Optimum limited company director salary and dividends 2019/20

If you operate through your own UK limited company, you’ll often want to use the optimum tax planning strategy of extracting money from your company through a combination of dividends and a low salary.

This blog outlines the most tax efficient salary and dividend structure for the 2019/20 tax year (6th April 2019 to 5th April 2020).

How are salary and dividends taxed?

Scotland vs England

A Scottish taxpayer is generally classed as someone who lives in Scotland.

The Scottish parliament now has the power to set its own income tax rates, and for 2019/20 it has set a higher tax band of £43,430, which is lower than the rest of the UK’s higher tax band of £50,000. This however only applies to PAYE salary income and does not apply to dividends, so the tax planning advice will be the same as your primary source of income will be dividends.

For the 2019/20 tax year, the personal allowance is £12,500 – this means your first £12,500 of income is tax free. This applies to the whole of the U.K.

For the 2019/20 tax year dividends are taxed as follows:

The dividend allowance means that an individual’s first £2,000 of dividends are tax free.

Over and above this £2,000 the dividend income is taxed as follows:

  • If you have any un-used personal allowance (£12,500 for 19-20) then that element is tax free
  • Any dividends in the basic tax band (up to £50,000) for 19-20) attract a tax charge of 7.5%
  • Dividends above the basic tax band (£50,000 for 19-20) are charged at 32.5%
  • Any dividends in the upper tax band (£150,000) are taxed at 38.1%

Tax efficient dividend and salary structure

For limited company contractors, freelancers and small business owners, taking a low basic salary with the balance of income being extracted as dividends is a common tax planning strategy.

The theory is as follows:

  • You take a low tax efficient salary no higher than the personal allowance so that it does not attract personal tax
  • You should make sure the salary is high enough for national insurance purposes i.e. that it counts as a years ‘stamp’ for your national insurance history to help protect your future entitlement to state pension and other benefits
  • The salary is a tax allowable cost for your business so corporation tax is saved at 19%  
  • Any additional amounts you extract from your company are treated as dividends which do not attract national insurance, therefore you are not paying any more national insurance than you need to be
  • Please note that dividends are not treated as a tax allowable expense (unlike a salary) so your company does not save corporation tax on the dividends

Many people choose to limit their total income to not go into the higher tax band (£50,000) for 19/20) so they are not taxed at the higher levels of tax, but this will be a personal choice and a balance will need to be made between tax efficiency and how much of the available profits in your business you want to extract.

What are the best levels of salary and dividends for 19-20?

The introduction of the Employment Allowance in April 2014 enabled employers to not pay the first £2,000 of employers national insurance. This then increased to £3,000 for 16/17 and 17/18 and 18/19 and 19/20.

Typically the employment allowance means that it is slightly more tax efficient to take a gross salary all the way to the tax free allowance level (£12,500 for 19-20), however HMRC announced that from 16/17 the Employment Allowance will not be available to companies where the only person on the payroll is a director, i.e. ‘single director employee’ limited companies.

With this in mind, we have outlined two different salary and dividend options which are put together on the basis that you wish to stay below the higher tax band (£50,000).

We have made some key assumptions when preparing these calculations:

  • You have no student loan balance
  • Your only income is your salary and dividends from your company
  • You are not caught by IR35
  • You have a standard personal allowance
  • Your company has sufficient post tax profits to support these dividends
  • You are a UK resident

Option 1 – Husband and wife are both shareholders, or you have other employees in the company

If you want to use this method you would need to be able to justify that your spouse carried out duties for the limited company (updating accounting records, dealing with admin etc.)

Take an annual gross salary of £12,500 which is the standard tax free personal allowance for 19-20. This works out at £1,041 per month.

This level of salary will not attract any personal income tax, but it will attract some Employees National Insurance which will total £464.

No Employers National Insurance will need to be paid as it will be covered by the Employment Allowance, assuming you can claim it.

If you have other employees you will need to consider if their salaries already use up the £3k employment allowance, if they do then you would be better going for option 2 below.

With regards to dividends, the higher tax band is £50,000 so assuming you want to stay in the basic tax band this leaves you £37,500 of dividends to take.

There will be some personal tax to pay on these though, as the first £2k is tax free but after that they are charged at 7.5% tax.

See below table for illustration:

Gross salary12,500
Total gross income50,000
Employee national insurance-464
Dividend tax-2,663
Net cash in your pocket46,873

Any dividends taken above the higher tax band will be taxed at 32.5% and even higher if you trigger other tax tipping points such as the child benefit charge at £50k, £100k tax free allowance withdrawal and the upper tax band at £150k.

Option 2 – Companies with one director

If you can’t claim the employment allowance or want to keep things a little simpler this is a good strategy for you.

There are two National Insurance thresholds you need to be aware of:

  • Lower Earnings Limit – as long as you earn above this you are protecting your entitlement to future state pension and benefits, without necessarily paying any National Insurance, leading us on to..
  • Primary Threshold – if you earn above this you must start paying National Insurance

So the idea is to go up to the Primary Threshold but no higher.

The National Insurance Primary Threshold for 19/20 is £166 per week or £8,632 for the year.

Therefore we would suggest a monthly Gross Salary of £715 which stays just below this threshold.

With regards to dividends, assuming as with Option 1 you wish to take dividends up to the higher tax band but no further, then you can take slightly more dividends with Option 2 than with Option 1.

This is because you are only taking just £8,580 of salary which leaves approximately £3,920 of dividends that are in the tax free allowance, as well as the £2,000 tax free for the dividend allowance.

You are not paying any employees national insurance in this scenario which is why you end up with a bit more cash in your own pocket (at the expense of some additional corporation tax for your company).

The dividend tax calculation for Option 2 is:

Salary is £8,580 so this leaves £3,920 of dividends that can be taken tax free in the personal allowance (£12,500 less £8,580).

The next £2,000 of dividends are also tax free as they are within the dividend allowance. The leaves the balance of dividends of £35,500 taxed at 7.5% = £2,663 of tax.

Gross salary8,580
Total gross income50,000
Dividend tax-2,663
Net cash in your pocket47,338

You will note that the net cash in pocket after income tax and employees NI is actually slightly higher in Option 2 than 1, by £464, however this doesn’t factor in the additional corporation tax you save on the higher Gross Salary in Option 1.


See below for a table which compares Options 1 and 2 and shows that overall Option 1 is more tax efficient by £281

DescriptionOption 1Option 2
Gross Salary12,5008,580
Total Gross income50,00050,000
Employee NI-464
Tax on dividends-2,663-2,663
Net cash in pocket46,87347,338
Corporation tax saved on gross salary2,3751,630
Net cash + Corporation Tax saved49,24848,968
Overall saving with Option 1280

For limited company contractors and freelancers, Option 1 presents the optimum tax efficient choice, however procedures are changing where you will now need to make PAYE payments yourself to HMRC. This takes around 5 minutes once a month, however if you don’t want to do this then choose Option 2 as it’s easier from an admin standpoint.

Option 2 (£715 per month salary) is our recommended route – it has the added benefit of being able to get a bit more cash in your own pocket despite costing a little more corporation tax. It is also less admin intensive.

7th June 2019