Friday, October 26, 2007

Ways to Improve Your Returns

Investing money for short-term, say up to 1-11/2 years has generally been an issue. As it is the interest rates / returns are quite low. On top of this, there could be taxation issues, which will further reduce the effective returns.

Equity/equity funds may not be a prudent option for short-term. Therefore, we need to consider mainly the interest-based investment options.

What do we usually do?

Since it is quite convenient, very often the money keeps lying in the Savings A/c itself (also, maybe it is psychologically satisfying to see a big balance in one’s account). But don’t forget - this earns you just 3.5% p.a. interest and that too taxable. Hence, it is not good to keep too much money in the Savings A/c.

The next common thing to do is to make a FD. This may earn you 6-9% interest depending on the tenure. But this too is taxable (if you are in the highest tax bracket, even a 9% FD will fetch you just 6.3% post-tax returns). So, given the fact that there are better alternatives, this too may not be a very intelligent choice.

What are the Alternatives?

Certain debt MFs offer an attractive alternative to Bank FDs. In case you are sure about your investment horizon, you can opt to invest in Fixed Maturity Plans. Else, if you want quick liquidity, liquid plus/floating rate funds could be considered.

The pre-tax returns from these funds will be more or less in line with the returns from the Bank FDs. However, it is the difference in tax treatment on interest from bank FDs and returns from MFs, which enables MFs to give much better post-tax returns.

Interest from Bank FDs is fully taxable as per one’s slab rate. As against this, returns from Debt MFs will be taxed as either Dividend (@14.1625%) or Capital Gains (LT – @11.33% and ST – as per one’s slab rate).

Let’s assume that both FD and MFs give 8% returns. Then if you are in the 30% tax bracket, your post-tax return from Bank FD will be 5.60%. But, if you invest in MFs, you will earn either 7.01% (dividend if period is less than 1 year) or 7.09% (LTCG if period is more than 1 year).

Besides this, there is lot of convenience with MFs. MFs will deduct this Dividend Distribution Tax and pay you the net amount. You don't have to do anything. But in case of interest earning you will have to show it in your returns and pay tax, including advance tax. Also banks will deduct TDS on interest income. So at the year-end you will also have to get the TDS certificate from them.

How Arbitrage Funds Fit In?

Before we see how arbitrage funds can be useful, let’s first understand the concept of such funds.

Though, arbitrage funds invest in equity and derivatives such as futures & options, they are essentially debt funds. This is because when they invest in equity, they also take an exactly opposite position in futures. The objective is to capitalize on the difference in the prices in the cash market and the futures market (and hence the term arbitrage) rather than making money on equity or derivatives.

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