Limited company directors – salary vs. dividends

One of the main benefits of working via a limited company is that you can take advantage of tax planning measures not available via other business structures (such as umbrella companies).

The main benefit of drawing down dividends from your company is that they are not subject to National Insurance deductions, unlike salaried income.

In addition, as you are in control of your own finances, you can decide when to declare company dividends – you may want to postpone taking a certain amount of dividends until a future tax year, for example.

For a number of reasons we will explore below, most limited company professionals pay themselves a small salary, and derive the rest of their earnings in the form of dividends.

What level of salary should I pay myself?

When deciding the level of salary you should pay yourself in the current tax year, you need to consider various factors, particularly the prevailing income tax (personal allowance) and National Insurance thresholds.

  • Take into account any salary already earned from a previous employment (if you were a permanent staff member for example), when working out how much further salary you wish to draw down in the current tax year.
  • The current tax-free personal allowance is £10,000 (2014/15 tax year), so if your salary is less than this amount, you will have no PAYE income tax to pay at all.
  • The value of the personal allowance is gradually withdrawn by £1 for every £2 you earn above £100,000 each tax year. This means that your entire personal allowance will have been removed by the time you hit the £120,000 mark.
  • Your company pays Employers’ NICs on any salaries it pays out, and you will be personally liable to pay Employees’ NICs on the same level of income.
  • Your company will pay 13.8% NICs on salaries paid in excess of £153 per week (2014/15 tax year).
  • From April 2014, the new ‘Employment Allowance’ allows all businesses to reclaim up to £2,000 in Employers’ NICs. However company directors who receive small salaries are unlikely to benefit due to their typically low salary levels.
  • As a company employee, you will have to pay 12% NICs on salaried income in excess of £153 per week (2014/15 tax year). You can check the latest NIC rates and thresholds on the HMRC site here.
  • You should check with The Pension Service to see if your personal state pension will be affected by the level of NICs you pay, as if you pay yourself too low a salary, you may affect your pension entitlement. You can access a personal pension statement if you register online via the Government Gateway.
  • If you have a contract of employment with your company (however unlikely this may be), then you must pay yourself the National Minimum Wage, which is currently £6.19/hour (from 1st October 2012).
  • You should also check with your accountant if there is a minimum salary required if you make contributions to a personal or executive pension scheme.

This article assumes that your contact work is not subject to the IR35 rules. Any income caught by IR35 must be paid in the form of a deemed salary, rather than dividends.

In Summary

When working out dividend amounts, you must ensure that you have sufficient retained profit in your company, otherwise your dividend declaration could be classed as ‘illegal’.

You should discuss your overall remuneration strategy with your accountant before relying on any information contained within this article; after all, this is the most important aspect of the service they should provide you.


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