FURTHER REFINEMENTS TO THE ATTACK ON INTEREST FREE LOANS TO TRUSTS

B2We previously reported on the introduction of section 7C of the Income Tax Act, 58 of 1962. In terms of this targeted anti-avoidance provision, National Treasury sought to attack interest free loans granted to trusts by connected persons of that trust.

Typically, these loans would have arisen by virtue of an individual that would sell his or her asset to a trust of which he/she is a beneficiary for estate duty purposes on interest free loan account. By doing so, the asset’s value will grow in the trust, while the interest free loan will remain a non-appreciable, static asset in the hands of the beneficiary, thereby excluding future capital growth on the asset from estate duty when that individual should one day pass away.

Section 7C deems an interest component to arise on interest free or low interest loan accounts to the extent that interest is not charged at the prescribed rate. The amount of the deemed interest is then treated as an annual donation by the trust, thereby attracting donations tax on the value of the deemed donation made to the trust. Were the trust creditors to actually charge interest on the loans to the trusts on the other hand, this will lead to taxable income accruing in their hands, and which will be subject to income tax being charged thereon at prevailing income tax rates.

The new proposals contained in the draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill, published on 19 July 2017, contain two significant reforms which further focus the extent of the anti-avoidance provisions of section 7C and counter two specific planning solutions being conceived in practice to counter the application of section 7C in its current form.

The first such proposal to take note of is that loans to trusts are no longer the sole target, but also interest free loans extended to companies (owned by trusts) by the beneficiaries of that trust. This is in an attempt to counter structuring solutions whereby loans owing by a trust were shifted by way of complex restructurings to companies owned by trusts.

The second proposal is aimed at loans due by trusts being transferred from the creditor individual to another, thereby effectively “breaking the link” between the person that extended the loan to the trust and the person now entitled to the amounts due by the trust. In other words, section 7C would only previously apply to the person who extended the loan to the trust. Since the person now holding the loan claim did not originally grant the loan to the trust, the provisions of section 7C, in its original form, would not have applied. The second new revision to section 7C counters this approach making it clear that a connected person acquiring a loan claim is also caught by the provisions of section 7C (and thus required to charge interest) irrespective thereof that that person did not itself extend any loan finance itself to the trust.

The above are still mere proposals, but are proposed to become effective 19 July 2017 if enacted (which appears likely). Taxpayers with loan accounts to trusts are therefore well-advised to seek guidance on how to treat such loan accounts going forward.

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)

 

INTEREST FREE LOANS WITH COMPANIES

A4bThe latest annual nation budget presented in Parliament proposed the dividends tax rate to be increased with almost immediate effect from 15% to 20%. The increased rate brings into renewed focus what anti-avoidance measures exist in the Income Tax Act[1] that seeks to ensure that the dividends tax is not avoided.

Most commonly, the dividends tax is levied on dividends paid by a company to individuals or trusts that are shareholders of that company. To the extent that the shareholder is a South African tax resident company, no dividends tax is levied on payments to such shareholders.[2] In other words, non-corporate shareholders (such as trusts or individuals) may want to structure their affairs in such a manner so as to avoid the dividends tax being levied, yet still have access to the cash and profit reserves contained in the company for their own use.

Getting access to these funds by way of a dividend declaration will give rise to such dividends being taxed (now) at 20%. An alternative scenario would be for the shareholder to rather borrow the cash from the company on interest free loan account. In this manner factually no dividend would be declared (and which would suffer dividends tax), no interest accrues to the company on the loan account created (and which would have been taxable in the company) and most importantly, the shareholder is able to access the cash of the company commercially. Moreover, since the shareholder is in a controlling position in relation to the company, it can ensure that the company will in future never call upon the loan to be repaid.

Treasury has for long been aware of the use of interest free loans to shareholders (or “connected persons”)[3] as a means first to avoid the erstwhile STC, and now the dividends tax. There exists anti-avoidance legislation; in place exactly to ensure that shareholders do not extract a company’s resources in the guise of something else (such as an interest free loan account) without incurring some tax cost as a result.

