Filing your returns this week? Show taxable income properly

First the good news – due to certain problems with the IT E-filing site, the deadline for filing IT returns have now been extended till August 5th. So, if you were one among the many who were late, you can still go ahead and file your returns now. While the penalty for filing delayed returns is only from next year, there are important reasons why you must do it on time. It is the right thing to do, you have a chance to rectify it if required, your refunds get processed quicker.

It is important to understand that you need to account for ALL income when you are trying to arrive at your taxable income in a Financial year. In fact, some of these incomes may well be exempt from taxes but it still needs to be declared in the form. In the terminology of Income tax, there are 5 heads in which you need to categorise your income. These are as follows:-

  • Salaries
  • House property
  • Profits or gains from Business or Profession
  • Capital gains
  • Other sources

Let us look into these income sources one by one. For most people filing tax returns, salaries are the bulk of their income. This will be your source, if you are employed by a company or business or another individual and get paid for your time. It does not matter whether you work full time or part time, as long as there is an Employee – Employer relationship, the income can be classified as salaries. When you need to give data for your tax filing purpose, note the following :-

  • Your Employer has to give you Form 16 which will record the total salary paid including the monetary value of perks, exemptions allowed for different allowances like HRA and Transportation, Exemptions under 80 C, 80 D etc.
  • The Form 16 also shows the total tax deducted as TDS and the tax liability. This is why some people think that is enough for tax return filing. However, this is not true as you will be having other sources of income in most cases.

Income from House property is relevant if you own one or more house property. You need to remember the following while filling up this schedule:-

  • Even if you are staying at the house, it still needs to be documented in the ITR returns. For self occupied houses the income will be nil.
  • If the property is rented you have to show the actual income from it. Many people think that for a single house there is no need to declare income – this is completely incorrect and you must never get into this.
  • Standard deduction on income is at 30 % and you can also charge for any taxes or other regulatory expenses incurred in the house.
  • Interest can be charged up to a maximum of 2 lacs per house.
  • After all these deductions from rent received during the year the total income from House property will be calculated.
  • If you have a single house and it is not occupied by you and not rented out, then you can take the income as nil.
  • If you have 2 or more properties there will be a deemed income from all other properties except the first one, even if none of them are rented out.

Most salaried people earlier did not have any income from business or profession but it is becoming more commonplace now. There are of course, many others who do not have a salary but have income from business or profession. While looking at income from this head, you need to keep the following in mind:-

  • If your Business turnover is more than 2 crores or your professional income is more than 50 lacs, you will need to maintain a set of Accounting books and these will have to be audited as per laid out procedure.
  • For others the business income can be taken to be 8 % of gross receipts in business and return filed accordingly.
  • For professionals with less than 50 lacs gross receipts, you can charge 50 % expenses and take the rest as income.
  • In case you are showing income on presumptive basis, as in the above 2 cases, you will not be able to charge any other expenses to the business.
  • If the above does not work well for you, there is always the option of maintaining books, getting them audited and filling up the returns in a more complex manner.
  • For example, if your business turnover is 1 crore but your profits have only been 2 lacs, you will have to maintain books and proceed accordingly.
  • For a professional earning 40 lacs but having 30 lacs as business expenses, it will again make sense to maintain books and show only 10 lacs as income.

Capital gains can arise out of the sale of any asset such as Real estate, gold, Equity, Debt etc. The important things to be kept in mind are as follows:-

  • Short term capital gains are added directly to your income, Long term capital gains will get indexation benefits.
  • For equity LTCG requires holding period of 1 year and is tax exempt. So if you sell your shares after holding them for a year, you do not need to pay taxes on your capital gains. However, you do need to report it.
  • For debt LTCG is applicable after 3 years of holding and indexation benefits are there. The tax on the Capital gain post indexation is 20 %.
  • In order to save on Capital gains you can put the gains in Capital Gain bonds.
  • For real estate, as long as you invest the capital gains to buy something new it will not be taxed.

Other income is literally everything else from dividends, interests, lottery earnings, winnings from horse races etc. Some common mistakes people do are as follows:-

  • Where TDS is not deducted at all, such as in Post Office MIS, you must declare the interest as taxable income.
  • Where 10 % TDS is deducted as in Bank FD, you must again declare the total interest earned. 
  • Even if no TDS is deducted as you have given form 15 G / H to the bank, the interest earned by you must be declared.
  • Interest exempted from taxes such as interest from Tax free Bonds etc need to be shown too at the appropriate locations.
  • Dividends are again tax free in your hands but need to be shown.

