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Decoding Taxation in Mutual Funds: A Comprehensive Investor's Guide

Posted on 20-Jun-2024

6 min read

Explore this comprehensive guide on taxation in mutual funds, where we explain how your mutual fund gains are taxed, among other things.

Table of Content

Mutual funds, as an investment, have garnered attention for their ability to help achieve financial goals effectively. Not only do they offer expert money management and diversified portfolios, but they also stand out as tax-efficient investment instruments.

This tax efficiency is particularly notable compared to traditional options like fixed deposits. Fixed deposits can be less advantageous for those in higher income tax brackets as the interest earned is added to your taxable income, resulting in taxation at your slab rate. Mutual funds, on the other hand, offer a more favourable tax treatment, making them a smarter choice for many investors. 

Thus, understanding the nuances of taxation in mutual funds becomes crucial. This guide is tailored to shed light on these tax aspects, ensuring you're well-equipped to make informed decisions that align with your financial aspirations.

Taxation on Mutual Funds

Many Indian investors choose to participate in mutual funds because it offers a chance to diversify their portfolio and increase profits. It's crucial to remember that investments made in mutual funds are taxable as well. 

Mutual fund investments are subject to varied taxes under the Income Tax Act of 1961 depending on a number of variables, including the fund type, the length of the holding term and the tax band of the investor. To maximise profits and prevent fines, investors must be aware of the implications for taxes of mutual fund investments.

Taxation Dividends Offered by Mutual Funds

The Union Budget 2020 amendments state that dividends from all mutual fund schemes are subject to traditional taxation. In other words, investors' dividends are taxed at the rates specified for each income tax slab and added to their taxable income. 

In the past, dividends were distributed to investors tax-free since the corporations paid dividend distribution tax (DDT) ahead of time.

Taxation of Capital Gains When Investing Through SIPs

When you invest in a mutual fund via an SIP, you can purchase a certain number of fund units monthly. The unique aspect of SIPs in taxation terms is the application of the 'First-In-First-Out' (FIFO) principle during redemption. 

For instance, consider an investment in an equity mutual fund through an SIP over 12 months, with a decision to redeem the investment after 13 months.

Here's how taxation works:

•    Long-term Capital Gains (LTCG): For the units purchased in the first few instalments of the SIP and held for more than 12 months, you're in the realm of long-term capital gains. In the context of equity funds, if your LTCG is below Rs. 1 lakh, there's no tax liability. This aspect can significantly influence your investment strategy, particularly for long-term holdings.

•    Short-term Capital Gains (STCG): Conversely, the units bought in the latter part of the SIP tenure, specifically from the second month onwards until the 12th month, are subject to short-term capital gains tax if sold after 13 months. These gains are taxed at a flat rate of 15%, irrespective of your income tax bracket.

Types of Taxes on Mutual Funds

Understanding the types of taxes associated with mutual funds is essential for any investor. The taxation in mutual funds varies depending on the fund type and your investment period. 

In India, mutual fund taxation encompasses capital gains tax on profits and dividend distribution tax on distributed income. By comprehending the specifics of tax on mutual funds in India, investors can make more informed and tax-efficient investment decisions.

Capital Gains Tax

Capital gains tax is an important aspect of mutual fund taxation. It is levied on the profit made from the sale of your mutual fund investments. There are two types of capital gains taxes – Short-term Capital Gains tax (STCG) and long-term capital gains tax (LTCG). The classification into STCG or LTCG depends on the duration for which the mutual fund units are held before being sold.

•    Short-term Capital Gains tax (STCG): This is applied when mutual fund units are sold within a short period of holding. The definition of 'short-term' varies based on the type of fund.

•    Long-term Capital Gains tax (LTCG): This tax is applicable when the units are held for a longer duration before selling. The definition of 'long-term' depends on the fund category.

Here’s a table that breaks down how STCG and LTCG are defined for various types of mutual funds:
 
Mutual Fund Type Short-Term Holding Period Long-Term Holding Period STCG Tax Rate LTCG Tax Rate
Equity funds Less than 12 months More than 12 months 15% Gains above Rs 1 lakh are taxed at 10%
Debt funds Less than 36 months More than 36 months As per the tax slab As per the tax slab
Hybrid funds (equity-oriented) Less than 12 months More than 12 months 15% Gains above Rs 1 lakh are taxed at 10%
Hybrid funds (debt-oriented) Less than 36 months More than 36 months As per the tax slab As per the tax slab
ELSS (tax-saving funds) Not applicable (3-year lock-in) More than 3 years Not applicable Gains above Rs 1 lakh are taxed at 10%

*Note: For equity and ELSS funds, the LTCG tax of 10% is applicable only if the total gains exceed Rs. 1 lakh in a financial year. This distinction is crucial for investors to plan their investments strategically and exit in mutual funds strategically, optimizing returns in light of the tax implications.

Dividend Distribution Tax (DDT)

Before the Union Budget 2020, mutual fund dividends were subject to DDT, paid by the fund houses. 

