New Year, New Plan: 6 Financial Resolutions for 2024
From paying down debt to preparing for recession, financial expert Gordon Pape offers up some new year's financial resolutions for 2024. Photo: triloks/Getty Images
Our financial world changed in 2023. Inflation took off, forcing the Bank of Canada to raise interest rates. That pushed up the cost of borrowing, hitting mortgage holders especially hard. Investments such as bonds continued to suffer, as higher rates depressed market prices (bond yields and prices move in opposite directions).
On the plus side, yields on conservative investments like guaranteed investment certificates (GICs) reached levels we hadn’t seen in years. High interest savings accounts also offered better returns, if you had your money in the right bank.
But that’s history. We’re now into 2024 and if you haven’t made some financial resolutions for this year, it’s time. Here are my suggestions.
1. Pay Down Debt
This is at the top of my list every year, but debt repayment is even more important in 2024 with interest rates at the highest level in several years. Variable-rate mortgage holders and those with home equity loans have been squeezed and there are concerns we may see a wave of defaults if the Bank of Canada is forced to make further increases.
A reader recently wrote to ask if he should keep his Tax-Free Savings Account, earning five per cent, or pay down his line of credit, which was charging almost eight per cent. The answer was obvious. If you have invested money that’s generating a low return, direct it toward reducing your highest interest debt.
2. Lock in High Rates
Risk-averse investors cheered as rates rose, for good reason. GICs and high-interest savings accounts (HISA) were finally offering decent returns, after years of near-zero yields. Even the major banks, always resistant to rewarding savers, joined in. Five-year GICs paying five per cent were easy to find in late fall and some high-interest savings accounts were paying over four per cent.
But the tide is already going out. In a recent search, I could not find a single major bank offering five per cent on a five-year GIC. According to ratehub.ca, the big banks were paying between 3.95 per cent and 4.25 per cent. Those rates may be dropping again next week, so if you want to lock in a guaranteed return, act now.
3. Shop More Carefully
What did you do when inflation started to drive up grocery prices? Like many Canadians, you probably checked store prices more carefully and took advantage of specials whenever possible. Make it a resolution to apply the same approach to your money.
For example, according to the TD website, the bank is currently paying only 0.05 per cent on its High Interest (!) Savings Account, and then only if your balance is $5,000 or more. Below that, you get nothing. The rate works out to $2.50 a year on a $5,000 deposit. That won’t even buy a loaf of bread! Many smaller financial institutions are offering much better terms, with deposit insurance coverage. For example, Oaken Financial is paying 3.4 per cent, as I write.
Remember, savings rates can change any time, so keep a close watch on your account. If the rate drops, shop around for something better.
4. Don’t Pay More Taxes Than Necessary
We have a wide range of tax breaks from which to choose. The federal government encourages us to save for retirement, for education, to buy a home, and more. We have an alphabet soup of programs we can use: RRSPs, RRIFs, RESPs, TFSAs, FHSAs, RDSPs, and on and on. So, make a resolution to take advantage of them.
Yes, most are limited in scope. But TFSAs are available to anyone 18 or older. Unlike RRSPs, which must be closed no later than age 71, there is no age limit. Plan to live to 100? You can still keep your TFSA. The maximum annual contribution rises to $7,000 this year. Use it.
5. Prepare for a Recession
There are still concerns we may enter a recession in 2024. If it happens, there will be layoffs – some in companies that seem rock solid. We saw a preview of what can happen when the banks began cutting thousands of jobs in 2023. It would be worse if the economy hits the skids.
What would you do if you or someone in the family loses a job? Ideally, you’ll have a reserve fund in place to tide you over. If not, it would be a good idea to start one. I know, after settling the bills and paying down debt, there’s little or nothing left. So, weigh your priorities and decide what’s really important. And if you get some windfall money from an inheritance or a tax refund, put some aside for a rainy day. Just be sure it’s invested somewhere that offers a decent return.
6. Don’t Be a Victim
I saw an item by Pat Foran on CTV News the other night. A lady had received a threatening phone call from someone purporting to be with the Canada Revenue Agency, demanding immediate payment. She was told she would be arrested if she didn’t pay immediately – with gift cards! Obviously, the CRA doesn’t ask for gift cards for tax payments, but this lady was scared and did what she was told. The result: $5,500 lost to the scammer.
These days, scammers come at you from every direction – phone calls, emails, fake advertising. You name it, they’ve tried it. The advice is familiar, but many people fail to listen. Don’t click on any links from people you don’t recognize, and even be cautious with those from friends. Don’t give out personal information over the phone. Don’t respond to emails from acquaintances asking for “a favour.” Don’t send money to pay “tax” on a trip you’ve supposedly won. Don’t believe anyone who says you must pay in gift cards or cryptocurrency. These people aren’t going away, but you don’t have to be a victim.
Best wishes for what I hope will be a happy, healthy, safe, and prosperous 2024.