Family companies – optimal salary for 2019/20

For personal and family companies it can be beneficial to extract some profits in the form of a salary. Where the individual does not have the 35 qualifying years necessary to qualify for the full single-tier state pension, paying a salary which is equal to or above the lower earnings limit for National Insurance purposes will ensure that the year is a qualifying year.

New tax rates and allowances came into effect from 6 April 2019, applying for the 2019/20 tax year. These have an impact on the optimal salary calculation for family and personal companies. As in previous years, the optimal salary level will depend on whether or not the National Insurance employment allowance is available.

It should be remembered that directors have an annual earnings period for National Insurance purposes.

Employment allowance unavailable

Companies in which the sole employee is also a director are not able to benefit from the employment allowance. This means that most personal companies are not eligible for the allowance. Where the allowance is not available or has been utilised elsewhere, the optimal salary for 2019/20 is equal to the primary and secondary threshold set at £8,632 (equivalent to £719 per month and £166 per week).

At this level, assuming that the director’s personal allowance (set at £12,500) is available, there is no tax or employer’s or employee’s National Insurance to pay. However, as the salary is above the lower earnings limit of £6,136 (£512 per month, £118 per week), it will provide a qualifying year for state pension and contributory benefit purposes.

The salary is deductible in computing the company’s taxable profits for corporation tax purposes, saving corporation tax of 19%.

Employment allowance is available

It is beneficial to pay a salary equal to the personal allowance (assuming that this is not used elsewhere) where the employment allowance (set at £3,000 for 2019/20) is available to shelter the employer’s National Insurance that would otherwise arise to the extent that the salary exceeds £8,632.

Although employee’s National Insurance is payable to the extent that the salary exceeds the primary threshold of £8,632, this is more than offset by the corporation tax deduction on the higher salary.

For 2019/20, a salary equal to the personal allowance of £12,500 exceeds the primary threshold by £3,868. Therefore, employee’s National Insurance of £464.16 (£3,868 @ 12%) is payable on a salary of £12,500. However, as salary payments are deductible for corporation tax purposes, the additional salary of £3,868 saves corporation tax of £734.92 (£3,868 @ 19%). This exceeds the employee’s National Insurance payable by £270.46.

So, if the employment allowance is available, paying a salary equal to the personal allowance of £12,500 allows more profits to be retained (to the tune of £270.46) than paying a salary equal to the primary threshold of £8,632.

If the director has a higher personal allowance, for example, where he or she receives the marriage allowance, the optimal salary is one equal to that higher personal allowance.

Director is under 21

Where the director is under the age of 21, the optimal salary is one equal to the personal allowance of £12,500 (assuming that this is not used elsewhere) regardless of whether the employment allowance is available. No employer National Insurance is payable on the earnings of employees or directors under the age of 21 until their earnings exceeds the upper secondary threshold for under 21’s set at £50,000 for 2019/20. Employee contributions are, however, payable as normal

Any benefit in paying a salary above the personal allowance?

Once the personal allowance is reached it is not worthwhile paying a higher salary as further salary payments will be taxed and the combined tax and National Insurance hit will outweigh the corporation tax savings.

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Employment allowance – upcoming changes

The employment allowance (EA) was introduced from April 2014, potentially cutting every employer’s NIC payments by allowing businesses and charities to offset up to a pre-set annual threshold (£3,000 from April 2016, previously £2,000) against their employer PAYE NIC liabilities.

Employers may generally claim the EA if they are a business (including a Community Amateur Sports Club) that pays employer Class 1 NICs on employees’ or directors’ earnings and is not funded by central government or a charity.

To keep the process as simple as possible for employers, the EA is delivered through standard payroll software and HMRC’s real time information (RTI) system. However, it isn’t given automatically and must be claimed.

How to claim

Claiming is very straight forward – the employer simply signifies their intention to claim by completing the ‘yes/no’ indicator just once. Although, ideally, the claim should be made at the start of the tax year, it can be made at any time in the year.

The employer will then offset the allowance against each monthly Class 1 secondary NICs payment that is due to be made to HMRC until the allowance is fully claimed or the tax year ends.

For example, if employer Class 1 NICs are £1,200 each month, in April the employment allowance used will be £1,200, in May it will be £2,400, and in June £800, as the maximum is capped at £3,000. The following tax year, the allowance will be available as an offset against a Class 1 secondary NICs liability as it arises during the tax year.

The EA applies per employer, regardless of how many PAYE schemes that employer chooses to operate, so each employer can only claim for one allowance. It is up to the employer which PAYE scheme to claim it against.

Recent changes

The EA was restricted from April 2016, so that a company no longer qualifies where all the payments of earnings it pays in a tax year, in relation to which it is the secondary contributor, are paid to or for the benefit of one employed earner only who is, at the time the payments are made, also a director of the company.

This sounds complicated, but the purpose of the change was to prevent perceived misuse of the allowance by personal service companies and help focus it on businesses creating employment. The government estimated that this change affected around 150,000 limited companies with a single director.

Future changes

The Autumn Budget 2018 announced details of a further restriction, expected to take effect in 2020/21, which aims to target the allowance on businesses that need it most.

From 6 April 2020, access to the EA will be limited to businesses and charities with an employer National Insurance contributions (NICs) bill below £100,000.

Currently some 1.1million employers claim the EA and the government estimates that around 93% of these will continue to be eligible once the restriction takes effect, with many paying no employer NICs at all.

It is worthwhile checking that the EA has been utilised where possible. If a claim is made too late in a tax year to set the whole allowance against the employers’ NIC liability, the employer may apply to HMRC for a refund.

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