by Doreen Marion Gee –
Life for many seniors in B.C. is a far cry from the commonplace myth of the “rich” boomer. In her May 2015 Report, Seniors’ Housing in B.C., our provincial Seniors Advocate found that “Half of B.C. seniors live on $24,000 per year or less and more than 50,000 seniors are living on $20,000 or less.” In these lean-and-mean times, it is more important that ever that people in the older generation educate themselves and become well-informed about programs and resources that can raise their quality of life – and their bottom line. This involves getting accurate information from proper sources, asserting one’s rights to valuable benefits, and exploring ways to make money go further.
Financially eligible seniors are entitled to the federal Old Age Security (OAS) monthly pension at age 65, a universal benefit not tied to employment history. Those on very low incomes can also receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), a monthly non-taxable federal benefit that is added to the OAS. The other two public pension benefits are the Allowance, available to seniors aged 60 to 64 whose spouse or common-law partner is receiving OAS and is eligible for the GIS; and the Allowance for the Survivor, for widowed individuals aged 60 to 64 whose annual income is less than the maximum annual threshold.
Do not wait for Service Canada to contact you. Be proactive: if there is no letter from Service Canada in the month after turning 64, prompting you to apply for OAS, do it yourself. Then apply for the GIS. And, if appropriate, apply for the Allowance or the Allowance for the Survivor six to 11 months before your 60th birthday.
Never depend on secondhand information; always go to the original source to get the facts. For example, everything about federal public pensions and contact information is at www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/publicpensions. Remember to do your research and ask questions. Did you know that people can work and still get the OAS? The OAS payments would be steadily reduced if one’s earnings increase and when an income threshold is reached, OAS clawbacks begin. However, it is well worth it because the obvious advantages of a part-time income (below the OAS threshold) outweigh the tiny amounts taken from your pension. Seniors can also have assets and savings and receive Old Age Security.
Administered by B.C. Housing, the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program provides low-to-moderate income seniors a rental supplement every month to make their housing affordable. Applicants have to be 60 or older and presently paying more than 30% of their gross monthly income towards rent. There is no better time than now to apply: BC Housing just raised its maximum rent ceilings to reflect higher market rents, thus increasing the subsidies for many recipients.
Chris Gerow, CFP®, RRC®, Senior Advisor, Investments, with Island Savings Insurance Services, has smart advice for seniors wanting to stretch their dollars: “Utilize a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA)” advises Chris. “By investing in a TFSA you’re receiving tax free growth … and you don’t pay any tax when you cash your investments out of the account.” He cautions seniors against get-rich-quick investment schemes and recommends that “If you don’t want to risk your investments, then Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GIC’s) or Term Deposits may be the best solution.”
Remember that you are the captain of that ship taking you slowly into the golden horizon. Being your own best advocate ensures sunny skies and smooth sailing.