The Canada Pension Plan and the U.S. Social Security system are publicly provided mandatory old-age pension systems. They both provide retirement, disability, and survivor benefits. But the amount you pay in and the benefits you receive differ between the two.

Key Takeaways

  • Both the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) and Social Security in the U.S. are government-sponsored retirement income schemes.
  • CPP tax rates and income thresholds are generally lower than those of Social Security. Benefits also tend to be lower.
  • Taxed Canadian wages go into a trust fund managed by the CPP Investment Board, which invests the funds in stocks, bonds, and other assets.
  • Taxed U.S. wages go into the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and the Disability Insurance Trust Fund. The funds are invested entirely in U.S. Treasury securities.

What Is the Canada Pension Plan?

The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) is one of three levels of the Canadian retirement income system. It was established in 1966 to provide retirement, survivor, and disability benefits. Almost everyone who works in Canada outside Quebec contributes to the CPP. A separate Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) provides similar benefits to its residents.

In general, you must contribute to the CPP (or the QPP if you work in Quebec) if:

  • You're over age 18
  • You earn more than 3,500 Canadian dollars a year (about US$2,660)

If you have an employer, you pay half of the required contribution and your employer pays the rest. If you're self-employed, you pay the whole contribution. You make contributions based on your earnings. For 2019, the contribution rate is 10.2% of the amount you earn between CA$3,500 and CA$57,400.

With this cap in place, the maximum contribution for employers and employees is CA$2,749 (US$2,089). If you're self-employed, it's CA$5,498 (US$4,179).

The contributions go into a fund managed by the CPP Investment Board, which invests the assets "to maximize returns without undue risk of loss."

Canada Pension Plan Benefits

Similar to the U.S. Social Security system, the Canada Pension Plan provides several types of benefits:

  • Retirement pension. You can start full CPP retirement benefits at age 65. You can get a permanently reduced amount as early as age 60, or as late as age 70 with a permanent increase.
  • Post-retirement benefit. If you're under age 70 and you keep working while you receive your CPP retirement pension, you can continue to contribute to the CPP. These contributions go toward post-retirement benefits that increase your retirement income.
  • Disability benefits. You can get disability benefits if you're under age 65 and can't work due to a disability.
  • Survivor's pension. Your surviving spouse or common-law partner can collect benefits based on your record.
  • Children's benefits. If you die or become severely disabled, your dependent children can receive benefits.

Your CPP benefits are based on how much you've contributed and how long you've been making contributions when you become eligible to collect benefits. For 2019, the maximum monthly retirement benefit is CA$1,155 (US$878); the average amount for new beneficiaries in July 2019 was CA$684 (US$520).

What Is Social Security?

Social Security is a federal benefits program in the U.S. that was founded in 1935. Employers and employers each pay 6.2% in taxes on the first $137,700 of income each year (up from $132,900 in 2019). If you're self-employed, you pay the full 12.4%. For 2020, the maximum contribution for employers and employees is $8,537. If you're self-employed, it's $17,075.

Most people must pay into Social Security, regardless of age. However, exemptions may be available to certain groups of taxpayers, including:

  • Qualifying religious groups
  • Nonresident aliens
  • Students who work for the same school they attend
  • Foreign government employees

Social Security taxes go into the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund and the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund. Although legally distinct, they're collectively known as "the Social Security trust fund."

All Social Security payroll taxes are put into the trust funds, and all of Social Security's benefits and administrative costs are paid out of them. The trust funds are invested entirely in U.S. Treasury securities.

Social Security Benefits

Like the CPP, the Social Security system provides several types of benefits:

  • Retirement benefits. Full Social Security retirement benefits start between age 65 and 67, depending on when you were born. You can get a permanently reduced amount as early as age 62, or an increased amount if you wait until age 70 to collect.
  • Disability benefits. You can get disability benefits if you can't work due to a disability. Your family members may also be eligible for benefits.
  • Survivor benefits. Your surviving spouse and minor children may be eligible to collect benefits based on your record.

To qualify for Social Security benefits, you must have 40 "work credits," which comes out to about 10 years of work. Your benefits are based on your highest-earning 35 years of work. For 2019, the maximum monthly retirement benefit is:

  • $3,770 if you wait until age 70 to file
  • $2,861 if you file at full retirement age
  • $2,209 if you file at age 62

How Long Will Social Security Last?

Budget shortfalls have often threatened the solvency of Social Security. According to the 2019 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds, "OASDI cost is projected to exceed total income starting in 2020, and the dollar level of the hypothetical combined trust fund reserves declines until reserves become depleted in 2035."

Starting in 2020, Social Security's total cost will exceed its total income. But the trust funds' reserves will supplement the program's income so that Social Security can keep paying full benefits until 2035. In theory, this gives policymakers time to develop a financing plan.

The Canada Pension Plan does not currently face a similar issue.