When the Canada Pension Plan was launched in the mid-1960s, both the working lives and the retirements of Canadians looked a lot different than they do in 2018. Fifty years ago, most Canadians were able to work at a single full-time job, often held that job for most or all of their working lives and, in many cases, benefitted from an employer sponsored defined benefit pension plan which guaranteed a certain level of income in retirement.

None of those circumstances accurately describe the current reality for Canadians, either those who are approaching retirement or the younger generation seeking to find their place in the workforce. Defined benefit pension plans, at least in the private sector, simply aren’t part of workplace reality for most Canadian workers. In some cases, corporate bankruptcies have left those who did have such a pension with a reduced pension, or no pension at all. And, while some of those who are nearing retirement may have worked for a single employer for their entire working lives, there are many Canadians for whom corporate downsizing or outsourcing has meant the loss of a long-term position. And, when that happens, replacing that lost income has often meant working on contract or in short-term positions, usually for less compensation.

All of these factors have affected the ability of Canadians to accumulate private savings for retirement through registered pension plans (RPPs) and registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) and, as a consequence, has increased the degree to which they must rely, in retirement, on government sponsored retirement income programs like the Canada Pension Plan. A few years ago the federal government took a look at the existing structure of the CPP and how well it fit with the current and future needs of retiring Canadians. The result of that review was a decision to make significant changes to the CPP, and the implementation of those changes will begin on January 1, 2019.

Although most Canadians will receive CPP retirement benefits, many are unfamiliar with how the CPP system operates. The CPP is a contributory plan, in which employees and employers each make contributions throughout the working life of the employee, starting at age 18. The amount of contributions made is calculated as 4.95% of income, but there is a maximum annual contribution amount. Effectively, the maximum allowable contribution for a year is currently reached at about $55,000 in income (known as Yearly Maximum Pensionable Earnings, or YMPE). Even where an individual’s income exceeds the YMPE, it’s not possible to make additional CPP contributions for the year. As currently structured, the CPP retirement benefit replaces about 25% of income, based on the current YMPE of $55,000. Finally, the CPP must, by law, be fully funded, meaning that any benefits paid out of the CPP must come from contributions made and income earned from the investment of those contributions.

The changes to be made to the CPP will be implemented over a five-year period, from 2019 to 2025. At the end of that implementation period, the maximum CPP benefit available to retired Canadians will have increased by about 50%. (Currently, the maximum monthly benefit is about $1,135, although the average CPP retirement benefit received is closer to $673.) As a result, by 2025, the CPP retirement benefit will replace about 33% of pre-retirement income, based on the YMPE. In addition, the YMPE will be increased. All of these increases must, of course, be funded, and that funding will come through an increase in the amount of CPP contributions required to be made by employees, employers and the self-employed. Those contribution amount increases will start in January 2019.

Each of the changes outlined above essentially maintain the current structure of the CPP and simply provide for higher contribution amounts resulting in greater CPP benefits. The second change, however, which starts in 2024, effectively provides for a separate, additional required contribution for Canadians who earn more than the YMPE. That separate contribution rate, which is expected to be 4% for both employees and employers, will be calculated as a percentage of income between the YMPE to the upper income limit for the year. That upper income limit will be implemented over a 2-year period and is expected to reach $82,700 in 2025. Individuals who are required to make the additional contribution will be entitled to claim that contribution as a deduction from income for tax purposes.

The first change which working Canadians will notice will be an increase in CPP contribution rates, as of January 1, 2019. That change will be minimal: while CPP contribution rates for 2019 have not yet been announced, the estimate provided when the CPP changes were announced indicated that such changes would mean an increase in contributions of about $6.00 a month in 2019. That increase will accelerate in subsequent years, such that the increase is about $43 per month by 2025.

All working Canadians between the ages of 18 and 65 must contribute to the CPP, and those Canadians, especially younger Canadians, will be most impacted by the upcoming changes. Canadians who remain in the work force past the age of 65 (even if they are already receiving CPP retirement benefits) have the option of continuing to contribute to the CPP up until the age of 70, and receiving increased CPP benefits as a result. After age 70 no one, even if they remain in the work force, can contribute to the CPP.

Canadians also have a choice of when to begin receiving CPP retirement benefits. Such benefits can begin at the age of 60 or can be deferred to as late as age 70. With each year that the receipt of benefits is deferred, the amount of monthly benefit increases.

The decision of when to begin receiving CPP retirement benefits and when to cease making CPP contributions is one which involves the assessment of many individual factors, including living costs in retirement, the availability of other sources of income in retirement, one’s health and employment circumstances and the cost of contributing to the CPP relative to the benefits to be received.

Starting next year, the planned changes to the CPP will be another factor to be included in that calculation.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.