Indexing

Part of my investment strategy is index investing.  I use Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) for this approach.  

I index part of our portfolio to:

  • Achieve market performance less minuscule management fees.
  • Obtain great diversification.
  • “Set and forget” part of my retirement portfolio.

I think indexing using ETFs can work for the majority of investors.

My Asset Allocation Strategy

Diversification is great but it comes at a cost unless you put your ETFs in the right location.  This is because many countries levy taxes on ETF distributions paid to foreign investors.  Here is a summary of what I’ve learned and how I try and manage my portfolio using ETFs to keep taxes in check.

Currency Hedging or Not

I try to avoid currency hedging.  Hedging eliminates currency risks from your portfolio and you’ll pay higher fees because of this avoidance.  I think you want currency exposure.  If you want exposure to foreign currencies then you’re looking for unhedged ETFs.  

A Canadian ETF that holds international stocks

example:  Vanguard Canada VEE

VEE trades in Canadian dollars.  VEE is not a hedged product.  VEE is the Canadian version of VWO.

Withholding Taxes – Canadian ETF that holds international stocks

Using VEE in a non-registered account withholding taxes will apply (15%) but they are recoverable when investors file their tax returns.  In an RRSP or TFSA withholding taxes apply and you cannot claim a credit for this.

Withholding Taxes – Canadian ETF that holds US stocks

example #1:  Vanguard Canada VFV

VFV trades in Canadian dollars.  VFV is the Canadian version of VOO.

Using VOO in a non-registered account withholding taxes will apply (15%) but they are recoverable when investors file their tax returns.  In an RRSP or TFSA withholding taxes apply and you cannot claim a credit for this.

example #2:  Vanguard Canada VUS

VUS trades in Canadian dollars.  VUS uses currency hedging.   VUS is the Canadian version of VTI.

Using VUS in a non-registered account withholding taxes will apply (15%) but they are recoverable.  In an RRSP or TFSA withholding taxes apply and you cannot claim a credit for this.

When it comes to withholding taxes I prefer to own U.S. stocks or U.S. ETFs in my RRSP.  When my RRSP is maxed out (eventually) with mostly U.S. equities I will consider owning a Canadian ETF that holds U.S. stocks or a U.S. ETF like VUN.  VUN is likely to go into my TFSA.

A US ETF that holds US stocks

example:  Vanguard VTI.  Disclosure:  I own this ETF.

This ETF makes the most sense in an RRSP because U.S. listed ETFs like VTI held inside an RRSP escape withholding taxes of 15%.  You should know that foreign dividends are taxed at your marginal rate.  With U.S. listed ETFs the Internal Revenue Service will take a 15% withholding tax on all dividends received.

The other key point is that Canada has tax treaties with the US and many other countries.  Those tax treaties waive withholding taxes on U.S. stocks or U.S. ETFs in registered accounts like RRSPs, RRIFs and Locked-In Retirement Accounts (LIRAs).  TFSAs don’t apply to these tax treaties, it is not considered a retirement account (even though I do).  In a TFSA you must pay 15% withholding taxes on a U.S. ETF like VTI or U.S. stocks like Coca-Cola.

A US ETF that holds international stocks

example:  Vanguard VWO

This ETF would make the most sense inside an RRSP.  A U.S. listed ETF like VWO is subject to withholding taxes but these withholding taxes do not apply in an RRSP, RRIF or LIRA.

You can learn more about Foreign Withholding Taxes in these great articles here:

Foreign Withholding Taxes, February 2014, PWL Capital.

Foreign Withholding Taxes, April 2012, Dimensional Fund Advisors.

Finally, check out my Archives page for some of my favourite ETF products.  I try and update these every year.

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