A stitch in time saves nine

Last week, I had the fortune of visiting the nuclear power station at Rawatbhatta (Rajasthan). Amongst many things, I really admired the disaster prevention philosophy they had adopted.

In the words of our local escort and guide:

“In today’s world we devote a disproportionately high time in disaster prevention and recovery. However most disasters are usually preceded by major incidents. Major incidents are preceded by incidents -> minor incidents -> Near Misses -> Significant Events -> Events.

However we are so engrossed in firefighting the major incidents that we forget to root cause them. Usually a disaster is a result of series of minor issues that were detected early on, but the people were too busy to address and rectify them.”

Then he went about explaining me the various safety measures deployed and also how every event (no matter how insignificant) is recorded and analyzed. Also how that helps NPCL design better and safer plants etc.

Corporate promotion apart, what I really felt was that this philosophy could be really employed in our everyday life. Rather than trying to locate the last straw that broke the camel’s back, we should really try to do something to the rest of the burden the camel was carrying.



Insurance cover and inflation

Recently I had an interesting discussion with a colleague of mine.

His stance was: As time passes you need higher insurance cover.

While my stance was: As time passes you need lesser insurance cover.

Even after a lot of brainstorming and even exchanging excel files, we both think we are right. Hence I decided to publish the gist of the debate.

My logic: Your ideal insurance cover is the net present value of the all the expenses your family (sans you) would incur in the foreseen future. (Say next 70 years) One should deduct the wealth one already owns/would inherit and the future income from your spouse’s occupation/business. By this logic, every extra year you live and provide for the family this value would decrease (because now only the next 69 years have to be accounted for). Also you would save some capital and build some assets for the rainy day which would again reduce the value of the cover required.

So effectively one would require a very high insurance cover at the beginning of family life which would taper down gradually to zero by the retirement year.

His stance: Lifestyle is downward sticky. As your income and wealth grows, so does one’s standard of living. A refrigerator might be a luxury for the middle class 20 years ago, but now a bare necessity. So the luxuries and habits of individuals tend to move up as time elapses and it is very hard for someone to go back to the age old Spartan days.

This compounded by inflation results in rupee losing nine tenth of its value every 20 years results in one needing to increase the insurance cover each year. Simply said there is never enough of money and people would even find ways to spend kuber ka khajana (with a sly reference to the recent treasure found in a Kerela temple)

Tax Saver Loans: rent receivables

If you own a residential/commercial property that has no debt on it and earns a steady rental income then read ahead.

Current Indian income tax rules promote tax savvy individuals to take on bank loans. However most individuals are in so much hurry to pre-pay their mortgages that they miss out on this opportunity.

Firstly government allows individuals to get tax rebate on 1.5 half lakh rupees of interest expense on home loan. So that is a cool saving of 50,000/- per annum in tax.

Secondly as per the current income tax laws, an individual has to pay income tax on the rental income. 15% of the income can be offset as maintenance. However if one takes a small loan against that property, then its interest expense can be deducted from the rental income and save tax.

One can get home loan for 8.25% p.a. and save tax using the above mentioned procedure, then effective interest rate would be 5.45% p.a. (tax rate of 33%). One can use this loan to clear the higher interest rate debt or reinvesting the money received in tax (and risk) free securities that earn a higher return one can save tax.

E.g.: post office PPF generates 8% per annum tax free returns.

PS: I am not an authorized tax consultant. So please check with your financial/tax planner before taking out such a loan.

Personal Financial Planning

A friend asked me yesterday how one should plan his/her finances. At what stage in life where should the money go and how best to plan my taxes.

After spending a couple of hours listening to his idea, this is what we came up with:
1. Don’t confuse investments with tax planning. First decide in which financial instrument you want to park your money. This is because whether you want insurance, property, FD/bonds or mutual funds, there is always some tax saving instrument to help you.

2. At any given point of time have liquid assets to cover for 6 months of expenses. This could be parked in savings bank, or FDs or other financial instruments that can be prematurely encashed instantly without attracting much penalty. This cash often comes handy when you are between jobs, during emergencies esp. medical and when family/friends need you. I strongly advise that an individual should not dip into it and also refrain from any long term investments until this reserve has been created.

3. Work towards reducing your loans. If you have a education loan which costs you more than the Bank Fixed deposit (even after accounting for the tax break it provides) then it is advisable to retire it before doing any financial planning.

4. I would recommend you to keep your personal finances separate from that of the parents. However, what good of is all the money if it is not there for those who need it, when they need it. If your parents/family needs money or has taken a high cost debt, work towards retiring that.

5. After taking care of all these, I would recommend you to read this amazing book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”. This simple book gives a remarkably different insight about how one should classify various assets and investment options.

Now some serious stuff……. 🙂
6. FDs are a good place to park the money. You can be sure that your money is safe and will be there when you need it. However the returns this generates is hardly sufficient and inflation eats into it. Hence One should invest in the Stock Market linked instruments (Shares, Mutual Funds, ULIPs etc.) Early on when your savings are small and risk appetite sufficient, then one should park upto 50% of the money these instruments.
However it is also advisable to reduce it as you age. The best way I found is to put an artificial cap of 3 years of Salary on your Market portfolio. 3 years of salary is large enough that it will be a substantial part of your investment. Yet at 15% p.a. expected returns, it won’t be able to generate half of what you earn from 8-10 hours of labor. Hence the market performance will not be a major distraction from work.

7. Now comes property/home: Some people who want to take less risk want to buy a property immediately after graduating. However I would recommend you to push off this decision by a couple of years. The reason for this is that even if land prices don’t fall, it often involves taking a EMI on floating rate. With EMI payments exceeding 50% of the salary, the financial flexibility one has to cope up with unexpected events is severely limited. Once you have sufficient savings and/or a working spouse, then investing in property is advised.

8. Insurance: It is one of the most mis-sold financial instrument. An insurance is neither an investment avenue, nor a tax saving instrument. It is taken to enable a person to take care of the unexpected. The best times in life to buy a life insurance are:
a. When you take a long term loan (for property/education etc.)
b. Marriage (esp. to a non working home-maker)
c. Planning for Kids
Also whenever possible, please buy Term Insurance (huge insurance cover for a small premium) and medical insurance.

So to summarize we have covered liquid assets, market linked portfolio, property and insurance. Last is tax.

9. Most tax savings happen under 80c. If you buy an insurance, its contributes under this segment.
If you plan to go for bonds: then NSC, Infrastructure bonds, PPF are few of the avenues
If you want to invest in market then ELSS (Equity Linked Savings Scheme)
If you want to invest in property then Home Loans give you tax shields.
Hence you should first look into what lock in period you are looking for and what risk/return profile you fall into and then select the tax saving instrument accordingly.

I hope this really long and boring post helps. How different is your investment philosophy?