Melissa Leong – People are often skeptical at the mention of “free money.” Pop culture has taught us that there’s always a catch. When the Joker dumped $20-million in cash on a crowd of parade goers in Tim Burton’s Batman, that windfall came with a side of hot air balloons spewing poisonous gas.
But here are five examples of when you may be passing up free money and we promise, this isn’t just a load of hot air.
Failing to enroll in your company’s retirement plan if they match contributions. When you contribute to your employer’s retirement plan, your company may match you up to a certain percentage. Let’s say your company matches your contributions for every dollar that you contribute to your group RRSP up to 6% of your pay. So if you contribute 6% of your $1,000 paycheque or $60, the company gives you an extra $60 for free.
“There’s usually a period of time that you have to be employed before you opt in. The problem is that nobody reminds you to opt in,” says Scott Plaskett, a certified financial advisor and CEO of Ironshield Financial Planning. “Or maybe they’ve opted-in but they never took a look at the investments and their money is just sitting in cash.”
Contact your human resources department to inquire about your employer’s benefits.
Setting up a Registered Education Savings Plan for your child and then not taking advantage of the government grants. According to an RBC survey, two-thirds of parents have already set up RESPs for their children but they are not making the maximum contributions. You can receive up to $500 a year in federal government grants when you contribute the $2,500 annual maximum (the federal government matches 20% of the first $2,500 contributed each year for eligible children) to a lifetime limit of $7,200. Set aside some time to put a financial plan in place. “We make time for what’s important to us,” Mr. Plaskett says.
Missing out on government programs. Aside from RESPs, governments want to give you money to start up a business. They want to pay for the cost of energy-efficient improvements to your home such as insulation and draft proofing measures. They want to provide forgivable loans or grants to help lower-income seniors and family members renovate to make homes safer and more accessible. They want to give you money to support you in retirement.
“Low-income seniors are entitled to receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement if their income falls below approximately $18,000,” says Lise Andreana, a certified financial planner and author of Financial Care for your Aging Parent. “People don’t know they’re entitled to it and don’t apply for it.”
Inquire with federal and local jurisdictions for applicable grants.
Not researching the bursaries and scholarships that may apply to you as a student. Individuals, companies, charities and other groups offer free money through scholarships based on a variety of criteria (grades, volunteer work, athletics, financial need, etc.) If you’re still in high school, consult your guidance counsellor for leads or check online on sites such as ScholarshipsCanada.com and StudentAwards.com.
Forgetting to use your loyalty points. You have to spend money to get rewards; but if you don’t use those rewards, you’re wasting opportunities. Check if your points expire. For example, Aeroplan Miles expire if you haven’t earned or redeemed at least one mile in a 12-month period. As for Air Miles, starting Dec. 31, 2011, all reward miles have to be redeemed within five years. (Any miles earned before 2011 have to be redeemed by Dec. 31, 2016.)