Should you take a lump-sum pension payout?

When you leave a job, options include taking a lump-sum pension payout or leaving your pension intact. These tips will help you choose the best option for you.

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You’re leaving your job. Now you need to decide: do you keep your employee pension or take a lump-sum pension payout?

When Toronto-based marketing professional John Tabone left his job of 19 years with a national professional association, he had to decide what to do with his defined benefit employee pension.

He could leave it alone and receive about $16,000 per year in retirement, or take a lump-sum pension payout of its commuted value and invest a portion in a locked-in retirement account (LIRA), with the balance received as cash.

The deferred annual pension would be guaranteed for life but, given that this pension would not be adjusted for inflation, if inflation were to rise considerably, in 20 years $16,000 may not seem so much. It’s also worth mentioning that if John took the lump-sum pension payout, invested it and then the markets were to collapse, he could end up with a lot less money.

John’s dilemma isn’t unique: figuring out what to do with an employee pension after a job change can be challenging. There’s no single correct answer because everyone’s circumstances are different.

It could pay to consider the following steps before deciding whether to keep, exit or transfer a defined benefit or defined contribution pension plan.

How much RRSP room do you have?

When you take a lump-sum pension payout, only a portion of it can go directly into a LIRA in a tax-deferred transfer. The rest would be paid out in cash and taxable, so it’s typically advisable to defer tax as much as possible by contributing this remaining amount to an RRSP. If you don’t have enough contribution room left in your RRSP, tax on a lump-sum pension payout can be considerable.

Read the fine print

Defined benefit plans promise an income in retirement for life, for you and your surviving spouse. That payment is based on a formula, which is usually related to your years of service multiplied by an average of your best years of earnings. Some plans might allow you to continue to receive group health benefits, which can be a strong incentive to stay in the plan.

But dig into the details. Find out if your plan offers a bridging option (which can provide increased payments prior to age 65) and how much your spouse would receive annually upon your death. Determine if your employee pension income will be indexed for inflation, which is especially important if you’re years away from retirement, as was the case for John. Also, consider how stable your employer is. If there’s a chance the company could become insolvent, then a portion of your future payout could be at risk, so taking a lump-sum pension payout might be the better option.

Assess your defined contribution plan

Deciding what to do with a defined contribution (DC) employee pension plan is more straightforward, given that those savings don’t offer guaranteed payouts if they’re not used to purchase an annuity. They’re based on how well your investments perform in the market, regardless of whether they remain in the plan or get invested in a LIRA.

The main differences between a DC plan and a LIRA are investment options, fees and flexibility. If your defined contribution plan is limited to a few cookie-cutter investment portfolios, you might want to consider taking a lump-sum pension payout and putting it into a LIRA, which offers a broader suite of options. It pays to do your homework.

Look at your whole situation

Before making a final decision about what to do with your employee pension, consider your other sources of retirement income, such as CPP, OAS, RRSPs/RRIFs and TFSAs. If you have other savings, then leaving your pension plan as is could be the best option.

Also, think about the estate planning implications that can come with both spouses having a defined benefit plan. While any unused retirement savings in a LIRA or RRSP/RRIF can be left to heirs, payments from a defined benefit plan, outside of any guarantee period, may cease upon the death of the plan member and their spouse. Amounts that you can leave to other family members may be limited.

That was one of the main reasons why John, after much deliberation, decided to take a lump-sum pension payout. “My wife is a teacher,” he says, “and a member of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. If I stayed in my defined benefits plan and we both died young, we’d lose out on passing on our retirement savings to our kids.”

Discuss your options before taking a lump-sum pension payout

Your IG Consultant will be able to look at your options, taking into account your whole financial plan. They’ll be able to make suggestions that will make the most sense for your unique set of circumstances. Book a time to discuss this with them before you decide whether to take out a pension payout. If you don’t have an IG Consultant, you can find one here

Written and published by IG Wealth Management as a general source of information only, believed to be accurate as of the date of publishing.  Not intended as a solicitation to buy or sell specific investments, or to provide tax, legal or investment advice.  

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