Category: Tax year end planning

Tax Year End Planning Checklist

With three weeks left until the tax year end, it’s time to review your finances and check whether there are any actions you can take to make your current and future tax position as efficient as possible. As every year the key date is 5 April, and as always we provide a tax year end planning checklist to guide you through the main optimisation opportunities, which you can find below.

Income Tax and National Insurance

If you have some control over the size and timing of your income, e.g. you are self-employed or own a company, there may be opportunities to optimise your income tax and NI bill, such as delaying an invoice or finding the right combination of salary and dividends.
The main income tax and NI figures for 2016-17 are as follows:

  • £5,824 (£112 per week, same as previous year) = Lower Earnings Limit – minimum to qualify for State Pension and other benefits
  • £8,060 (£155 per week, also unchanged) = Primary Threshold for employee’s NI (12%)
  • £8,112 (£156 per week, also unchanged) = Secondary Threshold for employer’s NI (13.8%)
  • £11,000 = Personal Allowance – basic rate income tax (20%) applies above this amount
  • £32,001 = higher rate income tax (40%) kicks in

All the various rates, thresholds and allowances for this and the next tax year are available on this page on gov.uk.

Dividends

If you have the option, make sure you use your tax-free dividend allowance, which is £5,000 for both 2016-17 and 2017-18 (it will go down to £2,000 in 2018-19, as Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed in his last week’s Budget speech).

Beyond the allowance, dividends are taxed at 7.5%, 32.5% and 38.1%, respectively, for basic, higher and additional rate taxpayers. The taxable amount includes dividends you receive from your own company, as well as any other investments you directly hold, such as shares or funds. It excludes dividends received within tax wrappers such as your pension or ISAs – powerful tax planning tools which certainly deserve your attention before tax year end.

Pension Contributions

The annual pension contribution allowance remains the same as last year at £40,000 for most taxpayers, but for high earners it is tapered at a rate of £1 for every £2 you earn above £150,000, up to £210,000 (as a result, above £210,000 the pension allowance is fixed at £10,000). HMRC provides official guidance here.

Keep in mind that you can also use any unused allowances from the three previous tax years, as long as your total contributions stay below your earned income for the current year. You should also keep an eye on the Lifetime Allowance (LTA), currently at £1 million.

5 April 2017 also marks the deadline for Individual Protection 2014, which allows you to get a higher personalised LTA as a compensation for the April 2014 LTA reduction (LTA was cut from £1.5m to £1.25 in April 2014 and further to £1m in 2016). We have covered this in detail last month.

ISAs

Besides pensions, ISAs are some of the most effective ways to save for retirement and the trend in the recent years has been towards higher allowances and more flexible rules. The range of products and investment options available under the ISA scheme has been expanding. You can invest in the traditional cash ISAs, stocks and shares ISAs and the recently introduced innovative finance ISAs.

The annual ISA allowance for 2016-17 is £15,240 (it will go up to £20,000 next year). Unlike in the past, if you have made any withdrawals during the year, it is now allowed to put money back in without reducing your allowance (provider and product specific rules may also apply).
In any case, the deposit must be made by 5 April, otherwise this year’s allowance is lost. Note that some ISA providers can take several working days to process deposits – make sure to send the final deposit at least a week before the tax year end to avoid disappointment.

Capital Gains Tax

Outside an ISA or pension, capital gains tax (CGT) normally applies when you sell an investment at a profit, with the rates being 18% and 28%, respectively, for basic and higher rate taxpayers. There is an annual CGT allowance, making the first £11,100 of capital gains tax-free. Like the dividend allowance or the ISA allowance, it is use it or lose it, and can’t be transferred to following years.

If you are holding investments with unrealised capital gains, you may want to sell and reinvest part of them in order to use the CGT allowance and reduce the tax bill in future years. You can also reinvest the proceeds in an ISA (a “Bed and ISA” transaction), which effectively earns your investments a tax-free status going forward. Of course, transaction costs apply and may outweigh the tax benefit. Taxes are only one of the many things to consider when deciding your investment strategy and actions.

Inheritance Tax and Gifts

If you have a large estate and inheritance tax (IHT) is a concern, you should also consider maximising your annual allowance for tax-free gifts (called the annual exemption). You can give up to £3,000 a year to your beneficiaries and, if you continue to live for at least seven years, the gift is out of your estate and free of IHT.

More Information and Help

Tax planning is obviously a very complex area and the above are just the main points which apply to most taxpayers. Depending on your circumstances, there may be other opportunities available to you. If you need more information concerning the above listed issues or need help with your particular situation, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Tax Year End Planning Checklist

The end of the tax year is approaching again; therefore it’s time to think about maximising allowances, minimising taxes and taking all the other steps to ensure your tax position will be as favourable as possible going forward. Although there are still almost two months left, it’s better to start now rather than leave it all to the last days, for some of the necessary steps can take some time to process.

When going through the checklist below, you may find this page useful. It contains all the key thresholds, rates and allowances for 2015-16 as well as 2016-17.

