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Tax tips for harried senior citizens
Sucheta Dalal, MoneyLIFE | May 14, 2007
A couple of weeks ago, a Mumbai daily published a depressing article by Gool Bhujwala, a senior citizen who pleaded with the government to legalise euthanasia because life had become extremely difficult as "hard-earned money we carefully saved for our old age" is used up in taxes, sky-rocketing prices of essential commodities, unaffordable health care and worsened with the tension of coping with crumbling infrastructure and impossible crowds. For a country that has no social security, there is nothing more shameful than this plea.
Dr. Seilu Srinivasan of the Dignity Foundation, which works for senior citizens, has received several letters regarding a "series of harassing measures that have been unleashed on the hapless senior citizen" by a thoughtless government.
Leading tax consultants agree that the finance minister has made life difficult for seniors under the pretext of preventing tax frauds.
The government is trying to squeeze out additional tax from their tax-paid savings. Remember, these savings were earned over a lifetime of paying extortionate taxes in a regime that offered no concessions even on gratuity or on their housing loans!
For instance, the 9 per cent Senior Citizens Savings Scheme 2004 promised not to deduct tax at source and the Union Budget of 2005 raised the tax threshold to Rs 185,000 giving a lot of relief.
At the same time, the cancellation of the Rs 20,000 rebate on actual net income tax has brought some seniors back into the tax net although it was supposed to compensate for earlier rebates.
The government now plans an about turn and wants to deduct TDS even on the interest earned on the scheme and that too with retrospective effect! This may require seniors to file revised IT returns for 2005-06 and claim refunds, which is sheer harassment.
They are already a harried lot, trying to cope with filing tax exemption forms (15-H), chasing TDS certificates - form 16 (1) and now the government plans a New Saral 2F Form that requires cash flow statements to be filled out. This is ridiculous in case of most retirees. There are also plans to withdraw tax concessions on Public Provident Fund investments.
How can seniors deal with this? The first is to make their voice heard through organisations such as Dignity Foundation so that adequate attention is paid to the worries of seniors in framing tax policy.
One leading tax expert says, "I think there should be an organised protest against targeting senior citizens with harassing tax provisions. The laws should be very simple to understand and comply and should be free from the possibility of abuse by corrupt tax officials".
Another suggests that the government must also be petitioned to increase the Mediclaim limit to as much as Rs 50,000 per annum and with increased coverage of medical expenses and no TDS on SCSS.
Until that happens, here are a few suggestions from a leading tax expert who wishes to remain unnamed. Inflation, coupled with a drop in interest rates over the last five years, have eroded the income of most seniors.
Firstly, senior can reduce the hardship of collecting interest refunds on SCSS by filing a declaration under section 197A(1A) asking the Government not to deduct tax if the income does not exceed Rs 185,000.
Secondly, if the income justifies a lower deduction of tax under section 197(2), get a certificate to this effect from the Assessing Officer.
Thirdly, avail of all deductions such as Mediclaim premium (Rs 15,000) under Sec. 80D.Also, remember the rather restrictive deduction of Rs 60,000 under Sec. 80DDB applicable to specified ailments. These are merely helpful hints, the more effective solution to an unjust taxation system would be litigation proposed by Dignity Foundation on behalf of senior citizens.