Knowledge

Changing from sole trader to limited company

Posted on Jun 6th, 2018 | Limited company

Changing from sole trader to limited company, image of people posting notes on a cork board

When you go from working as a sole trader to a limited company, you’ll need to think about how your business might change and the various things you’ll need to be aware of. If you’re not sure what business structure is right for you, we’ve written an article to help. If you think you’re ready to move from a sole trader to a limited company structure, here’s a simple explanation of when to make the transition and what you’ll need to keep in mind, without all the jargon.

When is the right time to form a limited company?

Typically, people start contracting or freelancing as a sole trader for the ease of set-up and potentially lower administrative burden when compared to setting up a limited company.

After increasing their earnings, though, many sole traders then consider forming a limited company to lower their tax-paying responsibilities and increase their attractiveness to potential clients. The time may also be right to involve others in your business as directors and shareholders.

The common consensus is that when your earnings remain low, it may be best to remain as a sole trader unless you need other benefits such as limited liability. As a sole trader, your tax and accounting responsibilities will be relatively simple – maybe even simple enough to do yourself if you’re really organised.

When your earnings start to pick up, it becomes more economical to move to a limited company format and save yourself money on tax. Our Take-Home Pay Calculator can show you how much this might be, it varies depending on your company profits and the tax rates in place each year. Our simple rule of thumb is that the tax savings outweigh the costs of running a limited company once your profits reach around £30,000 per year.

What are the benefits of setting up a limited company?

We’ve actually written a whole article about sole trader vs limited company vs umbrella which goes into all the details. But, in short, as well as potential tax savings, there’s also: limited liability, greater borrowing power, improved reputation and credibility.

You need to set up a separate bank account

One of the benefits of running a limited company is that you won’t be personally responsible if your company makes any losses or has a claim made against it, which means all of your business finances must be in the business name.

For this reason, whilst it’s not actually a legal requirement, you need to set up a separate business bank account in the name of your limited company. It’s highly recommended you don’t use the personal bank account used when you were a sole trader for your company’s finances, or you could incur some nasty tax consequences.

As a limited company, you’re taxed personally on the money you take from the business in salary and dividends. As a sole trader, all of your profit is taxable to you personally.

Income is processed differently

Your personal income from your limited company will be paid to you in a combination of salary, which is an allowable business expense, and dividends. Dividends are taken from the profits of your company after paying corporation tax and are paid to you because you’re a director and shareholder in the company.

Since your tax will be calculated differently, you’ll need to keep your personal and business financial affairs (including bank accounts) completely separate.

Business expenses are treated differently

The rules for claiming business expenses are different for limited companies. You can claim tax relief on a variety of business-related expenses that you couldn’t as a sole trader.

Our Business Expenses guide will help you understand what you can and can’t claim for.

Who should be a director

Usually, if you’re setting up a limited company for your business then you’ll be a director. It’s not too difficult, but there are things you’ll need to be aware of as a director. But what about if you’re working with a business partner, or you want your spouse or partner to be a director and shareholder?

These can be difficult decisions with potentially costly implications if you get them wrong, so we’d recommend getting some professional advice. We offer a free consultation where our accountants and advisors can talk you through your options, so why not give us a call on 0333 311 8000?

Transferring your assets to your limited company

If you bought any business assets when you were working as a sole trader, you’ll be able to transfer them to your limited company when you incorporate. However there might be tax implications of doing this, therefore it is vital you speak with an accountant for bespoke advice.

Corporation Tax

When you’re self-employed (as a sole trader) you pay tax on your income via your Self Assessment – depending on your income, you may pay Income Tax and National Insurance of up to 47% combined.

When you’re a limited company, though, the main rate of corporation tax (in 2018/19) is 19%, meaning your tax bill could be much smaller. This rate is set to reduce to 18% on 1st April 2020. Don’t forget though that you’ll also pay personal tax on any salary or dividends taken from your limited company via your Self Assessment.

To see how much you could save, try our Take Home Pay Calculator or speak to one of our advisors.

IR35

IR35 is important legislation used to work out if you’re using your limited company to work as a contractor, or whether you should be working as an employee. The reason this legislation exists is that HMRC is concerned that some businesses are using their limited companies solely as a way of paying less tax.

You’ll need to know whether any contract you take on as a limited company is subject to IR35 rules or not. HMRC are strict on this and can impose taxes and penalties if you get it wrong. Our ‘What is IR35?’ guide will help you understand what your responsibilities are and how to make sure that you’re IR35 compliant.

What to tell HMRC

You need to notify HMRC that you aren’t working as a sole trader anymore as your tax payments will change.

The importance of a good accounting set-up

What this all emphasises is the key role that your accountant plays in ensuring a limited company set-up is best for you. Traditionally, one of the aspects of a limited company which dissuades people is the perceived hassle that running one creates.

However, with advances in computer technology, there’s no longer an excuse for the administration of your limited company to be overly time-consuming. For example, online technology can be used to enable automatic invoice processing, automatic VAT calculations (should you decide to be VAT registered) and expenses management.

It seems only natural for freelancers and contractors working in online industries to be able to maintain and check their business accounts online via the cloud. It seems archaic for anyone to have to keep track of their accounts on paper receipts and invoices, or to physically send information back and forth between a company and their accountant. Not to mention being unable to see the ongoing financial health of your business unless you specifically ask your accountant for this (which will probably cost you for the privilege, too).

Without the right technology in place, running a limited company can be an unwelcome burden for freelancers and contractors.

The ideal accountancy model to support your limited company

The ideal model to provide the accountancy support your limited company needs is an all-in-one accounting solution that enables you to manage everything online with handy apps, while having access to expert accountants as and when you need them.

Some accountants offer these services, but make sure you check the small print. Some online products are advertised as being supported by accountants, without actually providing you with access to the advice you need. It simply means that accountants can update your online software with your income and expenses if you give them your passwords.

Another area to consider is the costs your accountant will charge you. These vary greatly and whilst some accountants promise low rates, it’s the hidden costs and added extras that can soon stack up. For example, if you phone your accountant for advice, will they charge you for contacting them? Are there any extra charges for essential tasks such as sending information to HMRC and Companies House? Do they charge you for basic personal and company tax advice?

Because of the wide range of pricing models in the industry, many small business owners are put off from forming their own limited company. Why form a limited company if there’s no guarantee of getting the level of service you need at a cost you can afford? It’s a real shame if people are missing out on the benefits of running their own limited company because they cannot find the right accountancy solution.

However, owning a limited company isn’t just about saving money – it’s also an issue of financial security and the ability to separate the financial health of your business from your personal finances. It’s for these reasons that Crunch was formed in the first place: by combining online technology with real accountants on the end of a phone and email, accounting should be a breeze.

Get an accountant!

Well, we would say this, wouldn’t we! Getting an accountant is a great way to keep on top of your finances. They’ll remind you of important tax deadlines and payments due, show you ways of keeping your accounts in excellent shape, and advise you on allowable expenses and how to report them so you’re as tax efficient as possible.

They can help you with things like estimating how much tax and NI you’ll need to pay every six months, or quarterly for VAT. They’ll also help to ensure you’re not forgetting any payment on account, which catches many people out every year.

Benefits of an online accountant

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Written by Tom West

Useful tools and resources

Business guides

From understanding expenses to starting a limited company, we've a range of jargon-free business guides for you to download and keep.

Invoicing software and templates

Create, send and store sole trader invoices in a snap with our free invoice software. You can also download a selection of invoice templates for all business types.

Take-home pay calculator

Use our Take-Home Pay Calculator to work out your true earnings and see if you could save money with a different company set up.