Broadly speaking, your investment choice should be guided by two things: investment horizon and risk appetite. Always remember, your short to medium-term goals should be funded by using safe or relatively-safer debt investments. This is because you cannot afford to lose money when you don't have much time in hand. Always invest in bank deposits and liquid funds for goals that have to be met within a few months or in a year. Use bank deposits and short-term debt schemes to take care of goals that have to be met within a couple of years. And for long-term goals, invest in equity. Long-term is five years or more.
Short-term investment options
Bank deposits: They are the safest and they also offer assured returns. However, the trouble with fixed deposits is that the interest is taxed. Use them only for keeping contingency funds, and money needed in the next few months to a year.
Company deposits: They offer slightly higher returns, but they are also a little more risky. Always stick to higher-rated deposits. Do not compromise on ratings for higher returns. Also, never put your entire investments in a single company, spread your investment across a few companies.
Debt schemes: They no longer have the tax advantage, but they may still offer slightly superior returns. However, use them carefully. Also, you should find out whether it is worth your while. This is because there won't be much difference in returns if the amount involved is small. It is extremely important that your investment horizon should match with the fund. For example, use liquid funds to park money for a few weeks or months. Ultra short-term funds are suitable to park money for a few months to a year. Short-term funds are ideal to park money for a two to three years.
Long-term investment options
Long-term debt schemes: If you have an investment horizon of more than three years, investments in debt schemes still make sense. This is because long-term capital gains from these schemes are taxed at 20 per cent with the indexation benefit, which is beneficial to those in the highest tax bracket.
Equity mutual funds: If you have an investment horizon of five years or longer, you should pick equity mutual fund schemes. If you are looking to save taxes under Section 80 C of the Income Tax Act, pick one or two Equity Linked Savings Scheme (ELSS) or tax planning schemes. If you are a conservative investor new to the market, pick one or two equity-oriented balanced schemes. Balanced schemes invest in a mix of equity (at least 65 per cent) and debt, and they are less volatile than pure equity schemes because the debt portion offers a cushion in times of volatility. Others can pick up one or two diversified equity schemes to fund their long-term needs.
Stocks: Investing directly in stocks can be extremely rewarding, but it is also equllay risky. You should attempt it only if you have a sound knowledge about the working of the stock market. You should also have enough time in hand to pick stocks and monitor them.
Tax saving options
Public Provident Fund: Ideal long-term tax saving option for conservative investors. The contributions to it qualify for tax deductions and interest earned is also tax free.
ELSS or Tax planning mutual funds: The best tax saving option for aggressive investors. They have a mandatory lock-in period of three years, but invest only if can wait for more if the market gets into a bad phase.