Go for equity-linked savings scheme if you want to get tax benefits on investments

To get tax benefits for future years, you can invest in equity-linked savings scheme (ELSS) mutual funds that offer the same section 80C benefits

Last year I had started a unit-linked insurance plan (Ulip). Later, I realised it was not a good scheme as there were too many charges involved. As it is under section 80C of the income-tax Act, if I stop this I will have to pay the tax and there will be surrender charges. What do you suggest? Shall I close it or just be with it? The premium payment term is 5 years and the policy term is 10 years. I have paid only one premium of Rs80,000. I’m not too keen to take insurance right now. I am 27 years old. I have no commitments. My husband is also working, so I can be aggressive on savings.

—Pragya Das

Ulips are financial products that provide a combination of insurance and investments to investors. That is, part of the invested money is used to provide an insurance coverage to the investor (typically the coverage is about 10 times the premium amount), and the rest of the money is invested to provide a return.

For Ulips, the investments are made in financial markets (partly in equity markets and partly in debt markets), as opposed to the so-called ‘traditional’ plans where the investments fetch a low fixed return and are not market-linked.

So with a Ulip, you get market-linked returns on a part of your investments, while another part goes to providing an amount of insurance coverage. As you have seen, there are also several charges levied on the investment, such as: fund management charges, allocation charges and mortality charges. A few years ago, this class of products used to be quite expensive in terms of these charges but there have been regulatory changes since then that have effectively brought these charges down. But the overall cost of investment in these instruments can still be quite high depending on the specific product you have chosen. From the perspective of investment prudence, these are not great products, as they neither provide adequate coverage nor good return on investment.

Given these facts, it would be better to bite the bullet and surrender the policy despite the charges involved. Yes, that would mean that you would have to give back the tax benefit you got last year (you would do that by adding the premium amount you paid last year to your income this year, thereby incurring tax on it).

But it would be better than incurring the costs for paying premiums for 4 more years. To get tax benefits for future years, you can invest in equity-linked savings scheme (ELSS) mutual funds that offer the same section 80C benefits.

How should one decide on a balanced mutual fund? I’m planning to buy one.

—Rajesh Lohia

Balanced funds are a category of mutual funds that are characterised by the way they invest in both the equity as well as the debt market.

They invest at least 65% of their portfolio in the equity market and the remaining in debt instruments. They would be well-suited for those investors who would like to use a fund manager’s acumen to decide when and how much to invest in equity market across different market cycles. They are also suitable for new investors who would like a moderate risk exposure in their equity fund investments.

When it comes to evaluating them, as is the case with all other equity funds, the fund’s performance across various market cycles has to be checked. Whether the fund is a consistent performer or swings in the performance chart should also be noted. As the job of a balanced fund is to ensure that it contains the downsides better than a regular equity fund, its performance over down markets has to be specifically noted.

A good fund would contain the declines better than regular equity funds and should additionally curtail falls better than its category average and the benchmark. You might also want to check whether the fund is making the most of equity opportunities and upping equity within its mandate and similarly curtailing falls by moving to debt in down markets or when equity valuations seem steep.

As for the equity portfolio, many balanced funds have some bias for mid-cap stocks.

If you are risk averse, go with those that have lower exposure to mid-cap stocks. As for the debt portfolio in these funds, some funds use long-term gilts and other short-term papers. As long as the fund consistently holds debt as stated in its mandate, you need not worry about this in a balanced fund.

Are gold exchange traded funds (ETFs) still a good investment? Gold has been losing its value for some time. I wanted to check if these ETFs are still a good option.

—James Williams

Gold ETFs are a good way to invest in the metal, but whether or not gold itself is a good investment is the question. Gold has been doing well over the past year, but its performance in the recent years (beyond one year) has been abysmal. Over the last 5 years, gold has given a compounded annual growth return of 1.32%, which is less than savings bank interest. So, it is hard to make the case for starting an investment in gold at this point in time. But if you have an asset allocated portfolio that has a long-term orientation, you can invest about 5-10% in gold with the anticipation that it will hold up the portfolio value in times when the stock markets are taking a hit.

Another option to invest in gold that you should consider is investing in the gold bonds issued by the government. In this case, you not only gain from any price appreciation in gold, you also get an interest of 2.75% per annum and there is no capital gains tax if the bonds are held till maturity.

Srikanth Meenakshi is co-founder and COO,

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