The FreeAgent Blog

Guest blog post: self-employed? Here’s how to take control of your pension situation

Posted on 9 September 2016 by - Jump to comments

Photo of Pensionbee's pension expert Jade Wimbledon

We know that as a self-employed person with a long ‘to do’ list, getting on top of your pension situation is unlikely to be high priority.

While many employees have pensions set up by their employer with contributions deducted via PAYE, the self-employed need to make their own pension arrangements. This helps to explain why only around 18% of UK freelancers are paying into a pension, compared to 48% of employees.

But pension saving is really important for a comfortable retirement so Jade Wimbledon, Digital Content Producer at PensionBee, explains why having a pension makes sense, and takes you through the process step-by-step, from finding information about your previous pensions to paying into a new plan.

Why pension saving is smart

The state pension alone is sadly unlikely to keep you comfortably afloat in later life: it’s currently only a maximum of £155.65 a week, and it may get squeezed further in the future, while the state pension age is set to keep rising.

Even so, you may be thinking that there are other ways you’d rather save for your retirement. How about a simple savings account or a buy-to- let property? Well, pensions come with some specific benefits that aren’t offered by other products.

Risk is managed

For starters, good pension plans are managed by professional investment managers. Plans are diversified, meaning your money is split across a range of funds including assets like shares, bonds and cash. This helps to manage your risk, avoiding the ‘all eggs in one basket’ problem that an investment like property can bring.

Tax relief from the government

When you pay into your pension, the government contributes too, in the form of tax relief. The standard rate is 20%, so if you pay in £8,000, for example, the government adds £2,000, bringing the total amount added to your pension to £10,000. If you pay tax at a higher rate, you can claim an extra 20% or 25% through your self-assessment tax return, or ask your accountant to do this for you.

Passing your pension on

If you die before the age of 75, your pension can usually be passed on to your chosen beneficiary as a lump sum without inheritance tax deductions, unless your pension pot is worth more than £1million.

Options when you reach retirement

In the past, you may have been put off a pension because you felt your hands were tied when it came to withdrawing the money. But to make pension saving more appealing, the government has changed the rules to give you more options when you reach retirement. When you get to the age of 55 (rising to 57 from 2028) you can withdraw up to 25% of your pension pot as a lump sum without paying tax. You can then withdraw the rest as often as you wish, subject to your tax rate at the time.

Taking control of your pension situation

So if you’re convinced that pension saving is a good idea, where do you start? Well the first step may be finding money you’ve got in any previous pensions.

Finding old pensions

If you had a previous pension or pensions but don’t have your documents and are not sure who your old workplace pension providers were, you can contact your old employers to find out, or try the government’s Pension Tracing Service.

Once you’ve got the name of your old pension providers, contact them to find out information like how much money is in your pension pot, how your money is being invested and what fees you’re paying.

If you want to move your pensions over to PensionBee, we can find your pensions for you.

Setting up a new pension plan

So now you know where you stand, it’s time to start saving again. As a self-employed person you’ve got several options. You may choose to restart contributions to one of your previous pension plans. If this is the case, contact your provider to talk this through.

Alternatively, you can set up a new pension. Options include a personal pension, a self-invested personal pension (SIPP), or a stakeholder pension.

A SIPP gives you choice over how your money is invested, while a stakeholder pension is a pension that has to fulfill certain criteria set out by the government. You can also open an account with NEST (National Employment Savings Trust), the government pension scheme for employers that has now been made available to the self-employed too.

All of these pensions are defined contribution (DC) pensions, which means the value of your pension pot at retirement depends on the amount you’ve paid in and how your investments have performed.

When you’re choosing a pension plan, there are several things you should find out, including:

  • What are the fees?
  • How will your money be invested?
  • How will you be able to manage your pension?
  • Are there minimum contribution levels?

Saving into your pension

Once your new pension plan is open, you need to decide how much to put away. When you’re thinking about the amount you’re going to save, consider factors like how long you’ve got until you retire and how much you think you need to live off during retirement.

As a rough rule of thumb, some suggest aiming to save around 15% of your pre-tax income into your pension plan, but obviously you need to consider how much you can afford to save. If your freelance income is a bit unpredictable, you may decide to pay ad hoc amounts into your pension rather than setting up a regular fixed contribution.

