Beware of Directors’ Loan Accounts

Accountants often advise clients to use directors’ loan accounts as a device to help minimise their personal tax liabilities. However, be warned, they only work when the directors are also shareholders and the company is making profits.

Essentially they involve the directors borrowing money from their company and drawing only a minimum salary through their company’s payroll. The loan account is paid off by declaring a dividend and this is a legal way for directors to minimise their personal tax and it avoids having to pay employee and employer NI contributions.

This is fine when a company is profitable but it can become a problem if the company does not have sufficient profits as distributable reserves that can be used to clear the loan.

We are coming across increasing numbers of companies that have not made a profit and where the loan cannot be cleared, leaving the directors effectively owing money to the company.

This can be a serious problem if the company is hoping to reach a Time to Pay (TTP) agreement with HMRC to defer payment of corporation tax, PAYE or VAT because HMRC generally stipulates that such loans are repaid as a pre-condition of approval.

Similarly, when proposing a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) or when a company becomes insolvent, the appointed administrator or liquidator will most likely ask the director(s) to repay the loan. Before approving a CVA, experienced creditors particularly HMRC also tend to demand repayment of directors’ loans.

It is often forgotten that such attempts to reduce tax carry the risk of creating a huge personal liability. To avoid it, we recommend that such dividends are declared in advance so as to avoid a loan or at least regularly to avoid building up a huge directors’ loan account. This avoids the normal practice of waiting until long after year end when the annual accounts are prepared, during which time the company may incur losses that mean dividends cannot subsequently be declared.

A further note of caution relates to any directors’ loan account outstanding at the company year end, which will be highlighted to HMRC in the accounts. Despite any intention to reduce the tax liability, tax legislation seeks to limit the benefit by imposing a section 455 CTA 2010 tax liability (under Corporation Tax Act 2010, formerly s419 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988). While this tax can be recovered when the loan is subsequently repaid by the director, whether in cash or as a dividend, it triggers a significant tax liability on the company.

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