Tax Planning: What to Consider When You’re Thinking Of Selling Your Business

Planning well in advance of exiting your small business should ensure you part ways exactly how you want to and without losing finance

Tax Planning: What to Consider When You’re Thinking Of Selling Your Business

One of the key issues for business owners planning to retire or sell a business centres on how best they plan their tax liability. To maximise the best outcome business owners should plan well in advance.

In our experience, it is never too early to consider financial planning and whilst ‘younger’ businesses may not place this at the top of the agenda right now, the reality is that planning at an early stage can be structured to help with current tax liabilities as well as those on retirement or sale.

Capital Gains Tax

Both Capital Gains Tax (CGT) and Inheritance Tax (IHT) need to be considered carefully as part of the planning exercise and examined in close detail – without appropriate planning for these two very real scenarios business owners might find themselves or their ‘estate’, handing a blank cheque to the tax man!

CGT is payable when you sell an asset, for example, a property or a business and there has been an increase in the value of the asset. Currently, CGT rates on most gains reduced from 18% to 10% for basic rate tax payers and from 28% to 20% for higher rate tax payers from April last year. However there are exceptions, gains from the sale of a residential property that does not qualify for full principal private residence relief continue to be taxed at 18%/28%.

Don’t leave it too late to consider your CGT liabilities, especially if you are planning to sell investments made many years ago. It can be quite a shock to realise how large the CGT liability can be.

CGT liabilities can be reduced by utilising the tax allowances to which you are entitled and by careful planning of your CGT position throughout your life.

You can, of course, ensure you offset capital gains on successful investments with losses from investments that haven’t worked out so well. Losses can also be carried forward to offset gains in future tax years and equally important is the use of your Annual Exempt Amount (AEA). Currently capital gains of £11,300 or less for individuals are exempt from CGT. AEA for most trustees has increased to £5,650.

Moreover, a priority for any business owner should be the setting up a will as the first step in any estate-planning exercise, not only to make certain that matters are dealt with in a tax-efficient way, but to ensure that your exact wishes are carried out.

Having a will means you avoid relying on the intestacy rules that come into play where there is no will. Effectively the law decides what happens to the estate, – remember the point above about writing a blank cheque to the tax man! This can lead to financial anxiety for the surviving spouse/family along with a possible immediate charge to IHT.

Inheritance Tax

If you don’t want to give directly, you could consider a trust. With a little planning, you can transfer asset(s) into a trust with minimal CGT or IHT consequences and it can also reduce your taxable estate. There are, however, some additional tax charges and costs related to trusts that may be applicable. If you are interested in setting up a trust, you should have a conversation with your accountant/lawyer first to ensure that setting up a trust will meet your requirements.

Everyone has an inheritance tax (IHT) Nil Rate Band of £325,000 and this will remain frozen until 2020/21. In addition to the main nil-rate band, the Residence Nil Rate (RNRB) came into force in April 2017.

The maximum RNRB allowance this tax year will be £100,000 rising by £25,000 in each of the next three tax years. This will effectively raise the IHT free allowance to £500,000 per person. Where married couples jointly own a family home and wish to leave this to their children, the total IHT exemption will rise to £1m by 2020/21.

Business Property Relief

Business Property Relief can, with careful planning, potentially remove the full value of a business – sole trader, partnership, or shares in private company from being subject to an IHT charge, either via lifetime gifts or on death. You can gift as much cash as you like during your lifetime, in what is referred to as a ‘potentially exempt transfer’.

Gifting income producing assets to your children, such as shares in the family business or an investment property, is also a good way of reducing the overall family income tax bill whilst at the same time conducting succession planning. Do take care to ensure there are no CGT or IHT liabilities that crystallise on the gift/transfer.

Think also about testamentary gifts out of your estate to a charity or leaving part or your entire estate to a charity. This act of benevolence can reduce the amount of IHT payable on your estate, whilst benefiting your charity of choice. You can also cut the Inheritance Tax rate payable on the rest of your estate from 40% to 36% if you leave a minimum of 10% of your net estate to your preferred charity.

These areas can be daunting, but with a bit of careful planning it is possible to mitigate your exposure to unwanted CGT/IHT liabilities.

The word is always to seek professional advice.


Tricia Halliday, director of personal and corporate tax, Martin Aitken & Co. Limited

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