An inflation-protected investment

This does not scale up beyond a couple hundred dollars, but if you are planning on sending a large quantity of first-class letters across Canada, investing in some stamps is not a bad method. Currently stamps are 54 cents and are marked as “permanent” which means that the face value of the stamp will increase as prices increase. Stamp prices will increase to 56 cents in 2010 and 58 cents in 2011.

Implicit in this price increase is a 3.7% protection against price increases in the future. Since interest rates are currently well below this figure, there is a minor amount of inflation-proofing available to buy stamps now for the next few years.

Should you take CPP at age 60?

Canadians that have been employed and contributed to the Canada Pension Plan currently have an option whether to take their pension at age 60, or wait until later before they start drawing benefits.

The general rule is that if you worked 35 of 42 years of your working career (i.e. from age 18 to 60 minus 7 low income years) at a full level of CPP contributions (in 2009 this implied a $46,200 salary) you will receive approximately $11,210 per year at age 65 as your CPP pension.

If you decide to take CPP when you hit the age of 60, you will be penalized 0.5% per month, or a 30% total sum; this will reduce your annual take-home to $7,847 per year. The advantage is that you get to collect $7,847 a year for five years, while in the scenario of taking CPP at age 65, you would receive nothing until reaching that age.

If you wait until you reach age 61, your penalty goes from 30% to 24% and this is not a 6% increase in benefits; it is actually (0.3-0.24/0.7) or a 8.57% difference.

Most commentators on this issue do a “breakeven age” analysis of CPP. While this is mathematically correct, even if your life expectancy is expected to be longer than 76.7 years (which is the breakeven age between taking CPP at age 60 vs. 65), there are two very relevant factors to take into consideration:

1. The guaranteed income supplement (GIS). If you have no other expected income at the age of 65, you will effectively be taxed on CPP income at the rate of 50% because for every dollar of CPP you earn, you will have your GIS reduced by 50 cents.

2. If you take CPP, if you ever work again, you no longer have to pay CPP, which is a 4.95% savings on your paycheque.

3. A dollar earned at age 60 is more useful than a dollar earned at age 65 simply because of the probability of dying goes higher and because money is easier to spend while (relatively) younger. This “quality of life” factor is almost never discussed.

The only reason one would want to delay taking CPP beyond the age of 60 is because they are expecting to make enough other supplemental income where the GIS clawback no longer becomes a factor and also that they have enough bottled income stashed away (i.e. through RRSPs) that they are in no need of money at the present moment. In this case, the expected lifespan of the individual becomes the primary determinant of when to take CPP.

All of this discussion does not discuss the rule changes that will be taking place for people taking CPP in 2012 and beyond. I have analyzed this previously. The rule changes will discourage people from taking CPP early.

How to take advantage of social networking for investing advantage

Read the Reddit (a link aggregation/dissemination site that is mainly dominated by teenager/sub-30 year old people) comments on “I have about $12,000 to invest, what should I do? I’m 26 and never invested before!“.

There are some decent responses (for example, people asking for more information on the person’s balance sheet), while there are a lot of comments that sound quite sophisticated but are quite incorrect.

While responses like these are not typical of the pricing you typically see in the marketplace, if you were locked in a room with teenager/sub-30 year old people and were forced to trade with them, you could use this information in a way that would give you a disproportionate advantage.

That said, in most cases people that have never invested before, if they do invest in risk-bearing instruments, will lose money. Even indexers, adjusting for management expenses, will not be able to outperform the rest of the market because so much money is tracking the S&P 500, Nasdaq 100 and the TSX 60 in Canada.

Outperforming the market requires you to know what you are doing, and to know it better than the people you are playing against in the marketplace. Most of the time the market gets it close, and knowing when the market is errant is crucial.