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Financial Planning: 9 Key Areas of Focus

By Courtney Marie L.

Published May 3, 2022 • 11 Min Read

This is an edited version of a Perspectives article originally published on RBC Wealth Management website.

Here are nine financial “to-dos” to help put you on the right track to achieving your financial goals.

1. Review your financial situation

Doing a financial review is a simple way to get a clear overview of your broad financial picture and where you stand today. It captures your financial goals, net worth and cash flow needs, as well as estate, insurance, retirement and other important information. Once gathered, these details may help guide discussions on what types of planning may make sense for you and can point you in the right direction down different avenues of planning. The information can also be updated regularly so you can see how you’re progressing from year to year or as your situation changes.

2. Develop a retirement projection and/or financial plan

For many Canadians, looking ahead to retirement is a main financial focus. One of the most common questions is, “Will I have enough to retire comfortably?” Or among business owners, “How will I create retirement income, and will it be enough?”

Whether your retirement is closer on the horizon or it is decades down the road, a retirement projection can provide a holistic view of your situation, showing possible financial steps you can take or adjustments you can make to your plans based on what you envision for retirement.

Using information from your financial review and retirement projection, you may want to consider doing a personalized financial plan. Financial planning is about identifying your short- and long-term goals and mapping out concrete plans to track towards those goals. A financial plan addresses all aspects of your financial life, including cash and debt management, tax and investment planning, risk management, and retirement and estate planning, tying it all together in a comprehensive way. If you already have a financial plan, remember it’s something you can shift and adjust as you experience changes in life or your goals change.

3. Ensure your asset allocation is up to date

Review regularly the asset allocation of your investments (cash, fixed income and equities), as well as their currency and geographic split, to see if any changes may need to be made. Here are two key questions to consider with your qualified advisor:

  • Is my asset allocation appropriate based on my risk tolerance and financial goals?

  • Have my circumstances or goals changed?

In addition to your asset allocation, the tax efficiency of your investments and their place in your registered and non-registered accounts are also important factors to review. Look at what makes the most sense to maximize your after-tax returns.

4. Consider potential income splitting strategies

Depending on your circumstances, certain income splitting opportunities may help lower your family’s overall tax bill. If your spouse is a low-income earner or vice versa, or if you have low-income children or grandchildren, you may want to consider setting up what’s called a “prescribed rate loan” for income splitting.

This strategy involves making a formal loan to a family member or a family trust at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) prescribed rate. From there, your family members or the family trust may invest the loaned funds and earn investment income. If executed properly, the net income earned can be taxed in the lower-income family member’s hands — at their lower marginal tax rate — allowing you to shift the taxation of investment income and potentially create tax savings as a family.

5. Use credit effectively

Part of overall financial management is paying attention to and maximizing opportunities on both sides of your balance sheet. Depending on the circumstances, you may want to review your debt obligations and see if you can benefit from a low-interest-rate environment by refinancing your high-cost debt, including your student loans, your car loan or even your mortgage.

If you have different sources of debt, consider consolidating your debt, as this may allow you to access a lower interest rate. If you already have a competitive rate on your debt, is the interest on the debt tax-deductible? If not, speak with a qualified advisor to see if there’s a way you can restructure your loan and assets to reduce your interest costs, or make the interest on the loan tax-deductible to save you taxes.

6. Review your account structures to ensure they’re effective

Preparing a list of all your bank and investment accounts offers an opportunity to look at how each account is owned and whether the ownership structure makes sense for you. For example, many people own non-registered assets jointly with their spouse because it’s convenient, but that ownership structure may not always be effective or in line with your financial objectives.

Looking at how your accounts are structured may also create an opportunity to boost tax efficiencies. For example, if you hold most of your assets in a non-registered investment account, consider whether it may be appropriate to contribute assets from this account to your RRSP and/or TFSA to benefit from tax-deferred/tax-free growth.

7. Make sure your Will, beneficiary designations and Powers of Attorney (POAs) are up to date

Regardless of your age, it’s crucial to have a valid Will in place. And once you have one, it’s equally as important to keep it properly updated. If you were to pass away without a Will, you would lose the element of choice with your wishes and intentions, as your estate would be administered in accordance with the provincial or territorial legislation where you lived at death. And if you do have a Will but it’s outdated, it may lead to unintended consequences if your choices or circumstances have changed from what had originally been documented. In general, it’s a good idea to review your Will every three to five years or any time a significant life event takes place.

When it comes to your registered plans, such as RRSPs/RRIFs, pension plans and life insurance policies, naming a beneficiary may reduce probate taxes on death (depending on the province where you live), since the proceeds are paid directly to the beneficiary on death, outside of your estate. Consider if this option is available in your province or territory of residence.

