As the new year draws ever nearer, many households are using the allure of a fresh calendar to consider a fresh start for their finances.
After what has been an undeniably difficult year for the vast majority of families across the country, it is only right that many are seeking to regain control of their financial situation in the new year.
There are many ways in which this can be done, but almost all of them require some knowledge or learning about our country’s financial system, and the various boons that may or may not be available to us through certain schemes or financial products.
The ISA is one such financial product – or rather, a family of such financial products –, and is commonly misunderstood or even overlooked by people seeking to re-address their household’s financial situation. ISAs have seen their praises sung many times over in newspapers and on TV, but are they still worth it? And how might they be?
The Types of ISA
First, it is important to understand that ISAs come in numerous different shapes and sizes, each of which can offer something unique to you as a saver. Knowing the difference between them, and knowing how best to utilize them, is key to getting the most out of them.
The most common form of ISA used is the cash ISA, which essentially acts like a regular savings account. The core USP of the Cash ISA is that any interest earned within it is exempt from taxation. For many, this means little; there is a Personal Savings Allowance that enables you to ‘earn’ up to £1000 in interest annually tax-free. However, as you start to accrue more savings, and thanks to compound interest, this can soon wick away savings you could otherwise keep.
There is also the Stocks and Shares ISA, which offers the same protection but instead from Capital Gains Tax, on stocks and shares traded within it. Here, the tax exemption makes more sense, as bigger stock market ‘wins’ can bring big influxes of capital gains.
One of the most useful ISAs, though, is the Lifetime ISA, or LISA. LISAs are limited-access but provide a 25% bonus annually on up to £4000. The caveat is that the bonus can only be received if the money saved is spent on a first home, or on retirement.
Protection from Failure
All ISAs – at least, all that are offered legally – are FSCS (Financial Services Compensation Scheme)-compliant. This means that in the event of a banking institution going bust, the value of the money saved is protected up to £85,000. As such, ISAs are no less safe than any other savings account and offer more in return.
In order to make the most of ISAs, you need to understand some of the central rules around using them. For one, there is a cap on how much you can store away in ISAs annually; at the time of writing, it is £20,000 per year. For another, you can only have one of each type of ISA, and each balance contributes to your personal ISA allowance.