Five little-known ways to cut your tax bill

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This is the time of year when there's a last-minute dash to take full advantage of pension contributions and Isa allowances. But while it is important not to forget the basics, there are other, more low-key ways to trim your tax bill.

Most tax tips aren't new, but for whatever reason simply aren't widely used. We run through some of the less obvious tactics that will stand canny taxpayers in good stead.

MARRIAGE ALLOWANCE

More than four million married or civil partnered couples are eligible for this tax perk, but just over one in four (1.3 million) take advantage of it, according to HM Revenue and Customs.

The tax break lets you transfer up to £1,100 of your personal allowance to your partner if they earn more than you, and is worth up to £220 a year.

To qualify for the break, the lower earner must have an income of £11,000 or less and the higher earner must be a basic-rate taxpayer (earning between £11,001 and £43,000).

In addition, if you were eligible for the marriage allowance in the 2015/16 tax year, you can backdate your claim to 6 April 2015 and thereby benefit from a tax break of up to £432.

JOINT OWNERSHIP

Thinking as a couple rather than as individuals will generally help cut your tax bill. One way to trim your tax liability is to own assets such as a buy-to-let property jointly.

You can then use both spouses' capital gains tax (CGT) allowance of £11,100 each.

Richard Morley, a tax partner at accountancy firm BDO, says: 'There's no point in one person paying tax on gains above their CGT allowance when the other is not using theirs.

'Joint ownership of assets can help to reduce CGT at the higher rate to the basic rate.'

CHARITABLE GIFTS

Donations by individuals to charities or community amateur sports clubs are tax-free if they are made using gift aid.

According to Karen Clark, a tax partner at RSM, in certain cases making such a donation can reduce your tax by more than your highest tax rate.

If you earn more than £100,000 a year, for example, your personal allowance starts to reduce by £1 for every additional £2 of income.

For 40 per cent taxpayers earning between £100,000 and £120,000, this amounts to an effective tax rate of 60 per cent.

A gift-aided donation to charity reduces the amount of income on which the personal allowance reduction is calculated, so that the penalty for having income in excess of £100,000 can be reduced or removed.

The rate of tax relief for a gift can therefore be up to 60 per cent as you regain your personal allowance.

CAPITAL TAX GAINS ALLOWANCE

One of the best ways to reduce CGT is to make use of the CGT allowance every year.

For some investors, it may even be worth 'crystallising losses' in shares or funds that have not yet recovered from a fall in value, because capital losses can be carried forward to set against future gains.

If you don't want to sell out of an investment, one sensible move, if you hold 'unwrapped' (taxable) investments and have spare Isa (or pension) allowance, is to move the investment into an Isa or Sipp tax shelter.

The process, known as 'bed and Isa' or 'bed and Sipp', involves selling enough of your investment to realise gains up to the value of the CGT exemption, and then buying them back within your Isa or Sipp, or that of your spouse.

However, you should be aware that this may involve transaction charges and a period of time when your money out of the market.

INHERITANCE TAX PLANNING TIPS

Generally, anyone gifting money must survive for another seven years after making their gift for the sum to completely drop out of their estate. However, some gifts are immediately inheritance tax (IHT) exempt.

  • Grandparents can give up to £2,500 to each grandchild who marries without the gift being counted as part of their estate. Parents can gift up to £5,000.
  • There is also an 'annual exemption' that lets you gift up to £3,000 each tax year, and you can carry over unused allowance from the previous year, enabling you to gift up to £6,000.
  • Regular gifts, for birthdays for example, are also permitted, as is any number of small gifts up to £250, provided you have not already given the recipients 'exempted' gifts in the same tax year.
  • Gifts to registered charities and political parties are tax exempt.
  • Another way to exempt a gift from IHT is to make the gift out of normal expenditure. Unlimited amounts of surplus income can be gifted during your lifetime, as long as this is not at the expense of your usual standard of living.

Keep a formal record of the IHT-exempt gifts you make, as HMRC may require proof of your intentions.

Tax planning is a complex area, particularly in the case of IHT planning, so it is worth seeking the advice of a reputable independent financial adviser or financial planner.

New inheritance tax rules: everything you need to know


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