‘Landlord Ltd’ – is this how to beat the buy-to-let squeeze?

Those who buy to let are facing a double whammy of additional financial pressures. We take a look at one of the possible solutions: incorporating your business. However, such a step isn’t without its drawbacks – so is it for you?

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The 3 per cent hike in stamp duty for additional properties (including buy-to-let) in the Autumn Statement wasn’t the worst thing to hit landlords in 2015. Tax relief on mortgage interest payments was slashed to a flat rate of 20 per cent, which from April 2017 will eat into the profits of higher earners who had previously qualified for relief at 40 per cent. You can find out more about that here.

There is a way to reduce the impact of this change – but it’s a big step and certainly won’t be for everybody. If you incorporate your buy-to-let business as a limited company, you won’t pay income tax on the profits, you’ll pay corporation tax instead – which is lower (currently 20 per cent). This should significantly offset the halving of tax relief for higher band taxpayers.

July 2015 saw a huge spike in applications for landlords setting themselves up as limited companies to take advantage of this tax break, and the number of buy-to-let mortgages issued to companies has likewise soared. But despite the potential savings, it’s not something to rush into. There are many pros and cons to weigh up first.

Setting up a limited company – what does it involve?

A limited company is legally separate from you as an individual, as are its finances. Private limited companies are those with privately held shares, owned by just a few people (or you could be the only shareholder). Public limited companies have shares that can be traded on the stock market.

To set up your company you need to register at Companies House (you can do this online). This part is quite easy, as the fee is low and it requires just requires basic information and the signatures of the director(s) and witness.

However, you will need to consult both a solicitor and an accountant on whether or not you should incorporate. You will be required to supply annual accounts to Companies House, and inform them of any changes to your company (such as new employees) within 14 days.

You’ll need to be ready for a lot more paperwork, including your corporation tax return, a PAYE salary scheme and workplace pension (if you hire any staff), as well as your own self-assessment tax return and the company’s accounts. The accounts must meet the standards of the Companies Act, so you will almost certainly need to engage an accountant to handle this. You will need to factor in any additional fees before deciding if incorporating will really save you money.

Other potential drawbacks for landlords forming companies

  • Disclosure
    Companies have to disclose all information about their business, including profits, salaries and margins. Your competitors may end up using this information to put you under pressure.
  • Mortgage availability
    Fewer mortgage providers will lend to a company, so your choice of mortgage deals won’t be as broad and competitive as before. An independent mortgage adviser can be a great help, though.
  • Cost of transferring properties into the company
    Moving a property held in your own name into the ownership of your company requires a sale and purchase process, which will trigger a capital gains tax and stamp duty bill. Make sure this won’t cancel out any savings you stand to achieve.
  • Exiting the business
    At some point you will need to come up with a strategy for extracting the value of your business, and this can be a complex process.

More advantages of incorporating

In addition to the potential savings on income tax, there are other reasons to consider moving your buy-to-let business to a limited company structure.

  • Limited liability
    If your business fails, you are only liable for the money invested in the company, so you are more protected than you would be as a sole trader.
  • Beat the extra stamp duty (perhaps)
    The government is consulting on exempting companies with more than 15 properties from the 3 per cent stamp duty surcharge. If this comes about, you may be able to take advantage by forming a joint company with other landlords to pass the 15 property mark.

The best way to find out if it’s worth switching your buy-to-let business into a limited company structure is to talk to professional advisers – an accountant, a solicitor and a financial adviser can all help on this one, alongside a mortgage adviser to find you the best value deals (so that’s a full house).