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Old wine in New bottle: Twin Tax Regime

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“In order to provide significant relief to individual tax payers and to simplify the Income Tax law”, our Honorable Finance Minister, announcing the Union Budget 2020 on Saturday, rejigged the income tax slabs for individuals and HUF with a flavor tasted by another audience (a more resourceful one though) in September, last year. In this article, we clear up the clouds surrounding the much hyped new tax regime, assess the probable reasoning behind such a proposition, and its foreseeable impact on investment patterns.


Decoding the ‘New Tax Regime’


Union Budget 2020 was announced amidst a pressing need to enhance domestic consumption and the evergreen pre-budget expectation of greater tax relief. Juxtaposing these with a vision of an “aspirational India” devoid of unnecessary complications, the new regime of tax computation has been introduced. This new scheme dilutes the present three slabs for computation into six tax brackets but does not replace the old one, rather plans to stay alongside it, giving the tax payers a rare opportunity to choose.


Prima facie, new tax regime shines as a no brainer choice. But, here comes the rider. To avail the new slab structure, one shall have to forego one’s exemptions and deductions (arising from investment planning, house rent allowance, interest on housing loan, standard deduction for salaried class, etc). Moreover, for any assessee having business income, once the choice of new regime is made, it can switch back only once.


If we do the calculations, a salaried individual having an annual income of Rs. 10 lacs and having used up his deduction limit of Section 80C, shall be liable to pay Rs. 2500 less tax (ignoring cess for ease of explanation) in the old regime compared to the new one. In fact, if the benefits of HRA and deductions under other sections (beyond just section 80C) is considered, this advantage shall widen in the old regime.


Using similar assumptions to calculate taxes for all salaried individuals having salary income below Rs. 12.25 lacs, we see that the old regime outshines the new one. To put things in perspective over 70% of the salaried class fall in this category, forming over one-third of the total individuals filing tax returns (as per AY 2018-19 data). Thus, apparently, the new tax regime is definitely not that lucrative, as has been its hype!


In fact, this ‘rare opportunity’ of making a choice is complicated in its simplest form. It might have been smooth in case of corporates because of their inherent expertise, but here we are talking of individuals/HUF, who lack such a luxury. On top of that, the restriction of switching between regimes further adds pressure on the assessee.


Understanding the vision behind an ‘Exemption & Deduction Less Regime’


The Indian economy has been facing turbulent times of late, fueled largely by dwindling domestic demand. Under the veil of simplification, by introducing a new regime of taxation, it may not be wrong to say that the government is attempting to lay down a deferred solution to this problem. With the tax benefits being killed for investments in instruments like ELSS, tax saving FDs, ULIPs, National Savings Certificate, to name a few, individuals may be discouraged to block their funds in these schemes and rather keep them in hand/ liquid instruments to meet consumption luxuries (beyond mere necessities). In other words, by putting additional cash in the hands of individuals, the government seems to drive up liquidity in the economy, giving rise to a consumption driven demand. In the budget speech, the FM proclaimed a loss of Rs. 40,000 crore due to the new regime. From another lens, this Rs. 40,000 crore (or at least part of it) is likely to flow in the economy as surplus funds in the long run.


In a historically savings driven economy, this move attempts to give a consumption push.


Foreseeing the investment landscape in the era of ‘Twin Tax Regime’


With this new dynamic, the investment pattern of individuals shall also see a ‘rejig’. Switching over to the new tax regime shall open up plethora of investment opportunities beyond just the illiquid and low-yielding tax saving instruments.

Consider, for example, an ELSS. An investor having a risk appetite of investing in equities, may now prefer investing in funds having no lock in periods (unlike ELSS) and giving better or at par returns (especially when, in recent times, ELSS mutual fund category has been unimpressive in its performance). An interesting point worth noting: the couple of years after 2006 (when ELSS was introduced in the tax benefit category) saw a stable 55% rise in the AUM of ELSS funds compared to irregular growth in the past. Needless to say, we may see a reverse AUM trend for ELSS in the coming times as it loses its tax free status in the new regime. Instruments like Ulip have yet not been accepted in its true spirit owing to the complexity and long horizon requirement to reap benefits and cover up hidden costs. These shall further lose their sheen. Short duration FDs and FDs with sweep-in facilities shall impact the tax saving FDs having 5 year lock in period.


Many young earners and uneducated earners, may do away with investing and use the surplus generated from freeing up section 80C for consumption purpose. But, it must not be forgotten, that those who have already committed their money in lock in tax instruments may not find it reasonable to switch to the new regime. In fact this shall beat the ‘simplification’ vision of the government. Whatever be it, we shall see a paradigm shift in the nature and instruments of investing in this twin regime era.


Conclusion


With the finance ministry unraveling its explanatory notes, new sides of this change shall come to light. However, it would be hard to deny that this opportunity to make a choice shall put administrative pressure on the system and impact investment behavior in the times to come.


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