Income Tax Traps – there’s still time to avoid them

I’ve been busy lately helping clients with strategies to save income tax where they e.g. earn over £100,000, or they are (or might be) subject to the tapered annual allowance for annual pension contributions (causing tax penalties next year). Or they simply wish to look at carry forward for pension contributions but aren’t sure how to proceed. These areas are interlinked. UK income tax monopoly

In the first case, you should be aware that as soon as your income exceeds £100,000, you begin to lose your personal allowance by £1 for every £2 your income exceeds it. This causes an effective income tax rate of 60% for earnings caught between £100,000 and £123,000!

In the second case, those people whose total gross income plus employer pension contributions exceeds £150,000 (“adjusted income”) are likely to have see their combined employer/employee pension contribution restricted – the tapered contributions allowance, with consequent tax penalties. This is a tricky area and many people were not ready for it last year!

But there are some simple ways of mitigating or even eliminating the tax charges which arise, using personal contributions into pension, often via unused pension allowances from the previous three tax years.

I have covered these areas in past blogs, and the links are:

You might also look at the current blog on tax year end opportunities which also sets these out and links to the older blog.

 

Her’es an example of tax savings that can be made:

In 2017-18, Phil earns a salary of £95,000 excluding bonus, and has taxable P11d benefits of £2,000. His employer pays pension contributions of £18,000 and Phil contributes £18,000 (gross) under the net pay method. He had no bonus last year but this year has a bonus about to be paid of £50,000.

Before taking steps:

  • Phil’s taxable income is £129,000. He will lose all of his personal allowance, and inter alia will effectively pay income tax at 60% on the band of earnings between £100,000 and £123,000.
  • Phil’s “threshold income” for pension annual allowance purposes is £129,000. He therefore exceeds the £110,000 threshold, and the tapered annual allowance will apply.
  • Phil’s “adjusted income” for pension annual allowance purposes is £165,000, which means he stands to lose £7,500 of his annual pension contributions allowance, reducing it to £32,500 (i.e. below the contributions already made!).

Solution:

Phil makes a personal lump sum contribution of £23,200. This is grossed up by tax relief at source of £5,800, so £29,000 is paid into his pension.

  • It reduces Phil’s taxable income to £100,000, saving £16,200 in tax (an effective rate of 55.9%!).
  • The lump sum pension contribution also reduces his threshold income below the threshold for tapered annual allowance (£110,000), so his annual pensions contributions allowance is not reduced and the full £40,000 allowance applies in 2017-18.
  • His total pension contributions exceed £40,000 (£18,000 + £18,000 + £29,000 = £65,000), but Phil is allowed to utilise carry forward allowance (unused annual allowance contributions) from 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 in order to cover the excess £25,000 contributed.

I agree that the foregoing isn’t the easiest to follow, so why not get advice? If you think you are affected and want to know what steps are available to you to avoid paying any more tax than you have to, I will be happy (subject to availability) to talk you through this area of tax planning free of charge by telephone. Just give me a call on 0345 013 6525 and if I can’t deal with it there and then we’ll schedule a time.

Best wishes

Tony Devine

 

Tax Year End Checklist – Our Top 10 Tax Year End Opportunities

The tax year end is a good time to take stock and look at your tax position before the tax year closes. There are opportunities available to many, and in some cases significant tax savings can be achieved.

Checklist of our top 10 tax year end opportunities

your checklist for tax year end

(Source: Standard Life Technical 2018 – slightly edited)

2017/18 has been a relatively steady year for tax and pension planning. There were no surprises in the Budget, meaning you can continue to benefit from the existing range of tax reliefs and allowances to help save for the future.

This is good news and makes this tax year end very much business as usual. It’s simply a case of reviewing the year to date and identifying where there is still scope to save by maximising unused reliefs and allowances, or even how scope can be created.

The core elements of tax year end planning remain the same:

  • Make full use of available tax advantaged savings, such as pensions and ISAs
  • Ensure tax allowances are fully utilised and opportunities to extract savings tax efficiently aren’t wasted
  • For families, don’t ignore the respective tax rates and unused allowances of both partners.

We’ve created a checklist of our top 10 tax year end opportunities to explore with your clients, together with the key information required to make these a reality.

