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Sole Trader or Limited Company?

A question I am often asked is whether someone would be better off registering as a sole trader or a limited company.

Most VAs set up as sole traders, as many of them are working part time and are on a basic tax rate. Operating as a sole trader can keep costs down and keep things simple, especially in the early days. But before making that decision, it is helpful to understand what both of them are and how they would affect how you run your business.

There are a number of differences between operating as a sole trader vs a limited company.

Sole Trader

Limited Company

​Responsible for personal and business debts

Business finances are entirely separate from personal debts, so you are not personally liable for any losses made by the business

Minimal paperwork required by HMRC, which you can do yourself

Higher level of reporting required, including adhering to strict record-keeping, which may need accountancy support

Easiest business structure to set up

More complex to set up and run

​Business is run by you and you can retain all net profits. Your pay is not a business expense.

​Directors and staff are paid a salary which is classed as a business expense. They can also take dividends from net profits.

Your financial information remains private

Financial records are available to anyone via Companies House

Pay between 20-45% income tax (depending on profits) - above your personal allowance.

​Pay between 19%-25% corporation tax (depending on profits) on all profits. You then pay between 20-45% income tax on salary and dividend tax on dividends above your personal allowance

Pay Class 2 and Class 4 National insurances

No automatic protection over your trading name

Business name is protected

Run by only one person

Run by one or multiple people

Can incorporate at a later date if needed

​Can change to being a sole trader after completing various steps (including paying off outstanding debts, submitting tax returns, and shutting down your PAYE scheme if necessary)

(It is important to remember that VAT registration is a separate entity and you will need to register if your business hits a certain threshold, regardless of company structure. And remember, you can’t charge VAT without that registration!)

So, which is it going to be?

I would always recommend talking to an accountant in the first instance, as they will be best placed to advise in your personal circumstances.

However, in my opinion, and after research, most VAs will be better off starting out as sole traders. There are expenses and requirements involved with operating as a limited company that sole traders don’t have. Sole traders can complete their tax paperwork themselves, which is currently one self-assessment tax return and two tax payments per year. The main disadvantage of setting up as a sole trader is that you are personally liable for all of your business debts, should you have any.

So when might you want to set up as a limited company? Often this is profits driven - there will be a financial tipping point when you are bringing in profits (not turnover) of £40,000+ - though this is depending on how much your accountant charges, if there is a pension involved, and what the government is doing with tax rates!

Here’s a quick illustration to see how it might pan out…

Tax year 2022-23

Let's say you earn £36,000 over a year

You have expenses of £3,000

Which gives you £33,000 profit in either scenario

Sole Trader

You’ll have to pay 20% income tax on profits above the personal allowance (£12,570), Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance

So you’ll pay £4,086.00 income tax, £163.80 Class 2 NI, and £2,052.25 Class 4 NI

Leaving you with a total take home of £26,697.95

Limited Company

You take a salary of £9,000, which attracts no income tax or NI contributions

Leaving £24,000 taxable profit, which the company will pay £4,560 corporation tax (19%)

Leaving £19,440 available to take as dividends

You’ll have to pay 8.75% dividend tax on dividends above the current personal allowance (£2,000)

So you’ll pay £1,213.63 dividend tax

Leaving you with a total take home of £27,226.38

You can see in these illustrations that operating as a limited company with these numbers in 2022-23, you’d have a take-home of £528.43 more - however how much of that would go to paying your accountant is another question! There are also things that can change those limited company numbers such as making pension contributions etc.

This is a great website for you to run the different numbers for your situation

If you are feeling confused or overwhelmed about how to move forward, then you are welcome to reach out - email me I would love to help you navigate this journey!

Note: all information was accurate as of February 2023; if you are reading this at a later date, please note that it may be out of date. Please verify independently. This information has been shared to give you a place to start your research and should not be taken as tax or financial advice. You should always talk to an accountant or financial advisor if you have questions.



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