Tax-efficient school fees planning

By July 30, 2021Tax Planning
Person calculating private school fees with calculator

A private school education is often considered as an investment in a child’s (or grandchild’s) future. With the right planning in place, and by taking advantage of available tax incentives, it is an investment that could well be within your reach.

Parents – and grandparents – always want the best for their children or grandchildren, and for many this means choosing to give them a private school education. The evidence suggests that students from private schools here in the UK outperform national and global academic averages, and that most children who attend private school go on to get a university education.

However, attending a private school is a privilege that doesn’t come cheap, which can often put parents under increased financial pressure. A Lloyds Banking study from a few years ago found that four out of ten private school parents had struggled to meet school fee payment deadlines and six out of ten parents were worried they might not be able to afford fees in the future.

How much does it cost to send a child to a private school?

According to the 2021 Annual Report published by the Independent Schools Council (ISC), the average fee for a child to attend a private day school is currently £15,191 per annum, which works out at £5,064 per school term. Naturally, day school fees vary depending on where the school is located, average term fees are more than £6,000 in London and £3,700 in the Northwest of England. As you would expect, it costs considerably more to pay for a child to attend boarding school, where the ISC estimates the average cost per term stands at £12,000.

Are private school fees going up?

Afraid so. According to the ISC, UK school fees have increased at an annualised rate of 3.9% since 2010, which is well above inflation. However, while COVID-19 has had a considerable impact on every school, and private schools are no exception, the latest ISC report suggests private schools have only increased their fees by an average of 1.1% in the past year – with average day school fees rising by just 0.9%.

But the school fees themselves are really just the beginning when it comes to counting the costs of a child’s education. You will also need to think about the costs of school uniforms, trips, sports activities (and equipment), and music lessons. When all those costs are factored in, parents might be looking at total costs of between £150,000 and £200,000 per child who attends a private day school, and maybe double that for a boarding school.

Investing to pay for school fees – the mathematical journey

Of course, when it comes to paying for school fees, the sooner you put a plan together – and start setting money aside – the better. If you plan ahead, you can give yourself five to ten years, or perhaps even longer, to build up a savings pot that could help to fund school fees when they become due.

One of the most important aspects of creating a plan to pay for school fees is to calculate the costs of private education, including some of those ‘miscellaneous’ costs that it’s easy to forget to include, and the education time horizon (the number of years the child will be attending the school). Once this is known it becomes considerably easier to create a strategy that will take advantage of the power of compounding, and generate enough investment growth from start to finish.

Tax-efficient school fee savings strategies

Given that interest rates on cash savings accounts remain so low, investing within a tax-efficient savings vehicle is likely to be the best starting point when it comes to saving for school fees – especially bearing in mind you will have to withdraw a large sum from the investment pot every year once the school terms start.

With a Stocks & Shares ISA, individuals can invest up to £20,000 each year, or £40,000 per couple. This would be a good way of constructing a diversified portfolio that contains a broad range of assets and is designed to achieve growth over the targeted investment horizon.

Tax-efficient strategies for grandparents

We are also seeing more grandparents talking to us about investing for school fees for their grandchildren, out of their excess after-tax retirement income. This is a good way to give children a great education while also making sure the parents don’t have the financial burden.

Setting up a discretionary trust can be a tax-efficient way for grandparents to pay the cost of private education. Once the trust has been set up, the grandparents can make a series of regular ‘gifts’ into the trust, and this money is invested according to the arrangements specified by the grandparents.

A valuable benefit of setting up a discretionary trust to pay for grandchildren’s school fees is that the gifts made into the trust should be declared outside of the estate for inheritance tax purposes, provided the donor lives for a further seven years after a gift. Also, annual gifts of up to £3,000 per grandparent are deemed instantly exempt from inheritance tax, as long as this annual exemption has not already been used.

Talk to us about school fees planning 

If you are a parent or grandparent who wants to send their children or grandchildren to a private school, the best way to pay for it is to start the financial planning process as early as you can. When you’re ready, we can help you by giving you a realistic assessment of the costs involved, and to put together a tailored plan to help you reach your savings goals.

If you are interested in discussing school fee arrangements with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

This content is for information purposes only and does not constitute investment or financial advice. Tax rules are subject to change, and tax benefits depend on your personal tax position.