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Currently, PPF rates are 7.9%(January 2020 to March 2020): Rates unchanged since Jul-2019 onwards).
History of PPF interest rates is not very exciting. The changes have been very rare till recently (before the government decided to go in for quarterly revisions of PPF rates).
But in spite of all the noise about other assets, Provident Funds remain the preferred mode of investments for most Indians.
PPF (Public Provident Fund) continues to be looked at as a solid product to create a large corpus over time, with the added benefit of tax savings. As of now, PPF falls under Exempt-Exempt-Exempt (EEE) tax regime. This means that:
- 1st E – Investment in PPF account up to Rs 1.5 lac per year is eligible for deduction.
- 2nd E – Interest earned is tax exempted.
- 3rd E – Maturity amount is also exempt from tax.
Though this EEE treatment of PPF might change in the near future. We will discuss that later in the post.
As of now (since July 2019), the rate of interest on PPF is 7.9% per annum. Read about whether investing in PPF after recent rate cuts make sense or not.
PPF Interest Rate History (Last 33+ years)
This history of PPF interest rate in the last 30 years has been as follows:
- PPF Interest Rate 1986 to Jan-2000 – 12.0%
- PPF Interest Rate Jan-2000 to Feb-2001 – 11.0%
- PPF Interest Rate Mar-2001 to Feb-2002 – 9.5%
- PPF Interest Rate Mar-2002 to Feb-2003 – 9.0%
- PPF Interest Rate Mar-2003 to Nov-2011 – 8.0%
- PPF Interest Rate Dec-2011 to Mar-2012 – 8.6%
- PPF Interest Rate 2012-13 – 8.8%
- PPF Interest Rate 2013-14 – 8.7%
- PPF Interest Rate 2014-15 – 8.7%
- PPF Interest Rate 2015-16 – 8.7%
- PPF Interest Rate 2016-17 (1st April 2016 – 30th September 2016) – 8.1%
- PPF Interest Rate 2016-17 (1st October 2016 – 31st March 2017) – 8.0%
- PPF Interest Rate 2017-18 (1st April 2017 – 30th June 2017) – 7.9%
- PPF Interest Rate 2017-18 (1st July 2017 – 31st Dec 2017) – 7.8%
- PPF Interest Rate 2017-18 (1st Jan 2018 – 30th September 2018) – 7.6%
- PPF Interest Rate 2018-19 (1st Oct 2018 – 30th June 2019) – 8.0%
- PPF Interest Rate 2019-20 (Currently – 1st July 2019 onwards) – 7.9%
Or, graphically speaking:
As evident from the graph above, the change in rates have been rare:
- Rates were fixed at 12% between 1986 and 2000 (sounds like heaven) 🙂
- Then between 2000 and 2003, the rates slid down to 8%
- The rates then remained stable at 8% till 2011
- Rates were then revised to 8.6%, 8.8%, and 8.7%.
- Last few years saw rates come down to 8.1%, 8.0%, 7.9%, 7.8% and then a historic low of 7.6%.
- Rates finally saw an uptick of 8.0%. Again now down to 7.9%.
Now the quarterly revision of rates is allowed.
The PPF interest calculation continues to be done on a monthly basis – on the lowest balance between the 5th day and end of the month. But the interest is credited only at the end of the year. So as far as compounding is concerned, it takes place on an annual basis.
By the way, a little too much importance is given to investing in PPF before the 5th of the month instead of after 5th. If you read in detail how interest on PPF account balance is calculated, you will realize that it hardly matters… so relax.
How will PPF Interest Rates be changed now?
PPF is part of the government’s small saving schemes portfolio. So the question who decides PPF interest rate has an obvious answer. 🙂
Earlier, the rates were considered for revision once every year.
But with effect from 1st April 2016, the rates for schemes like PPF, etc. are to be considered for revision every quarter, based on previous quarter’s yield on benchmark government securities (or bonds of corresponding maturities) with a small markup (around 0.25%).
So if yields go down, the PPF rates should go down a few months after that. (and there will be a hue and cry about why the government is not investor-friendly)
If yields go up, the PPF rates should go up a few months after that (and people will cheer as they will benefit from a turnaround in the rate cycle).
But why is it that the government decided to switch from annual to the quarterly revision of rates? Is the government worried about something? Why is it that it wants to bring the rates as close to that of benchmark government securities?
The answer is and I quote from this article:
…according to a report in 2011 by Shyamala Gopinath committee (which was set up to review National Small Savings Fund, or NSSF), such a fixed rate regime caused a lot of volatility in collections.
When market rates declined, small savings collections went up as their rates remained unchanged. The opposite happened when market rates went up. This leads to a situation where when market rates are low, states are loaded with high-cost NSSF loans, and when market rates are high, NSSF loans as a source of financing fixed deposits dries up completely. It is therefore, very essential to align these rates with market rates.
