Why you should be very wary of index-linked GICs

index linked GICs

Index-linked GICs maximize the promises but minimize the payouts

Index-linked GICs (guaranteed investment certificates) provide the buyer with a return that is “linked” to the direction of the stock market in a given period. A quick look at the rules on these deals may give you the impression that the investor can profit substantially with little risk. However, the link depends on a formula or set of rules that is buried in the fine print.

These investments are marketed as offering all of the advantages of stock-market investing with none of the risk. But banks and insurance companies aren’t in the business of giving customers something for nothing. The capital gain that holders get depends on an ingenious formula which is cleverly designed to sound generous while minimizing the potential payout.


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For instance, the payout may depend on the average level of the index over the course of a year, rather than the year-end value. This will tend to diminish the performance that determines investor returns.

Index-linked GICs fail to offer the big tax advantages of stock investing

Another drawback is that returns on index-linked GICs are taxed as interest. That’s because you’re not actually investing in the stock indexes themselves; you’re just getting paid interest based on the change in the indexes. That’s a drawback because interest is the highest taxed of all investment returns.

Usually, stock-market investing produces capital gains and dividend income, both of which are taxed at a much lower rate than interest. (Of course, if you hold the GICs in an RRSP, all income is tax deferred.)

These GICs do protect your principal. But few investors if any make a good return on index-linked GICs. Most make less (at times substantially less) in index-linked GICs than they would have made in old-fashioned GICs.

If safety is your primary concern, you’d be better off with “plain vanilla” stocks and bonds. If you already own index-linked GICs, our advice is to cash them in at the earliest opportunity. If you don’t own them, we recommend that you stay out.

No matter what kind of stocks you invest in, you should take care to spread your money out across the five main economic sectors: Finance, Utilities, Consumer, Resources & Commodities, and Manufacturing & Industry.

By diversifying across most if not all of the five sectors, you avoid overloading yourself with stocks that are about to slump simply because of industry conditions or investor fashion.

You also increase your chances of stumbling upon a market superstar—a stock that does two to three or more times better than the market average.

Our three-part Successful Investor strategy:

  1. Invest mainly in well-established companies
  2. Spread your money out across most if not all of the five main economic sectors (Finance, Utilities, Consumer, Resources & Commodities, and Manufacturing & Industry.)
  3. Downplay or avoid stocks in the broker/media limelight.

 

Don’t take the word of a salesman with index-linked GICs

Index-linked GICs are marketed as a secure and profitable place to put your money, but they’re a more secure source of income for the seller than the buyer.

Index-linked guaranteed income certificates (GICs) promise to safeguard a portion of investors’ portfolios. In volatile markets like the ones we’ve been experiencing, these products may seem like an appealing place to put some of your money.

But if you turn to these investments, you could be making one of the costliest mistakes that investors can make: That is to accept the advice of a securities or insurance salesperson without considering how conflicts of interest may have influenced that advice.

Have you purchased new investment products such as index-linked GICs solely on the advice of a broker or financial adviser? Did the investment deliver what you thought was promised or what you expected? Please share your experience with us in the comments.

Note: This article was originally published in 2012 and has been updated.

Comments

  • Gerry Newell

    I have always been concerned that both banks and Credit Unions have “manufactured” and sold these linked GIC products without explaining the risk/reward to clients. In the past a financial institution has not even had “licensed” or otherwise “qualified” staff offering these products. The unsophisticated and trusting bank/Credit Union client (frequently a senior) generally does not understand these products and acts on the recommendation of the banking institution’s staff.

  • As you say “interest is the highest taxed of all investment returns”
    So,as well as avoiding the aforementioned products, why would I buy US stocks, if dividend is my goal, when their dividends are taxed as interest,in Canada

  • Jo-Anne

    I bought one of these some years ago. When it came due, I got only my principal back. I think I received something like 2 or 3 dollars in interest on a 5k, 5yr, indexed gic .
    Stay away.

  • Certainly these “hybrid” creations by the industry are typically designed to include lots of financial reward for the product provider so generally good to stay away, especially if the seller does not really have a good idea of what it is.
    But in today’s economic situation where we assume bonds will decline in value as interest eventually rise could you consider these indexed GICs from an “avoidance” perspective. Instead of bonds, go with these GICs knowing you won’t lose… you won’t likely make much, but it might be something to do with your cash or bond investments in the shorter term?

  • Holly

    I agree, stay away from these products. My elderly mother invested in one of these before she passed away. She wanted to have her money try to make some interest without risking the principal. She invested $60,000.00 and it had to be locked up for 3 years. You would think she would have made at least 2-3% but no, nothing! Just her principal was returned upon maturity! Stay away for sure!!

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