If you run your business as a personal or family company, you will need to decide how best to extract profits for your personal use. A typical tax-efficient strategy is to pay yourself a small salary and then extract any further profits as dividends. Where this approach is adopted, you will need to determine your optimal salary level of 2021/22.

Benefits of paying a salary

Unless you already have the 35 qualifying years needed for the full single-tier state pension when you reach state pension age, paying yourself a salary that is at least equal to the lower earnings limit for Class 1 National Insurance purposes (set at £6,240 for 2021/22) will ensure that the year is a qualifying year for state pension and contributory benefit purposes. A further benefit of this approach is that employee contributions between the lower earnings limit and the primary threshold (set at £9,568 for 2021/22) are payable at a zero rate (although employer contributions are payable on earnings in excess of the secondary threshold (set at £8,840 for 2021/22)).

Determining the optimal salary level

The optimal salary level (from a tax and National Insurance perspective) for 2021/22 will depend on whether your personal allowance remains available, and also on whether your company is able to claim the National Insurance Employment Allowance. The Employment Allowance is set against your employer’s Class 1 National Insurance liability.

The Employment Allowance is not available to companies where the sole employee is also a director. This means that if you operate as a personal company where you are the only employee and director, you will be unable to claim the allowance. However, if you operate as a family company and have more than one employee (or the only employee is not also a director), you should be able to claim the allowance. The allowance is set at £4,000 for 2021/22. It is not available where the Class 1 National Insurance bill for 2020/21 was £100,000 or more.

Optimal salary where the Employment Allowance is unavailable

If you are operating a personal company or if the Employment Allowance is otherwise unavailable, assuming that you have not used your personal allowance elsewhere, your optimal salary for 2021/22 is one equal to the primary threshold of £9,568. Remember, that as a director, you have an annual earnings period for National Insurance purposes. However, if you opt to pay yourself a monthly salary, the equivalent is £797 per month.

As the secondary threshold for 2021/22 is lower than the primary threshold, employer’s National Insurance contributions will be payable to the extent that your salary exceeds £8,840. If you pay yourself a salary of £9,568 for 2021/22, your company will need to pay employer’s National Insurance contributions on that salary of £100.46 (13.8% (£9,568 – £8,840)).

Although it is possible to pay a salary equal to the secondary threshold of £8,840 free of tax and National Insurance, it is worthwhile paying a higher salary of £9,568. The salary and the associated employer’s National Insurance contributions are deductible in calculating your company’s taxable profits for corporation tax purposes. As the rate of corporation tax at 19% is higher than the rate of employer’s National Insurance at 13.8%, the corporation tax relief obtained on the higher salary outweighs the cost of the employer’s National Insurance. However, once your salary exceeds the primary threshold of £9,568, you will need to pay primary contributions on the excess at the rate of 12%. As the combined National Insurance hit at 25.8% outweighs the rate of corporation tax relief (at 19%), this is not worthwhile.

Optimal salary where the Employment Allowance is available

The Employment Allowance reduces your employer’s Class 1 National Insurance bill by up to £4,000. Where this is available, your optimal salary for 2021/22 is one equal to your personal allowance. This will normally be £12,570.

As the Employment Allowance will offset any employer’s Class 1 National Insurance contributions that would otherwise be payable to the extent that your salary exceeds £8,840, you will not need to pay any tax or National Insurance until your salary level reaches the primary threshold of £9,568. Once this level is reached, it is worth paying additional salary of £3,002 for the year to take your salary up to the level of the personal allowance of £12,570. Although you will pay employee’s National Insurance contributions of £360.24 (£3,002 @ 12%) on the additional salary, as the salary is deductible for corporation tax purposes, you will reduce the corporation tax payable by your company by £570.38 (£3,002 @ 19%), delivering a net saving of £210.14.

However, once your salary exceeds the personal allowance of £12,570, tax will also be payable at the basic rate of 20%, meaning the pendulum swings the other way and the combined tax and employee’s National Insurance payable on any further salary will outweigh the associated corporation tax deduction.

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Your optimal salary will depend on your individual circumstances. We can help you decide on your 2021/22 salary level.