1. Pension saving at highest rate of relief

  • Successive Chancellors have decided against cutting the rate of tax relief on pension savings for individuals. But with the spotlight constantly falling on pension saving incentives at each Budget, relief at the highest rates may not be around forever.
  • Additional and higher rate taxpayers may wish to contribute an amount to maximise tax relief at 45%, 40% or even 60% (where personal allowance is reinstated) while they have the opportunity. Carry forward can allow contributions in excess of the current annual allowance. For couples, consider maximising tax relief at higher rates for both, before paying in an amount that will only secure basic rate relief.
Key information
  • Total taxable income to current tax year end.
  • Relevant UK Earnings e.g. earnings from employment or trade only.
  • Pension annual allowance available from current year and previous 3 years.


2. Keep the pensions annual allowance for high earners

  • Some high income individuals will face a cut in the amount of tax-efficient pension saving they can enjoy this tax year. The standard £40,000 AA will be reduced by £1 for every £2 of ‘income’ clients have over £150,000 in a tax year, until their allowance drops to £10,000.
  • But it’s possible that some people may be able to reinstate their full £40,000 allowance by making use of carry forward. The tapering of the annual allowance won’t normally apply if income less personal contributions is £110,000 or less. A large personal contribution using unused allowance from the previous 3 tax years can bring income below £110,000 and restore the full £40,000 allowance for 2017/18 provided it is made before tax year end. And some of it may attract 60% tax relief too.
  • Remember that high earners may also have a reduced annual allowance from 2016/17.
  • For further detail see Higher Earners are you affected by the new tapered (restricted) tax relief on pension contributions? Read on for Possible Solutions
Key information
  • Adjusted Income for this year and last (broadly total income plus employer contributions).
  • Threshold Income for this year and last (broadly total income less individual contributions).
  • Pension annual allowance available from current year and previous 3 years.


3. Boost SIPP funds now before accessing flexibility

  • Anyone looking to take advantage of income flexibility for the first time may want to consider boosting their fund before April 5th tax year end, potentially sweeping up the full £40,000 from this year plus any unused allowance carried forward from the last three years.
  • The Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA) will mean the opportunity to continue funding will be restricted. The MPAA is now £4,000 a year since April 2017. If a client is subject to the MPAA, they cannot use carry forward.
  • Clients requiring money from their pension can avoid the MPAA and retain the full £40,000 allowance if they only take their tax free cash.
Key information


4. Sacrifice bonus for an employer pension contribution

  • March and April is typically the time of year when many companies pay annual bonuses. Sacrificing a bonus for an employer pension contribution before the tax year end can bring several positive outcomes.
  • The employer and employee NI savings made could be used to boost pension funding, giving more in the pension pot for every £1 lost from take-home pay.
Key information
  • Size of bonus (if yet to be paid and before tax year end).
  • Pension annual allowance available from current year and previous 3 years.
  • Employer willingness to pay in NI savings.
  • Provisions for changing contract of employment.


5. Dividend changes and business owners

  • Many directors of small and medium sized companies may be facing an increased tax bill following changes to the taxation of dividends. This could be amplified next year when the tax free dividend allowance drops from £5,000 to just £2,000. A pension contribution could be the best way of paying themselves and cutting their overall tax bill. (further details at MPAA and Dividend Allowances cuts delayed as Finance Bill trimmed )
  • And, of course, if the director is over 55 they now have full unrestricted access to their pension savings.
  • There’s no NI payable on either dividends or pension contributions. Dividends are paid from profits after corporation tax and will also be taxable in the director’s hands. By making an employer pension contribution, tax and NI savings can boost a director’s pension fund.
  • Employer contributions made in the current financial year will get relief at 19% (this is also the planned rate for the next 2 years) but the rate is set to drop to 17% in 2020. So those business owners who cannot fund a pension every year, may wish to pay sooner than later if they have the profits and the cash available.
Key information


6. Maximise ISA subscription limits

  • ISAs offer savers valuable protection from income tax and CGT, and for those who hold all their savings in this wrapper, it’s possible to avoid the chore of completing self-assessment returns.
  • The allowance is given on a use it or lose it basis, and the period leading to the tax year end, often referred to as ‘ISA season’, is the last chance to top up. Savings delayed until after 6 April 2018 will count against next year’s allowance.

Key information 

  • Remaining annual  ISA allowance.


