Do you enjoy keeping up-to-date with tax law? I thought not. Many clients tell me they need more support with their accounts, but they either can’t afford an accountant, or they’ve hired an unhelpful one. With the right relationship, it’s like having an extra person on your team and it also saves you a lot of time. Possibly money, too.
Directors of limited companies have many more responsibilities than sole traders. Unless you know what you’re doing, it’s easy to get into a pickle.
In this post, I’ll explain the services accountants typically offer limited companies, give you an idea of the costs, and also offer guidance on how to find one who’ll make your life easier.
As with any profession, not all accountants are created equal. The services and level of care vary enormously. Some charge a one-off fee just to prepare and submit your annual accounts; others offer a range of support in return for a monthly fee. When choosing an accountant, it’s vital to check exactly what you’re getting.
Here’s what might be on offer:
Accountants don’t usually do your bookkeeping, unless you pay them extra. Bookkeeping generally involves raising invoices, recording expenses, and chasing payments. Your accountant sometimes provides or supports software for these activities, but you’re expected to perform them yourself. That means saving and photographing all those receipts.
You’ll also need to manage bank reconciliation yourself. As a limited company, you are legally required to use a business bank account and match every transaction with a corresponding entry in your bookkeeping system. Depending on the software and your bank, it’s often possible to create a link between the two.
It’s unlikely that accountants will help you change your money habits. That’s what financial coaches are for. Ahem. Accountants might offer some general business advice, but it’s not their responsibility to make you better with finances.
Accountants are expensive. These professionals spend a long time studying and they have to keep up to speed with all sorts of topics that most of us would rather ignore. They’re also assuming a lot of responsibility. Getting a VAT return wrong can have serious consequences. They’ll be paying a lot of money for professional indemnity insurance [link] and passing on that cost to you.
Most firms will have fixed-price packages, depending on the type of company you run. It is usually based on:
For VAT-registered limited companies, it’s likely to cost at least £150 + VAT per month. If you’re not VAT-registered, the cost could be a bit lower, but don’t forget that you’ll be unable to claim back the VAT. Always check whether the quoted fees include VAT. You can sometimes save some money by choosing an accountant in a smaller town or a cheaper part of the country. An accountant based in Mayfair will charge a lot more than one in Kidderminster. Unless you need to meet with them in person, the location doesn’t matter.
If an accountant quotes a fee that seems remarkably cheap, find out why! Check they are providing the services you need. Also, be sure that there aren’t any hidden extras. Some will include the cost of accounting software (such as Xero or Freeagent) in the price; others will charge it separately. Make sure you’re clear on whether it’s included, as this can bump up the price by more than £20 a month. A few accountants will upsell you a software support package, too.
Ask your contacts. Even if they can’t recommend a good one, they might make you aware of some you want to avoid. You can also use Vouchedfor, an independent site that shows ratings and reviews from other clients.
When choosing, you should consider:
Location – is it important for you to meet face-to-face? There’s no reason why you need to, but it might feel more comfortable. Also, some people think accountants will do a better job if there’s a chance you might suddenly appear at their elbow. If you live in a big city, an out-of-town accountant might be considerably cheaper.
Size – smaller firms often earn a reputation for being friendlier and more responsive than larger outfits. However, a tiny accountancy practice could become overstretched, especially at busy times. What happens if your corporation tax return is due and your contact is having his hernia repaired? Large companies potentially offer more continuity, but will you get one named contact, or are they going to bounce you around to whoever’s available?
Specialism – depending on your business, you could benefit from a specialist accountant. Some firms focus on the creative industries, while others know a lot more about property. If you’re selling digital products internationally, you’ll need a firm with VAT expertise.
Accountants should offer a free, no-obligation chat. If they don’t, they’re not for you! Here are some questions you can ask during the conversation:
Think carefully about the sort of support you need and check that it’s available through your chosen accountant.
Finding the right accountant takes time and it’s also an expensive exercise. This is why many people either struggle alone or persevere with the wrong firm. There’s an old adage that a good accountant should pay for themselves. Maybe that’s not true for tiny companies, but you should see the benefits as your business grows. And also you’ll have a lot more headspace. Although you always remain responsible for your company accounts, you can rest easier if an expert is on hand to guide you.
