Since we have just passed the halfway point in the tax year, now is the perfect opportunity to review your ISA planning, whilst you still have plenty of time to do so. There are plenty of ISA opportunities out there, and since each of us (over the age of 16 for a Cash ISA, and 18 for an Investment ISA) has a healthy ISA allowance each and every year, this really should be a top priority for all savers and investors to review all existing ISAs as well as the wide range of options open to them. To help you act and act fast, our head of savings and investments, Oliver Roylance-Smith, has put together his Top 10 ISA tips, so there can be no excuse for missing out on valuable tax-efficient returns well before the end of the tax year…
Tip 1 – Know your limits…
At the start of each financial year, HMRC set a limit on the amount each individual can put into an ISA over the course of the next twelve months, between 6th April and the following 5th April. This is known as the ISA allowance. The ISA allowance for the current tax year (2016/17) stands at £15,240, which is the highest it has ever been. Also remember that this allowance is per person (over the age of 16 for a Cash ISA, and age 18 for an Investment ISA), so a couple can invest up to £30,480 in total this tax year.
Tip 2 – Consider the impact of current ISA savings rates
However, despite this generous ISA allowance it is not all good news, especially for cash ISA savers. This is because the increases to the ISA allowance in recent years has coincided with some of the lowest interest rates on record, so although there is the incentive to save, the deals on offer are far less attractive than the cash-based returns of yester-year. Therefore it is more important than ever to consider the potential impact of this on the overall returns from our capital and what impact this might have.
Tip 3 – Take a risk check
Cash ISAs protect your initial capital (and your initial deposit is normally covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme) and offer either a fixed or variable return, whilst Investment ISAs offer the opportunity for higher returns but place your capital at risk. Generally the greater risk you take with your capital, the higher the potential rewards and capital losses are.
Further to the Bank of England’s first base rate cut in seven years back in August, savers have again realised that the likelihood of any significant change to savings rates is very unlikely, and even when interest rates do start to rise there is no guarantee that this will be passed on to savers. Times have definitely changed, and this has resulted in the continued trend of record Investment ISA subscriptions as more and more ISA savers are in the hunt for higher returns. So now would be a good time to review the risk versus reward on offer from both your existing ISAs and any new ISAs you are considering.
Tip 4 – Think about tax free income
Although the personal savings allowance has resulted in many savers not having to worry as much about the impact of tax on their overall returns, there are still other considerations and those who have existing ISAs, are higher (and additional) rate tax payers, or anyone who is or may in the future take a high amount of non-dividend income from their capital, should all think about using ISAs to receive tax free income. Not only does this income not need to be declared on a tax return, but income from ISAs is not included in the personal savings allowance, so you can use additional further funds towards this.
Tip 5 – Make full use of the ISA’s flexibility
Gone are the days when there was a different limit for Cash ISAs and Investment ISAs, and for the last couple of years there has been no restriction on the amount you can put into either type – so Cash ISA savers have enjoyed the full ISA allowance. This greater flexibility means that you can put the full ISA allowance into a Cash ISA, an Investment ISA, or a mixture of the two in any proportion you choose. This allows ISA savers to give careful consideration to balancing the risk versus reward of their ISA portfolio, whilst remaining safe in the knowledge that the benefits of not paying any tax increases over time – so the more you can put away each year, the more you are likely to benefit.
Tip 6 – Get ahead of the game
Despite it being only half way through the tax year, you should always have half an eye on the 5th April end of tax year deadline. We can all be guilty of putting off until tomorrow those things which could be done today, and we all know how quickly time can fly. Remember, you cannot backdate your allowance so if you don’t use it, you lose it. In addition, the earlier in the tax year you act, the more time your cash has the potential to benefit from the tax efficient returns.
Tip 7 – Think to the future
Needless to say that in the current financial climate, every penny counts – so why pay tax on money that you can protect from the tax man, both now and in the future? Money held in an ISA has the opportunity to build on the tax-efficient returns year on year. If you had invested the maximum into a Cash ISA since they were first introduced in 1999, and you had received 2.5% per year, at the end of this tax year you would have a savings pot of almost £120,000. If you put the maximum into an Investment ISA every year, and that had grown at 6% each year, you would see a lump sum of almost £279,000. Both are sizeable amounts, none of which would be subject to income tax or capital gains tax. Please note that the tax efficiency of ISAs is based on current tax law which is subject to change in the future.
Tip 8 – Always check your current interest rate
Rates change frequently and once you’ve deposited your hard earned cash, your ISA provider knows from experience that some of you are unlikely to get round to switching providers, even if your rate ceases to be competitive. Don’t be that person! Always check the rate you are currently receiving (this should be detailed on each statement) and compare it with a wide range of other options on offer. However good your ISA deal seems at the outset, it is likely that you will need to transfer your ISA fairly frequently in order for it to remain competitive.
Tip 9 – Take advantage of ISA transfers
Many of us already have existing ISAs, however, like so many other savers and investors, you may find that your ISA is no longer paying a competitive rate or your investments are underperforming – this is where the ISA transfer can help. You can transfer all previous ISA holdings and most allow you to do this without charge, although don’t forget to check whether there are penalties from your existing provider. Remember that now you can transfer between Cash ISAs and Stocks & Shares ISAs without any restriction, which means that you can choose to keep all of your ISA savings and/or your investments in one place.
With such low interest rates, much of the increase in the numbers of Investment ISAs in the last couple of years has come from ISA transfers. The upside here is the potential for higher returns whilst the downside is that such returns are not guaranteed and your capital is at risk. Either way, don’t waste your ISA by keeping it in a low paying savings plan or poorly performing investment. There is a wide choice available.
Tip 10 – Maintain your ISA at all costs
Whilst your savings and investments remain in their tax-efficient ISA ‘wrapper’, the benefits become more and more valuable over time as the compound effect of not paying tax each year builds and builds. This is why not only should you try and maximise your ISA allowance each year, but you should also aim to make sure your ISA is the last money you dip into since as soon as you take money out of your ISA it loses these benefits.
Start a new ISA or transfer your current ISA now
The current ISA allowance is available now and many of the savings accounts and investments available through Fair Investment Company are available as new ISAs and accept ISA transfers. So start as you mean to go on, review your options carefully and make sure you benefit from up to a half a year of extra tax-efficient returns by taking action now. This also means one less thing to worry about until 6th April next year…
Please note that this information is based on current law and practice which is subject to change.
No news, feature article or comment should be seen as a personal recommendation to invest. Prior to making any decision to invest, you should ensure that you are familiar with the risks associated with a particular investment. If you are at all unsure of the suitability of a particular investment, both in respect of its objectives and its risk profile, you should seek independent financial advice.
Tax treatment depends on your individual circumstances and is based on current law which may be subject to change in the future. Always remember to check whether any charges apply before transferring an ISA.
The value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise and you may not get back the full amount invested. Different types of investment carry different levels of risk and may not be suitable for all investors.