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How much salary should I pay myself as a Limited Company contractor?

Posted by: Intouch | 08.05.15

Intouch Accounting

How much salary should I pay myself as a Limited Company contractor?

Making the right choice on the level of salary to draw as a Limited Company director and contractor is one of the more important decisions to take. Surprisingly though it’s not just an annual decision, taken at the beginning of each tax year, but one that should be revisited whenever changes occur in your circumstances.

To fully understand the mechanics affecting the choice of salary requires a working knowledge of Income Tax (PAYE), National Insurance and IR35, Corporation Tax and the rules concerning National Minimum Wage and that’s something your specialist contractor accountant can help you with. But to avoid a detailed technical analysis we can whittle these down to a short list of considerations:

I’m subject to IR35, so it makes no difference

If you are subject to IR35 your eventual salary is determined according to the defined rules of IR35; however you retain the choice of how much to take during the year that affect the amount of tax payable and when it is payable.

The Employment Allowance (EA) was introduced in April 2014 to provide a deduction of up to £2,000 from the Employer’s NI payable by your company. However EA is not available to any part of your salary determined as a deemed payment under IR35 and so only deductible against Employer’s NI payable on normal salary. You should therefore set a level of normal salary that utilises the EA limit. For 2015/16 the level of salary that fully utilises EA would be £22,552.

The second choice concerns timing of tax payments. Taking a monthly salary that utilises EA will result in quarterly PAYE and NI payments, whereas the tax on the deemed salary is payable at the end of the tax year. So it would appear better to keep your salary low enough to utilise the EA and leave the IR35 balance to be determined at the end of the year and pay PAYE and NI much later.

Although one point to appreciate is that any money taken from the company on account of a final IR35 salary will be a loan and subject to beneficial loan interest rules when the loan exceeds £10,000. A minor point not to be overlooked.

What about National Minimum Wage (NMW)?

New rules introduced in March 2015 mean that any failure to pay NMW can result in a fine of £20,000 per employee. Ok, this is unlikely to be an issue in practice, but HMRC can take action where the NMW rules apply and such a fine is an attractive motivator.

NMW only applies to Limited Company contractors who are the directors of the company where there is a contract of employment, and to the company’s employees. If you are one of the few contractors that has issued a contract to yourself then you should pay the NMW. Since October 2014 this is £6.50 and from October 2015 it is expected to be £6.70.

NMW has no influence over IR35 status and can be ignored where no contract of employment exists.

Are you thinking of pensions?

The level of salary taken affects the level of personal pension contributions you are able to make that take advantage of the tax benefits. If you pay pension contributions then you should seek advice from your financial advisor on the minimum required level of salary to support the tax benefits.

I’m outside IR35, pay enough to support my pension provisions and don’t have a contract of employment

Congratulations, you have complete freedom of choice. You can set any level of salary that now suits your personal circumstances and your view on tax. The next step in this discussion assumes that you want to minimise tax. If that’s not your driver then select any level of salary that you want and can be supported by the company’s income.

Most contractors are aware that dividends incur less tax than salary because NI does not apply to dividends. However there is a minimum level of salary that should be taken that overall reduces total tax (Income Tax, National Insurance and Corporation Tax). That minimum level used to be linked to the thresholds when NI became payable, however since the introduction of EA the best level of salary is linked to your personal tax allowance.

Personal Allowances (or your tax free allowance) changes every year. For 2015/2016 most contractors start off with Personal Allowances of £10,600. This typical level may be reduced if you have tax liabilities from earlier years that are collected via your tax code or you have any taxable benefits in kind. If you are not sure then obtain a copy of your tax code calculation from HMRC.

Your Personal Allowance is a tax free allowance and is set against your total income. So if you have other income such as interest or rental income then deduct the gross value of that other income and you are left with your available personal allowance.

The level of your available Personal Allowance is often the best level for your salary that achieves the least tax liability overall.

Let’s explain that with some examples:


  • Personal Allowance is £10,600
  • No higher rate tax (but only to keep it simple)
  • No other income
  • Profit after expenses but before salary £40,000
  • Available dividends are declared

example salary

Conclusion: Salary at Personal Allowance is the least tax

Now let’s compare the result where Personal Allowances are £8,000 because of underpaid tax brought forward

Assumptions as above except:

  • Personal Allowance is restricted to £8,000

 example salary 2

Conclusion: Salary at Personal Allowance is still the least tax


This blog has been prepared by Intouch Accounting. While we have made every attempt to ensure that the information contained in this blog has been obtained from reliable sources, Intouch is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. This blog should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional accounting advisers. If you have any specific queries, please contact Intouch Accounting.