Are you making the 
most of your finances?

Keeping your tax bill to a minimum is not a matter of aggressive or complex tax schemes

During this period of austerity, why pay more tax than you need to? Sensible tax planning is an essential tool in making the most of your finances. Keeping your tax bill to a minimum is not a matter of aggressive or complex tax schemes, but rather of identifying which of the many tax reliefs and allowances specifically granted by law are available to you.

Here are some ways to help you keep hold of more of your hard-earned money:

Check your tax code
If applicable, look at your pay slip or ask your tax office for a coding notice. This details your allowances and any deductions due to state benefits or taxable employee benefits. If you’re not sure it’s accurate, query it. Errors will affect how much you pay and may result in a large tax demand if you’re paying too little. You may be paying too much if, say, you change jobs and your correct tax code isn’t used – or if you have more than one job. You can claim back overpaid tax for up to four years.

Maximise personal allowances
Ensure that you are making the most of your individual tax-free personal allowance (PA), which for 2013/14 is £9,440 for those aged under 
65, or the age-related allowances which are worth up to £10,660 assuming your maximum income doesn’t exceed £26,100, after which your PA would reduce by £1 for each £2 earned above this figure, until it reached £9,440.
If your spouse or registered civil partner has little or no income, consider transferring income (or income-producing assets) to them to ensure that they are able to make full use of their PA. Care should be taken to avoid falling foul of the settlements legislation governing ‘income shifting’. Any transfer must be an outright gift with ‘no strings attached’.

Make the most of your Individual Savings Account (ISA) allowance
Up to £11,520 can be invested in an ISA this tax year, of which up to £5,760 can be invested in a Cash ISA. Most income accrues tax-free, although the tax credit on UK dividend income cannot be recovered.

All investments held in ISAs are free of CGT. And don’t forget, the new Junior ISA (JISA), for those aged under 18 who do not have a Child Trust Fund account, allows investment of up to £3,720 in 2013/14. 16 to 17-year-olds can also invest up to £5,760 in an adult Cash ISA, even if they already have a JISA.

Use your capital gains tax (CGT) allowance
Make the most of your CGT exemption limit each year (£10,900 in 2013/14). It may be possible to transfer assets to a spouse or registered civil partner, or hold them in joint names prior to any sale to make full use of exemptions. Individuals with a particularly large gain may want to realise it gradually to take full advantage of more than one tax year’s allowance. (You should only consider spreading a disposal of, for example, shares if you will not be putting your gain at risk in the meantime.)

Use your occupational pension scheme
Opting out of your occupational pension scheme could mean that you are missing out on valuable pension contributions from your employer. If you are offered a pension scheme by your employer, then it is worth considering joining. If your employer makes a contribution to your pension, this is like receiving additional pay. Some employers may even be willing to match the contributions that you make, doubling the amount saved towards your retirement.

Get a tax boost for your pension contributions
If you’re a UK taxpayer, in the current 2013/14 tax year you’ll receive tax relief on pension contributions of up to 100 per cent of your earnings or a £50,000 annual allowance, whichever is lower. For example, 
if you earn £60,000 and want to put that amount in your pension scheme in a single year, you’ll only get tax relief on £50,000. Any contributions you make over this limit will be subject to Income Tax at the highest rate you pay. However, you can carry forward unused allowances from the previous three years, as long as you were a member of a pension scheme during those years. The annual allowance is reducing from £50,000 to 
£40,000 in the tax year 2014/15.

Non-taxpayer? Don’t pay tax at source on your savings
As a non-taxpayer, you can pay too much tax on your savings, as tax on interest is deducted at source. If this has happened, complete an R40 Tax Repayment Form for each year you’ve paid too much. A form R85 from your building society or bank will stop future interest being taxed. Often non-taxpayers fail either to elect to have interest paid gross or to reclaim any overpayment from HMRC. This could result in you paying unnecessary tax and reduces the value of your savings.

Levels and bases of, and reliefs from, taxation are subject to change and their value depends on the individual circumstances of the investor. The value of your investments can go down as well as up and you may get back less than you invested.