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2021 ISA Guide: from allowance to rates, everything you need to know

Moneyfarm’s guide to ISAs 2021

What is an ISA?

An ISA is a type of savings account that allows you to grow your money in a tax-efficient manner. It’s a simple scheme set up by the government to help savers and investors make their money go further. Moneyfarm’s comprehensive guide will tell you all you need to know about ISAs.

What does ISA stand for?

ISA stands for Individual Savings Account.

Tax-free savings

The Individual Savings Account (ISA) was introduced by the government to encourage saving and is designed to make growing your money for your future easy.

An ISA is a simple account that protects your savings and investments within a tax wrapper. This means that any returns from a savings account or your investments, and any income, will be shielded from the taxman.

Whenever you save or invest money you could be eligible to pay tax on your returns. If you pay the higher rate of income tax, you’re eligible to pay capital gains tax of 20% on the profit you make when you decide to withdraw that money. Everyone has an annual capital gains tax allowance of £12,300 in the 2020/21 financial year.

You could also be eligible to pay tax from any income you receive on your investments. The tax rate depends on whether this is generated as a dividend from equity investments or interest from fixed income.

If you invest in an ISA, however, you won’t pay a thing in tax.

For example, imagine you invest £20,000 – the full ISA allowance – into a general investment account for 20 years, splitting it into monthly payments.

If your investments return 3% each year, you could have a pot worth over £547,000. If you pay the higher rate of income tax, you would have to pay over £27,000 of your money in tax when you sold your investments. If you invested in an ISA, you would keep every penny of your £147,000 profit.

How does it work?

An ISA is best described as a wrapper that protects your savings and investments from the taxman. Whether you decide to save or invest, all of the interest, income and capital gains generated from the money you put in your ISA can grow tax-free.

The annual allowance for 2020/21 is £20,000, which means you can put up to this limit in your ISA each tax year. The tax year runs from 6 April to 5 April the following year.

There are two main types of ISAs: the cash ISA and the stocks and shares ISA. You have several other options to choose from too, including the lifetime ISA, junior ISA and innovative finance ISA.

A cash ISA allows you to build up your savings in a tax-efficient manner. When you save money in a cash ISA, your provider pays you interest on your savings, which is tax-free.

A stocks and shares ISA allows you to invest your money through the ISA wrapper, shielding any returns from tax. Making the most of your annual allowance each year can help you maximise your returns over the long run.

You can invest or save your allowance in as many different types of ISAs as you like, but only in one of each type each tax year.

This means you can put £10,000 of your £20,000 limit in a stocks and shares ISA and £10,000 in a cash ISA, but not split this across two different stocks and shares ISAs.

If you’ve already started investing in a stocks and shares ISA in a tax year but want to move, you can transfer your ISA to a different provider, but this will close your original ISA account.

How much can you put in an ISA?

ISA Allowance

The ISA allowance is £20,000 for the 2020/21 tax year. This means you can invest up to £20,000 in your ISA and any returns on this money will be tax-free. Remember, you can spread your £20,000 allowance across a mixture of different ISA types.

When it comes to investing in your ISA you have two options: use it or lose it. If you don’t invest as much of your £20,000 ISA allowance as you can before the new tax year on 6 April 2021, you’ll lose any unused allowance. This can make a real difference over the long-term.

The ISA allowance is reviewed each tax year. It increased to £20,000 in 2017 from £15,240, and will remain at this level throughout the 2020/21 financial year. When introduced in 1999, the ISA allowance was just £7,000.

The biggest change to the ISA rules came in 2014, when restrictions to how much you could invest in a cash and stocks and shares ISA were relaxed. Ever since, Brits can split their ISA allowance in the best way for them.

2021 ISA deadline

The deadline for the 2020/21 tax year is midnight on 5 April 2021. As the ISA allowance does not roll over, your money needs to be in your ISA account by this cut-off, or you will lose your ISA allowance for that tax year.

The annual ISA allowance is set by tax year, so you have from 6 April to 5 April the following year to invest your £20,000 ISA allowance.

Can you split your ISA allowance?

Since 2014, rules on splitting money between different types of ISAs have been relaxed. It is now possible to pay the entire £20,000 allowance into a single type of ISA or a mixture of them all. However, you are not able to pay into more than one of the same type of ISAs in the same tax year (two different stocks and shares ISAs, for example).

Types of ISA

Cash ISA

A Cash ISA is like an ordinary savings account, without the tax. There are different cash ISAs to meet different needs, such as instant access and fixed interest rate. You can open a cash ISA with most high street banks and building societies, but you’re only allowed to put money in one cash ISA each year.

Although cash has traditionally been viewed as a ‘safe’ place to keep your money, the low returns available on easy access cash ISAs mean your money is probably losing value to inflation rather than growing for your future.

This is why more Brits are looking to the financial markets to protect their money. However, if you have a short-term horizon or want to take on less risk, this may be the most appropriate ISA for you.

If you are choosing a cash ISA provider, you should consider any hidden fees for transferring or withdrawing your money early, as some fixed-term cash ISAs will charge for this.

