Tag Archives: Taxpayers

“Booking” capital losses on shares is not that easy

There is a number of techniques that taxpayers use to reduce their capital gains tax (CGT) exposure on long-term share investments. A common practice is to utilise the annual exclusion of R40 000 provided for in paragraph 5 of the Eighth Schedule of the Income Tax Act[1] by selling shares that have been bought at a low base cost, at a higher market value and then immediately reacquiring those shares at the same higher value, thereby ensuring that the investments’ base cost is increased by as much as R40 000 per year. If the gain on those shares is managed and kept below the annual R40 000 exclusion, taxpayers receive the benefit of a ‘step-up’ in the base cost of the shares to the higher value for future CGT purposes, without having incurred any tax cost.

A reverse scenario is to build up capital losses for off-set against any future capital gains and taxpayers are often advised, especially during times of market volatility, to ‘lock-in’ capital losses created by the expected temporary reduction in share prices. This involves selling shares at a loss and then immediately reacquiring the same shares at the lower base cost, but with the advantage of having created a capital loss – a technique known as ‘bed-and-breakfasting’.

Without placing an absolute restriction on ‘bed-and-breakfasting’, paragraph 42 of the Eighth Schedule limits the benefit that could have been obtained from the ‘locked-in’ capital loss. The limitations of paragraph 42 apply if, during a 45-day period either before or after the sale of the shares, a taxpayer acquires shares (or enters into a contract to acquire shares) of the same kind and of the same or equivalent quality. ‘Same kind’ and ‘same or equivalent quality’ includes the company in which the shares are held, the nature of the shares (ordinary shares vs preference shares) and the rights attached thereto.

The effect of paragraph 42 is twofold. Firstly, the seller is treated as having sold the shares at the same amount as its base cost, effectively disregarding any loss that it would otherwise have been able to book on the sale of the shares and utilise against other capital gains. Secondly, the purchaser must add the seller’s realised capital loss to the purchase price of the reacquired shares. The loss is therefore not totally foregone, but the benefit thereof (being an increased base cost of the shares acquired) is postponed to a future date when paragraph 42-time limitations do not apply.

Unfortunately, taxpayers do not receive guidance on complex matters such as these on yearly IT3C certificates or broker notes, since these are generally very generic. Therefore, taxpayers wishing to fully capitalise CGT exposure on market fluctuations are advised to consult with their tax practitioners prior to the sale of shares.

[1] No. 58 of 1962

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Dire provisional tax penalties on underestimation of income

Provisional taxpayers are generally those taxpayers who earn income from sources other than a salary. In other words, PAYE is not deducted from these other sources of income on a monthly basis and paid over to SARS. As is the case with PAYE, provisional tax presents a cash flow mechanism to National Treasury through which to gather prepayments of an ultimate tax liability throughout a tax year on income which is not subject to the PAYE regime and which would otherwise only have been paid some time later when an annual income tax return is ultimately submitted. This can be as much as a year later.

To this end, provisional taxpayers are required to submit an estimate of their annual taxable income on a six-monthly basis. In the case of natural persons, provisional tax estimates are required to be submitted to SARS by way of a provisional tax return at the end of August each year, and again by the end of February. Legal persons similarly are required to submit estimates of taxable income at the end of the first 6 months of their financial years and again on the final day of the financial year.

For the first sixth-month estimate to be submitted an estimate is required to be made by the taxpayer of the estimated amount of taxable income that will be earned for the full year of assessment: half the amount of tax due on that estimated amount is required to be paid over to SARS at that date already, albeit after taking into account any amounts of PAYE also already deducted, where salary income is also earned. For the second provisional tax return, an estimate should again be submitted, and the tax on such estimate again be paid over (after taking into account any amounts of PAYE already deducted during the year as well as the first provisional tax payment already made).

The potential for manipulation by taxpayers is obvious and a legislated remedy is required to ensure that provisional taxpayers do not simply always submit an estimate of Rnil, thereby delaying the payment of amounts to SARS until the tax return for the applicable year itself is ultimately submitted. To this end, the Fourth Schedule to the Income Tax Act, 58 of 1962, makes provision for penalties to be levied where it appears at ultimate assessment date that a taxpayer has underestimated its taxable income for provisional tax purposes. For taxpayers earning more than R1 million in taxable income, taxpayers are allowed some leeway in that an estimate should at least have been 80% of the actual taxable income ultimately determined. This recognises that taxpayers are unlikely at yearend to be able to accurately estimate their actual taxable income for the year already. However, if the estimated taxable income proves to be less than 80% of the actual taxable income, a 20% penalty is levied on the difference between the tax payable on 80% of the actual taxable income and the tax payable on the estimated amount returned by the taxpayer.

