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)

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF TRUSTS

A1BTrusts have various advantages, but unfortunately there are also disadvantages.

Although this is not a complete synopsis of all the pros and cons, our experience may assist you in making decisions about Trusts.

 

Advantages:

  • Growth taking place in the Trust assets settles in the Trust and not in your personal estate.
  • By selling the assets to the Trust, the amount owed to you by the Trust will remain outstanding on the loan account and shall be regarded as an asset to your estate. This amount may be decreased for Estate duty purposes by utilising the annual Donations Tax exemption of R100 000.
  • A Trust offers protection against problems should you become mentally incompetent. This may also make the appointment of a curator to handle your financial affairs unnecessary.
  • A Trust remains confidential as opposed to documents like wills and records of deceased estates which are public documents and therefore open for inspection.
  • A Trust can offer financial protection to disabled dependents, extravagant children or beneficiaries with special needs.
  • A Trust can evade the administrative costs of consecutive estates by making provision for consecutive beneficiaries.
  • A Trust can lighten the emotional stress on your family when you die because the Trust will continue without any of the formalities that are required from a deceased estate.
  • By choosing your Trustees well you can ensure professional asset and investment management.
  • The Trust will enable you to have a degree of control over the assets in the Trust after your death, via the Trustees.
  • After your death and before the estate has been settled the Trust can provide a source of income for your dependent(s).
  • You will prevent your minor child’s inheritance from being transferred to the Guardian’s Fund.
  • You will avoid the problem of trying to distribute assets equally among the heirs.
  • Trust income can be divided among the beneficiaries with lower tax categories after the death of the initiator when individual exemptions may be utilised, but all taxable income kept in the Trust will be taxed at 40% without exemption benefits.
  • Levels of income may be varied according to the changing needs of the beneficiaries at the discretion of the Trustees.
  • Due to the assets remaining the property of the Trust and not the beneficiaries it need not be included in people’s estates as part of their assets when they die, which effects a saving in Estate duty.
  • The Trust assets will be protected from creditors for the same reason.

Disadvantages:

  • You don’t have full control of your assets, as the other Trustees also have a say in the matter.
  • A Trust is registered and the authorities can gain access to it.
  • You could possible choose the wrong Trustees. You could expect problems if the Trustees are vying heirs. This shows how important it is to have at least one independent Trustee.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other 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 legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.