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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Salary v dividend for 2019/20

A popular profits extraction strategy for personal and family companies is to extract a small salary, taking further profits as dividends. Where this strategy is pursued for 2019/20, what level should be the salary be set at to ensure the strategy remain tax efficient?
Salary
As well as being tax effective, taking a small salary is also advantageous in that it allows the individual to secure a qualifying year for State Pension and contributory benefits purposes.
Assuming the personal allowance has not been used elsewhere and is available to set against the salary, the optimal salary level for 2019/20 depends on whether the employment allowance is available and whether the employee is under the age of 21. The employment allowance is set at £3,000 for 2019/20 but is not available to companies where the sole employee is also a director (meaning that personal companies do not generally benefit).
In the absence of the employment allowance and where the individual is aged 21 or over, the optimal salary for 2019/20 is equal to the primary threshold, i.e. £8,632 a year (equivalent to £719 per month). At this level, no employee’s or employer’s National Insurance or tax is due. The salary is also deductible for corporation tax purposes. A bonus is that a salary at this level means that the year is a qualifying year for state pension and contributory benefits purposes – for zero contribution cost. Beyond this level, it is better to take dividends than pay a higher salary as the combined National Insurance hit (25.8%) is higher than the corporation tax deduction for salary payments.
Where the employment allowance is available, or the employee is under 21, it is tax-efficient to pay a higher salary equal to the personal allowance of £12,500. As long as the personal allowance is available, the salary will be tax free. It will also be free of employer’s National Insurance, either because the liability is offset by the employment allowance or, if the individual is under 21, because earnings are below the upper secondary threshold for under 21s (set at £50,000 for 2019/20). The salary paid in excess of the primary threshold (£3,868) will attract primary contributions of £464.16, but this is outweighed by the corporation tax saving on the additional salary of £734.92 – a net saving of £279.76. Once a salary equal to the personal allowance is reached, the benefit of the corporation tax deduction is lost as any further salary is taxable. It is tax efficient to extract further profits as dividends.
Dividends
Dividends can only be paid if the company has sufficient retained profits available. Unlike salary payments, dividends are not tax-deductible and are paid out of profits on which corporation tax (at 19%) has already been paid.
However, dividends benefit from their own allowance – set at £2,000 for 2019/20 and payable to all individuals regardless of the rate at which they pay tax – and once the allowance has been used, dividends are taxed at lower rates than salary payments (7.5%, 32.5% and 38.1% rather than 20%, 40% and 45%).
Once the optimal salary has been paid, dividends should be paid to use up the dividend allowance. If further profits are to be extracted, there will be tax to pay, but the combined tax and National Insurance hit for dividends is less than for salary payments, making them the preferred option.

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