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Savings plays a critical part in an individual’s financial standing. It bolsters one’s financial footing and creates a stable ground for times when a person is out of income. On that note, it is particularly important to create a substantial corpus for one’s post-retirement life.

Keeping that in perspective, the Indian government has introduced Provident Funds (PFs). In India, there are three types of provident funds, namely – General Provident Fund (GPF), Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), and Public Provident Fund (PPF).

Each provident fund that is mentioned above promotes the practice of savings when an individual has a regular source of income. This helps to accumulate sufficient funds that can be used to meet expenses when one is out of income. However, there are also several basic differences between EPF and GPF, and PPF that an individual must duly consider.

Nevertheless, before directly delving into their differences, it is crucial to learn about their characteristics.

General Provident Fund

The General Provident Fund is a savings-cum retirement scheme, particularly for government employees. Non-government employees cannot contribute to a GPF account. This point functions as a key difference between PPF and GPF.

A government employee who is a member of GPF needs to contribute a portion of their income regularly till such time when he/she is employed. The accumulated corpus can be withdrawn once an individual retires.

The balance in a GPF account is also eligible to earn interest at a fixed rate. The central government revises this rate from time to time. The General Provident Fund Interest Rate for the 1st Quarter of Financial Year 2020 – 21 (April to June) is set at 7.1%. In the previous quarter, it was set at 7.9%.

  • Eligibility criteria for GPF

The following individuals can open an account under the General Provident Fund scheme –

  • Permanent government employees.
  • Temporary government employees after a continuous service of one year or more.
  • Re-employed pensioners (provided such pensioner is ineligible for Contributory Provident Fund).
  • Contribution

Government employees eligible for the General Provident Fund need to contribute a minimum of 6% of their salary toward GPF. The maximum amount an individual can contribute equals 100% of his/her income.

Contribution to GPF can only be stopped in the case of suspension or retirement. Such contribution is usually stopped 3 months prior to when an individual is slated to retire, according to the GPF rules.

  • Tax exemptions

GPF is a tax-free retirement-cum savings scheme. Therefore, the contributions, interest earned on it as well as the returns from a GPF account are exempt from tax calculations under Section 80C.

Public Provident Fund

As opposed to General Provident Fund, PPF serves as a savings scheme for anyone willing to lock-in their contributions for a prolonged period. However, similar to GPF, the interest rate on Public Provident Fund is revised every quarter by the Government of India.

For the 1st Quarter of Financial Year 2020 – 21 (April – June) the rate of interest on PPF has been set at 7.1%. Interest calculation under the PPF scheme is based on the lower balance in between what is shown at the fifth day’s end in a month and its the last day. Therefore, any deposit that is made after the 5th of any month is not included for interest calculation for that month.

  • Eligibility criteria for PPF

The following category of individuals can hold an account under the Public Provident Fund –

  • Any resident individual who is an Indian citizen.
  • NRIs who opened a PPF account before leaving India.
  • Minors provided their guardians/parents to represent them.

Moreover, it shall be noted that any individual cannot hold a PPF account jointly. Neither is it allowed for one individual to hold multiple PPF accounts.

  • Contribution

A PPF account holder can only make a maximum of 12 contributions in a year. An individual needs to make a minimum contribution of Rs.500 per year. However, the maximum amount that an individual can contribute, both for themselves and their minor, cannot exceed Rs.1.5 lakh. The contribution is a primary point of difference between PPF and GPF.

  • Lock-in period

Another crucial difference between GPF and PPF is the period for which an account holder is mandated to lock-in their contribution. A PPF account needs to be maintained for 15 years from the date of account opening.

For instance, if Rupa opened a PPF account on 15th May 2020, her PPF account would mature on 15th May 2035.

Upon maturity, an individual can decide to extend the lock-in period by a block of 5 years, and it can be continued in such block length from thereon.

  • Tax benefits

The deposits made every year toward a PPF account are eligible for tax exemption up to Rs.1.5 lakh under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act. Moreover, the interest earned on the balance amount in a PPF account along with the maturity value is exempt from taxation.

Employees’ Provident Fund

Employees’ Provident Fund is a retirement-cum savings scheme similar to GPF. However, unlike GPF, an EPF is mandatory for those working in an organisation with more than 20 employees.

The balance in an EPF account accrues interest based on the rate set by the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation. For the current financial year, the interest rate is set at 8.5%. This interest is calculated monthly and transferred to an individual’s EPF account at the end of every year.

  • Eligibility criteria for EPF

EPF has a single criterion, i.e. the employee should belong to an organisation that employs a minimum of 20 individuals.

  • Contribution

In the case of EPF, both the employer and employee are required to contribute to such an employee’s EPF account. The standard contribution from both parties is 12% of the employee’s salary (basic + dearness allowance). However, recently the government reduced the EPF contribution to 10% for both employers and employees from June to August 2020.

  • Tax benefits

If an individual withdraws the balance amount from his/her EPF account after 5 years of account creation, it is exempt from tax. Moreover, contributions made in an EPF account every year up to Rs.1.5 lakh are eligible for tax exemptions under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act, 1961.

GPF vs PPF vs EPF

The difference between EPF and GPF as well as PPF are summarised in the table below.

ParametersGeneral Provident FundEmployees’ Provident Fund Public Provident Fund
EligibilityGovernment employeesAnyone working in an organisation with more than 20 employeesAny Indian citizen
MaturityUntil retirementAge of 58 years15 years from the date of account creation
Premature closeOn suspension or resignation from government serviceWhen the account holder is unemployed for 2 months or moreAllowed after completion of 5 years on a child’s education or medical reasons

These are the critical differences between EPF and GPF and PPF. It is crucial for one to be aware of these differences to maximise their benefits from each of these contributory schemes.

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