However, after the 2020 budget, DDT was abolished, shifting the tax liability to investors. Now, dividends are taxed per the investor's income tax slab rates. This change ensures that higher-income investors pay more tax on the dividends received, aligning the tax on mutual fund dividends with the investor's income tax bracket.

Securities Transaction Tax (STT)

Investors often encounter STT in mutual funds, particularly with equity funds or hybrid equity-oriented funds. It is automatically deducted at the time of transaction.

STT is a direct tax imposed by the Government of India and is applicable irrespective of the capital gains tax. The rate of STT is comparatively low but varies depending on the type of transaction:

•    For equity mutual funds (including hybrid equity-oriented funds): STT is charged at 0.001% of the total transaction value when you buy or sell equity fund units.
•    For debt or non-equity funds: STT does not apply to debt funds or non-equity-oriented mutual fund transactions.

Factors Determining Capital Gains Taxes on Mutual Funds

The taxation on capital gains from mutual funds in India is determined by several factors, making it a crucial aspect for investors to understand before making investment decisions. The primary factors include:

1.    Types of mutual funds: The taxation landscape varies significantly across different categories of mutual funds. For instance, the tax rules for equity mutual funds differ from those for debt or hybrid mutual funds. Each fund type has specific tax implications, making it vital to understand the category of your investment.

2.    Capital gains scenario: Capital gains occur when you sell your mutual fund units at a price higher than your purchase cost. The nature of these gains – whether they are short-term or long-term – significantly influences the tax you will incur. This distinction is crucial in planning your investment and exit strategies.

3.    Impact of holding period: The duration for which you hold your mutual fund investments directly correlates with your tax liability. Indian income tax regulations incentivise long-term investments by imposing lower taxes on longer holding periods. Thus, the longer you stay invested, the more favourable the tax treatment of your capital gains. This makes the holding period a strategic element in mutual fund investing.
 

Taxation on Capital Gains Through Equity Funds

Funds classified as equity funds have more than 65% of their investment in equities. Another name for these funds is stock funds. Gains from stock funds that are held for less than a year are classified as short-term capital gains and are subject to a flat 15% tax rate (not including cess and surcharge). 

Long-term capital gains are defined as capital gains on stock funds held for longer than a year. Long-term capital gains up to Rs. 1,00,000 are free from taxation for investors in any fiscal year beyond that point (excluding cess and surcharge). When it comes to equity funds' long-term capital gains, investors do not profit from indexation. 

Taxation on Capital Gains Through Debt Funds

Debt funds are funds that have more than 65% exposure in debt investments or fixed-income investments. Here is the taxation on capital gains on debt funds:

•    As of April 1, 2023, debt funds no longer benefit from indexation, which previously reduced tax on long-term gains.

•    This means any profits from debt funds are now considered short-term capital gains and taxed at your regular income tax rate.

•    Previously, long-term gains from debt funds enjoyed a lower tax rate of 20% with the indexation benefit.

Taxation on Capital Gains Through Hybrid Funds

The taxation of hybrid funds is contingent upon the fund's majority exposure. The hybrid or balanced fund is taxed similarly to equity mutual funds when it has a high equity concentration (more than 65%). 

The hybrid fund is subject to the same taxes as debt funds when its debt exposure exceeds 65%. For efficient tax planning, investors must be aware of their exposure before making a hybrid fund investment. 

Conclusion

Mutual funds offer tax advantages compared to traditional investments, making them a compelling option for many investors. Understanding these tax benefits is crucial for maximizing returns. Key factors influencing mutual fund taxation include fund type, investment horizon, and capital gains nature (short-term or long-term). Equity funds offer tax-free long-term capital gains up to Rs. 1 lakh, while debt funds are now taxed at the investor's income tax slab. Strategic investment decisions considering these tax implications can significantly enhance your overall returns.

FAQs


Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about taxation on mutual funds:

1.    Are there any tax-saving mutual funds? How are they taxed?

Equity-Linked Savings Schemes (ELSS) are mutual funds that offer tax benefits under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act. Investments up to Rs. 1.5 lakh in ELSS can be claimed as a deduction from your taxable income. However, like other equity funds, ELSS funds are subject to LTCG tax if the gains exceed Rs. 1 lakh when redeemed after the lock-in period of 3 years.

2.    How does the 'Grandfathering Clause' affect taxation on long-term capital gains in equity mutual funds?

The 'Grandfathering Clause,' introduced in the 2018 budget, plays a significant role in calculating LTCG tax on equity mutual funds. This clause exempts gains made on equity investments from the LTCG tax until January 31, 2018. For investments made before this date, the highest value of the investment as of January 31, 2018, is considered as the cost of acquisition, not the actual purchase price, potentially lowering the taxable gain.

3.    Can NRIs invest in Indian mutual funds, and what are the tax implications?

Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) are eligible to invest in Indian mutual funds, but the tax implications for them differ from resident investors. NRIs need to comply with the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) regulations. Additionally, their capital gains from mutual fund investments are subject to TDS (Tax Deducted at Source). The TDS rates for NRIs are higher compared to resident Indians and vary based on the type of mutual fund and the duration of the investment.
 

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