How to Avoid Stamp Duty
Stamp Duty along with inheritance tax, is one of the great pariahs of the tax regime. While people will sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to avoid having to pay the latter, it is thought that there is little that one can do about the former. While it is true that there are fewer steps that can be taken to avoid Stamp Duty, there are a number of possibilities that might help.
Avoidance and EvasionIn the first instance, it is important to note the difference between 'avoiding' tax and 'evading' tax. This article, and several others on this site, offer advice on tax avoidance; this describes the ways in which individuals or organisations can legally minimise their tax bill. Tax evasion, on the other hand, is illegal, and tends to rely on acts like falsifying accounts. Actions like these are inevitably discovered and punished severely.
The majority of ways in which you can hope to avoid Stamp Duty tend to have a fairly fundamental effect on the transaction itself, often going as far as determining which property or shares you will buy. If you are hoping to minimise a Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) bill (the duty paid on property transactions), one of the most enticing tax breaks available relates to property in so-called 'disadvantaged areas'. This is a scheme devised by the government to encourage the regeneration of less successfully developed areas by offering a tax incentive to those who purchase property there. Currently the non-payment threshold for SDLT is raised to £150,000 on property bought in these areas.
The HMRC and Directgov websites have search engines through which you can ascertain whether or not individual postcode areas are eligible for this form of tax relief.
Sale PricesIt sounds rather obvious, but perhaps the most effective way of mitigating your SDLT liability is by paying less for your property. If you can negotiate a price that is lower than the non-payment threshold (currently set at £125,000), you stand to save a considerable amount of money. Indeed, simply reducing the purchase price to below the threshold of any of the subsequent brackets can lead to large savings, particularly if the price drops below £250,000 as any sales of property above this price are subject to a minimum of 3% tax to a maximum of 7%.
While you are thinking about minimising your tax bill on property, it is also worth considering the tax implications that would apply were you ever to sell up. In this case, you should note that fixtures and fittings, as well as outbuildings like a garden shed, are classed as 'wasting chattels'. This means that they are exempt from Capital Gains Tax. As a result, you shouldn't be reticent about selling a ready-fitted house because of any potential tax expenses.