Where a family company has cash in the bank but profits have been adversely affected by the pandemic, directors of a family company may wish to take a short term loan to enable them to meet personal bills, with a view to clearing the loan with a dividend payment when business picks up. This can be a tax-efficient strategy, although there are tax implications to be aware of if the loan balance exceeds £10,000, or if the loan is not repaid by the corporation tax due date.
A tax-free loan
It is possible to enjoy a loan of up to £10,000 tax-free for up to 21 months. To enjoy the maximum tax–free period, the loan must be taken out on the first day of the accounting period. Where the loan is taken out during the accounting period, as long as it does not exceed £10,000, it can be enjoyed tax-free until nine months and one day after the end of the accounting period.
Provided the loan is for £10,000 or less, there is no benefit in kind tax to pay. But if the outstanding loan balance exceeds £10,000 at any point, the director is taxed on the benefit of the loan.
Section 455 charge
To avoid a section 455 charge, it must be repaid within nine months and one day of the end of the accounting period. This is the day by which corporation tax for the period must be due. A section 455 charge (named after the legislative provision imposing it) is a charge on the company set at 32.5% of the outstanding loan balance. The charge is aligned with the higher dividend tax rate.
If the loan is cleared by the corporation tax date, there is no section 455 tax to pay. There are various ways in which the loan could be cleared, for example, by declaring a dividend (assuming that the company has sufficient retained profits) or by paying a bonus. However, there will be tax implications of these too. Unless the director can use funds from outside the company to clear the loan or will pay tax on the dividend or bonus being used to clear it at a rate which is less than 32.5%, it may be better to pay the section 455 charge instead.
The section 455 charge is a temporary charge which is repaid if the loan is repaid. The repayment is made nine months and one day from the end of the accounting period in which the loan was repaid, usually by setting it against the corporation tax liability for that period.
It should be noted that anti-avoidance provisions apply to prevent a director from clearing the loan shortly before the corporation tax due date and re-borrowing the funds shortly afterwards.
Benefit in kind charge
A tax charge will also arise on the director under the benefit in kind legislation if the balance exceeds £10,000 at any point in the tax year. The amount charged to tax is the difference between interest due on the loan at the official rate (set at 2.25% since 6 April 2020) and the interest, if any, paid by the director. The company must also pay Class 1A National Insurance (at 13.8%) on the taxable amount.
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