Tag Archives: NRE Interest Rates

Capital Gains tax for NRIs- It’s not that simple

As an NRI, you would have wondered many times, what parts of your Indian Income are taxable and what are not and trust me you are not alone.

Under the Indian Income tax act, the tax rates, deductions from income, exemptions from taxation all change depending on the nature of income and residential status of the individual. With the ever changing tax provisions, even if you searched online the chances of finding the information you are looking for would not be easy and filtering out the tax provisions that are applicable to an NRI is even more difficult.

Not being able to find consolidated tax provisions on common investments used by NRI’s I decided to compile the information myself and hope that fellow NRI’s will find it useful.

NRI’s mostly invest in Fixed Deposits, Bonds, Mutual Funds, Stock and Property which would generally give rise to income under Capital Gains or Other Income (Bank Interest or Dividends) under the Indian Tax laws.

I have tabulated the provisions that an NRI should be aware of for FY 2017-2018 (click on table to open in new window)

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One of the most interesting things to note is that the basic tax free exemption is not available to an NRI on Equity Investments.  What that means is that if an NRI gained 2,50,000 Rupee by investing in stock market the whole 2,50,000 Rupee is taxable. If these gains are long term (asset held for more than 1 year) then there is no tax liability but for short term gains the tax rate is @ 15%. So an NRI would pay Rs.37,500 in taxes, the income would not attract any tax in hands of a resident Indian.

Another interesting fact to note is that the gains on redemption of Sovereign Gold Bonds are not chargeable to tax if held till maturity.

With difference in tax rules being different in different countries an investor should consider the tax domicile of the investment to maximise returns. In Singapore and Hong Kong the Capital gains, Bank Interest and Dividends are not taxable, however in USA and UK these income are taxable.

For example if an NRI bought a mutual fund in India that returned 20% over a period of 6 months then his gains would be taxed at a flat rate of 15% resulting in a post tax return of 17%. Buying this same fund in Singapore would have been as the gains are tax free and the investor pays no tax.

Similarly for bonds the interest is taxable in India and taxed at the marginal rate based on your income bracket but tax free in Singapore and Hong Kong.

E.g . An NRI whose total income is over Rs. 10 lac (30% tax bracket) buys a bond that pays 9% interest p.a. The post tax yield of this investment would be 6.3% . Add to it the cost of transferring funds to India of around 0.8%, the yield drops to 5.5%. If the plan is to remit the money back to Singapore on maturity, which will cost another 1%, the investment would yield 4.5% only.

These are just 2 examples to get you thinking. There innumerable scenarios that I can come up with based on different countries of residence and each individuals tax profile. All I would like to highlight is that an investor should not underestimate the impact of taxation and ancillary costs while making investment decisions and look at all aspects before making an investment decision.

Watch out for an investment comparison tool that I am working and will post it here very soon. Till then keep reading and sharing.

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Tax Free Bonds: Better than NRE FD’s

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Yes, you read it right! Tax free bonds are better than NRE Fixed deposits.

After all these years of recommending NRE FD’s as the safest bet for investing in India, I am changing my recommendation to Tax free bonds (in no particular order) by IREDA, NHAI, NABARD, REC and HUDCO.

Lets compare the bonds to the NRE deposit

1. NRE Fixed usually give the highest rate for a lock in of 2 or 3 years and are averaging between 7.8% to 8.2%, which means that the reinvestment on maturity would be at the prevailing interests rates.
2. NRE deposits have a penalty in case of pre mature withdrawal
3. Interest on NRE deposits is tax free

A Tax free bond on the other hand is giving a 7.64% for a period of 15 years (NABARD which opens tomorrow – 9th Mar 2016) in retail category (less than 10 lacs) or half a percent lesser for amounts exceeding 10 lacs.

You must be wondering why am I recommending the bonds when they give lesser interest and are tax free like the NRE FD? The Central Bank interest rates across the world are going down and India has already had a few rate cuts which makes these Bonds attractive. As the interest rates will be reduced the value of these bonds will increase (capital appreciation) . These bonds are more liquid than a FD as they are traded on the stock exchanges which means that one can sell the bond without incurring pre mature withdrawal penalty in case of FD. Further for a slightly lesser interest rate these bonds let you lock in a higher interest rate for next 15 years.

