(As Published in Times of India and Economic Times on December 27, 2010)
Financial planners contend that couples should ideally combine their finances. The meshing together of the investments of the husband and wife not only strengthens the household’s financial fibre but gives them a comprehensive view of the real situation.
However, the taxman has set limits to this joining of the finances of the two spouses. He has no problems if one spouse gives money to the other. After all, it’s their money and spouses are in the list of specified relatives whom you can gift any sum without attracting a gift tax.
But if that money is invested and earns an income, the clubbing provisions of the Income Tax Act come into play. Section 64 of the Income tax Act says that income derived from money gifted to a spouse will be treated as the income of the giver. It will be clubbed with his (or her) income for the year and taxed accordingly.
For instance, if you buy a house in your wife’s name but she has not monetarily contributed in the purchase, then the rental income from that house would be treated as your income and taxed at the applicable rate. Similarly, if you give money to your wife as a gift and she puts it in a fixed deposit, the interest would be taxed as your income. Don’t think you can get away by clever ploys involving other relatives.
For instance, one may think of gifting money to his mother-in-law, a transaction that has no gift tax implications. Then a few days later, the lady gifts the money to her daughter, which again does not have any tax implications. The money can then be invested without attracting clubbing provisions, right? Wrong.
Given that most big-ticket transactions are now reported to the tax department by third parties (banks, brokerages, mutual funds, insurance companies), it may not be difficult to put two and two together. If the taxman discovers this circuitous transaction, you may be hauled up for tax evasion. Are there ways to avoid the clubbing provisions without crossing the line between tax avoidance and tax evasion? Yes.
If you want to buy a house in your wife’s name but don’t want the rent to be taxed as your income, you can loan her the money. In exchange, she can give you her jewellery. For example, if you transfer a house worth Rs 10 lakh to your wife and she transfers her jewellery for the same amount in your favour, then the rental income from that house would not be taxable to you.
One can also avoid clubbing of income by opting for tax exempt investments. There is no tax on income from the Public Provident Fund (although the 8% interest rate offered and the 15-year lock-in does not compare with fixed deposits). There is also no tax on gains from shares and equity mutual funds if held for more than a year. So, if one invests in these options in the name of the spouse, there is no additional tax liability.
For the same reason, it’s better to gift gold jewellery instead of cash to your wife because gold does not generate any income. Besides, in the past few years the appreciation on gold has been higher than the returns offered by fixed deposits. The clubbing rule also applies in case of investments made in the name of minor children (below 18 years). The income earned from such investments is clubbed with that of the parent who earns more.
Earlier, you could avoid this tax by investing in a long-term deposit which would mature when your child turned 18. But this rule changed a few years ago. Now, the interest earned on fixed deposits and bonds is taxed every year even though the investor gets it on maturity. So, opening fixed deposits in the name of minors makes little sense any more.
Instead, open a PPF account in the name of the child because, as mentioned earlier, PPF income is not taxable at any stage. The contribution to your own PPF account and that of the child cannot exceed the overall limit of Rs 70,000 a year. However, the tax man does allow a few concessions to couples. If a wife saves a little out of the money given to her for household expenses, that money is treated as her own.
If it is invested, the income will be treated as her income and not clubbed with that of the husband. But this clause is subject to a reasonable limit. Incidentally, a wife can help her husband save tax even before they get married. If a couple is engaged, and the girl does not have any taxable income or pays tax at a lower rate, her fiance can transfer money to her. The income from those assets won’t be included in his income because the transaction took place before they got married. One can give up to Rs 1.9 lakh (the tax exempt limit for women) without putting any tax liability on the girl.
4 Tax-efficient Strategies For Couples :
- If you want to buy a house in your wife’s name but don’t want the rent to be taxed as your income, loan her the money instead. In exchange, she can give you her jewellery.
- There is no tax on income from the PPF or on long-term capital gains from shares and equity mutual funds. Investing in these options will put no additional tax liability.
- It’s better to gift gold jewellery instead of cash to your wife because gold does not generate any income. Besides, it has given higher than fixed deposits.
- If a wife saves a little out of the money given to her for household expenses, that money is her own. If it is invested, the gains will not be clubbed with the income of the husband.