10 Things to watch out in Union Budget

The stage is set for finance minister Arun Jaitley to present his first full-budget on Saturday amid heightened expectations that he would raise people’s spending power by offering tax breaks and would announce measures to make India an investment-friendly nation.

Here are 10 things you should watch out for in the finance minister’s speech:

1) The annual tax exemption limit – the threshold income level below which you are not required to pay taxes – stands at Rs 2.5 lakh per annum. The FM is expected raise this to Rs 3 lakh per annum. This will give more money to people to spend and save.

2) The FM could also rejig the income-tax slabs. Currently, income below Rs 2.5 lakh a year is not taxed; annual income of Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh is taxed at 10%; income between Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh? is taxed at 20%, while income above Rs 10 lakh attracts a tax of 30%. A change in the slabs, along with a hike in the exemption limit, will raise the salaried class’ disposable income, enabling more spending and pushing for goods such as cars.

3) Currently, you can claim a tax deduction of Rs 1.5 lakh a year for investments made in a select group of financial savings instruments such as life insurance premium, public provident fund (PPF) and tax savings mutual funds under the popular “Section 80 (C)” scheme of the I-T Act. The FM could raise this limit to Rs 2 lakh a year. This will boost financial savings and also reduce your tax burden.

4) The FM could offer something for home loan borrowers to cheer. Currently, if you have an existing home loan, you can claim tax deduction on the interest paid of up to Rs 2 lakh a year. There is anticipation that Jaitley could raise this to Rs 2.5 lakh, reducing your tax outgo.

5) Salaried individuals can claim tax-free reimbursement of medical expenses every year from their employers, but only up to Rs 15,000 a year. Despite rising medicine, diagnostic and hospitalisation costs, this limit has remained stuck at Rs 15,000 for more than a decade. All eyes will be on Jaitley on whether he raises tax-free medical expense claims ceiling from Rs 15,000 to about Rs 30,000 a year.

6) Bank fixed? deposits (FDs) are popular savings instruments because of convenience and also because these are quasi-liquid assets. However, to claim tax incentives, one has to lock-in money in FDs for at least five years. This puts them at a disadvantage vis-a-vis mutual funds which enjoy a three-year lock-in for tax incentives under Section 80 (C). The FM is widely expected to bring FDs on par with mutual funds and reduce the lock-in time to three years.

7) In 2013, then finance minister P Chidambaram had introduced a so-called “super-rich” tax – a 10% surcharge for those with taxable incomes of above Rs 1 crore a year. Will Jaitley abolish this, raise this or introduce a new super-rich tax slab?

8) Investors are keenly watching for the FM’s cues on the controversial “retrospective tax” that allowed placing a tax demand on even older corporate deals such as Vodafone’s acquisition of Hutch’s mobile assets in India. This had hurt India’s image as an investment destination. Investors want a roll back of the law. Will the FM oblige?

9) In September last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a signature “Make in India” initiative to ease rules of doing business and turn the country into a manufacturing hub. The FM is widely expected to offer tax and other incentives to several sectors to give “Make in India” a big push.

10) A spirited Opposition has closed ranks to pin the government down on “anti-farmer” policies such as the proposed rules that would make land buying easier to build factories and rules. All eyes will be on the FM to counter the rising perception that the NDA government is anti-farmer. Jaitley’s budget will also be keenly followed on the government’s vision about welfare handouts and social sector development to make growth more inclusive.


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