Any business advisor will tell you the answer, but what’s happening in the real world?

Here are a few examples:

VAT

When Jeanne started her exercise class business, she decided after taking advice that she wouldn’t register for VAT. It makes sense. If you want to compete with everyone else then you can’t charge 20% higher prices to include VAT. But now she’s stuck. She can’t grow the business beyond the VAT threshold because she would have to increase her prices or take a significant reduction in margin. Now she’s contemplating setting up separate businesses to boost her earnings. It’s quickly going to get complicated – she can do without all the distraction of doubling the admin work.

Five years in to running his hair salon, Scott takes a day off a week and shuts early some days just to limit his takings to keep them below the VAT threshold. But he’s living hand-to-mouth.

Which came first in these two cases: tax strategy or business strategy? The payoff of course is that both businesses reduce their tax bill, but at what cost?

I’m sure this isn’t what was intended when a VAT registration threshold was included in the VAT legislation created in 1973.

Income Tax

John runs a sole-tradership and draws money from the business as he needs it and, more importantly, when it’s available during the year. His accountant then finds the most tax efficient way at the year-end to distribute his drawings between salary, expenses and dividends. Cashflow is not managed proactively, so while John knows what’s in the bank he doesn’t keep track of every due payment or receipt so he sometimes draws too much and leaves the business short of cash. This regularly causes him to have sleepless nights.

Norman runs a limited company and runs it the same way. He takes no salary as such and reinvests most of the profits into the business to fund growth. He restricts his drawings to pay as little tax as possible. He’s looking to exit the business in 3-5 years. Unfortunately, because he’s not taking any kind of salary, let alone a market rate salary, he has no idea how profitable the business truly is and is complicating things for himself when he eventually come to sell.

Ken is looking to buy a new vehicle for his business, that he will use personally too, in order to reduce his tax bill. However, his tax savings are less than savings he’ll make obtaining a vehicle this way compared to some of the alternatives.

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