Similarly, taxpayers earning less than R1 million taxable income are subject to the same 20% penalty, but within a 90% margin of accuracy instead of 80%. These taxpayers are afforded additional relief though in that they are permitted to submit as an estimate a factor of their last assessed taxable income without running the risk of incurring a penalty, even if this amount ultimately is less than 90% of the actual taxable income determined.

Interestingly, no underestimation penalty exists for first provisional tax estimates, however SARS may query estimates submitted and require taxpayers to submit revised first provisional tax estimates. Where second provisional tax estimates are concerned though, taxpayers should take care in preparing estimated taxable incomes which are to be submitted for provisional tax purposes as failure to do so could lead to a significantly increased tax charge when the tax year is ultimately assessed by SARS.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Registering for provisional tax

Many taxpayers file their tax returns on an annual basis unaware thereof that they may be regarded as provisional taxpayers in terms of the Income Tax Act, 58 of 1962, too. In its simplest form, provisional tax exists to provide for regular cash flows to the fiscus throughout the year. In this sense it exists for very much the same purpose as the PAYE system, with provisional tax applying though typically to non-salary type income.

The following persons are considered provisional taxpayers in terms of the Fourth Schedule to the Income Tax Act, and are thus required to file provisional tax returns and make the attendant payments of provisional tax over and above those annual obligations which exist as relates to their annual income tax returns:

• Every person (other than a company, but including a trust) who generally earns any income other than in the form of “remuneration” as defined;
• Every company; and
• Any person who is notified by the Commissioner for SARS that he or she is a provisional taxpayer.

The above however excludes:

• Any natural person who does not derive any income from carrying on a business, if the taxable income for that person does not exceed:
o the tax threshold (for 2016: R73,650 for individuals under 65, R114,800 for individuals under 75 and R128,500 for all other individuals); or
o R30,000 as relates to interest, dividends or rent received from letting immovable property;
• Deceased estates;
• Certain approved public benefit organisations;
• Body corporates; and
• Small Business Funding entities.

Many taxpayers may be completely unaware thereof that they are required to file returns as provisional taxpayers. This is especially true of typically individuals earning a salary but for example letting a second property which they may own to earn a second income stream.

These individuals will, based on the above prerequisites, have to ensure that they file bi-annual provisional tax returns and pay the requisite amount over to SARS in time (due by 31 August and 28/29 February each year). Failure to comply in this fashion will lead to significant penalties being incurred on late payment, or underestimation of the amount of provisional tax due: failure to submit a return when required is considered as the taxpayer having filed a return for Rnil.

As is the case for PAYE though, the provisional tax system does not operate as a tax per se but rather as the prepayment of a yet to be determined income tax liability. Therefore, once the ultimate amount of tax due for any given year of assessment has been determined after filing one’s annual income tax return, the resultant tax liability is reduced by provisional tax payments already made (and PAYE withheld) and the difference is then either due to SARS or to the taxpayer as a refund of the provisional tax paid too much.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

So what is the future of trusts?

One of the questions that we are most confronted with by our clients is what the future of trusts are in South Africa. Some questions even point to the misconception that the trust instrument itself as legal form is on the verge of being scrapped in South Africa altogether!

The current debate raging is not at all that dramatic, although the consequences for taxpayers potentially may be. The “crystal ball” gazing exercise which we are so often requested to undertake stems from repeated warnings (some less subtle than other) by the Minister of Finance that the use of trusts as a tool to minimize tax exposure, be it in the form of income tax or estate duty, is being revisited by National Treasury to try and find a solution to the perceived abuse thereof. As recently as in the 2016 budget, the following statement is made:

“Some taxpayers use trusts to avoid paying estate duty and donations tax. For example, if the founder of a trust sells his or her assets to the trust, and grants the trust an interest-free loan as payment, donations tax is not triggered and the assets are not included in his or her estate at death. To limit taxpayers’ ability to transfer wealth without being taxed, government proposes to ensure that the assets transferred through a loan to a trust are included in the estate of the founder at death, and to categorise interest-free loans to trusts as donations. Further measures to limit the use of discretionary trusts for income-splitting and other tax benefits will also be considered.”

