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If you’re a new freelancer – or thinking of becoming a contractor – Payments on Account is a little-known, but essential, tax thing you need to know about. Our guest writer, Dan Stopp from Bokio, tells us all about it.
There’s no doubt that one of the greatest sources of financial distress for the newly self-employed is the sudden realisation that their first tax bill is much larger than expected. Payments on Account (POA) was devised to allow self-employed people to spread out their tax bill over a year. However, POA is also one of the most commonly misunderstood elements of the Self Assessment process, and many newly self-employed are unaware that it exists altogether.
As we enter a new financial tax year, perhaps now is the best time to get a headstart and really keep on top of your finances. So here’s everything you need to know about Payments on Account, and how you can ensure you are best prepared for your next tax return.
Simply, they are a way of paying off some of your tax bill in advance. You’ll pay two separate installments throughout the year, calculated based on your previous year’s tax bill. The first installment is due on 31st January, and the second is due on 31st July, with each of these two payments worth 50% of your previous tax bill.
There are some circumstances in which a POA will not be due. If your last tax bill was less than £1,000, or if more than 80% of your earnings are subject to PAYE, then you will be exempt from the POA system entirely.
It’s likely that payments on account will apply to the majority of self-employed people. Failure to pay the full amount may result in penalty fines and interest, so it’s certainly worth getting your head around the ins and outs of the POA system and how it works.
The reason it causes so much confusion among newly self-employed is because the first instalment on 31 January is due on the same day as your ‘balancing payment’ (which clears your tax bill from the previous year). If it’s your first time making a POA, you’ll essentially need to pay 150% of your tax bill in one go.
For example, if your tax bill for 2018/19 was £3,000. Your total tax bill on 31st January 2020 would have been £4,500, including the balancing payment of £3,000 and an additional advance payment of £1,500 (50% of £3,000) at the same time. Then, on 31st July 2020, you would have to pay another £1,500.
However, this means that when you file your return for the following financial year, you’ll already have paid £3,000 towards it. If your bill for the 2019/20 tax year is more than £3,000, you will simply need to make a balancing payment on 31st January 2021 and your POA will increase accordingly.
For example, if your tax bill for 2019/20 is £5,000, on 31st January 2021 you will need to pay the balancing payment of £2,000, and the first installment of your Payment on Account, worth £2,500 (50% of £5,000). The total amount due on the 31st January would be £4,500, and an additional £2,500 due on 31st July 2021.
It’s worth noting that if you think that your income for the next tax year will be lower than in the previous tax year, you can apply to have your POA reduced. However, if it transpires that you have underpaid your POA, you will have to pay interest on the outstanding amount, which could turn out into a hefty tax bill.
Keep ahead of your payments on account with these top tips.
Technology has been simplifying processes for decades, and when it comes to staying on top of your finances, it can be the ultimate assistant.
Downloading a free bookkeeping app is one way of ensuring that you regularly update your accounts. It also helps you to prepare for the two payments on account you are need to make to HMRC each year. In fact, HMRC is seeking to digitise most of the taxpaying process, so it is encouraging taxpayers to file and make payments online via software.
With the financial calendar starting and ending on April 6th, remembering all the financial dates and deadlines can be difficult. Fortunately, when it comes to ensuring payments are punctual, calendar reminders can be a real asset. Here are a few ways to ensure that you fully utilise them:
Setting up a direct debit specifically for your tax payments is a useful way to ensure that you don’t miss the POA deadlines, and therefore avoid paying a £100 late payment fine. Once set up, be sure to check that the direct debit account contains enough capital to cover the bi-annual payments.
If for any reason your POA is increased, or you have to reduce it, then be sure to update the value of your direct debit payment accordingly.
If you are newly self-employed, the costs of running and managing your own activities can be a surprisingly time-consuming and costly practice, so making sure that you are budgeting effectively for your POA expenditure is important.
Putting money aside is something most of us are familiar with. So, whether you’re saving for a car, house or pension, applying the same philosophy to POA is a good way to ensure that money is left available when the time comes. Save a portion of earnings per week or month specifically for your tax payments, and you’ll be surprised how quickly funds build up.
Dan Stopp is the UK Accounting Manager at Bokio, an AI-based accounting tool helping freelancers, sole traders and small businesses save time and money.
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