Many sole traders make the move to limited company status because they believe it will make them more desirable to new clients, or perhaps because they think they can save on tax in the long run. For a small limited company however, understanding how tax works is vital – and tax matters can be extremely confusing! All limited companies, both large and small, need to be up-to-date on current tax matters, as the consequences can – and often are – costly.
Limited companies don’t use the same self assessment tax return system as other businesses and self-employed individuals. All limited companies, both large and small, are subject to annual corporation tax.
This means the company does its own corporation tax self assessment – i.e. it calculates the amount of tax it must pay itself using a company tax return. The methods and deadlines are different to those used elsewhere.
The most common tax issues faced by a small limited company
It’s important to remember that once a company has applied for and been given limited company status, it is now a separate legal entity from its owner, irrespective of how many staff it employs or who is a shareholder. Everyone, even the sole director/shareholder, is an employee and the company the employer. What this means in terms of tax is that all the money the company earns belongs to the company and not its owner: from now on, any money taken out of earnings must be noted (and justified) as salary or expenses, and comes under scrutiny from HMRC.
Many small limited companies end up having to pay excess tax because the owner simply takes money out of the company without understanding the tax implications. The company can pay its director in three ways: as salary, to pay back money borrowed or spent on company costs (expenses), or as dividends on the shares the director holds in the company. Getting the mixture of salary and dividends right can reduce a company’s tax bill; get it wrong and it can go the other way.
All limited companies must pay corporation tax by the 1st of January of the year after the trading year, i.e. on 1/1/2014 for trading between 1 April 2012 and 31 March 2013. It must also file a corporation tax return (CT600) each year to HMRC, 12 months after the year end at the latest. Limited companies who fail to file their CT600s or send it too late are subject to hefty fines.
A small piece of legislation known as IR35 has also caused many small limited companies problems since coming into effect. This is when a company takes on a project for a client and takes on the status (however short-term) of an employee. Rather than pay the ’employer’s’ National Insurance on the full cost of what they paid out, the small limited company makes a ‘deemed payment’ to HMRC. This is the opposite of how it works for sole traders.
Where to get advice
Calculating taxes as a limited company is complex and can be both challenging and time-consuming. There are companies that specialise in tax management that small limited companies can turn to for advice in this field, whether a company needs help filling out its corporation tax return or with IR35 forms for employees. An umbrella company can help a small limited company with all aspects of tax and payroll and as qualified experts in all tax matters, can save time and money in the long run.