If you’ll be managing your portfolio yourself, start by opening an account with an online brokerage, which allows you to buy investments directly, without an advisor. Depending on your situation, you might open a TFSA, an RRSP, a non-registered (taxable) account, or even all three.
ETFs and index mutual funds are available through any online brokerage, and most offer similar features and pricing. It’s convenient to use the brokerage associated with the bank where you have your chequing account, though non-bank brokerages often charge lower fees and trading commissions. To help you decide which is right for you, see Canada’s Best Online Brokerages in MoneySense, or the Globe and Mail‘s annual ranking.
If your assets are currently with an advisor or mutual fund dealer, you’ll need to transfer your current holdings—stocks, bonds, funds—to your new brokerage account. Don’t worry, transfers from one account to another of the same type (for example, from one RRSP to another RRSP) will have no tax consequences: they will not be considered a withdrawal and will not affect your contribution room.
If your investments are all in TFSAs and RRSPs, then selling your current holdings won’t have any tax consequences either. However, selling investments in a non-registered account will result in capital gains or losses, so make sure you understand this before making a switch.
It’s usually best to transfer your current holdings “in kind” and then sell them after they land in your new accounts. However, some mutual funds can’t be transferred in-kind: you may need to sell them first and then transfer the cash. Some illiquid investments (such as GICs) may not be eligible for transfer at all: you may have to wait until they mature.
Transferring your existing accounts will involve some paperwork and fees, and it usually takes a couple of weeks, sometimes longer. Your new brokerage can make sure you complete the right forms, and they may reimburse the transfer fees if you’re moving a large sum.
Once all the cash is in your new account, you can build your new Couch Potato portfolio with ETFs or index mutual funds.