Growth vs Dividend Mutual Fund: Why Say NO to Dividend Plan?

Updated as per GOI budget 2020-21

It was pointed out to me that my entire mutual fund portfolio is comprised of growth options. This led to a lengthy and interesting discussion about the mutual fund dividend option. This discussion made me aware of the misconception people have about the dividend option.

When I started investing in mutual funds, I read a lot about growth and dividend options. Since then growth option just became a default for me. So, why is it better to stay away from the mutual fund dividend option? The dividends paid are not an extra benefit. In reality, dividend results in less appreciation of Net Asset Value (NAV). The dividend option was also marketed as being a tax-free income. But you might end up paying more taxes. The dividend option being a source of regular income is also a myth. The fund house is not bound to distribute dividends. In cases when fund’s earnings are negative or below a certain level, there might be zero dividends distributed.

What is Mutual Fund Dividend Option?

When you invest a certain amount in a mutual fund, you have two options. Growth option and dividend option, the dividend option with reinvestment being just a repackaged dividend option.
In the dividend option, a certain portion of the profit made by the fund is distributed among the investors as a dividend. This dividend can be on a monthly, quarterly, half-yearly, or yearly basis. The profit comes from the dividend or interest of securities held by the fund, or the capital gain made by selling some of the securities held.

There are many myths which are propagated about mutual fund dividend. The myths are:

  • The dividend received is an extra benefit over and above the growth of our investment. Just like the dividend offered by stocks.
  • The dividend received is tax-free.
  • The mutual fund dividend option works as a source of regular income.

Clearly understanding the truth behind these myths will enable you to make an educated decision.

Is the Dividend Received an Extra Benefit like Dividend of Stocks?

I have seen a statement being made by a lot of people. They boldly say, “just like stocks give you a dividend, you will also get a dividend from the mutual fund”. This statement cannot be any more wrong. The reason why they make this statement is either they don’t understand it or they are simply lying.
In the case of a dividend-paying stock, the company distributes a part of its profit as dividends. No negative effect on the value of stock occurs due to dividends. Declaration of dividend even increases the market valuation of some stocks.
On the other hand, a mutual fund may or may not invest in dividend-paying stocks. If the mutual fund earns a dividend, in case of growth option reinvestment of this dividend increases the value of your investment. But if the distribution of dividend occurs, the value of your investment does not increase. All the interest and dividends earned and any capital gain made constitute the profit of a mutual fund. Your investment grows even slower if the distribution of the entire profit occurs.
If you have a mutual fund with a NAV of Rs. 10 per unit. In the case of reinvestment of profits (growth option), let us assume the NAV becomes Rs. 16 per unit. But, in the case of dividend option Rs. 4 is distributed as dividend and the value of NAV becomes Rs. 12 per unit.

Thus, in reality, you do not receive any extra benefit. You simply trade long term gain for immediate money. You can verify this by comparing the NAV of growth and dividend option for any mutual fund.

Is Dividend from Mutual Fund Tax-Free?

This used to be the most used selling point of the mutual fund dividend option. But this was only misinformation at best. The taxes were not paid by the investor himself. But, he received the dividend after the deduction of the dividend distribution tax. It is the same as calling the maturity amount of a fixed deposit tax-free, after TDS (Tax Deducted at Source).
After the changes made by budget 2020-21 of the government of India, the dividend received will now be taxed at the applicable income tax slab rate. But, which option is better in regard to taxes? To answer this we have to look at the following:

  • The tax on dividend received from mutual funds.
  • Long term and short term capital gains tax for equity and debt mutual fund.

The first point applies to dividend option and second to growth option.
The tax on the dividend you receive will be taxed at the rate of your income tax slab.

The capital gains tax is slightly more complex:

  • In the case of equity fund, the tax on short term capital gains (less than 1 year) is 15%. The tax on long term capital gains (more than 1 year) exceeding Rs. 1,00,000 is 10%. This means that long term capital gains up to Rs. 1,00,000 are tax free.
  • In case of debt fund, STCG (less than 3 years in this case) are added to your income and you pay income tax on entire income. The tax on LTCG (more than 3 years) is 20% after adjusting for inflation.

This means that from the perspective of tax the dividend option is not a viable option. The dividend will be taxed as per your income tax slab rate, thus only if you come under lower tax slab it may provide some benefit. But even then if the LTCG is from equity 1 lakh will be tax-free, and if it is from debt funds you get the benefit of indexation, thus you might end up paying more tax in dividend option.

So, the dividend option turns out to be not so tax effective for a majority of investors.

Does Mutual Fund Dividend Option provide a Regular Income?

The dividend option is usually sold as a source of tax-free regular income. We have already busted the myth of it being tax-free. Yet two concern remains.

  • Is a mutual fund dividend option really a source of regular income?
  • If someone wants regular income from a mutual fund. Is there a better option?

Dividend payout is usually advertised as being a regular occurrence. But, a dividend is not the right of an investor. Fund houses are free to determine the amount and date of dividend payout. During periods of upward trends in stock markets. The dividend is usually paid regularly. But, if the fund witnesses a low or negative growth. The fund house may not declare any dividend.

So much for that income being regular, right. A better alternative can be a Systematic Withdrawal Plan (SWP).

SWP

An SWP allows the withdrawal of a predetermined amount on regular intervals from a mutual fund. This can give you tax benefits as well as the benefit of wealth creation.
The amount is withdrawn by selling some of the units. If the fund is more than a year old, it also gives tax benefits. I can demonstrate the tax benefits by using a simple example. We consider the SBI Blue Chip Fund growth option with SWP and dividend option. You receive a sum of Rs. 20,000 per month from both funds. The entire investment was made on 10 April 2017. Withdrawal and dividend are being received from April 2018 on the 10th of each month. Let’s analyze the tax paid for the financial year 2018 – 19.

tax comparison mutual fund dividend option and growth option

You pay zero tax in SWP.

What Does All This Mean?

This means that:

  • The dividend you receive is not something special, and this compromises the long term benefits.
  • The mutual fund dividend option is not tax-free and in majority cases, you end up paying more taxes.
  • The dividend is not guaranteed and it is not a reliable source of regular income.
  • The SWP facility in the growth option provides a much better alternative.

All these factors demonstrate that the mutual fund dividend option is not as beneficial as people think it is. Most of the benefits that are advertised turn out to be myths on deeper analysis. Overall you will do yourself a favor if you stay away from the mutual fund dividend option.

Who Should go for Mutual Fund Dividend Option?

If you are investing in an equity mutual fund for less than a year and your income tax slab is below 15%. But, I would never suggest anyone go for an equity-related product for such a short duration.
The second case can be if you are investing in a debt fund for less than 3 years, and your income puts you in an income tax slab of more than 25%.
In both these situations, the tax on dividend comes out to be less than the capital gains tax. The term of investment is also small, so compounding does not play a very major role. Someone satisfying one of these conditions can opt for a dividend option.

For everyone else, I would recommend Mutual Fund Growth Option.

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