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What are the various tax-saving options under Section 80C?

Every Indian is legally obliged to pay their fair share of taxes as per the law. But that doesn’t mean you have to pay the entire amount. Under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act, you can reduce your tax liability every year, as provided by the government.

Tax saving options under Section 80C

There are several options you can choose to save tax under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act. These include:

  1. Equity Linked Saving Scheme (ELSS)
  2. National Pension Scheme (NPS)
  3. Unit Linked Insurance Plan (ULIP)
  4. Public Provident Fund (PPF)
  5. Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana (SSY)
  6. National Savings Certificate (NSC)
  7. Fixed Deposit (FD)
  8. Employee Provident Fund (EPF)

Let’s look at these tax saving investments in detail.

Equity Linked Saving Scheme (ELSS)

ELSS means Equity Linked Saving Scheme. This is an open-ended mutual fund scheme that invests at least 80% of its assets in the stock market. As a result, the returns on ELSS funds vary as per the fund’s market performance. However, they are quite popular among investors due to their potentially good yields.

ELSS funds are popularly known as tax saving mutual funds because you can avail an annual tax deduction on investments up to Rs. 1.5 lakh under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act. The other prominent advantage of ELSS funds is they come with a lock-in period of just three years. This is regarded as one of the lowest lock-in period among all tax-saving investment avenues in India. So, if you are looking for a good tax-saving avenue with the potential of reasonable returns and a brief lock-in period, ELSS mutual funds can be the answer.

National Pension System (NPS)

The National Pension System (NPS) is a scheme that allows working professionals and earners from the unorganized sector to benefit from a pension, post-retirement. Any Indian between the age of 18 to 60 can open an NPS account. Investments up to Rs. 1.5 lakh in this scheme are eligible for tax deductions under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act. You can also avail an additional tax benefit on investments of Rs. 50,000 under Section 80CCD(1B). Since this is a pension scheme, NPS contributions are locked-in until the investor turns 60.

Unit Linked Insurance Plan (ULIP)

Unit Linked Insurance Plans (or ULIPs) are financial products that provide investors with insurance and investments in a single package. ULIPs help investors build wealth while providing life insurance at the same time.

A portion of the corpus is placed in life insurance and the remaining amount is invested into equities, debt or a mixture of the two. You can invest in ULIPs to meet long term goals like financing your child’s college education, retirement planning or any major financial goals.

Under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act, the premium you pay for your ULIP is eligible for a tax deduction. You can avail a tax deduction on premium up to Rs. 1.5 lakh every year. And at the time of maturity, the returns you earn on the policy are exempt from income tax under Section 10(10D).

Public Provident Fund (PPF)

Public Provident Fund (or PPF) is a common and popular investment scheme used to save tax. It is considered a safe investment avenue as it is issued by the Central Government of India. You can claim a tax exemption of Rs. 1.5 lakh, each year, under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act.

However, this scheme has a lock-in period of 15 years. At the end of 15 years, you have the option to increase the investment tenure for another five years. You have to invest every year in PPF to keep your account active. The minimum amount you can invest per year is Rs. 500, while the maximum amount is Rs. 1.5 lakh.

You have the option to make one partial withdrawal per year beginning from the seventh year PPF investments fall under the EEE (exempt, exempt, exempt) category. This means that your yearly contribution, the interest you earn and the proceeds at maturity are tax exempted. For this reason, it is regarded as a popular long-term tax saving investment among Indian investors.

Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana (SSY)

Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana (or SSY) is a government savings scheme aimed at progressing the development of the ‘girl-child’. It was launched in 2015 as part of the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign. This initiative aims to encourage parents to save from the birth of their female child. These savings can help parents meet future expenses like education costs and marriage expenses.

You can open an SSY account in post offices and specific public and private banks all over the country. The government announces the interest rate on investments in the SSY scheme every quarter.The minimum investment amount is Rs. 250, while the maximum amount is Rs. 1.5 lakh in a financial year. After that, your account earns interest on the balance amount. You also have the option to make one partial withdrawal after the girl turns 18 years to meet the education expenses of the girl child. You can withdraw a maximum of 50% of the balance of the preceding financial year.