Section 64E(4) of the Income Tax Act provides that any loan provided by a company to a non-company tax resident that is:

  1. a connected person in relation to that company; or
  2. a connected person of the above person

“… will be deemed to have paid a dividend if that debt arises by virtue of any share held in that company by a person contemplated in subparagraph (i).” (own emphasis)

The amount of such a deemed dividend (that will be subject to dividends tax) is considered to be effectively equal to the amount of interest that would have been charged at prime less 2.5%, less so much of interest that has been actually charged on the loan account.

It is important to also appreciate that the interest free loan capital is not subject to tax, but which would also have amounted to a once-off tax only. By taxing the interest component not charged, the very real possibility exists for the deemed dividend to arise annually, and for as long as the loan remains in place on an interest free basis.

[1] 58 of 1962

[2] Section 64F(1)(a)

[3] Defined in section 1 of the Income Tax Act

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)

INTEREST FREE LOANS TO DIRECTORS

A3bIt is very often the case that a company extends an interest free or low interest loan to a director. This manifests either as a true incentive or benefit to that director (mostly the case in larger corporate environments) or in a small business environment in lieu of salaries paid. The latter is especially the case for example where a spouse or family trust would hold the shares in the company running the family business, but which business is conducted through the efforts of the individual to whom a loan is granted from time to time.

In terms of the Seventh Schedule to the Income Tax Act[1] a director of a company is also considered an “employee”.[2] This is significant, since directors can therefore also be bound by the fringe benefit tax regime applicable to employees generally.

Paragraph (i) of the definition of “gross income” in the Income Tax Act[3] specifically includes as an amount subject to income tax “the cash equivalent, as determined under the provisions of the Seventh Schedule, of the value during the year of assessment of any benefit… granted in respect of employment or to the holder of any office…”

Clearly, benefits received by a director of a company would therefore rank for taxation in terms of this provision. The question remains therefore whether loans provided to such directors by the companies where they serve in this capacity would amount to such a taxable benefit, and further how such benefit should be quantified.

Paragraph 2(f) of the Seventh Schedule is unequivocal in its approach that a taxable fringe benefit exists where “… a debt … has been incurred by the employee [read director], whether in favour of the employer or in favour of any other person by arrangement with the employer or any associated institution in relation to the employer, and either-

(i) no interest is payable by the employee in respect of such debt; or

(ii) interest is payable by the employee in respect thereof at a rate of lower than the official rate of interest…”

Paragraph 11 in turn seeks to quantify the amount of the taxable fringe benefit to be included in the gross income of the director. Essentially, the taxable fringe benefit would be equal to so much of interest that would have been payable on the loan at the prime interest rate less 2.5%, less any interest actually paid on the loan. The benefit therefore does not only arise on interest-free loans, but also on loans carrying interest at less than the prescribed interest rate.

It is necessary to note that a fringe benefit otherwise arising will not be a taxable benefit if the loan amount is less than R3,000, or if it is provided to the director to further his/her studies.

[1] 58 of 1962

[2] Paragraph 1 of the Seventh Schedule, paragraph (g) of the definition of “employee”

[3] See section 1

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)

INTEREST FREE LOANS AND TRUSTS

A2bThe recent introduction of section 7C to the Income Tax Act[1] brought the taxation of trusts, and the funding thereof specifically, under the spotlight again. Briefly, section 7C seeks to levy donations tax on loans owing by trusts to connected parties (typically beneficiaries or the companies they control). To the extent that interest is not charged, a donation is deemed to be made by the creditor annually amounting to the difference between the interest actually charged (if at all), and interest that would have been charged had a rate of prime – 2.5% applied.

What many lose focus of is that interest free (or low interest) loans have income tax consequences too, over and above the potential donations tax consequence arising by virtue of section 7C. Section 7 of the Income Tax Act is specifically relevant. This section aims to ensure that taxpayers are not able to donate assets away and which would rid themselves of a taxable income stream.