It’s important to keep a close eye on your pension to see how your investments are performing and whether your retirement saving is on track. Some pension plans – including PensionBee plans – can be managed online, which makes this much easier. You can log into your pension anywhere from any device, check your balance and make payments or set up regular contributions. PensionBee also has an interactive pension calculator so you can set a retirement goal and see how much you need to save to meet it.

About PensionBee

PensionBee puts you in control of your pension saving by finding and combining your old pensions into a new online pension plan. From fairer fees to a beautiful digital dashboard, we’re building a pension service that’s fit for today, and for tomorrow. Sign up to PensionBee now to take control of your pension.

Risk warning: as with any investment, your capital is at risk when you invest in a pension. The value of your pension may go down as well as up, and you may get back less than you invested.

2-Step Verification is here!

Posted on 23 August 2016 by - Jump to comments

Today we’re launching 2-Step Verification, a new way to keep your FreeAgent account even more safe and secure from any baddies out there.

What is 2-Step Verification?

2-Step Verification adds another level of security to your FreeAgent account beyond your normal password.

After it’s been enabled, you’ll be asked to enter a security code generated by an app on your smartphone every time you log in. This means that even if someone were to find out your login details they still couldn’t access your account.

Sounds legit. How do I set it up?

Setting up 2-Step Verification is pretty straightforward. The first thing you’ll need to do is download an app on your smartphone that allows you to generate the security codes you’ll need to log in.

Some popular apps that do this are:

Once you’ve downloaded one of these apps, go to your own user’s page in Settings where you’ll see a new option to enable 2-Step Verification. To do this you’ll need to use the freshly downloaded authentication app on your phone to scan the QR code which appears on screen. You’ll then be shown a security code which you can use to complete 2-Step Verification setup.

QR code

How do I use it?

When 2-Step Verification is enabled you’ll be asked to enter a security code after you’ve entered your normal email and password when logging in. Use your authentication app to generate this code and log in safely and securely.

Authentication code login page

We’ve written a comprehensive guide, with pictures and everything, to walk you through the whole process of setting up and using 2-Step Verification.

Stay safe out there people,
Roan and the team at FreeAgent

What we’ve learned about Making Tax Digital from the new consultation documents

Posted on 15 August 2016 by - Jump to comments

HMRC announced its new Making Tax Digital (MTD) initiative in the March 2015 Budget but since then, there have been few details released about how it might work and and what it will mean for small businesses.

It has now published consultation documents to lay out its stall, explaining how it sees MTD working in more depth and inviting small business owners and their accountants to comment on the proposals.

We recommend you read the consultation documents and send any comments to HMRC - but in the meantime, here’s a quick summary of what we've learned!

Who would Making Tax Digital apply to?

At this stage, the Making Tax Digital proposals only apply to sole traders and partnerships - the consultation doesn’t address limited companies or their directors, which will be covered in a separate consultation later this year.

HMRC is also proposing that Making Tax Digital would only apply after £10,000 annual income or turnover, so a sole trader with one small business that makes sales under £10,000 a year would be exempt from MTD. However, a sole trader with two businesses, each making sales of £6,000 a year, would have to comply with MTD, because his/her total income for the year is £12,000.

Businesses with an annual income of not far above that level (and under a threshold yet to be determined) may, under the proposals, have an extra year to comply with the MTD rules.

HMRC has clarified that, “The small minority who genuinely cannot use digital tools will not have to do so,” for example due to religious reasons. Also excluded are those for whom “online filing is not reasonably practicable for reasons of disability, age, remoteness of location, or any other reason”. HMRC consider that anyone with access to 2Mbps broadband or faster will be able to send their updates online.

How would Making Tax Digital work?

Contrary to popular belief, Making Tax Digital would not require businesses to file four tax returns every year. Instead, businesses will send summary data to HMRC about their business each quarter, or more often if the business prefers. The summary data will consist of total income and total expenditure, with the expenditure broken down into categories such as travel and advertising.

Businesses will need to send this information from online accounting software such as FreeAgent - HMRC has confirmed that they will not be providing their own bookkeeping / accounting software and that the use of “digital record keeping software that links to and updates business’s digital accounts with HMRC” will be mandatory, except for taxpayers who are exempt from MTD.

