The nights are finally starting to get a little lighter - maybe we can start looking forward to Spring after all. In financial services, Spring means two things; the Budget (on March 20th this year) and the end of the tax year on Friday April 5th.
This article gives some suggestions on financial planning steps to take before the end of the tax year, so that you can make the most of your tax allowances and organise your affairs as tax efficiently as possible. However, the first point to make is a practical one.
Easter is early this year, with Good Friday on March 29th and Easter Monday on April 1st. With holidays bound to impact on administration at some financial institutions, our first suggestion is that if you're going to act before the end of the financial year, don't leave it until the last minute. If you want to make sure your transactions are processed in time, look on the week commencing March 25th as the last practical week.
Individual Savings Accounts
The overall personal limit for an Individual Savings Account (ISA) for the current tax year is £11,280 and this will increase to £11,520 for the new tax year commencing on April 6th. It's important to note that if you are only contributing to a cash ISA then the maximum is exactly half the overall allowance - so £5,640 and £5,760 respectively. The other key point is that if you don't use your ISA allowances for this tax year then they are lost - they can't be 'carried forward' to the next tax year.
We'd always recommend making use of your ISA allowances if you can - you pay no tax on capital gains which you make within an ISA or income you take from it. For long term investment there is a huge range of funds available within an ISA 'wrapper' from the very cautious to the very adventurous: as always, we'd be happy to discuss all the options with you if you'd like some advice.
Capital Gains Tax
Accountants will tell you that CGT is the 'forgotten' tax relief - people who religiously use their full ISA allowance completely fail to utilise their CGT allowance. For the current tax year everyone has a CGT allowance of £10,600 - meaning that capital gains made on investments such as shares are free of tax if they are within this limit. Husbands and wives can gift assets to each other without incurring a CGT charge, effectively giving a married couple a limit of £21,200. Like the ISA allowance though, the CGT allowance is an annual one, and cannot be carried forward to a subsequent tax year.
The current individual limit for Inheritance Tax is £325,000 and this will remain the same for the tax year 2013/2014. Remember though, that you can make gifts during a tax year and these will be exempt from IHT if they fall within the Revenue limits: the limit is £3,000 per person, so £6,000 for a married couple. Although these amounts are small they can still help to reduce the value of an estate.
There are, of course, far more complex and sophisticated Inheritance Tax planning measures such as the use of trusts; if you feel that you would like specialist advice in this area then we will be happy to help.
Why have we left pensions to (almost) the end? For a simple reason - because whilst there is enormous scope to make tax efficient investments through your pension (especially for higher-rate taxpayers) the legislation and rules are complex and it is an area where specialist financial planning advice is almost always required.
The top rate of tax is shortly being reduced from 50% to 45%, so many very high earners will be motivated to make pension contributions now, and as usual there is the chance to make use of reliefs and allowances which haven't been used from previous tax years.
Equally, those people who are self-employed or directors of companies may need to think about making sure their pensions are as tax efficient as possible, and set up to ensure that they receive the maximum benefits from the business they are running. It all adds up to an area where specialist advice is essential and we are always ready to sit down with clients and use our expertise and experience to make sure they have exactly the right pension planning.
Hopefully that's a useful overview of the planning steps you should take before the year end. There are also other possibilities such as the Enterprise Investment Scheme and Venture Capital Trusts which we haven't touched on due to their complexity. The key message is simple: "talk to us." We're never more than a phone call or an e-mail away and we're happy to explain any of the subjects above in much greater detail.