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Using an EIS fund to tax-efficiently extract profits from your business

Mark Bower-Easton, Business Development Manager, Oxford Capital

Over the years I have been lucky enough to work with many successful business owners. However, success brings its own issues. One such issue is what to do with the build up of profits sitting within the business?

If you extract the profits without any thought about tax-efficiency you will be hit by tax – Corporation Tax at 19%, and Class 1 National Insurance contributions at 13.8%. 32.8% in total.

This is why when I speak to business owners, they will tell me that they pay themselves an income of up to £12,570 (up to the standard personal allowance) and the rest in dividends, where they receive the first £2,000 tax-free, and then pay 7.5% on the next £50,000. Between £50,000 and £150,000 they pay 32.5%, and over £150,000 the rate is 38.1%. These rates are all below earned income tax rates of 20%, 40% and 45%, hence the attractiveness of paying themselves via a mix of income and dividends rather than solely income.

Directors of successful businesses are still going to be paying a lot of tax though. What can be done to reduce the liability to tax further? The first solution that every director should look at is making pension contributions. Pension contributions made directly from the business are a great way of extracting profits in a tax efficient manner. Every contribution can be offset against profit and will therefore reduce the corporation tax bill of the business.

However, they may not necessarily provide a sufficient solution. Pension savers are hamstrung by the annual allowance limit of £40,000 per tax year.  This limit shrinks even further when directors earning over £240,000 per year will see their annual contribution limit reduced by £1 for every £2 in excess of this figure.  While directors earning over £312,000 will have an annual pension contribution limit of just £4,000. Below is a chart to illustrate how the tapering of the annual contribution limit can affect the ability to invest a significant amount of money into a pension:

Pension savers also have the issue of the lifetime allowance, currently set at £1,073,100. If pension savers have failed to plan properly for exceeding the lifetime allowance, they will see the excess hit by a 55% tax charge at the point they decide to draw down on their pension.

So where does EIS come in? An EIS investment platform can be a great solution for business owners who have utilised their annual pension contribution allowance, or are near, or at their lifetime allowance. While directors will not be able to offset their EIS contribution against profits, it can allow them to save a significant amount of tax due to the tax reliefs afforded to EIS investors. It is important to highlight that any tax advantages associated with investing are based on current legislation, are subject to change, and depend on the individual circumstances of each investor however each contribution into an EIS can bring with it 30% income tax relief, which can be claimed back via an annual tax return. The annual contribution limit is £1,000,000 per tax year, enabling income tax relief of up to £300,000 per investor. They can also elect to backdate an investment by one tax year, so if they haven’t invested in the previous tax year they could invest £2,000,000 in to an EIS, increasing the income tax relief figure to £600,000.

But that’s not all – an EIS investment comes with a potential host of other tax benefits:

  • Investment in to an EIS also enables investors to defer a capital gain indefinitely, by investing the profit that would ordinarily be liable for CGT.
  • Tax-free gains on encashment, provided the investment has been held for a minimum of three years.
  • IHT free after two years, providing the investment is still held on death.
  • Interspousal transfer, with no liability to tax or effect on other reliefs.
  • Loss relief, available on each constituent company, which can be offset against income tax or capital gains tax.
  • The ability to make use of Business Investment Relief, for directors of businesses who are UK Resident/Non-Domiciled, who may wish to invest funds from offshore, without giving rise to the remittance tax charge.

Now, before all directors reading this go rushing out to invest in to an EIS fund, it would be remiss of me not to cover the risks of investing in to such a scheme. EIS investments are high risk, and therefore will not be for everyone – you would be investing in to early-stage companies, investing based on potential rather than track record. The associated risks involved in EIS are the reason why the government provides such attractive tax benefits to those who do decide to invest. EIS schemes invest into unlisted companies and are therefore illiquid. You will not have access to your capital until the EIS exits the company you have invested in to, and the general investment horizon is between 5-7 years, but may in some circumstances exceed 10 years.

However, if you are happy to invest your profits for the medium term and do not envisage needing access to the funds for this period of time and are happy to invest in the potential of UK-based companies, with all the risks associated with such an investment, then an EIS may well be a great option for some of your company profits.

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