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Financial year end approaches - What you should be doing to save tax

Wednesday, 29 January 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Author: Meredith Harington
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Author: Meredith Harington

28 February is the end of the tax year for all individuals, trusts and many companies and close corporations. As we approach the year end and have a good idea of our overall income and tax position for the year, now is the time to take some critical decisions.

The following matters are all crucial to optimising our tax positions:

  • Individuals’ tax savings by topping up retirement annuities
  • Reducing your estate by donating to the family trust
  • Minimising taxation of trust income by distributing before year end
  • Eliminating debit loan accounts in companies by distributing dividends nowUtilising STC tax credits
  • Taking advantage of the annual Capital Gains Tax exemption
  • Saving tax by spending on research and development
  • Urgent reminders about provisional tax

Individual tax savings by topping up retirement annuities 

As up to 15% of taxable income may be deducted from your income in respect of retirement annuity contributions made before 28 February, now is the time to be reviewing your retirement provision. If this could affect you, now is the time to speak to your financial planner.

The 15% deduction is set to increase in future tax years, so it is timely to consider whether you are making adequate provision for your retirement.

Reducing your estate by donating to the family trust

Each individual may make donations up to R100000 per annum free of donations tax. Such donations must be made in cash or kind. If one is using a trust for estate planning (or any other) purposes, such donations might be made to the trust. This has the effect of lowering the personal estate and increasing the assets of the trust. 

Both the taxpayer and spouse may make tax-free donations as described provided this is done before 28 February. 

Minimising taxation of trust income by distributing before year end

The income received by or accrued to a trust will be taxed in the trust (at high rates) unless:

  • The income is attributable to the founder and taxed in his hands; or
  • The income is distributed to a beneficiary within the same tax year. The beneficiary/ies would then be taxed on such income.

As the tax rate of beneficiaries will often be lower than that of the trust, it makes sense, from a tax point of view, to distribute some or all of the taxable income. Of course there might well be other factors in deciding what portion, if any, of a trust’s income should be distributed. The needs, estates and tax position of each beneficiary should be considered before a decision is reached by the trustees. Of critical importance is that such distributions are only made to beneficiaries recorded in the trust deed. It is worth remembering too that distributions to beneficiaries do not require to be made in cash, and the terms of eventual payment by the trust should be carefully considered by trustees, having regard to the current liquidity and future cash requirements of the trust to fulfil its responsibilities to all beneficiaries.

As the income for the year ending 28 February will only be known after that date, it will be necessary to make an accurate estimate before a distribution. The trustees might instead be advised to resolve before year end to distribute for example "all net interest to beneficiary A and B in equal shares” or "the whole of the capital gain to beneficiary C”. What is critical however, is that the distribution must be made before 28 February and that the decision to distribute must be made and ratified prior to that date. 

Eliminating debit loan accounts in companies by distributing dividends now

Should a company have reserves which are available for distribution, and then make a loan to its shareholder or another entity controlled by its shareholder, such loan will be regarded as a deemed dividend, unless interest is charged at a rate at least equal to the SARS official rate. This can lead to undesirable consequences, and directors are advised in these circumstances, to consider distributing a dividend before year end. Before this resolution can be taken, an accurate assessment of the projected loan balance at 28 February will have to be made. In these circumstances dividends tax will be payable on interest free loans remaining after any dividend. The amount of the deemed dividend is calculated by determining the difference between actual interest charged on the loan and interest charged at the SARS prescribed rate.

Taking advantage of the annual Capital Gains Tax (CGT) exemption

All individuals are entitled to an annual exclusion of R 30 000 on any capital gains earned during the tax year. By selling certain growth assets before year-end (eg. unit trusts) and re-purchasing them shortly thereafter, the tax-payer can make use of this annual exclusion and increase the base cost of his or her portfolio. By increasing the base cost of the portfolio, the eventual CGT on disposal of the assets is reduced. Of course transaction costs will have to be considered in making this decision.

Utilising STC tax credits

Under the old STC regime, which preceded the current dividends tax legislation, companies could utilise dividends received to set off against dividends declared in calculating STC payable. On transition from STC to dividends tax on 1 April 2012, some companies may have received dividends which they were not able to use to set-off against future dividends paid. These amounts received are known as ‘STC credits” and can, provided notified to SARS, be used to reduce the dividends tax liability on any dividends paid out in future, for a five year period starting 1 April 2012. We suggest that it makes sense to utilise this credit sooner rather than later. With February 28 looming, this may be a good time to declare a dividend to utilise this exemption should it apply to your company.

Saving tax by spending on research and development

Should your company incur expenditure on research and development of products, intellectual property or computer programs (other than those used in the business or certain prohibited industries), a generous tax allowance might be available in respect of expenditure incurred in the tax year ie before 28 February. To be eligible for this tax allowance the taxpayer must register annually with the Department of Science and Technology. If your budget has not yet been consumed, this can provide a useful tax planning opportunity. 

Urgent reminders about provisional tax

With effect from the 2011 tax year taxpayers including companies with a taxable income over R1 million have been burdened with the responsibility of estimating their total taxable income including capital gains, with greater accuracy. For these taxpayers, should their estimates of total tax payable for purposes of their second (payable 28 February) provisional tax return be less than 80% of the tax eventually assessed, a penalty of 20% of the incremental tax will be payable. Any taxpayer therefore whose total taxable income including the taxable portion of capital gains might reach or exceed R1m should take particular care in calculating their second provisional tax return.

For taxpayers with income under R1m there is also a potential trap if their estimate is based on amounts lower than the last year assessed. In this case, penalties are payable if their estimate is less than 90% of the eventual assessed taxable income. It is often safer to use the last year assessed, and not to reduce the estimate.

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