Make sure the cost of accountancy is factored into your prices. When you hire a painter and decorator, you’re paying her accountant, too. If you want to build a sustainable business, you need to invest in the right support.
Although it’s easy-peasy to create a limited company, it’s much harder to navigate the taxes associated with becoming a director. As a sole trader, it’s more straightforward and similar to being an employee. Once you’re a company director, you’re both a corporation/employer and an individual/employee. Yes, you get a dual identity. And you pay taxes through both identities.
In this post, I’ll explain the various taxes you pay as a company director and give a worked example, based on a typical setup. This is no substitute for seeking advice from an accountant, though. They can give you specific guidance on your situation. I won’t address taxes that apply only in certain niches, or cover people with income from multiple companies or employers.
Once you’ve deducted your costs from your turnover, that leaves your profit. You’re then taxed at 19% on all your profits. Unlike personal income tax, there’s no tax-free threshold. Even if you make £100 in profit, you need to stump up £19 in corporation tax. You’re right, this is very unfair on new businesses.
You should complete a Corporation Tax return each year. Your tax payment is usually due nine months and one day after the end of your company’s financial year. This is different from personal tax returns, which are due in January.
If you pay a salary to yourself or anyone else and it’s above £8,632, you must pay Employer’s National Insurance (NI) at a rate of 13.8%. There’s an upper limit of £50,000, beyond which no NI is due. Accountants often recommend paying yourself a salary of £8,632 so you avoid NI as both an employer and an employee (see below).
NI payments are made through your monthly payroll system.
If you’re VAT registered, you need to charge VAT on sales and then pay it to HMRC every quarter. The good news is that the amount due is reduced by however much VAT you’ve spent on products and services for your business. Assuming you’re managing your cash flow properly and aren’t spending the VAT revenue between quarters, this tax shouldn’t make a dent in your finances.
No doubt you’re already familiar with income tax. As a company director, though, you often don’t pay it – depending on how you pay yourself. As I mentioned earlier, accountants often recommend that company directors pay themselves a salary of just £8,632. This falls below the personal tax allowance of £12,500 and the NI threshold.
Your salary counts as a cost to your business, so it’s not included in the profits on which Corporation Tax is applied.
As an employer, you pay NI only above £8,632 and it’s the same for employees.
So, a salary of £8,632 isn’t liable for either NI or income tax. As a director, you often pay yourself an additional income in dividends, which are taxed differently.
Now, this is where the sums get more complicated. Dividends are taxed at three different rates, depending on where they fall within the income tax bands. The first £2,000 of dividends are tax-free, then they’re taxed as follows:
£12,501 to £50,000
£50,001 to £150,000
Note, these rates are different from the rates applied to salaried income.
To calculate how much dividend tax you pay, follow these steps:
Dividend Tax - Step by Step
It’s sensible, of course, to use a calculator, but it’s good to understand how it works so you can spot any discrepancies.
Dividend tax is paid through your personal self-assessment tax return, which is due in January.
There’s lots more on dividend tax on the HMRC website.
Here’s an example to show you how it works.
Mel runs her own graphic design business. The turnover is £70,000 and her costs are £20,000. She pays herself a salary of £8,632 and dividends of £30,000. Her tax breaks down as follows:
Company profits = £50,000 (remember, her salary is included in the business costs)
Corporation tax = £9,500 (19% of £50,000)
Salary = £8,632, so no income tax or NI due
Dividends = £30,000
Mel still has some of her personal tax allowance left, as her salary was £8,632. The Personal Tax Allowance is £12,500, so another £3,868 of her dividends are also tax-free.
That takes us down to £28,132 that’s taxable.
Then we deduct the £2,000 dividend tax allowance, bringing the taxable figure to £24,132.
As this is within the basic rate tax band, it’s taxed at 7.5%.
As you can see, this is complex! This is why it’s a good idea to hire an accountant. You’re undoubtedly too busy to keep on top of an array of taxes that change each year. Make sure this cost is included in your pricing. Accounting software, such as Xero or Freeagent, should show how much tax your company needs to pay. You can use a dividend calculator to get an idea of your personal dividend tax liability.
Taxes aren’t desperately exciting, but you don’t really want the excitement of a nasty surprise.