I hope with this you will be able to get all your income recognised correctly. After this you will need to look at taxes paid and if any other liability is there still. We will take this up in the next post as this is already too long.

My experiences with e-filing of ITR 3

I have been using the Income tax e-filing site for a long time now and have been a tax payer since I started working in 1988. Of course, in those days all tax filing was manual and I used my offices to calculate taxes, pay them and also file the returns. Till 1998 or so this worked quite well as I had only my salary to work with as my source of income.

As the sources of income increased, the complexities also did and I got introduced to TDS from Fixed deposits etc and the need to pay extra taxes as Advanced tax. Even though the tax filing was still being done by my office people, I was able to calculate my tax liability with the help of Form 16 and Form 26 AS. With passing years, my sources of incomes were more – a house property, capital gains from equity/debt funds, consulting income, dividends, interests and so on. This was also the time when I engaged a CA to file my tax returns as the ITR 4 was quite involved. As a consultant, I had to show business income and the expenses needed to be maintained along with depreciation claims etc.

In the last budget the Finance minister did a great service to all professionals like us by saying that you can claim 50 % of all your gross receipts as expenses. So this time I decided to try filing the ITR 3 on my own. When I got the Excel utility first, my heart sank by seeing all the schedules, but on closer examination I realized that not too many of them had to be filled up by me. Before that though, I had to get all my information in order. This involved the following:-

  1. Looking at Form 26 AS to record both TDS by my Clients as well as the Advance tax paid by me in September 2016.
  2. As there was no TDS in Post Office MIS interest, I made a note of it separately.
  3. All my Debt investments were in ICICI Direct and I got the Capital gains statement from there.
  4. I went through all cash receipts in my 2 main bank accounts, ICICI and HDFC and divided those into the following categories for filling in ITR 3 later :-
    • Receipts from rental of my Chennai apartment.
    • Interest from the savings bank accounts.
    • Dividend from Equity MF and stocks.
    • Receipts from my Consulting income.
    • Receipts from redemption of my FMP investments.
    • Receipts from interest in Tax free bonds.

Once the above data was gathered it was just a case of putting these in the right places in the form. Not all schedules needed to be filled and even in the ones which did, not all fields were needed. For example, the P & L schedule that is surely the most complicated, I just had to fill up 3 lines as my income from profession was less than 50 lacs last year.

The good thing about the ITR forms is that you can fill up each sheet and validate them individually, before you proceed to the next one. After you calculate the tax, you can get the overall ITR 3 validated too. Once this is done the XML can be generated. This is where I had an issue. There is a schedule in ITR 3 where you are supposed to declare your assets if your income in the year is more than 50 lacs. I did not fill this up as my income in the FY was not greater than 50 lacs. However, as I had put some income from house property, the software was checking if the asset was declared in the schedule. It was good I could read XML and was therefore able to correct it.

After that it was easy going, the XML had to be uploaded and the acknowledgement had to be e-verified. As my Aadhaar number was already linked to my PAN it was pretty straightforward. The total time taken was about 5 hours – 4 to get all the data in place and only an hour to actually fill up ITR 3.

The most crucial part in filling up these forms is to understand how you can arrive at your taxable income. Note that even income that may not be taxable such as dividends or interest from tax free bonds needs to be recorded in the form.

I will do another post to clarify as to how you can take care of both these issues correctly.

Do you still invest in Fixed deposits? Need to change

As the readership of my blog and also the Facebook group has increased, I get a lot of queries from readers on how should they go about making a financial plan and their investments. There are also many requests from my friends and relatives in terms of reviewing their current investments and make suggestions on the same.

One of the things which surprises me every time I see it is the continued fascination that many investors still retain for Fixed deposits. Yes, I understand that they are perceived to be safe and highly liquid but from an overall financial perspective they really do not make any sense at all. Let me give you a few examples to illustrate my point.

  • A senior IT executive working in an MNC from Bangalore, had more than 30 lacs in FD. He said he was keeping it handy for his daughter’s higher education or marriage as the case may be.
  • Another IT professional from Kolkata working in TCS was having more than 20 lacs in FD. He said it was a combination of Emergency and contingency fund.
  • A cousin of mine, who is a Doctor with a private practice, recently approached me for suggestions on how he should invest 35 lacs that he got from FD maturity.

Note that these are people who are well educated, see TV a fair amount, read financial and other newspapers and are exposed to various financial blogs. If despite these they are investing in FD as a main channel then one can well imagine what most other investors from small towns or villages are doing. So while the Mutual fund SIP figures have greatly grown, the number of investors in FD and the amount of money they have in these deposits are still a mind boggling number.