Some tax benefits you can avail under the SSY scheme include:

  1. Tax exemption up to Rs. 1.5 lakh per year, under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act
  2. Exemption from tax on the interest accumulated on the investment
  3. Tax exemption on the total amount at the time of maturity. This can maximize savings and ensure the fund grows to its full potential.

In other words, the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana scheme also comes under the EEE status.

National Savings Certificate (NSC)

The National Saving Certificate (or NSC) is yet another small saving instrument backed by the Indian Government. You can open an NSC account at any post office in India. In terms of risk, it is similar to the Public Provident Fund as it offers guaranteed returns to the investor. But unlike the PPF, the NSC comes with a lock-in period of only five years.

The total amount is payable at the maturity of the investment period (i.e. five years). You can avail tax deductions on investments up to Rs. 1.5 lakh every year under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act.

You also have the option to invest more than Rs. 1.5 lakh in the instrument, as there is no maximum limit on how much you can invest in NSC per year. If you have a low-risk appetite, it can be a suitable saving scheme to earn steady returns and save tax annually.

Tax-Saving Fixed Deposits (FDs)

Tax Saving Fixed Deposits (FDs) are similar to regular FDs in almost every way. The only differences are:

  1. Tax-saving FDs provide you with a tax break on investments up to Rs. 1.5 lakh under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act.
  2. They have a lock-in period of 5 years.

In regular FDs, you can redeem your savings before the maturity period by paying a penalty, but tax-saving FDs do not offer this feature. Any Indian resident can open a tax-saving FD and avail its benefits. The minimum investment limit is Rs. 1,000.

This option is suitable for people who want to invest in a low-risk avenue for the long-term. This is because tax-saving FDs ensure investment safety for the entire tenure and offer guaranteed income. The rate of return on tax-saving FDs can vary across banks. However, the interest in this investment is taxable.

Employee Provident Fund (EPF)

Employee Provident Fund (EPF) is a retirement saving scheme backed by the Indian government and is available to all salaried employees. Under this scheme, you have to contribute a certain amount (12% of your basic salary + Dearness Allowance). For companies with less than 20 employees, a 10% rate is applicable. Women employees can contribute only 8% for the first three years of their employment to help increase their monthly take-home pay. This amount is deducted monthly by your employer and deposited in the EPF. Your employer matches your contribution to the fund.

As per the latest numbers released by the Employee Provident Fund Organization (EPFO), there are more than 6 crore EPF subscribers. This clearly highlights the popularity of the EPF scheme in India. You can avail a tax break on EPF contributions of up to Rs. 1.5 lakh every year under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act. Interestingly, your EPF balance (including the interest you earn) is tax-free if you withdraw your fund after five years of continuous service.

Why ELSS is better than the others?

  ELSS NPS PPF SSY NSC FD
Returns 12-15% 7-8% 7-8% 8.5% 7-8% 6.5-7.5%
Lock-in period 3 years Until retirement 15 years 21 years 5 years 5 years
Taxation on returns Yes (on LTCG greater than Rs. 1 lakh) Yes (partially) No No Yes Yes

How to plan for tax-saving investments

Most people start the tax planning exercise only in the last quarter of the financial year. If you keep tax planning for the last minute, you could make a poor investment choice. Ideally, one must begin planning for taxes at the beginning of the financial year. This not only gives you more time, but it also allows you to stay invested for a longer period. By doing this every year, you can reach your financial goals quickly.

Here are a few practical steps to help you plan your tax-saving investments efficiently:

  1. Check if any investments made or premiums paid during the year are eligible for tax deductions. For instance, the contributions towards EPF, home loan repayment, school and tuition fees are eligible for tax deductions.
  2. Identify your investment goals and risk profile to choose the right investment avenue.
  3. Invest the appropriate amount to reach your financial goals and save tax at the same time.

Conclusion

Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘There are only two things certain in life: death and taxes.’ There is nothing much we can do about the former. But as for the latter, you can certainly reduce how much you pay every year. Investing your money can be a simple and effective way to reduce your tax burden legally. So, plan wisely and begin investing from the start of the financial year.

DISCLAIMER

Next To Come: What Are the Tax Implications On Mutual Funds?