There are various options including gilt funds, income and dynamic funds.
In the last one-and-a half years, whenever financial planners were asked about investing in debt funds, the advice was — stay short. That is, invest in short-term debt funds. Things have changed significantly since the last fortnight, when the Reserve Bank of India indicated a halt in rate increases. Rates could now fall in the months to come.
As a result, market experts are happy advising long-term debt funds. Rajiv Anand, CEO, Axis Mutual Fund corroborates the view: "We believe policy rates have peaked. It makes sense for investors to increase allocation towards longer duration funds."
Investors can consider investments for horizons ranging from one to three years. And, for this, they can consider various types of funds — income funds, gilt funds or even dynamic bond funds — depending on their risk appetite.
"If you have a horizon of 12-18 months, you should look at long-term income funds or gilt funds," suggests Amar Ranu, senior manager, research and advisory, Motilal Oswal Securities. Chiefly because, with these funds, one can get the advantage of high coupon rates and capital appreciation once the rates start falling.
Gilt funds are usually preferred by risk-averse investors, as these invest only in government securities. These are typically free of credit risk. Gilt funds offer tenures ranging from 9-18 months. However, the low risk will garner low returns as well. This category has given a pre-tax return of six per cent over the past year ended December 30, 2011, according to Value Research, an online portal comparing mutual funds.
Comparatively, income funds have returned 8.3 per cent annually. Dynamic bond funds have given higher returns, with average annual returns at nine per cent. The category's top performers, SBI Dynamic Bond and IDFC Dynamic Bond have even given returns of 11 per cent.
According to Mahendra Jajoo, executive director and chief investment officer (fixed income), Pramerica Mutual Fund, dynamic bond funds are a good bet, as they are actively managed by the fund manager. He can take a view on the market and alter his holdings regularly, choosing from corporate and government papers.
However, such high involvement of the fund manager can even prove a double-edged sword. Reason: the fund's performance is largely dependent on the fund managers' ability to take the right calls. A slightly longer holding period of one - three years is recommended for this category.
Many may argue that with fixed deposits (FDs) giving assured annual returns of 9.25 per cent for a period of one-10 years, these score over debt MFs. However, these returns, when compared on a post-tax basis, won't seem as attractive, especially for tenures exceeding a year. The recent NHAI bonds offering 8.3 per cent for 15 years has also caught the fancy of investors.
FD returns are taxed entirely at slab rates. In case of debt funds, long-term capital gains (for holding over one year at the time of sale), will be taxed at 10 per cent without indexation or 20 per cent with indexation.
If you sell your investment within a year, the capital gains are added to income and taxed according to the slab applicable. However, you can choose the dividend distribution tax to circumvent this. Here, you will be given the dividend, net of a dividend distribution tax of 14 per cent (borne by the fund house).
Remember, though, that the shadow of uncertainty looms large. Financial planners opine the rate cut has only been hinted at and not begun. Investors must, therefore, move from short- to medium-term debt funds to long-term ones, gradually and in tranches.