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How do I avoid paying capital gains tax on buy-to-let sales

One in ten people in the UK own a second property, whether as a holiday home or a buy-to-let investment. But with the credit crunch biting and the cost of living soaring, some property investors may be thinking about selling their investment and releasing their equity.


If you’ve purchased letting property and are thinking of selling it, but are worried about facing a huge tax bill, do you know how you can save money on the amount of capital gains tax (CGT) you have to pay? Here’s our guide to how you can avoid capital gains tax.


1.     Make use of your capital gains tax allowance – and your spouse’s if you’re married or in a civil partnership.


Everybody has a capital gains tax allowance. For the 2011/12 tax year, the first £10,600 of the gain is exempt from the tax charge and if you’re married, or in a civil partnership, and the property is held in joint names, you, as a couple, can make capital gains of £21,200 before you face a tax bill.


Being married, or in a civil partnership, gives you added flexibility regarding tax issues. You’re able to transfer properties between yourselves, in and out of joint ownership, free of tax. However, inheritance tax and income tax issues should also be considered before making any transfer.


2.      Offset legal costs, improvements and stamp duty against any gains.


To reduce your capital gain, you have to maximise the allowable costs. These are all costs involved with the purchase, ownership period and sale of the property that fall within the definitions stated by HM Revenue & Customs. There are various allowable costs, but they include solicitor’s costs, accountancy fees (where relating to a valuation) and stamp duty.


If you have made any major changes to the property (i.e. an extension or have refitted the bathroom) while you have owned it, and relief for this expenditure has not been claimed against the rental income, then the costs of these alterations can be taken off the gain. Minor refurbishments, such as repainting walls, don’t count.


For more information on the allowable costs available, visit HM Revenue & Customs’ website.


4. Live in the property for a few months before you sell it.


If you own a buy-to-let property, you could save a substantial amount of money by using it as your main home – known in the tax world as your “principal private residence (PPR)”.


Buy-to-let investors usually claim partial residence relief. This can be claimed if you used the property as your main residence, but then you moved out of the property and still retained ownership (i.e. you rented the property out). In this scenario, you wouldn’t be liable for capital gains tax for the duration that the property was your main residence and for the last three years of ownership. The latter is covered by, what is called, the ’36-month rule’.


Numerous property investors are using this rule to save tax. When they purchase a new property, they rent out their existing private residence and then move into the new one; thereby taking advantage of the 36-month rule.


But, before you move into your second property, remember that you must live in the property for at least a few months. You must have occupied the property properly as a family home and will need proof of residence, such as bank statements, postal details and electoral details which are all registered to the new address.


Also, note that you have a time limit in which you can nominate which property is to be your main residence. Within two years of buying a second property, you can choose which property is to be your main residence and you don’t have to be living in it at the time. But after two years, you do lose the right to nominate which property is your principle residence and you would then have to prove that you were living in the second property to avoid capital gains tax. But it’s possible that you could revive it if you bought a third property, or if your second home became your principle residence for a time.


Remember that if you do move into your second property, your other home could then be liable for capital gains tax for that period, but if you do return to your main residence, you will be entitled to a further three-year (maximum) entitlement to PPR relief, in addition to the 36-month rule.


This is a complex issue, so professional advice should be sought.


5. Get letting relief on your main residence.


If you move into your second property and let out your first home, you can be entitled to “private letting relief”. You can exempt up to £40,000 of the gain accrued during the period that the property was let out as private residential accommodation.


Anyone who has a share in the property can claim it, so if the property is in joint names, you can claim £80,000 between you. With the main residence exemption and private letting relief, your overall capital gains tax bill can be reduced dramatically


Again, it’s always best to take professional advice.

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