But why am I saying that you should avoid FD in the main? Note that I have no issues if you have some 2-3 lacs in FD for Emergency purposes, though even that is not strictly necessary. Let me take the case of my cousin who had 35 lacs in FD till June of this year. 

  • The older FDs were at a higher interest rate so he was getting 9 % interest on them. 
  • His annual earning out of the 35 lacs was 3.15 lacs. All of this was taxable at 30 % as his other income is significantly more than 10 lacs.
  • The effective return was therefore only 6.3 %.

When the older FDs matured his banker told him that the best possible rates were 6.9 % in his bank. That would mean an effective rate of less than 5 %. It finally dawned on my cousin that it was really against common sense to renew the FDs. Even though he was told by his banker that other options are risky, he stuck to his guns about the renewal.

Are you like any of these examples listed above? Do you have a lot of money in FD and are paying taxes on the interest earned? If you are not paying taxes it is worse as the IT authorities are keeping a very close watch on all the FDs, even where a Form 15H or 15G has been submitted.

I think all readers are convinced by now that FD is really not a good idea. But the natural question then is, what do we invest in then? Will it be safe? What about liquidity? There are fortunately good answers to all these questions. I will write about it in the next post.

 

New Cost Inflation Index – know about it

One of the important aspects in personal finance is to keep track of the regulatory and policy changes in order to see if they affect you in any manner. While a lot of these changes are announced in the budget speech of the Finance minister, several of these can and do happen throughout the year. One such thing which many of us have missed is the new Cost Inflation Index ( CII ) with the new base year ( FY 2001-2002 ). Let us see what the changes are and what does this mean to you.

For those who are interested in the CBDT notification of the new CII read here. In simple terms the base year for the earlier CII was 1981 and the base was taken as 100. Every year the government announced the CII for that FY. In the year 2016-2017, the index was at 1125. In real terms it meant that if you had acquired an asset for 100 Rs in 1981 and was selling it in 2016, then you could take the cost of the asset to be 1125 Rs and look at your capital gains accordingly. Let me give a real life example to make this clear.

  • Assume you bought a 3BHK flat in Kolkata for 18 lacs in 2001.
  • You wanted to sell it in 2016 for 1 crore.
  • CII in 2001 was 426 and in 2016 was 1125.
  • The indexed purchase cost to be taken in 2016 will be 1125/426 x 18 lacs or 47.53 lacs. The capital gain will therefore be 53.47 crores.
  • You can use the capital gain in buying another property or invest it in Capital gains bonds to avoid taxation.
  • In case you do not do the above you will be charged at 20 % tax on the capital gain.

What are the changes then? As I said before, the new base year is 2001-2002 and the base is taken to be 100 for that year. The CII for subsequent years have now been recalculated and for the current FY 2017-2018 it is 272. Any asset sale being done in this year will be governed by the new Index for the purpose of capital gains determination and taxation.

Let us take the previous example now and assume that you sell the flat in 2017, instead of 2016. The indexed purchase price now will be 272/100 x 18 lacs or 48.96 lacs. For an apple to apple comparison if we took the 2016 CII of 264 then the indexed purchase price will be 2.64 x 18 lacs or 47.52 lacs. This is virtually the same as with the old CII.

How will the impact be on the Long term Capital Gains calculation of Debt funds or Bonds etc? I will cover this in the next post.

File your Tax returns – it is right and also wise

For all tax paying people July 31st now looms as the deadline, by which you need to submit your tax returns for last FY. New tax payers find it quite overwhelming, many people just avoid it through ignorance or laziness and others depend on their CA or Tax consultants to get it done. It is important to understand the need for filing tax returns and also how one can do it in a fairly easy manner.

First things first – why do we need to file a tax return in addition to paying our taxes? The answer is simple too – our tax deductions are automatic in some cases, partial in others and not there at all in some. It is therefore important for the IT authorities to determine whether you have taken all of your income into account and paid relevant taxes for the same. A few examples will make it clear :-

  • For your salary income TDS is deducted as per your tax calculations fully.
  • For your rental income of any property there is no TDS unless rent is more than 50000 per month. Here too the TDS is at 10 %.
  • For your FD interest TDS is charged at 10 %.
  • For your PO MIS interest, no TDS is deducted.
  • For your Savings bank interest, no TDS is deducted.

