December 3, 2022

How Best to Navigate the UK Tax Code: Your Guide for Consumers


So, tax: everyone pays it (or at least we hope you do), and yet so few have a full awareness of the different tax rates and where they should be keeping their savings and investments in order to make the most of the different rates. The UK tax code can be confusing for consumers. This guide will help you make the most of your personal taxes, and get the most out of the system. We'll go over everything from how to find your tax code to how to use it to your advantage. So whether you're a first-time taxpayer or just looking for ways to save money, read on for helpful tips!

What is the UK tax code, and why is it important for consumers to understand it?

Your tax code is the number that tells your employer or pension provider how much Income Tax to take from your pay or pension. It’s also used to work out how much Student Loan, Council Tax and other deductions should be taken from your salary.

There are a few different types of taxes that consumers need to be aware of in the UK:

  • Income Tax: this is a tax on your earnings, and is deducted automatically from your pay packet by your employer. The amount you pay depends on how much you earn, and whether you’re a basic or higher rate taxpayer.
  • Capital Gains Tax: this is a tax on profits from selling things like shares, property or other investments.
  • Inheritance Tax: this is a tax on money or property that’s passed on to someone when you die.
  • Value Added Tax (VAT): this is a tax that’s added to the price of goods and services that are subject to it.

How can you find your personal tax code on the HMRC website?

Your tax code is usually shown on your payslip, P60 or annual pension statement. It’s also printed on any letters HMRC send you about your tax. You'll be allocated this automatically when you start work, although you will need to retain it if you're filing an individual tax return, either from self-employment or through additional investing activity outside work.

If you can’t find your code or think it might be wrong, you can check it online:

  1. Go to the GOV.UK website and sign in or create an account
  2. Find ‘Check your tax code’ under ‘I want to…’
  3. Follow the instructions

If you still can’t find your code, you can call HMRC on 0300 200 3300.

What do the letters in my tax code mean?

The letters in your tax code show how much Income Tax you should pay. The most common codes are:

  1. BR: this means that you’ll pay the basic rate of 20% on all of your income
  2. D0: this means that you’ll pay the higher rate of 40% on all of your income
  3. D: this means that you’ll pay the higher rate of 40% on some of your income, and the basic rate on the rest
  4. NT: this means that you won’t have to pay any Income Tax on your income
  5. If you have a ‘K’ in your code, it means that you have an amount of untaxed income or gains. This could be from a pension or investment

Q: What is the difference between a ‘taxpayer’ and a ‘consumer’?

A taxpayer is someone who pays taxes, while a consumer is someone who uses goods and services.

How can I make the most of the allowances available to me?

These are broadly listed in the order in which you might use them.

Income Tax: This is the first tax you'll pay, on everything earned. You have a £12,570 allowance which you can earn tax free, unless you're a top rate taxpayer - this falls off down to £0 after £100k salary. This cannot be wholly avoided, although there are circumstances in which it can be reduced - see our guide on investing in startups here.

Capital Gains Tax: This is a tax on gains made on investments, including property. All gain is taxable at a flat rate of 20%, with an allowance of £12,300 at time of writing. Note that this is the total allowance of *gain*, rather than investment size. For example, you buy £100k of Tesla stock, and a year later it's shot up to £120k. On selling your holding, you would return £112,300 tax free, and pay 20% CGT on the remaining £7,700, which = £1,540, leaving you with a total of £118,460.

The interesting point to note here is that in general, capital gains are taxed much lower than income, which rises up to 45% for income over £150,000. This means that passively earned income is taxed much lower than income from labour. In fact, being able to realise £12,300 of gain a year gives you huge remit to invest. You'll want to first max out your ISA allowance of £20,000 per year, before investing outside your ISA. So essentially you'll need to invest well over £100,000/year in most cases before being liable to pay any tax on the gain (as you'd have to earn >15%/year on the remaining £80k to pay any tax). The problem is that this allowance doesn't roll over. Bearing this in mind, if you are investing a significant amount each year, you'll want to realise some gain each tax year to make the most of this.

NOTE: you might be thinking, well I'll just realise the gain and invest back into the same funds I was in before. You're smart, but sadly not the first to think of this. It's known colloquially as Bed and Breakfasting, and is forbidden - you'll have to leave at least 30 days before making a repurchase. You can, however, Bed and ISA. Sell them outside your ISA and buy back inside, which is good for your yearly ISA top up.

What about tax on pensions?

Well, pensions are the opposite of the ISA. ISAs are taxable on the way in (as you contribute after income tax has been deducted from your salary), but tax free on the way out (as they're CGT exempt). Pensions are the opposite, tax free on the way in (as you contribute from your gross, pre-tax income), but taxable as income on the way out. Bear this in mind as you decide how much of your salary to contribute to your pension. You can read our guide on this here.

What about dividends?

These are taxed at either 8.75%, 33.75% or 39.35% depending on your income tax band. They are also accompanied by an allowance of £2000 / year at time of writing. It therefore makes sense if you own a company, to pay yourself in dividends as well as income. This also covers dividends from stock investments you may have. Stocks that pay dividends will show their annual yield on purchase, and funds will have Inc (for income) in their title, as opposed to Acc (for accumulation, or automatically reinvested dividends).

What should you do if you have questions about your personal tax code or how to file your taxes correctly in the UK system?

If you have questions about your personal tax code or how to file your taxes correctly in the UK system, you should contact HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). You can find their contact information on their website, or you can call them at 0300 200 3300.

You can also visit your local Citizens Advice Bureau for help with filing your taxes or any other questions you may have about the UK tax system. You can find your local Citizens Advice Bureau by visiting their website or by calling them at 03444 111 444.

Finally, you can also seek out a professional tax advisor to help you with filing your taxes or understanding the UK tax system. This is especially helpful if you are a self-employed individual or have a complex financial situation. You can find a list of registered tax advisors on the HMRC website.

Final thoughts on navigating the UK tax system as a consumer.

It's vitally important that you understand, at a bare minimum, the basics of the tax system in the UK and how best to navigate it as an investor. Knowing that capital gains are taxed more cheaply than income, and to take some of your entrepreneurial or investing income as dividends, will save you significant amounts of money over the long term. It's important to note too, that well structured and thoughtful tax planning is *not* a bad thing to undertake. In general, the rule of thumb is that if you are acting in the spirit of the law as well as the letter, you're erring correctly on the side of caution. Tax regulation is constructed to incentivise investors in different ways, and learning this makes you a more effective investor.

We're planning to gradually roll out tax forecasting onto the Strabo dashboard, alongside our existing forecasting tools. To learn more and be the first to receive updates, sign up at the foot of the page, or to discuss with a member of the team, hit the Contact button above.

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