04 May, 2013

Using debt funds for financial planning

Debt funds are an area that most retail investors are not familiar with.  But investing in debt mutual fund schemes have benefits, that other  products in the debt space may not be able to offer.

It is important to consider aspects like liquidity, tenure, post-tax returns, risk associated with the product, amount to be invested and others before putting together the debt portion of the portfolio. Bank &  company FDs, PPF, small savings instruments etc. are normally the tools of choice for most investors. They use these as these options have existed for long and are easy to understand. All these instruments give fixed returns, which is a source of comfort. What they would be missing out is in terms of liquidity, taxation & rigidity in tenure.  

As financial planners, we find tremendous value in debt Mutual funds to tailor solutions to meet the needs of our clients.

Longterm investment needs :   Longterm corpus building is an important part of the planning process. This corpus is to take care of retirement as well as other longterm goals like Children’s education, marriage, retirement home among others. As part of the asset allocation some portion will be in debt instruments. Medium to longterm debt funds, including bond and gilt funds are good candidates, which have the potential to offer between 8-9% longterm. Currently, income funds are offering double digit returns, which may continue for some more time. The attraction here is that the tax treatment is benign, for investments over one year. Long term capital gains tax applies here, where indexation benefit can be taken advantage of. After this indexation, the actual tax incidence may be in the region of 4-6% ( assuming current levels of inflation ). Hence, there is little difference between gross and net returns as opposed to most other instruments where the gross returns would match a debt fund return, but the net returns don’t.

Liquidity & other shortterm needs :  Liquidity provisioning is to take care of sudden surges in expenses, which are not anticipated. By it’s very nature, these funds have to be available, at short notice. At the same time, the money should be deployed in a manner that it earns good returns. That is why liquid funds are a good option. Dividend Distribution option was the best option for this purpose. But, now things have changed after the current budget and the dividend distribution tax is at 28.3%. This tax is paid by the Mutual fund houses and hence indirectly the investor is paying for it. For a person in the highest tax bracket, this is definitely recommended. For those in the lower tax brackets, growth option would be a better choice, as the taxation is on their marginal tax rates, which is lower.

One more thing needs to be kept in mind. There are some who are far more prudent in managing their finances, than others. In such cases, we find that they do not access the liquidity margin for very long periods, stretching to years.  In such cases, Growth option can straight away be suggested, as beyond one year, one can apply indexation and the taxation incidence reduces.

The other thing that such investors could consider is shortterm or even medium term funds. These funds may have an exit load for a certain period. But, since these clients are disciplined, the chances of them cashing out in the initial exit load period is limited. Hence, these investors could enjoy potentially higher returns, even on the liquidity margin.

Contingency planning :  Contingency funds are created to take care of specific expenses that are anticipated, but their frequency or timing is not known. An example of this is a contingency fund for one’s parents. In this situation, it would be a better idea to invest in medium to longterm funds or in actively managed debt funds in the growth option, as the requirement may not be immediate. This way these funds can earn a higher return as compared to Ultra Short-term funds or Short-term funds.

Planning for upcoming goals/ payments in the near term :  Here, the goals or payments may be in the near term like three months to six months. It may be required for school fee payment In the next six months or to fund holiday expenses in the next six months or other such requirements. In this situation, an Ultra Short-term fund may be a good option. However, if the provision comes beyond six months the provisioning can be done through a Short term fund. Even a medium term fund can be considered if the tenure is beyond a year.  One can also consider Monthly / Quarterly Interval Plans for requirements whose time of need is fixed. But, in these cases, one needs to cash out in the window period available.

Investments & planning for upcoming goals :  Fixed Maturity Plans are a good option for those who want fairly stable returns, without market fluctuations and who strive for tax efficient returns as typically indexation benefit is sought in an FMP. Hence, this can be a good instrument for investment purposes. FMP investments are usually beyond one year duration, due to which single, double or triple indexation benefit can be availed of, as applicable and I hence tax efficient. FMPs can also be used for provisioning or meeting short term goals as it matures after a tenure and directly comes into one’s bank account.  

As we have discussed, debt funds can be used in one’s portfolio for a whole range of planning and can be the backbone of financial planning. As investors, one needs to understand and appreciate their place in the portfolio and the value they add in a planning exercise. It is not as arcane as it first sounds, does it?

Article by Suresh Sadagopan   Published in Business Standard 
For  Comprehensive Financial Planning come to the experts - Ladder7 Financial Advisories

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