There are a couple of reasons for this:
- The Employee Savings Plan under which I make my regular contributions has a two-year vesting period. This means that, until you've been enrolled in the plan for two years, you have to leave your shares untouched, or else you forfeit the employer's matching contributions. As a result, I spent my first two years deliberately ignoring my ESP account, and this habit survived beyond the end of my vesting period.
- I'm in debt. This has automatically put me in the mindset of trying to reduce my debts, rather than grow my assets.
As I get my financial machine running more smoothly, I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and am beginning to imagine myself having investments outside my RRSP. As a result, I need to wrap my head around the tax concerns faced by investors.
There are several ways to derive income from investments:
- Interest income from bonds, savings accounts, etc.
- Dividends paid to shareholders
- Capital gains from the sale of investments (stocks, rental property, etc.)
Interest IncomeThe first type of income has the simplest, but least favourable, tax treatment. Essentially, every dollar of interest that you earn is treated as regular income, and added directly to your taxable income for the year. This means that, if you have a marginal tax rate of 35%, and you earn $100 in interest, you will pay $35 in tax.
In Canada, interest paid on a mortgage for your primary residence is not tax-deductible. In general, interest paid on loans is only tax-deductible if the loan is used to buy investments. There is also a technique, known as the Smith Manoeuvre, which can convert your primary mortgage interest to tax-deductible status through leveraged investing.
Dividend IncomeDividends paid by Canadian corporations have a favourable tax treatment, although the formula for calculating dividend tax is quite convoluted.
Dividend income is "grossed up" by 45%, so that a $100 dividend adds $145 to your taxable income. If your marginal tax rate is 35%, then you pay $50.75 (35% of $145) on every $100 in dividend income. The flip-side, however, is the dividend tax credit. This is made up of a 27.5% credit at the federal level, as well as a provincial credit ranging from 8-18%. The Ontario dividend tax credit for 2008 is 10.15%, so the credit for a $100 dividend would come to $37.65. This means that the net tax on dividend income for our Ontario taxpayer at 35% would be $13.10. In low-income tax brackets, this net dividend tax can actually be negative, which can offset other taxes owed.
Capital GainsA capital gain results from selling an investment from more than you initially paid for it. 50% of capital gains are added to your taxable income, so if your marginal rate is 35%, then you will pay $17.50 in taxes on every $100 in capital gains.
The nice thing about capital gains is that, with certain restrictions, they can be offset by capital losses (resulting from selling investments at a loss). So if our 35% taxpayer had a $200 capital gain and a $100 in capital loss, they would pay $17.50 on the $100 net capital gain.
Note that, just as mortgage interest on your primary residence is not tax-deductible, the sale of your primary residence does not result in a capital gain (or loss).
Diversified IncomeJust as it's recommended to hold diverse investments to control risk, it's recommended to hold your income-generating investments in the most tax-efficient vehicle. Of the three types of income, interest is the least favourable, as seen below for an Ontario taxpayer with a 35% marginal rate:
- Interest: $35 tax per $100 income
- Dividends: $13.10 tax per $100 income
- Capital Gains: $17.50 tax per $100 income