7. Recover personal allowances and child benefit

  • Pension contributions reduce an individual’s taxable income. In turn, this can have a positive effect on both the personal allowance and child benefit for higher earners resulting in a lower tax bill.
  • An individual pension contribution that that reduces income to below £100,000 will mean the tax payer will be entitled to the full tax free personal allowance. The effective rate of tax relief on the contribution could be as much as 60%.
  • Child Benefit is eroded by a tax charge if the highest earning individual in the household has income of more than £50,000, and is cancelled altogether once their income exceeds £60,000. A pension contribution will reduce income and reverse the tax charge, wiping it out altogether once income falls below £50,000.
Key information
  • Adjusted net income (broadly total income less individual pension contributions).
  • Relevant UK earnings.
  • Pension annual allowance available from current year and previous 3 years.


8. Take investment profit using CGT annual allowance

  • Clients looking to supplement their income tax efficiently could withdraw funds from an investment portfolio and keep the gains within their annual exemption.
  • Even if an income isn’t needed, taking profits annually within the CGT allowance and re-investing the proceeds means that there will be less tax to pay when clients ultimately need to access these funds for their actual spending needs.
  • Proceeds cannot be re-invested in the same mutual funds for at least 30 days otherwise the expected ‘gain’ will not materialise. But they could be re-invested in a similar fund or through their pension or ISA . Alternatively the proceeds could be immediately re-invested in the same investments but in the name of the client’s partner.
  • If there is tax to pay on gains at the higher 20% rate, a pension contribution could be enough to reduce this rate to the basic rate of 10%.
Key information
  • Sale proceeds and cost pool for mutual funds/shares.
  • Income re-invested into mutual funds (for income and accumulation units/shares).
  • Details of any share re-organisations.
  • Gains/losses on other assets sold e.g. second homes.
  • Losses carried forward from previous years.


9. Cash in bonds to use up PA/starting rate band/ PSA and basic rate band

  • If your client has any unused allowances that can be used against savings income, such as Personal Allowance, Starting Rate Band or the Personal Savings Allowance, now could be an ideal opportunity to cash in offshore bonds, as gains can be offset against all of these.
  • For those that have no other income at all in a tax year, gains of up to £17,500 can be taken tax free.
  • If not needed, proceeds can be re-invested into another investment, effectively re-basing the ‘cost’ and reducing future taxable gains.
  • If your client does not have any of these allowances available but their partner (or even an adult child) does, then bonds or bond segments can be assigned to them so that they can benefit from tax free gains. Remember, the assignment of a bond in this way is not a taxable event.
Key information
  • Details of all non-savings and savings income.
  • Investment gains on each policy segment.


10. Recycle savings into a more efficient tax wrapper

  • As mentioned in 8 and 9 above, allowances are a great way to harvest profits tax free. By re-investing this ‘tax free’ growth, there will be less tax to pay on final encashment than might otherwise have been the case. That is to say when your client’s actually need to spend their savings, tax will be less of burden.
  • But there may be a better option to re-investing these interim capital withdrawals in the same tax wrapper. For example, they could be used to fund their pension where further tax relief can be claimed, investments can continue to grow tax free and funds can be protected from IHT.
  • Similarly, capital taken could be used as part of this year’s ISA subscription. Although there’s no tax relief or IHT advantage as with a pension, fund growth will still be protected from tax.
  • Which leads nicely on to one final consideration; should ISA savings be recycled in to a client’s pension in order to benefit from tax relief and IHT protection?
Key information
  • Unused personal allowances for extracting investment profits.
  • Remaining annual ISA allowance.
  • Pension annual allowance available from current year and previous 3 years and relevant UK earnings.


Summary

Only at the end of the tax year do you have all the pieces of the jigsaw. But there are some steps you can take now to get start gathering all the information needed, to be ahead of the game, and give yourself time to put plans in place. And remember, there are less than 5 weeks until the 5th of April.

 

(Source: Standard Life Technical 2018). I am again indebted to Standard Life technical – in this case their adviser facing article has been adjusted slightly to be more consumer-friendly.

Pension contributions – How they can help business owners.

How pension contributions can help business owners

The dividend tax changes have strengthened the case for business owners taking more of their profits in the form of pension contributions. Many directors of small and medium sized companies face an increased tax bill this year as a result of how dividends are now taxed. And pension contributions could provide the best outcome by cutting their future tax bills.

Dividends have long been preferable to salary or bonus as a way for shareholding directors to extract profits. But that advantage has narrowed for many high earning directors. It reinforces the case for directors taking at least part of their benefits as a pension contribution where possible.

Dividend changes

Paying themselves dividends remains a better option than salary. But the gap has narrowed for high earning directors. A director receiving a dividend of £100,000 could be £6,300 worse off under the new rules.

