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Dale Jackson

Personal Finance Columnist, Payback Time


The U.S. benchmark S&P 500 Index increased in value by 25 per cent in 2023 and major global stock markets - including Canada’s TSX Composite - are feeling the love.

Corporate earnings are poised for double-digit growth in 2024 and guaranteed investment certificates are yielding over five per cent.

Canadians who invest for retirement have a lot to feel good about. The future is always uncertain, but with such a bright start to the new year, here are four risk-free ways to boost portfolio returns in 2024.


Investing for retirement and household debt are often dealt with separately, but in actuality, compounding interest on debt swallows investment returns and denies compounding growth for the future.

A massive five-per-cent hike in the Bank of Canada benchmark interest rate in less than two years has more than doubled monthly debt payments for some Canadian households. 

For many, the best investment for 2024 is to pay down debt, starting with the highest rates. Balances owing on credits cards, for example, can top 25 per cent. There is no comparative investment that can produce a 25 per cent risk-free return.

Similarly, no investment can match interest rates on consumer or student loans, which have risen to the mid teens.

Only mortgage rates and other secured debt are comparable to investment returns, which brings an opportunity for homeowners to consolidate their high-interest debt into one low-interest loan.    


A big silver lining from higher borrowing rates is higher lending rates.

After three decades of lackluster yields, fixed-income options such as guaranteed investment certificates (GICs) are returning more than five per cent annually.

Higher fixed-income yields bring an opportunity for investors to lower overall portfolio risk without sacrificing returns by shifting assets away from the volatility of equities.

A good strategy to get the most from a fixed-income portfolio is to stagger maturities over several time periods to get the best going rates. Having a steady stream of income can be comforting, especially for those near retirement who need the cash for day-to-day living expenses. 


Some experts say a good investment tax strategy can boost returns by 25 per cent over the lifetime of an investor. For most Canadians, that requires utilizing their registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs), tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs) and any other tax perks available.

On Jan. 1, Canadians will be permitted to contribute an additional $7,000 to their tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs). As it stands, the current limit for those who were 18 years or older when the TFSA was launched in 2009 is $88,000, but it can vary among individuals depending on withdrawals made over the years.

Gains on investments in a TFSA are never taxed when funds are withdrawn, which make them a compliment to RRSP savings, which are fully taxed. Retirees can keep their tax bills low by withdrawing RRSP savings at the lowest marginal rate and tapping into their TFSA for any other cash they need. 

Unlike a TFSA, RRSP contributions are income tax-deductible. That means contributions made before the Feb. 29 deadline can generate a hefty refund in the spring, which can be contributed to a TFSA.     


Like debt and taxes, fees are also a drain on an investment portfolio. If you are looking for professional management and diversification they are hard to avoid, but it’s always good to review fees to ensure you are getting the best bang for your bucks.

Most Canadians invest for retirement through mutual funds, which can charge annual fees above 2.5 per cent. That means the fund would need to generate a return higher than 7.5 per cent to give investors a five per cent return.

Many mutual funds outperform the broader market after fees but most don’t. Consider less expensive alternatives such as basic market-weighted exchange traded funds (ETFs) with much smaller fees.

At the very least, speak with an advisor about how much you pay for what you get.