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Budget 2020: Simpler and lower income tax, but will it discourage savings?

The key issue that I’m personally concerned about is whether this new optional tax regime is a disincentive for savings.

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Last Updated: Feb 03, 2020, 10.38 AM IST
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By Dhirendra Kumar

In the months and weeks leading up to the Union Budget, it was a common guess that personal income tax would be lowered. It seemed a logical follow up to the earlier lowering of corporate income tax rates that had been announced midyear. However, what no one had guessed was that instead of a straightforward lowering of tax, what Ms Sitharaman would deliver was, in effect, a parallel system of income tax. Two for the price of one!

Yet, this is actually the parallel of the new deal that was delivered to corporates back in August. Corporates have the option for paying taxes at lower rates if they forego tax exemptions. Similarly, individuals will now have the option of paying taxes at lower rates if they forego tax exemptions. Depending on exactly how much an individual is currently able to get exemptions for, this may mean a lower tax, or it may not. This is an optional call that each taxpayer will have to take.

Roughly speaking, it looks likely that those earning up to Rs 10-12 lakh or perhaps about Rs 15 lakh, would want to opt for the new regime with the lower rate because they will pay less, plus have simple tax returns. At levels of up to maybe Rs 25 - 30 lakh or so, it’s about even. As the usability of various exemptions would vary widely among people with the same income, these figures can only be indicative. There are many example calculations that are being bandied about which assume that taxpayers are able to use all the exemptions available. This is not realistic, especially at the lower levels.

The key issue that I’m personally concerned about is whether this new optional tax regime is a disincentive for savings. That’s because the major exemptions that the taxpayer will have to forego are those under various parts of Section 80, under which investments like PPF, NPS and ELSS funds come. It is a fact that these are important ‘gateway’ investments which people end up investing in because they are a way of saving on taxes. If one can pay lower taxes without Section 80 investments, then fewer people would save. I do think that retirement-oriented investments should still be exempt. EPF and NPS tier 1 should be set aside and still be made tax exempt even if the rest of Section 80 is not. This is definitely an anomaly that should be corrected before the budget is passed.

The other big change for savers is the removal of the Dividend Distribution Tax (DDT). This was widely expected and is definitely a big step in making the tax system fair. Dividends from companies or mutual funds will reach the investor in full and are then taxed as per the investor’s income tax slab. Investors who are in the lower tax slabs (typical retirees, for example) will have to pay lower tax.

The government’s new found taste for creating mutual funds out of bonds has now become a habit. Soon after the success of the PSU Bond ETF, the FM announced that a new fund will be created out of government bonds. Given the trouble that debt fund investors have had with credit blow-ups in debt funds, I have no doubt investors will leap at this product. For now, this is undoubtedly a useful option to have.

All things considered, from a personal finance and savings standpoint, this is an interesting budget and has operationalised an innovative line of reform in personal income tax. We will have a simpler tax structure and lower rates and very few exemptions but only as an option for those whom it suits.

(The author is CEO, Value Research.)
Click here for all the information and analysis you need for tax-saving this financial year
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)

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