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Tax efficient investing in the UK (or what order to put things into an ISA or SIPP)

Can’t fit all your investments into your ISA and SIPP tax shelters? Then you’re going to have to make some choices. Happily, the pecking order for maximum tax efficiency is clear cut.

In order of most important-to-shelter to least:

Tax efficient investing for your ISA or SIPP [2]

To see why this sequence is likely to suit your circumstances, let’s just quickly tee up the relevant tax rates from April 2016:

 2016/17 Income tax Dividend tax [3] Capital Gains Tax [4]
Tax-free allowance £11,000 £5,000 £11,100
Basic rate taxpayer 20% 7.5% 18%
Higher rate taxpayer 40% 32.5% 28%
Additional rate taxpayer 45% 38.1% 28%

At a glance we can see that income tax is the nastiest while capital gains tax (CGT) is generally the most benign due to the high personal allowance (you can use your spouse’s too) and the ability to offset gains against losses [5].

Before we get into the guts of it, I’ve got to dish up some caveat pie:

Non-reporting funds

Offshore funds that do not have reporting fund status are taxed on capital gains at income tax rates. As you can see in the table above that’s a hefty tax smackdown. Worse still, your capital gains allowance and offsetting losses are knocked out of your hands by HMRC like the school bully taking your lollipop.

If your offshore fund or ETP doesn’t trumpet its reporting status on its factsheet then it probably falls foul and should be stashed in your ISA or SIPP.

It’s worth double-checking HMRC’s list of reporting funds [9]. Around 25% of offshore funds / ETPs available to UK investors don’t qualify.

It is possible for a reporting fund to lose its special status, therefore you could put all offshore investments in tax shelters, if you like to head off unlikely but plausible worst case scenarios.

Bond funds

Bond funds / ETFs are next into the tax bunker because interest payments are taxed at income tax rates rather than as dividends. Any vehicle that has over 60% of its assets in fixed income or cash at any point in its accounting year falls into this category.

Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

REITs pay some of their distributions as Property Income Distributions [10] (PIDs). PIDs are taxed at income tax rates not as dividends. Get ‘em under cover.

Individual bonds

Individual bonds are liable for income tax on interest just like bond funds. The only reason that bonds are slightly further down the list is because individual gilts and qualifying corporate bonds [11] do not pay capital gains tax.

Income producing equities

The dividend tax situation has suddenly got a lot worse for UK investors, so high-yielding shares and funds should duck under your tax testudo next.

By all means prioritise protection for your growth shares if you think CGT is the bigger problem, but bear in mind you can defuse capital gains [12] every year and you can always defer a sale.

Foreign equities

It isn’t necessarily a priority to get overseas funds and equities sheltered but there’s a tax-saving wrinkle here that only works with SIPPs. The issue is withholding tax [13] which is levied by foreign tax services on dividends and interest you repatriate from abroad.

Some withholding tax will be refunded as long as you fill in the right forms. For example a 30% tax chomp on distributions from US equities becomes a mere 15%.

Foreign investments in SIPPs can have all withholding tax refunded but only if your broker is on the ball. You’d need to check. ISAs don’t share this feature.

If you hold foreign equities outside of a tax shelter then you can use whatever withholding tax you have paid to reduce your UK dividend bill.

So in the case of US equities, a basic rate taxpayer could use the 15% they’ve paid in the US to reduce their 7.5% HMRC liability to zero.

In other words, only higher rate / additional rate taxpayers should consider sheltering US equities in ISAs. Everyone can benefit from the SIPP trick, though.

Bow-wowing out

It only remains to say that this is generalised guidance and tax is a byzantine affair. Please check your personal circumstances.

Tax efficiency is important [14] but whatever happens don’t let the tax tail wag your investment dog.

Take it steady,

The Accumulator