This alludes both to how trusts are commonly used to minimize tax obligations, as well as how Treasury intends to (what could be considered a more focused) approach to trusts in future, while also hinting at what may be expected going forward.

As a first comment, trusts are popular estate duty planning instruments. Without going into too much detail, typically an individual will sell his/her assets to a trust on interest free loan account. In the coming years, the value of the assets will increase in the trust, while the value of the loan account will remain the same in the hands of the individual.

Secondly, trusts are potentially useful for income tax planning purposes as they allow for income to be distributed to individuals that are subject to tax at rates more beneficial than that of the trust (which involves ‘income-splitting’ referred to by Treasury above). Typically, these distributions often contain a fictitious element through distributions made on interest free loan account only (with no real intention that such distributions should vest in the beneficiaries).

It would appear as though Treasury is no longer considering an ‘out-and-out’ onslaught on the taxation of trusts (although this is only speculation). However, the recent budget perhaps betrays what may be expected and that anti-avoidance legislation is to be introduced that will focus only on abusive practices involving trusts. For both estate duty and income tax structures involving trusts, it is not far fetched to expect to see provisions introduced into tax legislation which will ensure that loan accounts with trusts all bear interest. The significance of this? Interest receipts are subject to income tax.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

Transactions required to be reported to SARS in terms of government notice

Tax 2_bSection 37 of the Tax Administration Act, 28 of 2011 (‘the Admin Act’) requires taxpayers to report a transaction which would qualify as a ‘reportable arrangement’. Failure to do so will result in a monthly penalty being levied against non-compliant taxpayers ranging from between R50,000 to R300,000 per month (section 212), for up to 12 months. The purpose for requiring taxpayers to report certain transactions is obvious: to allow the South African Revenue Service (‘SARS’) to monitor transactions on an ongoing basis which it considers to exhibit potential traits of tax avoidance.

An ‘arrangement’ (defined as including any transaction, agreement, scheme or understanding) is considered to be a ‘reportable arrangement’ if either it meets one of the criteria set out in section 35(1)(a) to (e), or if it is specifically listed in a public notice issued by the Commissioner for SARS.

This article is concerned with only the latter, and such a public notice was issued by the Commissioner on 16 March 2015 in Government Gazette no. 38569 as Notice 212. It lists the following transactions, summarised below, that may constitute ‘reportable arrangements’ as listed in said Notice:

  • Certain hybrid equity instruments (typically convertible or redeemable preference shares) which are redeemable/convertible within 10 years of being issued;
  • Certain hybrid debt instruments (for example convertible debentures or subordinated loans), other than listed instruments. In the case of convertible debentures, these are only potentially reportable if conversion may take place within 10 years of the notes being issued;
  • Share buy-backs by companies amounting to more than R10 million, if accompanied by that company issuing new shares within a one year period from the buy-back having taken place;
  • Any contributions or payments made by South African tax residents to a non-resident trust in which the South African tax residents have, or will acquire, a beneficial interest which is reasonably expected to exceed R10 million;
  • Where one or more persons acquire a controlling interest in a company which has, or can be reasonably expected to have, an assessed tax loss exceeding R50 million;
  • An arrangement whereby a South African taxpayer pays an amount in excess of R5 million to a non-resident person which qualifies as an insurer in that country.

The obvious purpose for allowing the Commissioner to publish a list of arrangements such as the above is to grant SARS the ability to identify transactions and/or structures which are often used by taxpayers in tax avoidance schemes. The ability to publish a list, such as the above, allows SARS to adopt a flexible approach in identifying and monitoring tax schemes and to retain the capability to publish even further transactions that are required to be reported without having to undergo the lengthy legislative process to have these transactions listed in the Admin Act itself.

Other than containing a list of transactions that would per se qualify as reportable arrangements, the Notice also determines that for purposes of those arrangements mentioned in section 35(1)(a) to (e) referred to earlier (as opposed to those listed in the Notice itself), a transaction would not be reportable if the tax benefit arising from the arrangement for all persons involved would not exceed R5 million. This R5 million threshold does however not apply to the list of transactions referred to above and listed in the Notice itself.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)