This blog post does not constitute financial advice. Please seek advice from a qualified accountant.
I remember being delighted when VAT was increased to 20%. Not because I wanted to pay more for my chocolate biscuits,1 but because it was so much easier to calculate than 17.5%. Unfortunately, the standard rate is the simplest thing about VAT.
In this post, I’ll give you an overview of how VAT works, explain a few benefits of VAT registration, and also point out some of the downsides.
Before registering for VAT, you should definitely speak to your accountant. VAT registration brings many financial responsibilities, along with some stiff penalties for non-compliance.
Value Added Tax, or VAT, is a tax applied to the sale of goods and services. Businesses and sole traders with an annual turnover above £85,000 are obliged to register and then charge their customers VAT, even if the customer isn’t VAT-registered themselves. A benefit of VAT registration is that you can then claim back the VAT on any goods and services you’ve purchased for your business. The amount you pay to HMRC each quarter is the difference between the VAT you’ve charged your customers and the VAT you’ve paid on your purchases.
For example, say your turnover for the first quarter is £30,000. Of this total, £5,000 is VAT. You’ve bought various bits of kit, supplies, and paid rent on your office, amounting to £3,000. The proportion of those costs that’s VAT is £500. So, to calculate your VAT bill, you deduct the VAT from your purchases from the VAT you charged on sales. In this case, you give HMRC £4,500.
Some of that VAT money will be sloshing around in your bank account for a few months before you need to pay it. Make sure you don’t spend it!
This hopefully seems quite simple so far. However, there are a few different VAT rates and schemes.
You’ve probably noticed that VAT isn’t charged on everything and the rate sometimes varies. There are four rates:
If you’re a publisher, you wouldn’t charge VAT on paperbacks, but you’d need to charge it on ebooks (which are now on the standard rate).
Unless you’re selling zero-rated, exempt, or reduced products/services, you must charge 20% VAT once you’re VAT-registered. Remember, this is mandatory if your turnover exceeds £85,000.
This might sound unattractive if you have a good turnover but not much in the way of overheads. You get the faff of VAT without the benefits. Well, meet the flat-rate VAT scheme.
The flat-rate is a different system that benefits some eligible businesses. Under the flat-rate scheme (FRS), you still charge your customers VAT in the usual way, but you give only a percentage of it to HMRC. Sounds like a good wheeze, doesn’t it? The snag is that you can’t reclaim the VAT on your purchases unless you buy an eligible asset costing more than £2,000. The amount of VAT you pass on to HMRC depends on your business type. For instance, if you’re offering secretarial services, the rate is 13%; for accountants it’s 14.5%. Here’s what it looks like for Neil, a virtual assistant who invoices a total £45,000 over the year:
How it Works
Neil pockets £2,323.01, but he can’t claim back the VAT on the software and stationery he buys. This works well for Neil, as his overheads are small and he works only for large clients who can claim back the VAT on his fees.
For more information on the flat-rate scheme, take a look at HMRC’s webpages.
Before registering, speak to an accountant to make sure it’s the right move for you. Once you’re registered, it’s tricky to deregister.
You can register for a VAT Online Account through the Government Gateway.
If an accountant will be managing VAT for you (which is highly recommended), you’ll need to nominate them as an agent to act on your behalf.
There are a few stages, so be patient!
Not all VAT registrations are accepted. For instance, HMRC might decline your application if they decide you’re a tiny business and unlikely to generate much taxable revenue. Of course, the scheme exists to generate income for the government, not to help businesses. You can appeal by providing supporting evidence.
Once you’re registered, you have to submit your quarterly VAT return online, using a Government-approved system. This is part of the Making Tax Digital initiative. Most of the major accounting software providers such as Xero and FreeAgent will have this covered. You can no longer submit paper-based forms.
You have to submit a VAT return, even if there’s nothing to pay or reclaim. If you do owe money, you can pay by standing order, direct debit, bank transfer, or corporate credit card. The due date appears on your VAT return. Any refunds are transferred to your bank account (make sure you provide the details when registering), usually within 10 days of submitting your return.
You can reclaim VAT on purchases made in the six months before registration, and also on some expenses within the previous four years.
This is absolutely not financial advice. Please speak to your accountant before deciding to become VAT-registered.