There are different ways to go about paying yourself, depending on how your startup is set up.
We almost always recommend setting up both:
- A company
- A family trust (also known as a discretionary trust) to hold your shares in your startup company
It can be tempting to skimp on set up and just pay yourself as a contractor (more on that further down), but this set up really is the best option. Here's why:
- A company has more legal rights than other structures (which is good if you want to protect yourself against legal action)
- You have to be a company to apply for the R&D tax incentive (one of the biggest sources of startup funding in Australia and the UK)
- You'll have better options to pay yourself (as a founder)
- You'll pay less tax on any income you receive from your startup
- You'll have more options at exit time
So, under the company + trust set up, there are two main ways to pay yourself:
- As an employee
The company will process a payroll payment to you and handle the back-end stuff, including paying PAYG / PAYE tax to the ATO / HMRC, paying your superannuation (AU) and pensions (UK) fund and accounting for it all in end-of-year reporting.
- Dividends from the company
The company can use its profits to declare dividends to its shareholders (i.e your trust). Your trust can then be clever about tax by distributing the dividend to its beneficiaries (members) as it sees fit.
What about paying yourself as a contractor?
In theory, to a limited extent, this is possible but your startup company might still have to pay "employer" obligations anyway (in Australia, because of the ATO’s personal services income regime). This is likely to apply if you’re earning most or all of your income from your own company. In the UK, most contractors benefit from paying towards their pensions from their own Limited company.
** If you’re an ‘IP heavy’ startup company with patent or licencing possibilities, consider setting up a separate company to hold your intellectual property, alongside an operating company.
Repaying loans you've made to your startup
If you, as a founder, have provided any loans to the business and then need to draw money back out of it later, you should first be doing this as paying yourself your loan back. As such, this is not income that needs to be declared. See more on Loans to your Startup.
Reimbursing expenses you've covered
And if you (as a founder) have incurred expenses on the company's behalf and need to draw money back out of the business later on, you should also first be paying yourself back for those expenses. Again, this is not income that needs to be declared. See more on Expenses incurred personally on behalf of your startup.