Your guide to ISAs
First published 23 August 2018 • Updated 24 July 2019
What is an ISA?
ISA stands for individual savings account. Unlike a standard savings account with your bank, an ISA allows you to hold cash or investments without having to pay tax on interest, dividends, or gains. Some ISAs have specialist features, such as bonuses for buying a home, or being designed for saving for children. There are limits on how much you can put away each year, and you have the option of variable or fixed interest rates.
How much can you save into ISAs?
There is a limit to how much money you can place into ISAs each tax year. You can invest up to this limit in any combination of ISA types (e.g. cash, stocks & shares, innovative finance). Remember the allowance renews every tax year, so if April is approaching and you have some spare cash, always see if you have some ISA allowance to use up.
The ISA limit changes periodically and is currently £20,000.
Types of ISAs
There are several different types of ISAs, each one designed for a particular kind of saving or investing. Some ISAs come with special advantages and/or certain conditions of saving, while others may have particular risks associated with them.
The types of ISA available are:
- Cash ISA
- Stocks & shares ISA
- Innovative finance ISA
- Help to Buy ISA
- Lifetime ISA
- Junior ISA
A cash ISA allows you to save money without having to pay tax on any interest that you accumulate on your savings. This is in addition to your tax-free personal savings allowance.
There are three types of cash ISA:
- Instant access cash ISAs allow you to withdraw your money at any point throughout the year, but may have lower interest rates than other types, and the interest rate may change over time.
- Fixed-rate cash ISAs give you a guaranteed rate of interest for an agreed period of time. However, you may face a penalty if you want to access your money before the end of this period.
- Regular savings cash ISAs enable a fixed interest rate over an agreed period of time, as long as you put money into your ISA every month and do not withdraw the cash during this period (there is usually a penalty if you do).
Innovative finance ISA
This type of ISA is also known as a peer-to-peer ISA (P2P ISA), as they are provided by peer-to-peer lending firms. It allows you to earn from lending out P2P loans and pay no tax on the income generated.
P2P loans are available online via a number of providers. They enable you to lend out your money to individuals or businesses and earn interest from the repayments. As there is no ‘middleman’, these loans can offer higher interest to savers the mainstream market.
P2P lending comes with a higher risk than cash saving, so discuss it first with your financial adviser.
Exclusively for first-time buyers, a Help-to-Buy ISA is designed to help save a deposit for a first home. You open your ISA with an initial lump sum of up to £1,000, and can then save up to £200 per month (so in the first month you can deposit £1,200 in total). You can miss monthly deposits but you can’t roll them over, so the maximum you can pay in is always £200. You can save up to £12,000 in total (deposits plus interest) and when you complete the purchase of your first home, the government adds a bonus of 25 per cent (so a £12,000 ISA is boosted to £15,000). If you choose not to buy a home you can still take the money you saved up, but you won’t get the 25 per cent bonus.
Find out more about help to buy schemes.
A Lifetime ISA (LISA) lets you save for a deposit on your first home, for retirement, or both. You can open one between the ages of 18 and 40, paying in up to £4,000 per year, to which the government adds a 25 per cent bonus (to a maximum total bonus of £32,000 by the age of 50). Your savings-plus-bonus can be withdrawn to be used as the deposit on your first home, or from the age of 60. If you withdraw the money for any other reason, you must pay a 25 per cent penalty.
To qualify for the bonus, the home you buy must cost under £450,000.
This works the same way as other ISAs, but is specifically designed for children. You can open a junior ISA for your child at any point, putting away savings each year up to the annual limit with tax-free interest. Your child can then access the ISA once they turn 18. Junior ISAs hold either cash or stocks & shares or a mixture of the two. Talk to your financial adviser about the best option for your child’s long-term investment.
Find out more about saving for children.
Inheriting an ISA
If your spouse has an ISA and they die, then you inherit not just the money itself but also an additional ISA allowance, equal to the total value of all ISAs they held at the time. This allows you to reinvest the money in your own ISAs in that tax year, without losing its tax-protected status.
Find out more about inheritance.
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