With the economy the way it is today, it’s natural for our attention to be drawn to the words “tax-free”. In February 2008 the Canadian Federal Government introduced the new tax-free savings account (TFSA). These became available the following year and are being used by more than 87% of taxpaying Canadians.
With my background as a financial advisor I’d like to remind you about the “tax-free health savings account (TFHSA)”. It’s been around a long time but is not being used by as many Canadians as it should. And unlike the TFSA, my TFHSA has the potential for paying healthy sized dividends. Many savvy investors will understand the inherent benefit of receiving dividends.
I opened my first TFHSA in 1980 after meeting Ken Cooper a doctor of medicine and former Air Force Colonel from Oklahoma, who introduced the previously unheard-of concept of aerobics to the American Air Force – and, to the world.
This was truly revolutionary at the time. Imagine a world today without aerobics.
I was his guide when he visited Vancouver in 1980 to speak at a conference. During those three short days he convinced me, an over-weight non-exerciser aged thirty- something, to join the local YMCA marathon clinic and/or to get active. I did as he recommended and eventually ran my first marathon (and finished) five months later and ran another four marathons before quitting the sport when it became more popularized. My health savings account had started to grow!
The next significant deposit into this special account was made when I visited the Cooper Center for Aerobics in Texas. What an experience that was. I’d never been examined so closely by so many health professionals. I walked away with a written plan and renewed confidence I was indeed on the right track.
Then marriage and kids came along. My deposits became a little smaller for quite a few years but I still managed to make the minimum contribution to keep the fund growing and not to lose sight of the bigger, longer term picture.
In 2008 I came across Dan Buettner, National Geographic researcher and author of the book Blue Zones. His book documents pods of people who have lived the longest, happiest lives and the common lifestyle characteristics they have enabling them to have done so. His book refocused me and I decided to increase my health saving targets.
The 10th anniversary of 9/11 started for me like most other North Americans. Having watched some of the Ground Zero TV reporting I hopped on my bike with the intention of doing some interval training on nearby Knox Mountain.
I had completed my ride and was on my way home when I felt some discomfort around my neck. Riding a little slower I managed the five kilometre ride home and even thought about calling into the hospital for a check, but decided against it.
Less than an hour later I had taken myself into emergency and was diagnosed as having a heart attack. Wow, with so little discomfort I could hardly believe my ears. Was this some kind of drill?
Within minutes I was being prepped for an angioplasty which was completed in less than 90-minutes of my arrival. With my discharge taking place 68 hours later I’ve had difficulty reconciling my situation and what I had been through. Today, ten days later, I am counting myself as a very fortunate person.
By now you are likely getting the story and the writer's licence I have used in the terminology “tax-free health savings account”. I hope it got your attention as much as the heart attack got mine!
My philosophy for the last thirty years has been to actively avoid all potential contact with public health care, except for annual physicals. In 1980 I had a choice to open a health savings account. Ten days ago that account was called upon and paid great dividends. Even my complete recovery time will be reduced and any future risk significantly mitigated.
I have just returned from a post-angioplasty fitness assessment. All of the numbers that count were well within the normal recovery guidelines. Heck, I was even told I can do some moderate biking next week. Health science is remarkable and the attention I got was five-star plus. But like the boy scouts say you have to “be prepared”. Sadly there are still too many folks who have yet to make that first investment or in fact need to increase their rate of savings. If this applies to you, don’t delay!