As you can see from here if you just depend on TDS and think you have paid all your taxes, you are quite mistaken. Ideally you should be calculating your tax liability based on your overall income, during the year, and pay advance taxes to cover up the additional tax payment required. These advance taxes can be paid any time during the year and for a quarter the cut off date is normally 15th of the last month. So for the second quarter of this FY, the advance tax payment deadline should be 15th September. If you have extra taxes to be paid, based on your first quarter income then make sure that you pay it off by that date. For the last quarter of the FY, the date is 15th March.

However, if you have not done it this way in the last FY then what is your choice now? You need to file your tax returns with accurate information so that your total tax liability for last FY can be determined. If the tax deposited so far is less than this, you will need to pay the balance tax. This is easily done in the income tax website. In case you do not have an account there, create it using your PAN for registration.

What happens if you do not file the tax return? For one there is no real option and you will be fined heavily if you delay filing beyond July 31st. Also anything associated with your PAN can always come under scrutiny and the first thing IT authorities will check is your Tax return form. If you have not filed it, or filed it with inaccurate information then you are going to face a much sterner examination.

So all said and done, you will need to file your tax returns. In case you are not up to doing it yourself use a Tax Return Professional ( TRP ) to help you. You can, of course, go to a CA but they are more expensive and unless you have multiple sources of incomes that need complex book keeping I will not advise it.

In the next few posts I will show you how you can take care of your income tax and learn enough to calculate your taxes and file returns on your own. It is actually quite simple to do once you lose your initial reluctance.

 

 

My take on the budget

The kind of hype and expectation which is normally generated by any budget in India is tough to meet at the best of times. This year was more so due to the demonetization fallout that many of us were affected by. The price of inconvenience was sought and in many cases loss of business and jobs required some level of reparation. Lack of growth and clear decisions regarding black money and political funding also had to be tackled.

Based on all of this, the foremost question will be whether the FM has delivered or not? I would say that he has done it quite well, even though I feel there was room to do more in terms of personal income taxes. The 5 % reduction on the first slab was good but it should have been followed up with similar reductions in the other slabs. The surcharge on the incomes greater than 50 lacs is keeping with the sentiment that the richer people can afford to pay taxes. With the ongoing elections, this is something I can understand, though I do not agree with the approach.

Taxation and black money have been the recurring themes in our economy and polity in 2016 and the FM did a commendable job here. Firstly, he addressed the issue of poor tax compliance and brazen tax evasion in India – it is like an elephant in the room, everyone knew about it but no one mentioned it so far. The FM has put the numbers in context – only 1.7  lacs people saying that they earn more than 50 lacs is abysmally low. With the event of demonetization and the cash being brought into the banking system now, there is real hope that people who had stashed away their ill gotten wealth will now have to face the music. If they declare through IDS 2 then they pay 50 % tax and another 25 % as deposit for 4 years. In case they choose to just take a risk, they will definitely get caught and end up paying 82.5 % tax and in addition get a possible jail term.

As far as the growth part is concerned, the FM has avoided some potentially poor decisions like taxing capital gains on equity etc. On the other hand, reduction of LTCG tenure on property capital gains, shifting the base year to 2001, giving 1 year relief to builders on deemed income will energize the RE sector. With the earlier incentives on housing loans announced by the PM this gives a good fillip to the housing sector, which was much needed.

Agriculture has got a lot of attention in this budget and that is good given a lot of our people depend on it even today. Improvement in agricultural production and rural income will also be able to drive consumption which is vital for corporate growth. We also need to remember that resources are needed here far more, than people like us need it.

The corporate tax relief to companies doing revenues of less than 50 crores in the year 2015-2016, will help the earning of these companies next year. This will be a good push to the elusive earning growth that we have been waiting for. This reform is a harbinger of more things to come and will encourage buying in our stock markets. The fiscal deficit being on track will increase the confidence in the India story as far as the Rating agencies are concerned. FII buying will return and the general mood of our markets in 2017 will be upbeat, though there will definitely be periods of corrections.

Some other good things in the budget was the wait for GST, instead of trying to tinker with Service tax or Excise for 3-4 months. LIC coming up with a 8 % scheme for senior citizens, Companies like IRCTC going public, Safety fund for the Railways, divestment through CPSE ETF next year too are all good measures. Transformation to the Digital economy by stopping cash payments beyond 3 lacs is an excellent idea.

The political funding cap will reduce the impact of goons in our political syatem and this will have the best results in the near future. On the whole, this is definitely a budget in the TEC mode – India is well on the way to Transform, Energize and Clean.