Stocks and Shares ISA

If you’re looking for a simple, tax-efficient way to grow your money on the financial markets, a stocks and shares ISA is probably for you.

You won’t have to pay capital gains tax on big profits, and the interest earned on your bonds or dividend income will also be free from tax. You can only pay into one stocks and shares ISA each tax year.


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Stocks and shares ISAs can in theory hold a wide range of investments, including company shares, bonds, investment trusts and funds – although this will depend on your provider. Some stocks and shares ISA providers let you manage your ISA portfolio yourself, picking exactly which investments to hold and when to buy and sell them.

This suits many investors, but it takes a lot of skill, time and knowledge to manage your investments in line with your appetite for risk and investment goals. This is why many investors choose to have the experts do it for them instead.

Wealth managers like Moneyfarm provide fully-managed portfolios that are built and managed in line with an investor’s appetite for risk. Advancements in technology mean this can be delivered at a lower cost than before. It’s important to shop around to ensure you’re getting the best value for the service you need – a wealth manager who does everything for you will likely be more expensive than a provider who makes you do it all yourself.

Moneyfarm Stocks & Shares ISA

The Moneyfarm Stocks and Shares ISA is a flexible and fully-managed stocks and shares ISA and offers a range of benefits for anyone looking to truly make the most of their ISA allowance. At Moneyfarm we blend the low-cost investing and simplicity of a digital adviser with the personal relationship and guidance of a traditional wealth manager.

Our digital advice, human investment guidance and fully-managed portfolios put our customers in the best position to reach their financial goals, whether that’s through an ISA, pension or general investment account.

We keep our fees low, leaving you with more of your money, and we will never charge you for transferring to our ISA. Find out more about the Moneyfarm Stocks & Shares ISA today.

Lifetime ISA

The lifetime ISA (LISA) is designed to help people under the age of 40 save for their first home or retirement.

The advantage of a LISA is simple – the government will pay you a bonus of 25p for every pound you pay in up to the limit of £4,000 a year – but the rules around these ISAs can be complicated. Some of these rules include:

  • You can only open a LISA if between the ages of 18-40.
  • You cannot pay into a LISA after you turn 50, although you can still allow your money to accrue interest.
  • The savings pot can only be used to buy a first home, for retirement from the age of 60, or if you are terminally ill, otherwise it’s locked up.
  • If you withdraw your money early, you will be charged 25% of what you take out. This means you would get less than you had initially put in if you access your money early.
  • The property you purchase with LISA savings must cost under £450,000 and it must be bought with a mortgage. You also must not own a property already.
  • The LISA counts towards the £20,000 a year ISA limit.

In terms of saving for retirement, it is important to assess whether a LISA or a pension is the best option for you. Pensions often offer more benefits and more protection, although you can have both.

Help to Buy ISA

The help to buy ISA was similar to a LISA. A type of cash ISA, you could, until recently, make an initial deposit of £1,000 and then save up to £200 a month (£2,400 a year). You received a 25% bonus on savings up to £12,000, which equates to five years of saving if you put away the full amount each month. This means you could have gotten up to £3,000 from the government, for free.

The opportunity to open a help to buy ISA is now closed. They haven’t been available to new savers since 30 November 2019, although existing savers will be able to keep saving into their account. However, they must claim the government bonus before 1 December 2030.

Innovative Finance ISA

To encourage peer-to-peer lending and improve competition in the banking sector, investors who lend to companies can enjoy tax-free income through an innovative finance ISA (IFISA).

If you want to invest in a small business, you should look to use an innovative finance ISA to protect your returns from the taxman.

The IFISA is designed to boost investment in small businesses – you can earn up to 6% interest tax-free when you invest through this ISA. Much like being a bank manager yourself, you loan to people and fledgling businesses.

If all goes well, they’ll pay you back over time with interest. If they don’t, you could lose your money.

There are very few IFISAs on the market. With the possibility of higher returns also comes greater risk – with peer-to-peer lending you’re essentially taking on the gamble and loaning to businesses that large banks won’t. If you want to access your money at short notice, you could take a hit, as these are certainly long-term investments. Your cash won’t be protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), either.

Junior ISA

If you want to save for your child or a family friend under the age of 18, you can put up to £9,000 in a junior ISA each year. Much like the adult ISA, savings can go in either a cash or stocks and shares ISA, or be split between the two.

It is also important to remember that as soon as your child turns 18, the money will be theirs to use. Parents should be sure to do sufficient research to determine if a junior ISA is the right place to save money for their child’s future. Children born between September 2002 and January 2011 must convert their Child Trust Fund (CTF), which they were automatically enrolled in at birth, before they transfer to a Junior ISA. It is no longer possible to open a CTF.

ISA Frequently Asked Questions

ISA vs Savings Accounts

The decision over whether to save money in a savings account or an ISA depends on your financial situation and goals, and when you want to use your money. It’s important you understand your investor profile – which acts like your investor DNA – before you decide where to put your money.