Each business will have a proposed nine months after the year end to file an “End of Year declaration”, submitting final figures. This would be a month less than the current tax return filing deadline, which is just under 10 months after the end of the tax year.

Because businesses have the option to report more often than quarterly, this would introduce flexibility for seasonal businesses, because the report would not have to be regular. For example, a teacher could report each half term and then send a separate report for each period of holidays.

Here are a few details of note:

  • The business won’t have to keep any additional paper records.
  • If the business is registered for VAT, one report would cover both income tax and VAT reporting requirements.
  • If the business needs to make accounting adjustments, such as revaluations of closing stock (which would apply mainly to businesses who are not using the cash basis of accounting) then they could do this either mid-year or at the end of the year.
  • Allowances and reliefs, such as Annual Investment Allowance, could also be notified to HMRC either in-year or at the end of the year; for instance if an asset has been bought, the suggestion is that HMRC could be told at the time the asset is bought that it’s going to be eligible for Annual Investment Allowance.
  • HMRC believe that the cash basis of accounting should be extended to larger businesses, as this will be simpler for them to use. It has suggested doubling the current entry threshold, which matches the VAT registration threshold - so a business would be able to begin using the cash basis of accounting if it has sales up to £166,000, using today’s VAT registration threshold.

When will Making Tax Digital start?

MTD is planned to start in April 2018, but for the smallest businesses that come within its scope, a year’s extension has been suggested. Again, the threshold for what “smallest businesses” means has yet to be set so we’ll need to wait for more details.

In the consultation, HMRC has asked for readers’ opinions on whether MTD should be introduced for each business. The three options are:

  • For its first accounting year starting on or after 5th April 2018, or
  • Taking quarters during the accounting year, for the first quarter starting on or after 5th April 2018, or
  • For its first VAT return starting on or after 5th April 2018, if the business is registered for VAT.

How will tax payments work?

HMRC is not planning to change the current payment dates, but they have asked as part of the consultation if they should review the payment on account regime, to which I would give a resounding “Yes” as they are complicated and can severely compromise a small business’s cash flow in its early stages.

Under MTD, businesses may have the right to make “voluntary payments” towards their tax liabilities, which would be aggregated together. HMRC has tentatively suggested it may need to be warned of upcoming voluntary payments.

HMRC has also said:

"Under Pay As You Go, the customer will decide how often and what amount they want to pay. Payment will not have to be at any fixed time, or at regular intervals; the customer will retain control and choice, so they feel confident that they have made the right decision for their circumstances, and have the opportunity to amend their choices if circumstances change. There will be no such thing as a missed voluntary payment." (My emphasis)

It may also be possible for businesses to claim a repayment of their voluntary payments if they need the cash for working capital.

It will be interesting to see how voluntary payments are allocated to different taxes with different payment deadlines, such as income tax and VAT.

How will penalties work?

HMRC is proposing to abolish the current penalty system for late submissions and instead impose a “points” system similar to driving licence penalty points, with a financial penalty to be imposed only when the points reach a set level. That level is suggested as four points, with the slate cleaned after 24 months after the last points were added. Penalties for inaccurate information would only apply to the End of Year update and VAT quarterly returns.

In the first year of MTD there would be a “soft landing” for the penalty regime, so penalties will not be in full effect.

So what next?

We would encourage you to read the consultations for yourself and give your feedback to HMRC, and if you’re not using accounting software yet for your small business, why not check out FreeAgent!

If you’re an accountant and would like to provide further information to your micro-business or freelance clients we’ve put together this handy guide to Making Tax Digital for you to share.

Video: limited company directors’ responsibilities explained by HMRC

Posted on 5 August 2016 by - Jump to comments

Last month we teamed up with HMRC to deliver another joint webinar designed to answer some of the questions that small business owners and freelancers ask.

The latest session focused on the responsibilities that limited company directors have to HMRC. It included:

  • an explanation of some of the important terminology for limited company directors
  • an overview of tax and National Insurance contributions for limited company directors
  • an explanation of company directors’ record-keeping responsibilities

The webinar was both a helpful reminder to existing company directors and a useful introduction for anyone thinking about becoming a limited company director in the future. If you missed the session, don’t worry - you can watch the recording below:

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