One of these ways is to draw dividends from your company, as opposed to receiving a salary; doing so can help to reduce your tax bill.
If you're newly self-employed, this can be rather confusing.
You might be wondering: How can dividends help reduce my tax bill, and what taxes do I need to pay on them? Are there additional considerations I need to keep in mind?
These are the questions we'll be answering below:
What are dividends?
A dividend is a payment of profit that a limited company distributes to its shareholders.
This is the money remaining after all business expenses and liabilities, as well as outstanding taxes (including VAT and Corporation Tax) have been paid off.
Dividends must be distributed according to the percentage of ownership of each shareholder. Here's an example: if you own 50% of your company's shares, you will receive dividends amounting to 50% of the retained profit.
Types of dividends
There are two common types of dividends you need to know about: final and interim dividends.
Final dividends are declared at the end of a fiscal year, after all year-end financial statements have been recorded and reported during the Annual General Meeting (SGM). It is generally paid on an annual basis.
Interim dividends are dividend payments that are made before a business’ year-end financial statements are released. As such, it is paid out from a company’s retained earnings - not current earnings. Interim dividends can be paid at any time across the year, and are typically a smaller payout compared to final dividend.
Dividend paperwork: Getting it right
You'll need to produce the following documents for every dividend payment your company makes:
- Board meeting minutes: Companies are required to conduct a board meeting to declare dividends, and company board minutes must be prepared each time a declaration is made. For smaller companies, this may often be just a case of getting the paperwork completed.
- Dividend voucher: A dividend voucher must be issued for every dividend payment made. You need to keep a copy of the voucher for your company's records, as well as provide a copy to each recipient. The voucher should include the following details: company name, date, names of shareholders being paid a dividend and the amount of the dividend.
Dividend FAQs & Important points you need to know
How often can I pay myself dividends?
You can draw dividends from your company at any frequency across the year, as long as your company has sufficient distributable profits. Payments are typically made on a monthly or quarterly basis.
A common concern among contractors we work with is that HMRC may regard frequent payments as disguised salary. To keep in the good books of HMRC, ensure that you keep clear records and have the right paperwork in place.
Keep your salary and dividend payments separate, as this leaves a clear audit trail. In doing so, you’ll be able to prove that nothing is amiss, and that you’ve gone by the books should HMRC decide to launch a tax enquiry.
Do note that dividends can’t be drawn from contracts that fall within IR35. For further information on off-payroll working rules and what it means for contractors, refer to our comprehensive guide on IR35.
What else can I do with dividends?
You may consider paying dividends into a pension fund, ISA or to family members.
You’ll need to weigh out the pros and cons of each option, and consider the tax and legal implications. This can be complex, and is a decision that is best made after consulting an accountant.
Key dates you need to know
Dividend declaration date:
The date at which details of the dividend payment - such as the dividend amount, the date of record and payment date - are announced by a company’s board of directors.
A cut-off day that is used to determine who is on the share register, and as such qualifies to receive dividend payouts.
In other words, in order to receive the dividend, an individual has to be a shareholder by the record date. The record date typically falls on a Friday.
Also referred to as the ex-date, the ex-dividend date refers to the last day on which an individual must own shares in order to qualify for the upcoming dividend.
If an investor buys shares on or after the ex-dividend date, the payout will go to the seller. The ex-dividend date typically falls on a Thursday, as it is usually set one working day before the record date.
The date at which dividends are paid out to shareholders.
Dividends can't be paid out if a company is losing money
Dividends can only be paid on profits that a company has earned during the year, or from accumulated profits from previous years. On the other hand, salaries can be paid out even when a company has made a loss.
Paying a dividend doesn't reduce your company's corporation tax bill
Companies pay Corporation Tax on its profits before dividends are distributed, so paying a dividend doesn't affect your company's corporation tax bill.
On the other hand, salaries are considered as business expenses. These reduce your profit, and subsequently your Corporation Tax.
Creating different classes of shares can be an option worth exploring
Does your company have working and non-working partners?
Creating different classes of shares may be an option you might want to explore, so that both types of partners don't wind up receiving the same dividend rate.
Timing is key
In general, companies distribute dividends every quarter or half year.
There aren't any hard and fast rules when it comes to how often dividends are paid out-and this is something your need to consider carefully.
- It can have an impact on the amount of tax you pay: Dividends can be a way for you to balance out your profits from one year to another, so you can avoid being put into a higher tax bracket. If your profits are £55,000 in the first year and £10,000 in the second year, you can declare a lower dividend for the first year so that you pay the basic rate for both years-rather than paying the higher rate for the first year.
- It can have an impact on your HMRC deadlines: Income tax on dividends are due in January after the tax year (running 6th April - 5th April) in which the dividend was distributed. This means that tax on a dividend received in February 2020 will be due in January 2021. If the dividend was paid out on May 2020, the tax will be due in January 2022.
Your personal pension can be affected
Receiving income as dividends (rather than a salary) can help reduce your tax load.
Yet, it's important to keep in mind that your personal pension will be affected, as getting a salary increases contributions that can be paid into your personal pension.
We recommend checking in with your accountant about minimum salary requirements that may be imposed if you want to make contributions to a personal or executive pension plan. You may also want to discuss whether setting up a company pension scheme is an option you should consider.
Understanding more about dividend tax
Business owners typically pay themselves through a blend of salary and dividends, as this is a more tax efficient way to operate.
That's because neither the company, nor you (as an employee) are required to pay National Insurance Contributions on dividends. You are required to pay tax on dividends though— and we'll explain more about this in a separate guide on dividend taxes, rates and allowances.