10 Year End Tax Planning Tips For SMEs

You have the opportunity to structure your business finances in ways that preserve more of the wealth that you create. This takes advance planning. Don’t miss this opportunity.

To help, here are 10 pre-year end tax planning tips that entrepreneurs should be actively considering to reduce corporation tax, income tax and national insurance costs:

  1. Don’t pay corporation tax at the highest rate of 29.75%. Calculate your full year budgeted profits as soon as possible so that you plan around this rate. If you are a standalone company and your estimated taxable profits exceed £300,000 (but are less than £1.5m) then you fall into what’s called the corporation tax ‘marginal rate.’ This is not a good place to be. This rate is higher than the rate of tax applied to large companies (with profits in excess of £1.5m) who pay tax at 28% and much higher than the 21% rate your company would otherwise pay if you kept profits below the marginal band. If this applies to you, then you need to consider tax planning ideas to reduce your corporation tax payable – see further below.
  2. Make a pension contribution from your company into your (and possibly your spouse’s) pension fund. I am not going to go into the pros and cons of pensions and the detail of the recently introduced (and hideously complex) anti-forestalling provisions that currently apply for ‘super earners’ (broadly those with personal income of £130,000+), suffice to say that pensions can play an important role in year end planning for owner managed businesses. The benefit of pensions is that income tax relief is received at the individual’s highest rate of income tax. Certain restrictions apply for ‘super earners’ and new rules will be coming into force from April 2011, however, where implemented carefully, pension planning allows for a corporation tax deduction in the company and no income tax or national insurance payable by the owner managers. Pensions can also be an important lever in managing the company taxable profits e.g. if hovering above the £300,000 standalone company profit watershed. And don’t forget you must pay the pension contribution by the year end in order for it to be tax deductible in the company in that period – so don’t leave it to the last minute!
  3. Optimise the tax on your remuneration. Generally, a small salary (within the personal allowance – so no income tax or national insurance is due) will have been paid during the year with regular dividends to cover living expenses. Spouses, who ideally take an active role in helping run the business, can receive a small salary and dividends (subject to shareholdings) to maximize the use of both husband and wife personal tax allowances. With the year end approaching, now is the time to consider whether a final bonus or dividend should be awarded depending on available distributable profits, taxable profits and how much needs to be left in the business for future reinvestment etc. There are normally a number of factors to consider in making final awards of cash from the company, therefore it is important to crunch the numbers. Normally, a dividend will be the most tax efficient means of extracting profits for most business owners (up to the £150,000 personal income limit and 50% additional tax rate – see further below). Care should be taken in awarding dividends to spouse shareholders as HM Revenue & Customs still have their eye on husband and wife companies despite having lost a landmark case on this issue related to maximising both spouse’s income tax allowances. Some demonstrable activity in the business by both spouses is therefore recommended to mitigate this risk.
  4. Watch the 60% marginal income tax rate for income over £100,000. Total personal income of £100,000 is a new watershed for business owners as income received between £100,000 to £112,950 attracts a marginal rate of 60%! This is due to the personal allowance being phased out for income above £100,000. So if your total remuneration package is likely to be around this area, you might be well advised to limit your income to £99,999 to avoid this horribly expensive marginal rate.
  5. Watch the 50% additional rate for ‘super earners’. For those successful entrepreneurs with earnings in excess of £150,000, getting the right balance of remuneration is even more important as income tax is levied at 50% on salary or bonuses compared to 36.1% on dividends (a 25% increase in tax on salary income is matched (or not?!) by a 44% increase in dividend tax rate – work that one out?!). So rather than take a dividend from the company beyond £150,000 total income, business owners could consider taking a loan from the company and the company paying the due tax at a rate of 25% on the loan – something akin to what the shareholder would have paid on a dividend. Note that there could also be benefit in kind tax charges where no interest is paid on the loan but this could still work out to be the cheaper overall option.
  6. Optimise the timing of dividend and bonus payments for cashflow and tax rates. Dividends and bonuses are taxed on business owners on a receipts basis. If your income is already high for the 5 April 2010/11 tax year then you could defer paying out a dividend until 6 April 2011 so that it falls within the following year’s tax allowances and limits. Also, you can accrue a bonus in the 31 December 2010 accounts and don’t have to physically pay it until 30 September 2011 but you still receive the corporation tax deduction upfront. This gives a useful cash-flow advantage and the bonus timing is applicable for all employees i.e. not just business owners.
  7. Plan your spend on capital items to get tax relief quicker. Expenditure on computer equipment, desks, chairs etc attracts a write off against tax up to £100,000 spend per year. This reduces to £25,000 from April 2012. Make sure you bring forward any expenditure to reduce your taxable profits especially if the company profits are hovering around the standalone company £300,000 mark.
  8. Get tax deductions now for provisions against stock and debtors etc. Consider the valuation of any stock or debtors at the year end and make specific provisions where the likely recoverable value is less than the original amount recognised. Provisions against specific items (on a line-by-line basis) are tax deductible for corporation tax purposes.
  9. Claim loss carry backs as soon as possible to get refunds. If you have a forecast tax loss then you can carry this loss back to obtain a refund from HM Revenue & Customs of the corresponding amount of tax suffered in the preceding accounting period. You may wish to get your skates on with the year end work so that you can promptly file the accounts and tax return and get the cash back as quickly as possible.
  10. Don’t get time barred from lucrative tax incentives. Review available tax incentives such as R&D tax credits, capital allowances on fixed asset expenditure, loss carry back claims etc as the majority of such tax breaks have a 2 year time limit for you to be able to claim them with HM Revenue & Customs. So, for example,  many available tax incentives for the year end to 31 December 2008 will be time barred from 1 January 2011.