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What Is An ISA? Everything You Need To Know

Written by JD Esajian

You may be unfamiliar with term ‘ISA’ if you don’t live and invest in the United Kingdom. So what is an ISA? An ISA is a financial tool used by U.K. residents to build up their savings and investments without paying taxes. Knowing about the ISA and its benefits can be a great first step toward boosting your financial future. Keep reading to learn more about the different types of ISA accounts you can choose from and some advantages and disadvantages to consider.

What Is An Individual Savings Account (ISA)?

ISA is an acronym that stands for “individual savings account,” It’s a type of savings account that earns tax-free returns. U.K. residents have an ISA allowance that determines how much they can contribute each tax year. Any interest earned on contributions isn’t taxed today or in the future.

The current annual contribution limit set by U.K. governments is £20,000, which is roughly $26,000. The contribution allowance resets each year, allowing savers to start anew. Setting aside a chunk of savings each year could result in significant tax-free income.

Why Do You Need An ISA?

You need an ISA because it’s a rare opportunity to earn income on your savings without paying any taxes. Almost all retirement savings and investment products charge income tax, either at the time of contribution or withdrawal. It’s beneficial to max out your ISA contribution allowance each year if you can.

Who Can Open An ISA?

Any UK resident over the age of 16 can open an ISA. If you choose to open a stocks and shares ISA (we’ll go over different types of ISAs shortly), then you must be at least 18 years old.

ISAs are for individuals only – you cannot open a joint or shared ISA.

Because ISAs are so popular in the UK, American citizens living overseas may be wondering if they can open an ISA. If you live in the UK, you can technically open an ISA. However, you are still subject to U.S. tax rules. This arguably leaves little benefit for Americans as they cannot take advantage of the tax wrapper provided to UK citizens.

How Much Tax Can You Save With An ISA?

Any interest earned through an ISA is tax-free. Regardless of your personal income tax bracket, you won’t have to pay any taxes on your ISA. There is also no upper limit on how much interest you can generate.

You can save plenty on taxes relative to how much money you would have contributed to a taxable savings or investment account had the ISA not been an option.

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Types of isa

What Are The Types of ISAs?

Earlier, we mentioned the age requirements for a regular ISA and a stocks & savings ISA.

There are several different types of ISA’s that you can choose from:

  • Cash ISA

  • Stocks & Shares ISAs

  • Lifetime ISA

  • Innovative Finance ISA

  • ISAs For Children

Cash ISA

Cash ISAs are similar to regular savings accounts. However, there are typically limitations on how and when withdrawals are made. For instance, you could choose a fixed-rate ISA with a term between one and five years. If you were to make a withdrawal during this period, you may lose a years’ worth of interest (or other penalty stipulated by the bank.)

When choosing a cash ISA, look for a product that offers the highest interest rate possible while allowing flexibility around withdrawals.

Stocks & Shares ISAs

Stocks & shares ISAs, or investment ISAs, invest your funds in the stock market. You do not have a fixed rate, and your returns are influenced directly by market conditions. You may earn favorable returns one year and lose money in another. In a worst-case scenario, you could lose all of your money.

If you prefer, you can choose where your money is invested. However, if you’re a novice investor or don’t know much about the stock market, you can elect to have advisors make investment decisions on your behalf.

Note that investment ISAs typically charge a monthly or annual fee.

Lifetime ISA

A lifetime ISA is used for the special purpose of buying your first home or saving for retirement. It allows you to save up to £4,000 each year, and the government adds a 25 percent bonus to whatever you have saved. This is essentially free money that everyone should take advantage of.

However, be careful because withdrawing funds and using them for any other purpose can result in severe penalties. One exception is using the funds if you were to become terminally ill.

Funds in your lifetime ISA can be used to invest in cash, stocks, and shares.