Everyone now gets a £5,000 tax free dividend allowance. Dividends in excess of the allowance will be taxable at 7.5%, 32.5% or 38.1%. Previously, business owners only paid tax on dividends when they took income above the basic rate tax band. That’s because the notional 10% tax credit satisfied the liability for basic rate tax payers. But the changes mean that business owners could now be paying a higher rate of tax on a larger slice of their income.

Tax efficient extraction

Pension contributions remain the most tax efficient way of extracting profits from a business. An employer pension contribution means there’s no employer or employee NI liability – just like dividends. But it’s usually an allowable deduction for corporation tax – like salary.

And of course, under the new pension freedoms, those directors who are over 55 will be able to access it as easily as salary or dividend. With 25% of the pension fund available tax free, it can be very tax efficient – especially if the income from the balance can be taken within the basic rate (but remember, by doing so, the MPAA will be triggered, restricting future funding opportunities).

In reality, many business owners will pay themselves a small salary, typically around £8,000 a year – at this level, no employer or employee NI is due and credits will be earned towards the State pension. They will then take the rest of their annual income needs in the form of dividend, as this route is more tax efficient than taking more salary. But what about the profits they have earned in excess of their day to day living needs?

The table below compares the net benefit ultimately derived from £40,000 of gross profits to a higher rate taxpaying shareholding director this year.

  Bonus Dividend Pension income
taxed at 20% *
Pension income
taxed at 40% *
Gross profit  £40,000 £40,000 £40,000 £40,000
Pension contribution  £0 £0 £40,000 £40,000
Corporation tax at 20%  £0 £8,000 £0 £0
Dividend  £0 £32,000 £0 £0
Employer NI £4,850 £0 £0 £0
Gross bonus £35,150 £0 £0 £0
Director’s NI (£703) £0 £0 £0
Income tax (£14,060) (£10,400) ** (£6,000) (£12,000)
Net benefit to director £20,387 £21,600 ** £34,000 £28,000

* Assumes pension income is taxed after taking 25% tax free cash, and there is no Lifetime Allowance charge.
** Assumes full £5,000 annual dividend allowance has already been used against dividends received in the basic rate band.

Tapered Annual Allowance

Many high earning business owners could see their annual allowance (AA) tapered down to just £10,000. However, by reducing what they take in salary or dividends and paying themselves a larger pension contribution instead could mean they retain their full £40,000 AA.

For example – Amy, 55, runs her own business and pays herself dividends of £150,000 for the 2016/17 tax year. She has no other income. She makes employer contributions of £20,000 into her SIPP.

There are two tests which determine whether the AA is tapered:

  1. If adjusted income is more than £150,000 the AA is reduced by £1 for every £2 subject to a minimum allowance of £10,000
  2. But only if the threshold income is greater than £110,000.

Her ‘adjusted income‘ is £170,000 (income + employer pension contribution). As this is £20,000 above the £150,000 cap, it would normally cut her AA by £10,000 (to £30,000). This means any opportunity to increase her funding for this year, or in the future using carry forward from 2016/17, would be limited to a further £10,000.

However, if she cuts her dividends by just over £40,000 her ‘threshold income’ (total income without employer contributions) would be below £110,000, preserving her full £40,000 allowance.

She could pay the corresponding amount into her pension as an employer contribution using carry forward of unused AA from previous tax years.  This would not affect her AA for 2016/17 because only employer contributions as part of new salary sacrifice arrangement are used to determine threshold income. A shareholder director making an employer pension contribution rather paying salary or dividend is not salary sacrifice.

As Amy is over 55, she has unrestricted access to the funds in her SIPP. If she made use of the new income flexibilities she would trigger the money purchase annual allowance (MPAA) cutting her future funding to £4,000 a year from April 2017, with no opportunity to use carry forward. However, if she only touches her tax free cash and takes no income she would retain her full AA.

Why now?

There are some very strong reasons for maximising pension contributions now. Corporation tax rates are set to fall from 20% to 19% from the financial year starting April 2017, with a further planned cut to 17% from April 2020.

Companies may want to consider bringing forward pension funding plans to benefit from tax relief at the higher rate. Payments should be made before the end of the current business year, while rates are at their highest.

Business owners who take flexible drawdown  income to replace salary or dividends will see their future funding restricted by the MPAA. So they may need to pay now and mop up any unused allowance using carry forward. But remember that dipping into pension savings by only taking tax free cash maintains the full allowance for ongoing funding.

Source: Standard Life technical consulting – February 22 2017