If you’re investing for the short-term, it’s probably more appropriate to keep your money in a cash ISA. Your savings won’t grow by very much, but you should protect the value of your money from any short-term swings in the financial markets. You want to avoid taking your money out of your account when it’s fallen in value.

If your time horizon is over two years, you might want to think about investing in a stocks and shares ISA. What you invest in will depend on your investor profile – if you’re a risk-averse investor that wants their money in five years, you’ll take on less risk than someone who is investing for retirement in 30 years and is happy to take on more risk. After all, the longer you have to invest the more risk you can take with your investments, as you should be able to stick out any short-term fluctuations in the markets.

What are the benefits of an ISA?

As this guide has demonstrated, ISAs hold a variety of benefits. To summarise, these include:

  • Generous tax benefits – This is the big one. The freedom to watch your money grow without being taxed is a major advantage.
  • Flexibility – The choice and flexibility of transferring between different types of ISAs gives Brits better control of their money.
  • Free and easy transfers – Improvements in the industry have made transferring between different provides easier, quicker and hassle-free. With a company like Moneyfarm transferring is free.

What happens if you take money out of your ISA?

The rules for withdrawing money differ depending on what kind of ISA you’ve paid into.

    • Stocks and Shares ISA – You can withdraw money and return it within the same tax year. Make sure you know any fees you might need to pay for withdrawing money from your ISA, at Moneyfarm there are none – just a simple management fee and underlying fund fee.
  • Fixed rate cash ISA – These offer more competitive interest rates in exchange for keeping your money locked up for a certain time period. Withdrawing early will usually incur a penalty charge.
  • Easy access savings ISA – This type allows money to be withdrawn and returned freely, although usually at the cost of a lower interest rate.

How to open an ISA

Opening an ISA is simple and pain-free. All you need to do is follow the six easy steps below:

1. Discover your investor profile – your financial situation, risk appetite and time horizon will influence what type of ISA you put your money in (stocks and shares or cash, for example)

2. Research the best ISA for you – comparison sites are a good place to start to compare different ISAs to ensure you’re getting the best deal, whether that’s around fees, wealth management service, returns or interest rates

3. Open an account – Opening an account is simple and can usually be done in under 10 minutes. It requires basic information like your National Insurance number, tax information, bank details and the required amount of money to meet minimum thresholds.

4. Build the right investment portfolio – If you decide to invest in a stocks and shares ISA, it’s important you build your portfolio with the right investments for your investor profile and financial situation. At Moneyfarm we recommend the right ISA portfolio for you, built and managed by our experts to help your money grow.

5. Add money to your account – Add money to your ISA by a lump-sum, by setting up a direct debit, or transferring an old ISA

6. Run regular ISA check-ups – Make sure you regularly check your ISA is still the best option for your financial situation and financial goals. This might change over time, and you might find yourself using a blend of different ISA types at different stages of your life

Transferring an ISA

If you’re unsure whether it’s time to move your ISA, here’s a simple checklist.

  • Is the return on your ISA lower than inflation? The purchasing power of your savings could be shrinking over time. You might want to think about a stocks and shares ISA
  • Not finding the time to manage your money? Or you could be missing out on the important things in life because it’s taking you hours to manage your savings or investments. A provider like Moneyfarm that does it all for you.
  • Are fees eating into your returns? Your ISA could be costing you a small fortune or you’re not even sure what you’re paying. Fees should be simple and low-cost.

You can transfer any type of ISA to Moneyfarm, whether it’s a cash ISA or a stocks and shares ISA. If you’re transferring an ISA in the same tax-year, you’ll have to move the whole thing, with older ISAs you can choose how much you want to transfer.

It can take up to 30 days to transfer your stocks and shares ISA from your existing provider to Moneyfarm. We won’t charge you a thing to transfer in or away from Moneyfarm, but your existing provider might.

The Moneyfarm Stocks and Shares ISA will always be low-cost and flexible, so you can keep more of your money. You’ll also be able to dip in and out as you need throughout the tax year without incurring withdrawal fees.

Moneyfarm Stocks & Shares ISA

Opening a Moneyfarm Stocks and Shares ISA couldn’t be easier. Simply create an account and fill in your details; from there we will determine your investor profile and match you to the right portfolio for your needs.

What’s more, if you are transferring from another provider we won’t charge you a penny.

Our ISAs are popular with investors because they are flexible, cost-efficient and fully-managed. Moneyfarm blends digital advice with human guidance to put our investors in the right position to reach their investment goals. Fully transparent, our investors always know what they are invested in, their performance and how much they are paying.

Can I open an ISA for someone else?

In most cases you will not be able to open an ISA for someone else. A parent can open a junior ISA for their child and pay into it each year. However, at the age of 16 the child will have control over the ISA and when they turn 18 it will become theirs to use, converting to a regular adult ISA.

The only other scenario in which you would be able to open an ISA on someone else’s behalf is if they are unable to do so themselves due to, for instance, disability or old age, and you have the legal power to make financial decisions on their behalf. If you’re unsure, please speak don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our qualified investment advisors.

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