Tax compliance – most people live in glass houses

This post is going to be politically incorrect and many will view it as a harsh indictment on most people. However, it will also be the complete truth and as usual, I do not care much about public opinion when I am writing these posts. Now that you have been given an early warning and have had a chance to stop reading, let me get on with it.

As all of us know there are only about 4.5 crore people in the country today who file their tax returns. This too is after a great deal of efforts by all relevant authorities, the figure used to be less than 2.5 crores only about 5 years back. Now out of this 4.5 crores there are many who pay no taxes, so the number of tax payers is only about 2.5 crores. Among these also, the number of people paying taxes less than 10000 Rs is significant. Now, it does not take a genius to figure out that there must be tax evasion on a massive scale here. Also, even the people who are paying taxes are probably not fully compliant.

Why do people, who are perfectly well educated and understand the importance of taxes do not take the right attitude of paying taxes. Well, the harsh truth is they want to keep the money themselves due to their wanton greed and crooked nature. However, since they cannot take that stance publicly, due to their own image and the inordinate fear of tax authorities, they will come up with several excuses that sound reasonably clever but are completely flawed in reality. Let us look at some of these :-

  1. Our tax rates are too high, cannot afford to pay so much. Yes, this used to be true decades back but the current rates are quite reasonable.
  2. Tax laws are too complex, do not want to get into it. Truth is that arriving at your taxable income and taxes is fairly simple and you have a slew of professionals who can help you with it.
  3. Taxes paid by me will not be used properly. This may or may not be true, but it cannot be a justification for not paying taxes.
  4. Chances of getting caught are not high. People giving this logic are of course admitting that they want to stay crooked as they probably will escape.
  5. Even after paying taxes I will be harassed by the tax authorities. Truth is only 1 % returns get taken up for scrutiny and that too if there are some red flags in them.

So who are the people who practice tax evasion on a massive scale? Almost all sections of society and some of the notable ones are as follows:-

  • Professionals like Doctors, Lawyers, Consultants, Architects who insist on getting paid by cash, maintain 2 sets of books and seriously under-report their income while seemingly being tax compliant citizens.
  • Small businesses which deal almost entirely in cash, have very little records and almost pay minimal taxes or no taxes.
  • Individual vendors like a Chaat wala or a Fish seller who are of course not in the tax ambit at all. Now, I have my full sympathy for their plight in life, which is tough to say the least, but as far as taxable income goes they need to file returns if their income crosses the threshold of 2.5 lacs in a year.
  • Small companies and big corporate who have stretched the tax laws to the limit, often quite creatively, to ensure their employees can avoid taxes as much as they can.
  • Individuals who rarely report the right income in terms of House property and other financial assets.

What about the people who do pay taxes more or less correctly? Well, firstly their numbers are really pretty limited, most of them are salaried people who can limit the TDS but cannot really avoid it. However, even here there are serious mistakes or malpractices that are common. Let me state a few of them :-

  • Many people getting rent from a house owned by them so not declare it properly. Some under-report it, some believe that for one house the rent does not need to be declared, some show the house as self occupied etc. The rule is very clear, any income you earn must first be reported, exemptions can be looked at later.
  • This is more tricky, but the law is that if you have 2 houses you need to declare some deemed rent for the second house and add it to your income. It does seem frightfully silly but if it is the law then it has to be followed.
  • Most people do not declare income from their Debt instruments such as POMIS etc where there is no TDS provision. The logic again is that it will be difficult for the tax authorities to find out !!
  • For FD where there is TDS, very few people declare the total interest income and pay the taxes beyond the statutory deduction of 10 %.
  • As far as LTC and Medical bills go the malpractices are quite legendary and most readers will be familiar with them.
  • Capital gains earned are often not reported at all or reported wrongly.
  • Savings bank interest are now exempt till 10000 Rs but all such interest earning must be declared and applicable taxes paid on the amount exceeding 10000 Rs.

Are you seeing anything here that you can identify with? If so, I would seriously suggest that you correct this when you are filing your returns next year. Do not listen to people telling you as to how you can avoid taxes, they are crooks of the first order. You should pay taxes properly because it is the right thing to do, not because you can get caught. In any case, with the IT enabling of records, it will become increasingly difficult not to be tax compliant, so you might as well make a virtue out of a necessity.

Not paying taxes due is a sure shot indicator of being a bad citizen. You can pay your dues and then question the government as to how it is using the taxes. They are accountable to you, just as you are accountable to the tax authorities.