over his 20-year career. But average Canadian retirees living on fixed incomes? Conventional wisdom, fueled by worrisome stories about seniors living in poverty and dire warnings from banks about saving enough for retirement, leads us to believe we should all be working harder, saving more and expecting to live frugally.

Expectations, meet reality

A new study by Investors Group provides some uplifting results. Turns out that 9 out of 10 retirees are happily spending more time with friends and loved ones; more than 8 out of 10 are spending time on the hobbies they enjoy; and overall, 8 out of 10 feel their life in retirement is pretty much just what they expected. Sounds like a pretty content lot!

The question that inquiring minds want to know, is whether our retirees are truly satisfied, or have they merely settled for good ol’ Canadian, overly modest expectations?

"Being reasonable in your retirement expectations is a good thing, but it's possible to be too reasonable," says Debbie Ammeter, Vice President, Advanced Financial Planning, Investors Group. "You might give up on truly meaningful experiences out of the fear of overspending. But this is a risk, too – the risk of underliving."

With people remaining healthy and active at older ages, it is not unexpected that nearly 60 percent of the survey respondents worry about having enough money to stretch across those increasingly numerous golden years. Even the concept of living without a paycheque can be stressful to those used to a steady flow of income. Perhaps the dream of sailing the seas on a classic boat, or opening a quaint bed-and-breakfast in the country, will always remain dreams, right? 

According to Ammeter, for some retirees, too much fear leads to an unfulfilled life. “You see people put off experiences they’ve dreamed about their entire life, and then they end up with abundant financial resources, but little time or health to achieve their dreams.”

Sure enough, some 71 percent of retirees admit they are finding it hard to strike a balance between enjoying retirement and making their money last… and interestingly none of those respondents worked with a financial advisor. For the retirees who did employ the help of a financial advisor to plan their retirement, only 58 percent felt that same stress. 

Retiring right

It would seem that getting expert help with managing retirement finances can help a lot. “An advisor will support you in making decisions based on fact, not fear,” says Ammeter, “And ensure you have access to all the strategies you need to live an enjoyable and rewarding life in retirement."

Of course, if your retirement dream is to own a jet or play baseball in the world series - like, for example, Mr. Alex Rodriguez has done - well, you may need to downsize your aspirations after all.  On the other hand, you might find your advisor reminding you to spend a little more of that hard-earned nest egg now… or forever hold your peace.