Income Tax and National Insurance

If possible, delaying an invoice (if you are self employed), salary, bonus or dividend payment (if you have a company) until 6 April can save, or defer, a considerable amount of taxes. Company owners should also find the right mix of salary and dividends to minimise taxes. Don’t forget to include all of them when making the decision – personal income tax, both employee’s and employer’s NI, corporation tax and dividend tax.

The key figures are:

  • £5,824 = Lower Earnings Limit – minimum to qualify for State Pension and other benefits
  • £8,060 = Primary Threshold – employee’s NI (12%) kicks in
  • £8,112 = Secondary Threshold – employer’s NI (13.8%) kicks in
  • £10,600 = Personal Allowance – basic rate income tax (20%) kicks in
  • £31,786 = higher rate income tax (40%) kicks in

Many company owners choose to pay themselves a salary equal to the Primary or Secondary Threshold, in order to avoid paying NI, and take the rest in dividends. However, if your company is eligible for the Employment Allowance (first £2,000 of employer’s NI free), it could make sense to pay yourself up to the Personal Allowance (£10,600) in salary. Of course, your other income, family situation and other circumstances could alter the figures and must always be considered.

Pension Contributions

Making pension contributions can save you a lot of money in taxes, as long as you stay within your annual allowance, which is £40,000 for the 2015-16 tax year. At the moment, pension contributions are subject to tax relief at your marginal tax rate, which makes them particularly attractive to higher and additional rate taxpayers.

Normally you need to make the contributions before the tax year end (5 April), but this time it is recommended to act before the Budget Statement, which is due on 16 March.

There is high risk that Chancellor George Osborne will announce important changes which may affect the tax relief. The exact outcome is not known, but experts have been speculating about a flat rate replacing the marginal tax rate (this would effectively reduce or eliminate the tax relief for higher and additional rate taxpayers). The Chancellor has also mentioned the idea of cancelling the pension tax relief altogether and using a completely new mechanism for taxing pensions in the future, perhaps similar to ISAs (after-tax money in and tax-free money out).

It is not clear if this will eventually materialise and when any changes would come into effect. However, pension tax relief has clearly been one of the Chancellor’s primary targets in the effort to reduce the deficit and raise tax revenue. In light of the uncertainty, the safest approach is to make pension contributions before 16 March to avoid potential disappointment.

Note that if you didn’t use your full allowance in the three previous tax years, you might still be able to get that money in, on top of this year’s £40,000. The previous three years’ allowances were £50,000, £50,000 and £40,000, respectively. One condition is that your total contribution must not exceed your earned income for the current tax year. Another thing to watch out for is the lifetime allowance (currently £1.25m, but falling to £1m in April), as exceeding that could be costly when you retire.

NISAs

If you have the cash, you should always use your annual NISA allowance to the maximum. A NISA is a tax wrapper which allows you to build savings and investments without incurring taxes on income and capital gains going forward. The allowance is £15,240 for 2015-16 and it is use it or lose it – if you don’t deposit the money by 5 April, this year’s allowance is gone forever. You may also want to use your partner’s and your children’s allowances (£4,080 per child under the so called “Junior ISA”).

If you have existing cash ISA accounts, now is also a good time to review them and check the interest rates. Banks like to lure savers with attractive rates, only to slash them after 12 months or some other period. In such case you may want to transfer the funds elsewhere. There are two things to keep in mind:

  • Always transfer from ISA to another ISA directly. If you do it via your regular bank account, once you have withdrawn the money, it loses the ISA status (and withdrawals do not increase your annual allowance – that will only change the next tax year).
  • Each tax year you can only deposit money to one cash ISA account and one stocks and shares ISA account.

Capital Gains Tax

You can often save on capital gains tax even outside ISAs. There is an annual CGT allowance, which makes the first £11,100 (for 2015-16) of capital gains tax-free. You need to realise these by the tax year end; otherwise the current year’s allowance is lost forever.

Depending on the investments you are holding, whether there are unrealised gains or losses and whether you want to sell any of them, the decisions to make can become quite complicated, but may save you a lot in taxes. A potentially large CGT bill can be reduced (by crystallising losses) or deferred (if you wait with the sale until 6 April). On the other hand, if you are well within your CGT allowance you can crystallise gains to reduce future taxes.

Always keep in mind that tax issues are an integral part of any investment strategy (and tactics), as taxes can affect net return substantially. At the same time, don’t forget to consider transaction costs.

Inheritance Tax

If your estate is likely to exceed the IHT threshold (£325,000 for individuals or £650,000 for couples), you may want to take steps to reduce it. Estate planning can obviously become very complex, but the easiest thing you can do is make gifts to your beneficiaries. These are subject to annual allowance of £3,000. If you didn’t use the allowance last year, it can still be used now (making it £6,000 in total), but after the tax year end it is lost. As long as you live for seven years after the gift, it is out of your estate.

Other Considerations

The above are the most common points which apply to most people. Depending on your circumstances, there may be other opportunities, further allowances and other things to do before the tax year end. In any case, it is best to discuss your entire financial and tax position with your adviser, as some actions might have unexpected consequences. Don’t forget the key date is 5 April, with the exception of pension contributions where it is safer to act before 16 March this year. Also remember that some actions will require longer time to process and don’t leave everything to the last days.