In broad terms, section 7 deems any income that accrues to a trust or beneficiary to be the income of the donor if the income accrues from an asset previously the subject of a “donation, settlement or other disposition”. In other words, where a person donates a property to a trust, the rental income generated will not be taxed in the hands of the beneficiary or the trust, but in the hands of the donor. Section 7 therefore acts as an anti-avoidance provision to ensure that taxpayers do not “shift” tax onto persons subject to less tax through donating income producing assets out of their own estates.

It is interesting to now consider what an “other disposition” would amount to. Various cases have confirmed that an interest free loan would be treated as such and that, to the extent that interest is not charged, this would amount to a continuing donation.[2] The implication thereof is this: assume the funder of a discretionary trust sells a property to that trust on interest free loan account. Any rental earned would ordinarily have been taxed in the hands of the trust or the beneficiary, depending on whether distributions will have been made. However, since section 7 will apply to the extent that no interest was charged on the loan account, a portion of the rental income will now be taxable in the hands of the trust funder.

The take-away is that donations to trusts have income tax implications for the donor too, over and above a donations tax consequence. This will also be the case where interest free loans are involved.

[1] 58 of 1962

[2] Honiball and Olivier, The Taxation of Trusts (2009) at p. 84 and following

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)

IMPERMISSIBLE EXCHANGE CONTROL “LOOP STRUCTURES”

a3_bMany people or companies with offshore activities will be aware of the existence of exchange controls imposed by the South African Reserve Bank and monitored by its Financial Surveillance Department. Yet despite being aware of its existence, many do not appreciate what transactions are permissible and what would constitute a contravention of the exchange control regulations. In practice we often encounter such illegal structures, even though it may have been innocently created. One typical structure often encountered, and which the South African Reserve Bank considers to be illegal, is the so-called “loop structure”.

Loop structures in essence involve a resident in the common monetary area (comprised of South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho, “the CMA”) investing via loan or shares back into the CMA through an entity non-resident in the CMA. For example, a structure whereby an individual owns shares in a UK company which in turn holds shares in a South African company will amount to an illegal loop structure.

Share investments do not represent the only mechanism through which loop structures may be created: loans held back into the CMA through offshore entities, or even contingent rights created by way of a discretionary trust may also give rise to a loop structure. To give another example: if an individual is a discretionary beneficiary of an offshore trust, and which trust directly or indirectly holds loans receivable against or shares investments in South African companies, that too would be considered a contravention of the prevailing exchange control regime.

In other words: a loop structure would be created where a South African resident holds South African investments (in whichever form) indirectly through an offshore entity.

Although there is no blanket prohibition against all offshore investments which give rise to loop structures, the South African Reserve Bank is loath to approve these and take the view that any such structure created without seeking its prior approval amounts to an illegal structure. An exception which is noted though in the recently published Currency and Exchange Guidelines for Business entities (published by the Reserve bank on 29 July 2016) involves companies which may hold between 10 to 20 per cent of the shares in an offshore entity, which may in turn hold investments in and/or make loans back to the CMA. (This dispensation does not apply though to foreign direct investments where the South African company on its own, or where several South African companies collectively, hold an equity interest and/or voting rights in the foreign entity of more than 20 per cent in total.)

It is true that many people are completely unaware of the prohibition against loop structures and that these have inadvertently been created in the past without those involved being aware of the illegal nature thereof. If one were to voluntarily come forward and declare such an illegal structure though, taking also into account that the loop was inadvertently created, the Financial Surveillance Department may very well allow transgressing persons to unwind the unintended loop structure without levying penalties (which could otherwise amount to as much as 40% of the capital illegally exported from the CMA). It would be important for individuals and companies alike to be aware of these potentially illegal structures and to be sure that steps are taken to have these resolved as soon as possible. Given the newly introduced special voluntary disclosure programme (VDP) announced by National Treasury and which extends beyond tax transgressions only, it may now be an appropriate time to take steps to have such transgressions rectified.

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)