Table of Contents: What is an ISA?
Benjamin Franklin famously said “Nothing is certain but death and taxes” in a card to Jean-Baptiste Le Roy. Ever since, this phrase has become commonly used by people all around the world, especially among investors finding themselves dealing with the bureaucracy of governments.
No matter where you live or which investment instrument you favor: Most people will agree that paying taxes on their investments can be a pain.
When you are trying to make money, having the government eat a portion of your hard-earned money can be quite frustrating. In a world where almost everyone is now trying to build wealth over time to reach financial freedom, this should no longer be the case.
The ISA is Your Key to Long-Term Saving
Fortunately, there is a financial instrument that allows investors like you to generate returns while also saving them from taxes: Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs).
The ISA has become a favorite structure among investors due to the many benefits it brings to the table, as well as the flexibility that results from all the options there are.
Instead of using a regular account to save for your future, the ISA is a great way to get ahead. Let’s look at why an ISA makes sense, and what it can do for you!
ISA 101: The Basics
Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) are one of the most popular financial tools for anyone looking to generate returns consistently. They operate as any other savings account would but with a particular benefit: any interest generated will be free of taxes.
The no tax angle means that no capital gain nor income made from it will have a cut of it taken by the government, increasing your returns in the long term.
ISAs are offered by many different types of institutions including banks, building societies, stock brokers, credit unions, lending services, and more. Not only will the type of ISAs offered to you vary depending on the institution you choose to work with but also the conditions. With all the options out there, no two ISAs are alike, so be wise when choosing one,
This benefit of ISAs makes it easier to build wealth over time due to their fixed interest rates (more on this later) and also make your life a lot easier.
As you will be exempted from paying taxes on your returns, you won’t need to record them in your tax returns. This is one of the reasons why ISAs are one of the best investment tools any beginner investor can use, as declaring returns can be one of the most difficult parts of investing.
ISA Yearly Allowance: What Is It and How Does It Work?
Unfortunately, there are limitations to how much you can invest in ISAs to benefit from their tax-free returns.
Every year, regulators will determine how much money can be put into ISAs by any given investor to ensure the system can’t be abused by investors. This allowance is shared by all types of ISAs, which means you can’t open multiple ISAs in an attempt to benefit several times.
Take the 2022-2023 tax year as an example, when this allowance was £20,000. What this means is that you could have put a total of £20,000 into your ISA for the totality of the year and any profit generated by it would be free of tax.
Once the tax year is over in 2023, a new allowance will be determined and you can make use of the benefit again. If you were to only put £10,000 during the 2022-2023 year, the remaining £10,000 wouldn’t roll over.
While the latest ISA allowance has remained the same for the past 5 years, this could change at any time. For this reason, we recommend you always check the latest information to make the best out of this tax exemption.
ISAs are offered by many different types of institutions including banks, building societies, stock brokers, credit unions, lending services, and more. The conditions and type of ISA will vary depending on the institution you choose to work with.
Another important aspect of investing in ISAs is that they can easily be transferred to your spouse or civil partner if you were to die. This is done by making use of an “additional permitted subscription allowance”, which provides your partner with an additional ISA allowance that will equal the value of the ISA.
What ISA Is Best For You?
You probably are not surprised to learn that there are several types of ISAs available to investors out there. While this is great as it means that you will be able to choose an option that better suits your needs, it also means you will need to put in a bit of effort when making the decision. Fortunately, understanding the difference between the different options is quite easy.
The 3 types of ISA you are more likely to find are cash, stock and shares, and innovative finance ISAs. Each of these offers different benefits to its users, with conditions varying depending on the institution providing them.
As we said previously, you will only be able to put money into each of these per tax year.
Cash ISA: The Most Popular Choice
Cash ISAs are the most commonly used type of ISA. These operate in a very similar way to savings bank accounts, which most people are familiar with. This type of ISA will offer investors a better interest rate than savings accounts in exchange for holding your money in them for a fixed term.
The term often ranges between one and five years, with the repercussions of withdrawing the money before the term is completed varying depending on the subtype.
There are as many subtypes of ISAs as financial institutions can come up with. However, there are 4 types that you are most likely to find out when looking for your perfect match. Let’s take a quick look at them:
- Fixed-rate cash ISA: Requires you to lock your money for a specified period. You will incur heavy penalties if you withdraw earlier.
- Notice cash ISA: You will be able to withdraw money without penalties by giving prior notice to the institution. The notice period will vary depending on the conditions, usually ranging from 7 to 90 days.
- Flexible cash ISA: You can withdraw whenever you want without notice or having to pay penalties, making it the closest to a traditional savings account.
As you can see, there is a type of cash ISA for every need with the decision depending on how many restrictions you are willing to accept in exchange for more benefits.
Stocks and Shares ISAs
A more risky type of ISA, stocks and shares ISAs are all about actively investing your money. When you use one of these ISAs, the provider is using your money to invest in stock with the aim to generate profit. As such, your returns will be directly related to the quality of these investments.
Stocks and shares ISAs are popular among investors looking for a higher return on their investments as there is a chance to earn more than with a cash ISA. As the opposite is also true, it is essential that you consider the tradeoff between this and other types of ISA.
We recommend you look at our guide on risk management.
Something important to note is that most Stocks and Shares ISAs will give you some control over how your money is invested. This can go from choosing in which industry/companies you want to invest, to how much risk are you willing to accept.
You can also leave the decision to the investment fund manager in charge of your portfolio, which makes this a set it and forget it kind of investment.
Innovative Finance ISAs
Innovative Finance ISAs (IFISAs) are all about P2P (peer-to-peer) loans. If you choose to use an innovative finance ISA, your money will be used by individuals or businesses looking to borrow money.
The transactions are done via an online portal which you can use to lend directly to these borrowers, who will pay interest on the money you lend them.
The benefits of this approach are clear as you can increase your profit considerably and have more control over the funds (as you will be in charge of the decision-making). Howev er, the risks involved are also considerably higher as daunting can take place and cash withdrawals will often be slower.
Opening an ISA: What to Know
Opening an ISA is as easy as opening a bank savings account but how you do it will depend entirely on the institution offering it. The process can require you to visit an office or can be also done online or by phone in most cases and often requires a minimum deposit.
There is nothing special when it comes to documentation as you will often be asked to fill out a contract and provide easily available documentation you should already possess. However, due to the nature of ISAs, it is essential that you make sure to understand the conditions described in the contract, especially when it comes to penalties, restrictions, and fees.
Something else you need to keep in mind is that you can only open one account per type of ISA each tax year. This means that for the 2022-2023 period, you could open one Cash, one Stocks and Shares, and one Innovative Finance ISA.
Diversifying your ISAs reduces risks and can give you access to interesting investment strategies. However, you will only be able to put your money in one ISA per year, so this is a process that will take years to accomplish.
Another way of opening an ISA is to have an older ISA transferred to a new provider. By doing this, you will be offered several benefits more often than not as providers are eager to bring in new customers.
We recommend that you always consider a transfer before opening a new ISA as it can be quite profitable to do so. With an ISA, you will be able to take full advantage of the programs in place for savers. Find the right ISA for you, and start saving for your future!