Tax and small business owner remuneration
A question that we often receive from directors is how to compensate yourself if the company is owner managed. In other words a business where the owners are the directors and have discretion in how they are going to structure their own remuneration, or how they are going to extract the profit from the company. Let us explore three possible scenarios.
1. Building up a loan account
We often find that the owners draw money at will and build up a loan account with the company. Some directors are under the impression that this method attracts no tax. They are wrong.
The first factor to consider here is the interest rate that the company is charging the director. In most cases this is 0%. In normal circumstances a company would charge an interest rate to someone it lends money to. Thus in this case the 0% or lower than market related interest rate is directly attributed to the fact that the director is a connected person to the company. In other words the director is receiving a benefit due to his / her employment or connection with the company. This equates to remuneration and as you know remuneration is taxable.
The way the income tax act deals with this situation is by a concept called a deemed dividend. The logic behind this is that the interest free \ low interest loan to the director is (substance over form) the same as a dividend. At the tax year end the balance of the director’s debit (owing to the company) loan account is used to calculated the deemed dividend. The difference between the interest rate that the company charged the director and the official interest rate (repo rate plus 1%) is used to calculated the amount of interest that “should” have been charged were the director not a connected person. The balance times the interest rate that “should” have been charged is now deemed a dividend and off course dividend tax (currently 20%) is payable on this amount.
Let me illustrate by way of an example:
Director A of company ABC has a loan account debit balance with the company at year end of R100 000. The company did not charge any interest to the director. The current repo rate is 7% and thus the official interest rate is 8% (7% + 1%).
Thus the deemed dividend is R8 000.00 (R100 000 x 8%) and the dividend witholding tax on that is R1 600.00 (R8 000.00 x 20%).
Some directors might think that this is not a bad deal R1 600.00 on R100 000 cash withdrawn from the company. They are again wrong. Remember since the loan is of a capital nature it does not get deducted on the income statement as for example a salary, thus it does not decrease your taxable income. So in effect you can argue that the company pays 28% income tax on the R100 000 (since this would have been deductible if it was a salary. Already you are at R28 000 (R100 000 x 28%) plus R1 600.00 deemed dividend which is R29 600. Again the director might think that this is better than a normal dividend of R72 000 (the after tax profit R100 000 - R28 000) which would have resulted in R14 400 witholding tax (R100 000 x 20%) plus the R28 000 income tax which would which would have resulted in a total of R42 400.
In the loan account situation your total tax was R29 600 at an effective tax rate of 29.6% (R29 600 / R100 000) and in the dividend situation your total tax was R42 400 at an effective tax rate of 42.4% (R42 400 / R100 000). Well that might seem that the loan account is the better option, but the differentiating factor is that the same deemed dividend will be charged on the same R100 000 (plus interest from previous year) in the next year. In other words your effective tax rate in the loan account situation keeps on growing each year that the loan has its balance outstanding. Effectively the director is being taxed multiple times on the same initial R100 000.
2. Paying a dividend
This was basically covered in the previous section. If the director declares a dividend to him / herself the effective tax rate is 42.4%. Simply due to the fact that the company pays 28% tax on the profit and the director pays 20% dividend tax on the dividend allocated from after tax profit.
The company has R100 000 taxable income (which the director would like to allocate to him \ herself. Thus the company pays R28 000 income tax and the after tax profit is R72 000 (R100 000 - R28 000). The company can declare a dividend on the after tax profit to the director which results in R14 400 dividend witholding tax (R72 000 x 20%). In other words the company and director paid a total tax of R42 400 (R28 000 plus R14 400) which is an effective percentage of 42.4 (R42 400 / R100 000).
3. Paying a salary
The director can also pay him \ herself a salary. For some reason many directors are under the impression that this is the least tax efficient. In many cases this is actually the most tax efficient.
A salary will be the beneficial choice up to an annual amount of R1 500 000. An amount above R1 500 000 wil be taxed at a marginal rate of 45%. As mentioned the dividend option gets taxed at an effective rate of 42.4% and will thus be the better option for any amount above R1 500 000.
Many factors have been left out for simplification in the discussion above. My advice would be to always contact a tax professional to evaluate your specific situation. If I had to make a rule of thumb, draw a salary up to R1 500 000 and anything above that, declare a dividend.
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Author: Chris Herbst