Six ways to pay less tax

When it comes to year-end tax planning, there are some less obvious ways you can legitimately reduce your tax bill. Find out more here.

Make use of both spouses’ personal income tax allowances by transferring taxable assets to your spouse if he/she does not use their full allowance. For example, you could transfer a deposit account in your name into your spouse’s, so that the interest becomes theirs. The same applies to share dividends, income from property and income from investment funds such as OEICs (open-ended investment companies).

Use pension contributions to lower your tax bill or qualify for extra benefits

People who earn more than £50,000 lose their child benefit gradually until their income reaches £60,000, at which point, they lose the lot. A pension contribution has the effect of reducing your taxable income. For example, if your income was £60,000 and you paid £10,000 into your pension, this would have the effect of reducing your income (for the purpose of calculating child benefit allowance) to £50,000. Not only will you get 40% tax relief on any money you pay into your pension, if you’ve got two kids, you’ll also reclaim £1,788 in child benefit.

Child benefit for two children alone is equivalent to a pay rise of over £3,000, when you take income tax and national insurance into account.  

The same principle holds true for those people who have taxable income of more than £100,000 who gradually lose their personal allowance by the time their income hits £123,700 (2018/19).

Capital gains tax

Dispose of assets using your capital gains tax allowance. The allowance for 2018/19 is £11,700, which means you can dispose of assets and make a profit of up to £11,700 without paying tax.  Any excess over £11,700 is taxable.

Capital gains are taxed at different rates according to your income, so it is best to dispose of assets when you are a basic rate taxpayer, when the rate of tax of capital gains is 10% (or 18% if you dispose of residential property). If you are a higher rate taxpayer, the rate is 20% (28% for disposals of residential property). If the gain, when added to your income, straddles the higher rate tax threshold, you will pay tax on some of the gain at 10% (or 18%) and the rest at 20% (or 28%).

Transferring ownership of assets to your spouse is a good way to reduce your capital gains tax bill. For example, imagine you are selling shares that will give rise to a capital gain of £22,000. Although you can use your allowance to cover the first £11,700 of the gain, the other £10,300 would be taxable at up to 20%. However, transferring half the shares to your spouse before you sell them would mean that you would each make a gain of £11,000, which is within each of your capital gains tax annual allowances of £11,700. In this case, the total tax bill would be zero. 

Giving to charity/gift aid      

The tax-year end is also a good time to think about charitable giving. Charitable gifts reduce your tax bill in a similar way to pension contributions. Gifts made under the Gift Aid scheme qualify for immediate tax relief at 20%, with higher or additional rate taxpayers claiming back the difference via self-assessment.  You may be asked to give evidence of a gift when claiming back the extra 20% or 25% at the tax-year end, so make sure you keep good records and get receipts.   

Gifts made to charities also count as exempt transfers for inheritance tax, which means they don’t count as part of your estate as soon as they are made.

The Starting Rate for Savings and the Personal Savings Allowance

The starting rate for savings is available to those whose non-savings income and savings income added together is less than their personal allowance plus £5,000. For example, assuming you qualify for the full personal allowance of £11,850, you could benefit from the starting rate for savings as long as your total taxable income is less than £16,850.

The starting rate for savings can add an extra nil-tax allowance of up to £5,000 to cover savings income, but the allowance is reduced where non-savings income (earnings, pension income) are more than your personal allowance.    

In April 2016, the government also introduced a new personal savings allowance. Basic rate taxpayers can now earn up to £1,000 interest on their cash savings account each tax year without having to pay tax and higher-rate taxpayers can earn up to £500 of interest. Those in the highest tax bracket, earning over £150,000 a year, do not benefit from the allowance.

If your only income consists of savings income, then using your personal allowance, the starting rate for savings and the personal savings allowance together, could allow you to earn savings income of up to £17,850 without paying tax.

Tax rules for income from share dividends and other shares-based investments

When it comes to dividends from shares-based investments, including direct investments in shares and OEICs and unit trusts investing mainly in shares, everyone now has a dividend allowance of just £2,000 (2018/19). This means the first £2,000 of dividends is tax-free.

Tax is paid on any excess dividends over and above the £2,000 allowance, with the rate depending upon whether total income falls within basic, higher or additional rate tax band. The rates currently applied to these bands are 7.5%, 32.5% and 38.1% respectively.