Sole trader or limited company?

Sole trader or limited company?

Which is best for you?

If you’re a sole trader, you may have heard that you can save tax by running your business through a limited company. This could indeed be the case, but there are many factors you should consider before you decide. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of trading through a limited company.

The big change: you and your company are no longer the same thing

When you’re a sole trader, you and your small business are legally one. But if you turn your business into a limited company (this is also known as ‘incorporation’), the company becomes a separate legal entity from you. This legal separation can work as both an advantage and disadvantage of incorporation, as you’ll see.

Advantages of incorporation

Switching from sole trader to limited company could save you tax

There are indeed some tax savings to be made by making the switch from sole trader to a limited company. Limited companies don’t have to make Income Tax payments on account, for example, but sole traders do. And while sole traders pay Income Tax on profits and classes 2 and 4 National Insurance, limited companies pay Corporation Tax on profits, which is a lower rate than Income Tax, and no National Insurance.

However, it’s important to bear in mind that limited companies are not entitled to a personal allowance, nor are the tax savings so significant since the taxation of dividends was changed in April 2016.

It’s important to discuss any potential tax savings carefully with Citi Accounts or your accountant and to ask them to calculate what you could save. This will depend on your business’s circumstances, and, in particular, whether you have any other sources of income.

You could claim more tax relief on certain costs

When you run your business through a limited company, some costs are given more tax relief than they are for sole traders. For example, a limited company can pay for food and drink for employees (including you!) whenever they’re out and about on business. Sole traders, on the other hand, can only claim tax relief on these costs in certain circumstances (e.g. when the business trip involves an overnight stay).

Limited companies can attract investment more easily

If you are looking for investment in your business, incorporation could be an advantage for you. As a limited company, you will be able to sell shares in your business to an investor relatively easily. Sole traders, on the other hand, cannot seek investment, unless they go through the complex process of turning their business into a partnership.

You would have limited liability protection

Because a limited company is a separate legal entity from its directors, the company can own equipment, incur debts and pay bills in its own right. That means that if the company is sued, your assets, such as your house and car, cannot be seized to pay the debt unless you have given a personal guarantee to a company creditor. If you are a sole trader, on the other hand, your assets could be seized to pay the business debt, because you and the business are legally the same entity.

Disadvantages of incorporation

Running a limited company means more paperwork

Sole traders only have one document to file with government bodies each year: their tax return. However, a limited company has to file:

  • a set of accounts
  • a confirmation statement
  • a Corporation Tax Return

In addition, each director nearly always has to file a personal tax return to HMRC. If you are an employee of your company and take a salary, you will also have to register the company as an employer and set up a payroll.

All this means that after incorporation you will either have to spend more time preparing and filing paperwork, or you will need to pay your accountant more to do this for you.

Trading through a limited company involves potential tax costs

As the director of a limited company, you would no longer be able to draw money freely out of your business bank account. The company could pay you a salary, pay dividends on the shares you own, and reimburse you for any expenses you incur on its behalf. However, if you were to take money out of the company for any other reason, you may have to pay extra tax.

As the director of a limited company, you will have legal duties to fulfil

Your legal responsibilities as company director would include safeguarding the company’s assets and making the decision to cease trading if you knew the company couldn’t survive. If you fail in your legal responsibilities as a director, the consequences can be serious: you could be fined or even go to prison. As such it is important that your accountants look after your business affairs and that you seek advice as soon as possible.

Limited companies have less privacy than sole traders

Your company address details, directors, shareholdings are all in the public domain on sites such as Companies House. Small companies do have to file accounts but generally, these will be abbreviated accounts showing limited information in the public domain.  

Weighing up the pros and cons

As you can see, when it comes to deciding whether or not to incorporate your business, it’s not a clear-cut choice! The best choice for your business will depend on your circumstances and should be discussed with your accountant.

To ensure that you have the right business structure for your business and to minimise tax liabilities, please contact us at Citi Accounts for an informal discussion.


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