If this has not convinced you then let me tell you the most important reason why I am recommending these bonds – interest on NRE FD’s becomes taxable if a NRI returns to India. Depending on the individual residency criteria in section  6 of the Income Tax of India on return a NRI becomes a Tax Resident in 6 months to 2 years, upon which the NRE accounts are converted to a Resident Rupee Account, which means that any interest that accrues on your NRE account after you become tax resident becomes taxable.

These bonds on the other hand assure tax free income for next 15 years from the date of allotment.

Now the fine print – not all bonds are open to NRI’s for investment, however if you have a resident bank / brokerage account you could use that to apply for these bonds and / or purchase them from open market and benefit from capital gains and long term tax free interest income.

RBI Cuts Benchmark Rates – Now What?

The much talked about interest rate cut finally happened today. RBI Governor keeping true to his character surprised the markets with an earlier than expected cut taking India on a path different from Russia and Brazil where central banks have increased the benchmark rates in the past few weeks.

I must say it’s a brilliant move by the Governor to put the ball back into Finance Ministers court and push for structural fiscal reforms in the upcoming budget. The general sentiment has been that the higher rates are keeping India from growing which overshadows the fundamental issues of red tape, poor infrastructure and wastage in public expenditure.

The sustained fall in oil prices (thank Russia for occupying Crimea) has given India the much-needed window to push through reforms without being worried about stroking uncontrolled inflation.

The question is that will this rate cut and structural reforms be enough to achieve the targeted growth? No, absolutely not. The other key factor, which should not be ignored, is the exchange rate of the rupee against other currencies. To recap the last year – Rupee has oscillated between 58 and 63.5 against the US dollar (I use USD as a benchmark because the other rates are nothing but a cross rate). The fall in rupee has been less pronounced as compared to its Asian peers like the Malaysian Ringgit, Indonesian Rupiah, Singapore Dollar, Korean Won etc. On the global front, the Yen, Euro and Pound have also dropped sharply against the USD resulting in net gains by the Rupee against these currencies as well.

While the gains in Rupee boost the feel good factor about the India story – is a sustained gain in Rupee the right thing for the Indian economy? My take is that RBI would not let Rupee gain beyond the 62 mark to keep the exports competitive. There was evidence of this when RBI was seen buying dollars in the last week when Rupee gained sharply. With a generally weaker Rupiah, Ringgit, Peso and Riel the Indian exports would face tough competition in areas like garments, IT services, food grains and other manufacturing. Also with Euro and Pound weakening the demand from European countries would decline if the goods are not priced competitively.

With crude oil staying below 50, I think RBI would target the Rupee around 65 against the USD (at-least that’s would I would do, if I were the RBI governor). That would be a roughly 5% decline from the current levels and will bring it at par with other countries with export competitiveness. A sharp gain in the currency would negate any benefit that the lower oil prices would have and I don’t think the RBI or the finance minister would want that.

We should not forget that infrastructure reforms do not happen overnight and take years to fully have the desired impact.

What would that do to SGD INR – 45 mark would remain as the strong support for the pair with upside of Rs.50, but of-course remitting money to India and investing in NRE deposits would always remain a good option.

SGD INR: How does 2013 look like?

4 more days for 2012 to end and its a perfect time to analyse what would 2013 be like for the currency pair.

SGD-INR started the year 2012 at 41.28 and trades at 44.80 at the time of writing, a gain of 8.5%. The pair touched a low of 38.88 and highs of 45.11 during the year a volatility of appx 12%.

Let me take stock of how the past analysis has fared before delving into how the pair could move in 2013.
Continue reading SGD INR: How does 2013 look like?

SGD INR – What’s in store for 2012

2011, what a year it has been for the global markets and SGD INR has been a party to it. The pair started the year at 35.10 and finished at 40.74 a rise of 16%. However the pair has resumed the downtrend and is trading at 39.30 as I write – a drop of 4% from the year-end close.

