The UK is facing a serious cost-of-living crisis. It’s being driven by eye-watering utility bill increases, rocketing fuel pump prices and record inflation that’s making the weekly supermarket shop and other purchases far more expensive. Moreover, interest rates are increasing, with more hikes expected, while take-home pay isn’t increasing anywhere near in line with inflation.
Many people are already having to cut back to get by, and that includes the nation’s 3.5m sole traders, the unsung heroes of the economy who make up 59% of the total UK business population (5.9m), as well as the 405,000 people (7%) who run ordinary business partnerships.
Caution is advised when cutting costs, because if you cut them too much or in the wrong places, it can damage your sole trader business. But sole traders can potentially make savings in most if not all areas – and that includes tax. That doesn’t mean doing anything illegal, of course, but just finding ways to minimise your tax bill and limit your tax-management costs. So, how might you save money on tax when you’re self employed?
1. Claim all of your allowable expenses
If you’ve been running your sole trader business for some years, you’ve probably already claimed allowable expenses via your Self Assessment tax returns. These are costs generated “wholly and exclusively” to operate your sole trader business. You deduct these from your income so that you’re taxed solely on your profits.
Do some research to find out whether you’re claiming all of your allowable expenses. Government website GOV.UK is a great starting point to find out more about allowable expenses.
How might you be missing out? If you run your sole trader business from commercial premises or supply services at your customers’ homes, you can claim allowable expenses for operating a small home office for after-hours admin work. Make sure you also claim for all eligible business mileage costs. You might be paying for things which could be claimed as an allowable business expense. Even small expenses such as postage stamps or a daily pint of milk mount up over the year.
2. Make Marriage Allowance work for you
You’re probably already claiming your Personal Allowance of £12,570 a year, which is tax-free income you can earn if your net income is below £100,000. But if you’re married or in a civil partnership, find out about Marriage Allowance. It could reduce how much tax you or your partner pays if you or they are a basic rate Income Tax payer (ie income of £12,571-£50,270 – 2022/23 tax year).
The Marriage Allowance enables a partner who is earning below £12,570 a year to transfer 10% of their Personal Allowance to their higher-earning partner, which equals £1,260 and offers a potential tax saving of up to £252 a year.
3. Lower your “payments on account”
Most self-employed people pay their Income Tax in two advance payments, one in January and the other in July, with payments based on the previous year’s tax bill. However, if your earnings for this tax year will be lower, you can reduce your payments via your Government Gateway online account or by sending a completed SA303 form to HMRC. Otherwise, you’ll pay more and have to wait for a refund from HMRC.
4. Get tax relief on your pension contributions
Private pension contributions paid into HMRC-registered private pension schemes are tax-free up to set limits. You’ll only pay tax if the value of your pension pot goes above 100% of your earnings in a year or is more than £40,000 a year.
As explained on the government’s Money Helper website: “If you’re a basic-rate taxpayer, the government will add an extra £25 for every £100 you pay into your pension. If you pay enough tax at the higher rate of 40% in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you can claim back a further £25 through your tax return for every £100 you pay into your pension. In Scotland, you can claim an extra £1.58 for every £100 paid if you pay enough tax at the Scottish Intermediate Rate of 21% [and] a further £26.58 if you pay enough tax at the Scottish Higher Rate of 41%.”
5. Donate to a charity
They’re not only a great way to make a positive difference, but donations to charities or community amateur sports clubs are also subject to tax relief. Donations made through Gift Aid enable charities to claim an extra 25p for every £1 you give, as long as you make a declaration vis a Gift Aid form. Donations will qualify and long as they’re not more than four times what you’ve paid in Income Tax or Capital Gains in that tax year. If you pay tax above the basic rate of Income Tax, via Self Assessment, you can claim the difference between the rate you pay and basic rate on your donation.
6. Claim for previous tax return mistakes or trade losses
If you’ve made mistakes in tax returns in the past four years, for example, by not claiming for all of your allowable expenses, you may be able to claim a refund for overpaid tax. You write to HMRC to tell them you want to claim overpayment relief. You must include proof that you’ve overpaid tax through Self Assessment and sign a declaration confirming the accuracy of the new details you’ve provided. Obviously, you must not wilfully make invalid claims. Covid meant that many sole traders made a loss in recent years, with some unable to claim government support. If you’re among them and you haven’t already done so, you may be able to offset a loss against profits made in subsequent years, which will reduce your next tax bill.
7. Do your own Self Assessment tax return
If you’re currently paying an accountant to complete your Self Assessment tax return, doing it yourself could save you a few quid. For a lower price (£50 or so), software can make completing your own Self Assessment tax return cheaper, quicker and easier, with the software providing prompts to help you enter the right figures in the right place. Such software also comes with customer support.
Other ways to save money and pay less tax
Transferring ownership of assets to your spouse or civil partner can shield you from Capital Gains Tax. You do not pay Capital Gains Tax on assets you give or sell to your spouse or civil partner, providing you live together and their business doesn’t sell them. They may have to pay tax on any gain if they later dispose of the asset.
You may also benefit on savings and investments. The Starting Rate for Savings supports savers on the lowest incomes, as you don’t pay tax on up to £5,000 of interest from savings. The Personal Savings Allowance also enables tax-free earnings. Basic rate taxpayers get a £1,000 tax-free allowance, while higher rate taxpayers get £500 (additional rate taxpayers get nothing). Tax-free ISAs (Individual Savings Accounts) could be another option.
If you rent out a spare, furnished room in your home, the Rent-a-Room Scheme enables you to earn up to £7,500 a year in tax-free rent. And under the Tax-Free Childcare scheme, parents can claim back 25% of their childcare costs up to £500 every three months, as long as they earn less than £100,000 a year and the child is under 11. You’ll need to set up an online childcare account, then for every £8 you pay in, the government will pay in £2 that you can use to pay your childcare provider. You can get Tax-Free Childcare and 30 hours free childcare if you’re eligible for both.
A penny saved…
Finding ways to save on tax can take effort, but the results make it worthwhile, with every penny saved a penny earned. Lowering your costs wherever possible increases the chances that you and your sole trader business will weather the current financial storm and come out stronger on the other side.
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