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The investing boom that began with the stock market rebound earlier this year has benefited almost all parts of the investment industry – online brokers, full-service advisers, trading apps and robo-advisers.

I’m particularly glad to see robo-advisers pulling in new clients because they’re an ideal way for people who don’t want to manage their own money to quickly and economically get expert help. I’d rather see someone use a robo-adviser than go to a bank branch to buy mutual funds from a salesperson.

Robos have been around for more than five years in Canada, which isn’t a long time in terms of building a market presence in a competitive field like investing. The just-published 2020-21 Globe and Mail Robo-Adviser Guide was designed to explain how robos work by looking at their fees, portfolio-building approach and returns. Here are five surprise facts that emerge from all the data:

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Robo-advisers can be a cost-effective option for high net worth investors

The robo-adviser guide shows fees for accounts of $2,500 up to $500,000, an account size where all-in costs for a growth portfolio can be as low as 0.31 per cent at Nest Wealth and 0.38 per cent at Questwealth Portfolios. All-in costs combine portfolio-management fees, paid by investors either monthly or quarterly from their account, plus the fees associated with the exchange-traded funds that robos mainly use to build client portfolios. Investors don’t pay these ETF fees – they’re deducted off the top of returns by ETF companies (net returns are reported to investors).

Low fees are available to small accounts, too

All-in costs can be as low as 0.39 per cent for a $10,000 portfolio at Questwealth, while other firms come in as low as 0.6 to 0.7 per cent or thereabouts.

Robo-advisers are ideal for newbie investors

Generally, you need $1,000 for a robo-adviser to start investing your money. That’s a pretty low hurdle to get access to a money manager. One exception is RBC InvestEase, which will start investing your money with a balance of $100.

Robo portfolios range from very simple to quite elaborate

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The robo-adviser guide lists the Top Five holdings in a sample portfolio. Some firms cover the basic categories in their top holdings – bonds plus Canadian, U.S. and international stocks. Others add additional assets such as emerging-market stocks, high-yield bonds, small-capitalization stocks and real estate.

Robos offer registered disability savings plans

OK, two of them offer RDSPs – CI Direct Investing and Modern Advisor. Considering how little selection there is in the investment industry for people who want RDSPs, that’s not too bad.


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Rob’s personal finance reading list

A secret weapon for people unhappy with their credit-card purchases

All about the chargeback, where you ask your credit-card issuer to reverse a transaction in cases where you have a dispute with a merchant. Requests for chargebacks have increased in the pandemic as a result of the cancellation of events and trips that were pre-paid.

Insurance, Part One – check premium costs before you buy a vehicle

Really interesting data here showing how much insurance costs can vary between different makes and types of vehicles. Pickups seem to be much cheaper than sedans.

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Insurance, Part Two – how home insurance costs have changed in the pandemic

This report says COVID-19 alone has not led to higher home-insurance costs, but that doesn’t mean premiums aren’t rising. Condos are a particular issue in some provinces.

Fight food waste – organize your freezer

Five tips to ensure that what goes in your freezer gets eaten, not thrown out later because it turns nasty.


Today’s guest Q&A

Today’s guest is Janine Rogan, a certified public accountant and financial educator. This Q&A is about the federal government’s recent announcement that it will introduce a free, automatic tax-filing system for simple returns. Here’s an edited transcript of our exchange by e-mail:

Q: What is return-free filing and what has the government announced about it?

A: Return-free filing would be a tax system that allows the government to file your taxes for you, because they have all of your information, and send you – the taxpayer – the bill or the refund that you are owed. Return-free filing would simplify tax season for most Canadians. You would only need to contact the government or file anything at tax time if you disagreed with what the government has filed on your behalf. Recently, the government of Canada has promised free, automatic tax returns for simple tax returns. No specific details or dates have been released on when or how this program will be rolled out.

Q: Who would benefit most from this move?

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A: Individuals who don’t file their tax returns on an annual basis. As it stands, you technically only need to file a return when you are in a position of owing taxes. This means there is a large portion of the Canadian population that doesn’t need to file a return. Because of this, these individuals are missing out benefits that they may be entitled to that require you to have filed a tax return to receive. A second group that would benefit most from this program would be individuals who are in a refund position and are overwhelmed with their tax returns on an annual basis. It’s no secret that the Income Tax Act isn’t the most straightforward piece of literature, and tax season can be incredibly stressful for many individuals. For people that have simple returns this would mean they don’t have to worry about filing and will just have their refunds automatically deposited into their bank accounts.

Q: What if I disagree with what the government files on my behalf?

A: If you were to disagree with the return that was filed on your behalf, you would likely file a notice of objection and explain what part of the return you disagree with. You would also be able to employ a tax specialist to help you with the objection and ensure that you have all the evidence you need to submit your claim.

Q: What help does CRA currently offer for filing simple income tax returns?

A: Currently, there are few programs that are offered if you need help filing your return. There is the ability to file your return by phone if you’ve been invited to do so. In addition, there is a community-volunteer income-tax program that provides free tax clinics for individuals with simple tax situations and modest incomes.

Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can’t answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

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What Investors Need to Know to Make it Through the Uncertainties Ahead

In this podcast, I talk with Naheed Gilani, founder of Conscious Wealth, about investing lessons learned through the financial market ups and downs of 2020 as well as asset mixes for different stages in life, socially responsible investing, thematic investing and much more.


The money-free zone

I’m in a professional sports lull because hockey, baseball and basketball are on a pandemic hiatus for now. If I need a sports fix, I’ll check out the Blue Jays Aggregator website, where articles, blog posts and videos about the Jays and other Toronto pro sports teams are collected on an ongoing basis. Fans of the Montreal Canadians and Vancouver Canucks will find links to related aggregator sites.


Video of the week

TikTok, the video-based social media app, recently highlighted some users who are using their accounts to educate people about financial wellness. One that caught my eye is moneywithcass – she has some smart things to say about the cost of housing, investing and more.


ICYMI

What I’ve been writing about:


More Rob Carrick and money coverage

Subscribe to Stress Test on Apple podcasts or Spotify. For more money stories, follow me on Instagram and Twitter, and join the discussion on my Facebook page. Millennial readers, join our Gen Y Money Facebook group.

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Are you reading this newsletter on the web or did someone forward the e-mail version to you? If so, you can sign up for Carrick on Money here.

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