Let me highlight how the past analysis has fared before delving into how the pair could move in 2012.

In the first post of the series on 23 April 2011 SGD INR – Has anything really changed the recommendation was to convert to INR and invest in deposits. The exchange rate was 35.50 on the date of writing and my recommendation was it could touch 36.5. this target was achieved on 30 May 2011.

The pair continued to move along the interest rate parity line and Tax Adjusted rate line for next 6 months before Rupee began its downslide in Sep 2011 due to weakening economy, uncontrolled inflation and financial turmoil in the global markets.

As Rupee slid from 48 to 54 against the US Dollar (USD) in the next three months its slide against the Singapore dollar was 37 to 41 – drop of 10% against either currencies.

When SGD breached 39 the prediction was for it to ride the momentum and cross 40 SGD Breaches 39 mark, Eyeing 40.

The prediction came true and Rupee went all the way to 41. In the post on 27th Nov 2011 the prediction was made for a pull back with pair ranging between 38.75 – 39.06 40 breached, What’s Next  which is on track as the pair is moving towards the 39 mark.

In the mean time a very interesting development happened as Reserve Bank of India (RBI) deregulated the NRE deposit rates to boost foreign currency supply in the market Now NRE Deposit yield 9.25%, and yes its Tax Free.

Having looked at all these factors here is my take for 2012 (stay tuned for updates every quarter, its very difficult to take a long term view in such volatile markets)

  • INR should strengthen against all currencies and SGD would be no exception.
  • On an Interest rate parity analysis SGD converted to INR and invested in an NRE account would grow to 43.25 in a years time at todays conversion rate of 39.5. The Rule I follow is to convert whenever the actual rate is above the implied rate line
  • With NRE deposits becoming tax free repatriating money in and out of India is easier
  • With Rupee strengthening the gains should be compounded for any investments made in INR

So unless you feel that SGD is headed towards a Rs45 mark in the next year investing in INR is sure to yield good return.

 

Now NRE Deposit yield 9.25%, and yes its Tax Free!!

NRE or NRO – that was a constant questions NRI’s always had when investing in deposits in India.

NRO accounts got paid almost same interest rates as the term deposit rates for resident Indians whereas NRE rates were much lesser – almost a half of NRO interest rates (Banks could not offer more than 275 basis points above the global benchmark London Inter-Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) on NRE term deposits). So if NRO account was fetching 9% then NRE account would get 4%. The catch of course was 2 critical components:

  • Interest on NRE deposits is tax-free whereas NRO attracts 30% tax
  • Both Principal and Interest in NRE account can be repatriated without any restriction but for an NRO account only interest could be repatriated

With the RBI move to deregulate the interest rates on NRE and NRO accounts on 17th Dec 2011 the stage was set for reform. After 10 days Banks came out and increased the rates on NRE deposits.

The comparison between a NRE and NRO deposit now is extremely compelling in the favor of NRE account.

So here is my recommended strategy

  1. Use a bank that has a favorable online remittance service to India. The 3 which I prefer are money2india.com by ICICI bank, Axis Remit by Axis Bank, QuickRemit by HDFC (you could use Kotak bank as well but I have not used their service). All the above banks usually take a 0.5%~1.0% cut from the inter bank exchange rate.
  2. Check the cost of conversion when converting back to Forex (Citibank and other foreign banks have usually charge up to 2% so avoid them)
  3. Open the NRE Bank account, if you don’t have one, preferably with the bank whose service you want to use to transfer money – get in touch with a relationship manager and negotiate a good exchange rate incase the bank has overseas branch

The only 2 downsides that I can foresee are:

  • Rupee continues the downward slide and the interest rate gains are wiped out by currency depreciation (the probability is low)
  • Finance Ministry introduces tax on the NRE account and bring it on par with the NRO account in the upcoming budget – if this happens then the yields would go down but the benefit of being able to repatriate money out of India would still remain