Innovative Finance ISA

An innovative finance ISA is a specialized account that allows you to put your money into unique investing opportunities. Examples include crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, and peer-to-business lending. Anything you earn won’t be taxed. However, these types of ISAs are riskier than cash ISAs because those you lend to may default on their loan.

ISAs For Children

If you’re a savvy child under 18, you can open a Junior ISA. This is a savings account created just for children. Money can be invested in cash, stocks, and shares. However, withdrawals aren’t permitted until you turn 18 years old.

Interestingly, if you’re between 16 and 18, you can open junior and adult ISA accounts and benefit from both.

How To Choose An ISA

Choosing an ISA should start with thinking about your personal circumstances and your intentions behind saving.

If you’re thinking about saving up for your first house or for retirement, then a lifetime ISA might make sense. If you feel up to taking some risk in the chance that your money might grow faster, then consider a stocks and shares ISA.

It’s best to choose the type of ISA that is best-aligned with your savings goals while taking advantages and disadvantages into account.

How Do You Open An ISA?

The first step is to select your ISA provider. This could be the financial institution you already bank with, or perhaps it could be an investment banking firm if you opt to open a stocks & shares ISA.

Most accounts can be opened easily by visiting your bank branch online or in-store, on the phone, or through a mobile application. Be prepared to pay a minimum initial deposit and recurring monthly deposits after that.

You’ll be required to provide some personal information such as your name, contact information, and national insurance number. Your bank will also ask you to read and sign documents such as user acknowledgments and fine print about restrictions and penalties. Read through these documents carefully to understand the terms and conditions of your ISA.
What is an isa

Individual Savings Account (ISA) FAQs

Below are the answers to some of the most popular questions about individual savings accounts.

Can You Withdraw From An ISA & Put Money Back?

Whether or not you can withdraw money from your ISA and return it later depends on the type of account you have.

A flexible ISA allows you to withdraw funds without impacting your allowance, as long as you put the money back within the same tax year. Your allowance will be affected in the case of a non-flexible ISA allowance, and any money withdrawn and returned will impact your allowance as if it were new funds.

Can You Switch An ISA To A New Provider?

Most ISAs can be transferred from one provider to another. For instance, you may choose to switch providers if you find a better interest rate, or want to move over to a provider offering different investment funds. This is a good tip to keep in mind if your current interest rate goes down or you’re not satisfied with your investment offerings.

Your same provider can also help you move funds from one type of ISA to another.

How Many ISAs Can You Have?

You’re permitted to open one type of ISA in each category per tax year. In other words, you could have one cash ISA, one stocks & shares ISA, and one innovative finance ISA. In the following tax year, you could open more. This means that you could build up a large number of ISAs over the years.

However, keep in mind that your tax-free allowance remains the same per year. You can also only pay into one of each type of ISA each year. If you have a portfolio of ISA accounts, you could choose to pay into the one offering the best terms or interest rate that year.

How Much Can You Put In An ISA?

The annual allowance for adult ISAs is £20,000 and £9,000 for Junior ISA. Lifetime ISAs have an annual limit of £4,000, and these amounts reset with each tax year.

What Happens To Your ISA If You Pass Away?

If you pass away, your civil partner or spouse has the legal right to move your ISA into their name. This will not affect their personal annual allowance. Through the additional permitted subscription allowance, they get to inherit your ISA while still contributing to theirs.


In this guide we answered the question, “what is an ISA?” In summary, ISA stands for individual savings account, and is a tax-free savings account available to UK residents. They are permitted to contribute a set amount to their ISA each year. Savers don’t have to pay any taxes on any interest earned.

There are several different types of ISA accounts to choose from, such as a cash ISA or investment ISA. You could also open up a special type of ISA where you invest through peer-to-peer lending or crowdfunding. It’s recommended to take advantage of the lifetime ISA for long-term savings goals. The government will match 25 percent of your annual contributions.

Any UK resident can open an ISA as long as they are at least 16 years old. If you are under 18, you can also open a Junior ISA made for children who want to start investing early.

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