From long-term capital gains tax on equity investments to higher interest income exemption for senior citizens to introduction of dividend distribution tax on dividend received from equity mutual funds, this year saw many changes in income tax rules. Many of these were introduced as part of Budget 2018-19. This year also saw the introduction of standard deduction for salaried employees. Senior citizens were also allowed higher deduction on health insurance premiums.

Here are some of the important changes in income tax rules:

1) Higher interest income exemption for senior citizens

For senior citizens, the government increased interest income exemption limit on bank and post office deposits to 50,000, from 10,000 earlier. In addition, for senior citizens, tax deduction at source (TDS) will not be triggered if interest income is up to 50,000.

2) Dividend distribution tax on dividends from equity mutual funds

Dividends distributed by equity mutual funds, which were earlier tax-free, attracted tax at the rate of 10%. Remember that dividends from equity mutual funds are tax-free in the hands of investors. But dividends from equity mutual funds are paid after deducting a dividend distribution tax (DDT) of 11.648% (including cess), which reduces the in-hand return for investors.

3) Long-term capital gains tax on equities

From 1 April 2018, a new long-term capital gains (LTCG) tax regime on equity instruments - listed shares or equity-oriented mutual funds - came into effect. Earlier such gains on equity were exempt from tax. Now investors have to pay 10% tax on gains exceeding 1 lakh a year. Equity holding beyond a year is considered long term. However, to soften the blow, the government introduced a grandfathering provision, which means that if listed shares or equity funds were acquired before February 1, there would be no levy of long-term capital gains tax.

4) Rs. 40,000 standard deduction

Standard deduction was introduced in this year’s budget in lieu of the earlier exemption in respect of transport allowance and reimbursement of miscellaneous medical expenses. Unlike other deductions and exemptions, to claim standard deduction, one need not provide any documents and proof. A salaried individual or pensioner can claim standard deduction up to 40,000 from his/her income.

5) Higher cess

The government raised the cess on income tax to 4% from 3% for individual taxpayers on the amount of income tax payable.

6) Tax exemption on NPS for the self-employed

Employees contributing to the National Pension System (NPS) were allowed to withdraw up to 40% of the total corpus without any tax at the time of maturity or closure of the account. The same benefit has now been extended to self-employed subscribers.

7) Lock-in period of 54EC bonds increased

Long-term profits from real estate sales are tax-free if invested in specified bonds under Section 54EC. Till last year, you had to stay invested in the 54EC bonds for at least three years to enjoy the tax break, but from this year, your money will be locked in for five years.

8) Higher deduction on health insurance premiums

Senior citizens now can avail deduction of up to 50,000 for health insurance premium under Section 80D. Earlier the limit was 30,000. Also, the deduction available for payment towards medical treatment of specified disease has been hiked to 1 lakh for senior citizens.

9) Govt brings NPS on a par with PF, makes it tax-free

The Union Cabinet recently approved many changes in the NPS to make it more attractive for investors. NPS will be made fully tax-free on withdrawal. Subscribers will get full tax exemption on the 60% of the corpus that an investor is allowed to withdraw on maturity. This will help bring the NPS on a par with other tax-saving instruments like the PPF where withdrawals are fully tax-free. This is likely to be effective from April 1 next year. (Read: NPS rule changes explained in 10 points)

10) More tax benefits on single premium health insurance policies

In cases where premium for health insurance for multiple years has been paid in one year, the deduction shall be allowed on proportionate basis for the number for years for which the benefit of health insurance is provided.

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