In December 2011, acting on the recommendations of the report, the government made returns on small savings schemes market-linked. Rates on these products were benchmarked to government securities (G-secs) of similar maturity periods with a positive spread of 25 basis points.
Now interestingly, banks are affected by changes in the interest rates of these small savings products.
Because the banks’ own saving products compete with government’s small savings products.
So having a positive markup on PPF, etc. made these products more suitable for customers looking for higher rates and in turn, put a lot of pressure on the banks. So banks have good reason to push for the reduction in rates offered by government products. This is the reason why banks have been lobbying (for years) to get this done. They cannot reduce rates on deposits as that would mean losing out to competition from schemes like PPF (and other short-duration government products)
The New Risk?
Earlier, rates were revised once every year. But now, the revision will take place every quarter.
So there is obviously an increase in interest rate risk as far as PPF is concerned. So in a falling rate scenario and for someone who has a large PPF balance, it can hurt a lot.
But when you compare the current rate with inflation numbers (around 5% to 6%), it still seems to be satisfactory. Isn’t it? After all, inflation of 6% and PPF with a tax-free rate of 7.8% will offer you a real rate of about 2% if not more. And that should work.
But we are missing one very important point – inflation rates published by government and RBI are not exactly equal to our own inflation. 😉
You spend on products that are facing higher price hikes. So your personal inflation might be 10% and not what RBI tells you.
So it’s possible that even with about 8% given by PPF, you are not getting any real returns.
You might feel that if that is the case, why not go for products that are known to give higher average returns (ofcourse with short-term volatility) like equity mutual funds and invest regularly via SIP.
But simply comparing returns of PPF and ELSS Mutual Funds is not correct. PPF is a part of your debt portfolio and equity MFs that of the equity portion of your portfolio. Both parts have their own significance. I will come to this point in a bit…
Now there is another (future) risk in products like PPF.
Future of PPF?
No. I am not questioning the safety of PPF in the future. It is run by the Government of India and hence it is (default) risk-free and extremely safe to invest in – no doubt.
But what about other kinds of risks? What if in future, the PPF is taxed? It almost happened this year for EPF before it was rolled back. But EEE status turning into EET is possible (eventually).
Another risk can be that withdrawal might have certain riders. Say you can’t withdraw the full amount on maturity. Or something similar. After all, the government is getting this large amount of money every year at a relatively low cost (currently 7.9%). So the government will want to reduce this rate and ‘try’ to keep money from going out. That is common sense and that is a future risk for young people like us.
So when you think that the PPF is risk-free, remember that primarily, it is the default risk that you are talking about. Other risks (known and unknown) still remain.
Now don’t think that I am against PPF as a product. It is an awesome product! It should definitely be part of one’s portfolio. But…
PPF is good. But not enough.
Previous generation’s automatic choice of investment was Provident Fund (PPF/EPF/VPF).
- The contributions were (and is) eligible for deduction.
- The returns were decent (12% till the year 2000 – imagine that 🙂 ).
- And even the maturity amount is tax-free!
What else do you want in this world? 😉
But let us for a moment think about one thing:
PPF account has a maturity period of 15 years. So it is ideally created for goals that are atleast 15 years away.
Now due to the risk-free nature of the product, the returns given by PPF would ideally be less than those given by riskier assets. Isn’t it?
Also, you and I understand that when investing for long-term goals, we can and should invest more in assets that give higher returns in spite of being volatile?
Why? Because average returns are higher when longer periods are considered.
So if we are investing for goals that are due in long-term (i.e. 15 years) like say retirement, etc., shouldn’t we be investing in an asset that gives better returns?
I think we should. If not fully then atleast a major chunk of our investments. Short-term volatility should not be an excuse for avoiding an asset, which gives higher long-term returns.
PPF is a wonderful instrument. It gives me peace of mind as returns don’t fluctuate like stocks or equity MFs.
Use this Excel-based PPF calculator to see how much you can accumulate using PPF alone (or read this detailed article on How to save Rs 1 crore using PPF and become a PPF crorepati).
But if you and I are able to stomach some of these short-term fluctuations, then we should have a higher exposure to equity as it provides higher long-term returns – which is necessary to build a healthy corpus. And also because in the long run, equity has a better potential of beating inflation and creating wealth.
I know when the topic of PPF comes up, it also brings up the topic of tax savings. And with that, comes the PPF vs ELSS debate and questions like whether to invest in PPF or ELSS or both? But that is a detailed discussion in itself. So let’s leave it for some other day.
I personally invest a lot more in equity MFs, direct equities than in PPF. So you can take that as a disclosure. 🙂
PPF (or EPF) should definitely be a part of your portfolio and you are right in regularly keeping track of PPF interest rates. 🙂 But investments should be made as per the goal requirements, the suitability of asset allocation and not just because of tax considerations.