Letting a property through a limited company can help landlords with larger portfolios pay much less tax. While that promise may be tempting, it’s important to stop and research whether incorporating a company is a good idea for you. Yes there are large benefits, but also some considerable disadvantages.
In this guide, we explore the benefits and pitfalls of buying a buy-to-let property through your own limited company. Read on to discover if it might be a tax-efficient solution for you to pay yourself in dividends — or if the red tape of setting up a company makes it too costly to bother.
The key takeaway is that for landlords with only a few properties, it might not be worthwhile. But with a larger portfolio, it can make real financial sense. While this article will give you a good indication, it will be vital to get good advice from your financial or tax advisor before deciding.
Buying Property to Let through a Limited Company
Switching to a limited company changes the way you buy new properties. But it also means a significant change is needed within your existing portfolio, the ownership of which must be transferred to the limited company.
When looking at any annual tax savings, landlords must factor in the costs of transferring properties to the business, where further tax traps await the unwary. There are also costs associated with setting up and running a limited company, which we cover in more detail below.
Vesting your existing rental properties into a limited company
Unfortunately, it’s not a cheap or straightforward process to move your property into a limited company. You must sell each property to your new company, which can generate high costs:
- Your company must pay stamp duty for the property purchase. You need to pay the Residential rates. From April 2021, this will be 2% on the £125,000 to £250,000 bracket and 5% from £250,000 to £950,000. For a £200,000 terraced house, this will equate to £1,500.
- Companies must also pay the Higher Rates on Additional Dwellings. This is effectively a stamp duty surcharge charged at 3% from £0 to £125,000, and 5% from £125,000 to £250,000. That is an additional £7,500 in stamp duty for your £200,000 property. That is £9,000 in total.
- If the market price is higher than your original purchase price, you are personally liable to capital gains tax of 18% or 28%, depending on whether you are a basic or higher rate taxpayer.
- You may need to pay an early repayment fee on your existing personal buy-to-let mortgage
- There will be finance costs associated with the company applying for and getting a buy-to-let mortgage on the property. You should also be aware that fewer buy-to-let mortgages are available to limited companies, which can make them more expensive with a higher interest rate
- There will be associated legal fees of transferring over the properties, making changes to the land registry, etc.
You must work out the total cost of moving all your properties across to a company. Only then can you establish if any future tax savings will be enough to cover those costs.
Income Tax vs Corporation Tax
The most significant change to managing your property personally or through a limited company is ongoing tax liabilities. When you manage property personally, any profits from your enterprise will be subject to income tax.
Over recent years, owning a buy-to-let has become less profitable because the Government has phased out a policy of allowing finance costs to be tax-deductible. Whereas once all your mortgage interest could be deducted from your rental income for tax purposes, now it cannot. That means more of your rental income is fair game for the taxman.
For higher rate taxpayers with an extensive portfolio of buy-to-let properties, this is crucial to a limited company being a better option. A company does not pay income tax on rental incomes; it pays corporation tax on profits. And with corporation tax at 19%, the tax payable is considerably less than the 40% paid in income tax by a higher-rate taxpaying landlord. Further, a business can deduct mortgage finance costs as a business expense.
That is not the full story, however. The whole point of managing a property portfolio is to take an income from it, and this also has tax implications. Any directors of a limited company can take a share of company profits in dividends. Dividends are more tax-efficient than income tax, but remember you pay tax on dividends on top of the corporation tax liability.
Dividend tax rates are as follows: the first £2,000 of dividends are tax-free. Thereafter, basic rate taxpayers pay 7.5% tax, and higher ratepayers face 32.5% over the £50,000 annual threshold.
With all that in mind, a landlord looking at buying a buy-to-let through a limited company should work out whether they will pay more in tax as an individual, or as a company paying corporation tax together with individual dividend tax.
Here is a basic comparison of ongoing tax responsibilities. Note that you should discuss your own circumstances with your financial advisor or accountant.
Should I let through a limited company? A worked example
In this example, we look at a higher rate taxpayer owning eight rental properties valued at £300,000 each, 75% of it mortgaged at 2.5% interest. He has a combined annual rent of £96,000, with total finance costs (mortgage interest) of £45,000.
Individual taxpayer (assuming all rental income is at the higher tax rate of 40%)
- Rental income £96,000
- Finance costs = £45,000
- Gross profit = £51,000
- Finance cost 20% tax break = £9,000
- Income tax due at 40% of rental income minus the finance cost tax break = £29,400
- Gross profit of £51,000 minus income tax due of £29,400
Net income for landlord is £21,600
Limited company tax liability
- Rental income £96,000
- Less the business expense of finance costs, £45,000
- New taxable gross profit = £51,000
- Corporation tax at 19% = £9,690
- Net profit/income for shareholder (the landlord) = £41,310
- Dividends tax at 32.5%, with first £2,000 tax free = £12,775
Net income for landlord is £28,535
From this rather simplistic example, you can see that this landlord clears around £7,000 more each year by placing his eight properties through a limited company. Of course, there are more factors in play. A company might have further tax breaks available, and it certainly has additional costs. And we haven’t mentioned all the usual deductibles like building insurance, or gas safety certificates.
It’s also likely you will appoint a management agent like OpenRent to find tenants and create tenancies – more costs that will be tax deductible but to both an individual and a company.
Company Administration and Red Tape
Being a director and owning and running a limited company comes with many responsibilities. All records must be kept meticulously, and books kept up to date. You must file an annual return to Companies House, together with updated memorandum and articles of association.
While all this sounds a chore, your accountant will usually take care of it for you. There is a setup cost for launching a limited company, plus you will need to pay each year for your books to be completed, your tax return for corporation tax purposes, and your annual accounts to be filed with Companies House.
Annual accounts are more involved than your personal tax return process, so there is an extra expense and fines for late filing.
When it comes to selling a buy-to-let, the funds remain in the company. And even though companies don’t have to pay capital gains tax (assuming the property increased in value), the price difference will be treated as a profit and is therefore subject to corporation tax.
It’s easier when an individual sells a buy-to-let. Yes, they pay capital gains tax on any value uplift, but the rest is tax-free. When you are a company director, you will have to access the property sale proceeds via dividends, which, as we have seen, are taxed.
Regaining Ownership and Inheritance of Properties
There are several reasons why you might want to take back personal ownership of a rental property from a company. Perhaps you want to make it your own home; maybe you are slimming down your portfolio, and a limited company structure no longer makes sense.
Just like there is a cost when you move property from your ownership to a company, there is a cost when you go the other way. The limited company will need to settle its finance, perhaps with a cost. You then need to arrange your own residential or buy-to-let mortgage on the property, plus pay any relevant stamp duty.
Inheritance planning is a subject in itself. The key takeaway is that if you die, your family will not necessarily inherit the properties you own or be able to live in them easily — especially if they are tenanted. While your beneficiaries may take on shares in the business, they will still have to go about transferring the properties into personal control if they wish to live in them.
Take Detailed Advice
In conclusion, the idea of moving your buy-to-let property into a limited company will appeal more to those landlords with a reasonably large portfolio. Basic examples show that running them through a company will be more tax-efficient with many properties. But for a landlord with fewer than five, it is likely that buying a buy-to-let through a limited company is not the way to go.
Everyone has different needs and circumstances, however, so you must take advice from your financial or tax adviser before reaching any conclusions.