Liquidity management is one of the most neglected part of an individual’s financial management. Most people tend to think that liquidity management stops at maintaining some cash balance in one’s savings account. Some maintain fair amount of cash in hand.
Unfortunately, both of these may not be the best way to maintain liquidity in your portfolio. Your portfolio needs liquidity to take care of your current expenses. Also, a margin of safety needs to be maintained. For that, have a liquidity margin typically covering three to six months’ expenses. Three months’ expense cover should be good enough for most. But, six months’ cover is suggested when your earnings outlook is uncertain and when income can fluctuate, due to the nature of your job (say a professional or freelancer or someone in a sales function where the commissions fluctuate). For some, even the expenses can vary on a monthly basis. A higher liquidity margin will provide the additional cushion, in such cases and also when there is a loan to be or being repaid.
Liquidity can be maintained in one’s bank account to the extent of what one may reasonably require for expenses, plus emergency (if any). Since savings bank accounts offer 4-5 per cent per annum (before tax), it is not the most desirable avenue to park your money in, beyond the absolutely necessary level, may be one month’s expense.
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- While investing for future, do not forget to save for contingency and having enough cash in hand
- Maintain liquidity margin with 3-6 months' expenses; preferably not in savings account
- Sweep-in and flexi deposits pay better rates
- Those in higher tax brackets would prefer debt mutual funds for tax efficiency
- For longer tenure, park money in FMPs, which give good returns and tax benefits
As the liquidity margin may not be touched for most years, we need to invest in a place which can offer better returns than a savings account. One of the places where such funds for liquidity can be maintained are banks’ sweep-in deposits. These offer far higher returns than savings bank accounts. These deposits get created when there is more than a certain amount of money in one’s savings account. For all practical purposes, the amount in flexi deposit is like money in savings account, as they are available for withdrawal anytime, as and when required (preferably in the short term).
The other desirable place to park the liquidity amount is ultra short-term fund. These funds offer good returns of over 9 per cent in a year. What’s more, the tax treatment here can be far more benign if invested in the dividend option (which would be the correct choice), the dividend distribution tax is at 13.5 per cent (paid by the fund house). For a person in the highest tax slab, this will translate into major saving. Ultra short term funds do not have exit loads. Hence, when required they can be cashed out.
You could also plan for events which are going to come up like upcoming premium payment, holiday funding, annual school fee payment and so on. To meet them without problems, we would have to create provisions for these events which more or less are certain. The other situation for which we need to plan is contingency. Contingency typically is an emergency, say medical or a financial emergency, which needs to be met.
In both these cases, we have a variety of instruments to contend with. Since the tenure is known in case of provisions, we can invest in an appropriate instrument. For instance, if an expense of Rs 50,000 is coming up in four 4 months hence, one can invest in a monthly interval plan and roll it over till it is required. If an expense is coming up in about 3 months, a quarterly interval plan (QIP) would be more appropriate. At current rates, even an ultra short-term fund would be a good bet. For somewhat longer tenures - say one year - a fixed maturity plan (FMP) of a similar tenure would do the job. If the timing is rather uncertain, one can invest in a QIP and roll it over, till it is required.
For contingencies, the timing is uncertain. Hence, investing for a longer tenure is advised. Many instruments present themselves for this. However, care needs to be taken that these are not invested in instruments with a lock-in mandate and hence cannot be easily liquidated (for instance FMP), when required. Also, only a small portion of your money should be invested in instruments whose value can fluctuate like equity, because if they cannot be liquidated when necessary as one may incur a loss, it beats the very purpose of a contingency fund. However, a contingency fund may remain unused for years on end. Due to this, investing a small portion into instruments which can potentially give good returns in the long-term is a good idea. One should restrict the investments to 20 per cent of the portfolio.
Bulk of the investments can be made in instruments which give stable returns and can be liquidated. The instruments which lend themselves well for such investments are debt mutual funds and bank fixed deposits. Debt mutual funds that are chosen for this purpose can be short to medium term ones. Dynamic bond funds, short term funds and medium term funds (maturing between 1.5 to 4 years) can be looked at.
Bank fixed deposits are more suitable for contingency funds as liquidating them and getting the money is far simpler than in case of company fixed deposits, where you may not get the money immediately on redemption. Add to that, bank deposits are safer than company deposits, though the later pays more than the former.
Though investing for goals and objectives should be an important part of your financial planning, liquidity margin, provisioning and contingency funding are equally important aspects. By investing in appropriate instruments, you will be able to build a cushion as well as earn reasonable returns from such investments.
The writer is a certified financial planner