Alongside the importance of maintaining an up-to-date Will is having and doing the same with a Power of Attorney (Mandate in Quebec), for both your financial affairs and healthcare. Again, no matter your age, if something unexpected happened to you and created a situation of incapacity where you were unable to make decisions independently, these documents would be crucial to ensure you were protected and your wishes were carried out in managing your affairs.

8. Think about your intentions for charitable giving

Many people focus on giving closer to the end of the calendar year, often in line with the holiday season and the deadline for donations to receive a tax credit. For tax purposes, as an individual, you’re entitled to a donation tax credit if you make a donation to a qualified donee, such as a registered charity, and the donation tax credit can reduce your taxes.

There are a number of ways to give in a more structured manner — throughout the year, during your lifetime and beyond. There are also many options for giving, other than an outright gift or direct cash donation. Through exploring different avenues for giving, structuring your giving may help expand your charitable impact over time for the causes you care about. It can also be carried out in a way that fits with other tax, financial or estate planning strategies to meet your overall objectives.

9. Take steps to simplify your financial life

Here are some quick tips that can help you save time and money in organizing your finances.

  • Consolidate your finances. Many people have several active accounts, which can result in more administration, duplication of fees or possibly different investment strategies. Working with a qualified advisor to consolidate your accounts can help bring everything together effectively and cost-efficiently.

  • Bank online for convenience and access to your accounts at your fingertips.

  • Pre-authorize your bill payments to save time and ensure bills are automatically paid when they’re due, which can maintain and strengthen your credit score.

  • Set up a pre-authorized contribution plan to help make your savings a priority. By making your contributions automatic, the money is out of sight and out of mind, which can help curb your lifestyle spending and boost your savings for the future.

  • Keep your financial documents and a list of relevant contacts in a designated, secure area. Gathering pertinent files and storing them in a safe location will help to ensure the files are accessible for you and your family members (only those who would ever need to locate them) when needed.

This document has been prepared for use by the RBC Wealth Management member companies, RBC Dominion Securities Inc.*, RBC Phillips, Hager & North Investment Counsel Inc., RBC Global Asset Management Inc., Royal Trust Corporation of Canada and The Royal Trust Company (collectively, the “Companies” ) and their affiliate, Royal Mutual Funds Inc. (RMFI). *Member – Canada Investor Protection Fund. Each of the Companies, RMFI and Royal Bank of Canada are separate corporate entities which are affiliates. “RBC advisor” refers to Private Bankers who are employees of Royal Bank of Canada and licenced representatives of RMFI, Investment Counsellors who are employees of RBC Phillips, Hager & North Investment Counsel Inc. and the private client division of RBC Global Asset Management Inc., Senior Trust Advisors and Trust Officers who are employees of The Royal Trust Company or Royal Trust Corporation of Canada, or Investment Advisors who are employees of RBC Dominion Securities Inc. In Quebec, financial planning services are provided by RMFI which is licenced as a financial services firm in that province. In the rest of Canada, financial planning services are available through RMFI, Royal Trust Corporation of Canada, The Royal Trust Company, or RBC Dominion Securities Inc. Estate and trust services are provided by Royal Trust Corporation of Canada and The Royal Trust Company. If specific products or services are not offered by one of the Companies, clients may request a referral to another RBC partner. The strategies, advice and technical content in this publication are provided for the general guidance and benefit of our clients, based on information believed to be accurate and complete, but neither the Companies, RMFI, nor Royal Bank of Canada, nor any of its affiliates nor any other person can guarantee accuracy or completeness. This publication is not intended as nor does it constitute tax or legal advice. Readers should consult a qualified legal, tax or other professional advisor when planning to implement a strategy. This will ensure that their individual circumstances have been considered properly and that action is taken on the latest available information. Interest rates, market conditions, tax rules, and other investment factors are subject to change. This information is not investment advice and should only be used in conjunction with a discussion with your RBC advisor. None of the Companies, RMFI, Royal Bank of Canada nor any of its affiliates nor any other person accepts any liability whatsoever for any direct or consequential loss arising from any use of this report or the information contained herein. In certain branch locations, one or more of the Companies may carry on business from premises shared with other Royal Bank of Canada affiliates. Notwithstanding this fact, each of the Companies is a separate business and personal information and confidential information relating to client accounts can only be disclosed to other RBC affiliates if required to service your needs, by law or with your consent. Under the RBC Code of Conduct, RBC Privacy Principles and RBC Conflict of Interest Policy confidential information may not be shared between RBC affiliates without a valid reason.® / TM Trademark(s) of Royal Bank of Canada. RBC Wealth Management is a registered trademark of Royal Bank of Canada. Used under licence. © 2022 Royal Bank of Canada. All rights reserved.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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