The benefits of bonus sacrifice – how to save tax
Redirecting a bonus into your pension, instead of into your bank account can result in huge tax savings that help build your wealth for the future.
If you’re earning more than £50,000 per year, and want to reduce your tax bill, then read on!
This article will show you how putting your bonus in your pension can save tax, and how Ian generated a 200% return on his investment.
What is bonus sacrifice?
For many higher earners, a bonus can make up a significant part of your overall remuneration.
Typically, you’ll be able to sacrifice some, or all of your bonus into your pension. This is known as bonus sacrifice, or can sometimes be called salary exchange.
What’s the benefit of bonus sacrifice?
Bonus sacrifice gives an immediate tax saving.
Depending on your earnings, it’s likely that some or all of your bonus will be taxed at 40% or 45%. By sacrificing your bonus into a pension, not only do you avoid paying tax, you get tax relief!
Let’s assume that you earn £50,000 and receive a bonus on top of £10,000.
- If you receive the £10,000 bonus in cash, you’ll pay £4,000 in tax and £200 in NIC, leaving you with only £5,800.
- You’ll also pay another £1,788 in child tax charges if you have kids, leaving you with only £4,012.
- If you pay the £10,000 bonus into your pension, you don’t pay any tax at all – you get to keep the full £10,000
Effectively, you’ve turned £5,800 (or £4,012 if you have kids) into £10,000!
What’s more, your employer won’t pay any NIC (usually 13.8%) if the bonus is paid into the pension. In many cases, employers will pass this saving on to you, which in the case above would be an additional £1,380 (£11,380).
There are even greater benefits if you earn above £100,000 (or if the bonus pushes your total earnings above this).
This is because your Personal Allowance (the tax-free amount of income you can earn) gets reduced – for every £2 of earnings above £100,000, your Personal Allowance is reduced by £1.
So once your earnings reach £125,000 you’ve lost all your £12,500 allowance – effectively making earnings between £100,000 – £125,000 taxed at 60%!
This means that by allocating your bonus to your pension, you can regain your personal allowance save even more tax.
Bonus sacrifice for high earners
If you’re a high earner, the tax savings on offer can be considerable. But you need to be careful with the Tapered Annual Allowance. Get it wrong and you could be faced with a big tax bill!
Every person is restricted to how much they can put into a pension. Normally, this is either 100% of your earnings or £40,000 (whichever is less). But if you’re a high earner, earning above £150,00, you might be affected by the tapered annual allowance.
This will limit how much you can put into a pension, sometimes right down to £10,000 per annum. If your earnings are above £150,000, then click here to find out the three things you can do to get around the tapered annual allowance.
“How much can I put into a pension?” is a simple question, but there’s no easy answer. It requires you to work out your annual allowance and the impact of any tapered allowance. There’s a balance between maximising the tax breaks without paying any tax charges.
If you need help working out your annual allowance, feel free to drop me a line.
How does bonus sacrifice work in practice?
It’s fairly simple:
- Your employer notifies you of your upcoming bonus
- You work out how much you want to (and how much you should) sacrifice into a pension.
- You let your employer know how much of your bonus you want to sacrifice into a pension
- Your employer pays some or all of your bonus into your pension scheme
- Tax relief (aka free money) is applied automatically – you don’t need to do anything!
How Ian made a 200% return via bonus sacrifice
Ian works in central Bristol for a Technology company. He earns a salary of £110,000 per year, pays 5% of this into a pension and has just been awarded a bonus of £20,000.
He is a higher rate taxpayer and he is also hit by the rules for people earning over £100,000 who have their personal allowance removed (i.e. he is in the tax trap).
He has decided to sacrifice his entire bonus of £20,000. His employer will pay this figure into his pension scheme in March and has agreed to add the employer NIC savings on top.
Without bonus sacrifice:
If Ian took the bonus as cash, he would pay 40% tax on the bonus, and would also lose his Personal Allowance (another 20%). He would also pay National Insurance at 2% (£400). His effective rate of tax would equal 62%!
So in total, he would pay £12,400 of tax and NIC on the £20,000 bonus, leaving him with just £7,600.
With bonus sacrifice:
By sacrificing the full bonus into his pension, he will pay no tax on this. Also, his employer has agreed to pay their saved National Insurance (13.8%) into the pension – £2,760.
So in total, Ian would have £22,760 in his pension.
That’s £15,160 more than if he took the bonus in cash.
That’s nearly a 200% increase – (199.47% increase to be exact).
How is bonus sacrifice different from standard pension contributions?
Bonus sacrifice is one of the most tax-efficient ways of saving money for the future.
It is tax-efficient since you never get taxed on the income you do not receive.
If we compare this to the normal personal pension contributions, these are made from your post-tax income. This means that you pay Income Tax and National Insurance at the standard rates. You then get 20% tax relief at source into your pension, plus 20-25% additionally via your tax return later if you pay income tax at 40% or 45%.
Bonus sacrifice benefits you immediately and you also save National Insurance (your and potentially your employers!).
If you pay into an occupational pension scheme, this is paid in via the net pay arrangement, which is different from the rules for personal pensions. You would still benefit from savings to National Insurance.
Our article on pension tax relief explains more about how this works with standard pension contributions.
Things to watch out for:
Now, before you go ploughing all your money into a pension, there are a few landmines you need to watch out for.
The Government knows that pensions are a good deal. It costs them a fortune to provide tax relief, which is why they limit how much you can put in.
The below summarises the key things you should be thinking about before making a large pension contribution:
The maximum allowed to be paid into your pension plan is £40,000 in one tax year. This includes your employee and employer contributions.
You can use pension carry forward to use up unused allowances for the previous 3 tax years. In theory, you could contribute up to £160,000 into a pension by using this method.
If you’re a high earner with income greater than £110,000, you need to be careful. Check out our article on the tapered annual allowance for high earners, which reduces your pension allowances if you earn over £150,000. You could pay additional tax if you use bonus sacrifice, which would negate the benefits highlighted in this article.
Whereas this annual allowance deals with how much you can pay in, the lifetime allowance deals with how much the pension can be worth.
If your pension exceeds the ‘lifetime allowance’, currently £1,055,000, then you may pay a lifetime allowance charge.
Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the lifetime allowance charge, for example, you can register for lifetime allowance protection. But even with protection, there’s no guarantee that you won’t pay a lifetime allowance charge.
General pension legislation
This means that the money will grow largely tax-free, but that you will not be able to access the funds until age 55 at the earliest. If you need access to the bonus money you might want to reconsider bonus sacrifice since you will lose access to the money if you pay it into your pension plan.
You may have a pension through your workplace and your own private pension. If you want to sacrifice your bonus then your employer made require you to pay into your workplace pension.
The fact that your bonus is reduced could impact you in other ways. For example, by reducing your bonus you are technically reducing your income, which could reduce the amount you’re able to borrow (e.g. mortgage).
Equally, some of your other employee benefits might be calculated based on your total income (such as sick pay or life cover). By reducing your bonus, you may reduce other employee benefits.
What to do next:
If you’ve got a bonus coming up, and you’re a higher or additional rate taxpayer, then you should really be thinking about bonus sacrifice. The tax benefits on offer are too big to ignore.
As always, we’re here to help if you’d like a second opinion on your bonus and pension planning.
All the best,
James Mackay, Independent Financial Adviser in Bristol