Authored by:

Ian Smyth

With more than three decades of expertise in financial services, Ian specialises in guiding small and medium-sized enterprises on how effective financial planning can enhance their business stability and security.

Find out more about Ian

Having large amounts of cash sitting in the bank can feel like a fairly safe strategy for a family business. But too much spare company cash could store up longer-term problems for you and your business, as Ian Smyth from Amber River NI explains.

Besides earning a fairly modest rate of return in your business bank account, holding onto cash for too long can also result in unwelcome tax implications. For example, it could affect the company’s eligibility for two tax reliefs that are very important to keep hold of: Business Relief and Business Asset Disposal Relief.

What is Business Relief?

In a nutshell, Business Relief helps to reduce the taxable value of a business for inheritance tax (IHT) purposes. But business owners holding very large cash balances could fall foul of Business Relief rules. Losing that Business Relief could mean the value of the business is included in the business owner’s estate for IHT purposes, resulting in a large IHT bill and a much lower estate for their loved ones.

Instead of keeping large sums of cash in the bank, it is well worth using that cash more tax-efficiently

What is Business Asset Disposal Relief?

This used to be known as Entrepreneur’s Relief, and it can be claimed to reduce the rate of capital gains tax (GCT) when a business is sold (reducing it from 18% or 28% to just 10%). However, as with Business Relief, a large cash sum on the company’s balance sheet could mean it no longer qualifies, meaning CGT due on the business when sold will be based on the higher rate.

What can cash-rich business owners do?

Instead of keeping large sums of cash in the bank, it is well worth using that cash more tax-efficiently. Fortunately, when we talk to business owners about extracting unused profits from the business, we can highlight several options to consider, depending on their own circumstances.

Making use of pension allowances

We often remind clients that pensions are still one of the most tax-efficient types of investment available today, and one of the most sensible ways to extract profits from a business. This is because pensions are much more flexible than they ever used to be.

Not only does the tax relief offered by the government act as a ‘top-up’ on the amount you contribute, but converting excess profits into pension contributions would overcome the income tax implications of taking the money out as a salary or dividend.

Also, any unused pension contribution allowances can be carried forward for three years, which is particularly useful for those with large sums to invest.

VCTs offer generous tax breaks and can help neutralise the tax implications of withdrawing large sums as dividends

Tax-efficient investments

In cases where there may still be a sum of unused profits left over, clients might be interested to learn about the benefits available from investing in government-approved tax-efficient investment schemes, the best of these being Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs).

VCTs are particularly useful as an investment that sits alongside a well-funded pension, and the generous tax breaks available (including claiming 30% income tax relief on the amount invested) can help neutralise the tax implications of withdrawing large sums as dividends from a business.

However, VCTs do carry higher risk, and are generally more suitable for business owners who consider themselves more experienced and adventurous investors.

Estate planning strategies

The third option for family business owners is to consider withdrawing the spare cash and investing it in another Business Relief-qualifying asset or portfolio of companies. The investment would be outside of the owner’s estate for IHT purposes, and could be passed on to beneficiaries without any IHT liability due.

Talk to Amber River

Every family business is different, so it’s important to have a straightforward discussion about your plans for the business, and your own personal priorities, to find the right approach to suit you.

We can also make sure you understand the particular risks associated with these schemes and you’re comfortable with them before you invest. Remember that the value of an investment may go down as well as up and investors may not get back what they originally put in. Tax rules may change in the future, and the value of tax reliefs depends on your individual circumstances.

Get in touch

If you’re in Northern Ireland and you’d like to talk to us about ensuring your business stays tax-efficient, call Amber River NI on 02896 227352 or get in touch via the contact form.

If you are based in another part of the country and want to arrange an appointment with an Amber River financial planner in your area, please call 0800 915 0000, or alternatively use our contact form here.