Are GICs worth it for Canadian retirees?

In other words, during the near-zero interest rates that prevailed until recently, investors wanting real inflation-adjusted returns had almost no choice but to embrace stocks. (Read more about TINA and other investing acronyms).  

GICs have a place in locking in some real-returns, especially if inflation tracks down further. But Raina says investing in bonds offer opportunities to lock in healthy coupon returns, with the prospect of higher capital appreciation opportunities if interest rates fall further, since bonds currently trade at a discount. The risk is the unknown: when interest rates will start falling. Based on what the Bank of Canada (BoC) announced in the fall, Raina feels that could be some time in 2024. (On Dec. 6, the BoC announced it was holding its target for the overnight rate at 5%, with the bank rate at 5.25% and deposit rate at 5%.)

CFA Anita Bruinsma, of Clarity Personal Finance, is more enthusiastic about GICs for retirees in Canada. “I love GICs right now,” she says. “It’s a great time to use GICs.” For clients who need a portion of their money within the next three years, she says, “GICs are the best place for that money as long as they know they won’t need the money before maturity.”

Other advisors may argue bond funds could have good returns in the coming years, if rates decline. However, “I would never make a bet either way,” Bruinsma says, “I think retirees looking for a balanced portfolio should still use bond ETFs and not entirely replace the bond component with GICs. However, I do think that allocating a portion of the bond slice to GICs would be a good idea, especially for more nervous/conservative people.” For Bruinsma’s clients with a medium-term time horizon, she recommends laddering GICs so they can be reinvested every year at whatever rates then prevail. 


An alternative is the HISA ETFs. (HISA is the high-interest savings accounts Small referred to above). HISA ETFs are paying a slightly lower yield than GICs and also do not guarantee the yield. “I also like this product but GICs win for the ability to lock in the rate,” says Bruinsma.

When investing in a GIC may not make sense

Another consideration is that GICs are relatively illiquid if you lock in your money for three, four or five years or any other term. “If you are uncertain if you will need those funds in the near future, you can look at a high interest savings account ETF like Horizon’s CASH,” says Matthew Ardrey, wealth advisor with Toronto-based TriDelta Financial. “This ETF is currently yielding 5.40% gross—less a 0.11% MER.”

Apart from inflation, taxation is another reason for not being too overweight in GICs, especially in taxable portfolios. Even though GIC yields are now roughly similar to “bond-equivalent” dividend stocks (typically found in Canadian bank stocks, utilities and telcos), the latter are taxed less than interest income in non-registered accounts because of the dividend tax credit. In Ontario, dividend income is taxed at 39.34% versus 53.53% for interest income at the top rate in Ontario, according to Ardrey. This is why, personally, I still prefer locating GICs in TFSAs and registered retirement plans (RRSPs)

When GICs are right for retirees

Ardrey says GICs can be a valuable diversifier when it’s difficult to find strong returns in both the stock and bond markets. “This is especially true for income investors who would often have more of a focus on dividend stocks.” Using iShares ETFs as market proxies, Ardrey cites the return of XDV as -0.54% YTD and XBB is 1.52% year to date (YTD). “Beside those numbers a 5%-plus return looks very attractive.”

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