An investment ISA (Individual Savings Account) is a tax-efficient wrapper in which you can buy, hold and sell investments. Usually when you invest, you have to pay tax on any income or capital gains you earn from your investments. But with an ISA, you set up with an accredited and regulated ISA provider and, provided you stick to the rules on how much you can pay in, all capital gains and income made from your investments won’t be taxed. Every tax year you have an ISA allowance, which is currently £20,000 for the 2019-20 tax year.
ISAs also make your life easier. Any returns that you earn in your ISA do not need to be recorded in your tax return, as they are tax free. So, you don’t need to keep track of the capital gains you make on these investments and if all your savings and investments are in ISAs, it may mean that you don’t need to complete a tax return.
Find out more about ISA allowances
How investment ISAs work
Investment ISAs allow you to hold a far wider choice of investments than just stocks and shares. These include collective investment funds, Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), investment trusts, gilts and bonds. All of these are investments that can fall in value as well as rise, so you must accept the risk that you may get back less than you invest. And it’s never a good idea to invest purely for a tax benefit – you could lose more than the tax break is worth.
Rules on ISAs introduced by the Government in 2014 also let you include investments that are generally viewed as less liquid (meaning they may take longer to sell) and are classified as higher risk. For example, shares listed on the small and medium-sized company exchanges Alternative Investment Market (AIM) and NEX Exchange. At the other end of the scale, the rules also let you include cash and cash-like investments in an investment ISA.
A tax-efficient account to use not lose
ISAs allow you to invest your ISA allowance every year without Capital Gains Tax (CGT) or income tax to pay on the returns.
When planning, you need to keep in mind that ISA tax rules may change in the future. They could be amended or abolished. The benefits to you of any favourable tax treatment depend on your individual circumstances which may change over time, as well.
This tax year you can put up to £20,000 into ISAs. You can split your allowance between a cash, investment, innovative finance and a lifetime ISA if you want to and all gains will be free from income and capital gains tax. However, with a lifetime ISA,1 you can only pay in up to £4,000.
If you invest outside an ISA, any profits made above the annual CGT allowance, which for the 2019-20 tax year is £12,000, are subject to tax at 10% or 20% depending on your tax band. When you invest in an ISA, even if the profit you make is above this £11,700 threshold, you won’t have to pay CGT.
However, if you sell an ISA investment at a loss, you won’t be able to offset that loss against any gain you might make on the sale of other assets you hold outside of your ISA.
There's no tax to pay on any income earned from interest-bearing investments such as corporate bonds, gilts, and property income distributions from property funds, when they are held within an ISA.
Dividend income tax
Changes to the way dividends are taxed were announced in the 2015 Summer Budget. In April 2016, the 10% tax credit was scrapped and replaced with a tax-free allowance of £5,000 for all investors but this fell to £2,000 in April 2018. Any dividends received above this amount are charged at 7.5% for basic rate taxpayers, 32.5% for higher rate taxpayers and 38.1% for additional rate taxpayers. However, when dividend income is received from investments held within an ISA, there is no dividend income tax to pay for all investors.
Starting and managing your ISA
You can invest your ISA allowance, currently £20,000 for the 2019-20 tax year, entirely in either in a cash, an investment, or an innovative finance ISA which invests in peer-to-peer lending.
Alternatively, you can split your allowance between these three types of ISAs and the lifetime ISA. However, with the lifetime ISA, you can only pay in a maximum of £4,000 in the current tax year. So if you have already put, say, £5,000 into a cash ISA in the current tax year, you can add another £15,000 into it, or put it into an investment or an innovative finance ISA, or put £4,000 into a lifetime ISA and spread the remaining £11,000 between the other three types of ISA.
You can open a new ISA with a different provider each tax year if you want to – there’s no rule that says you have to stay with the same provider year after year.
You can’t carry over any unused ISA allowance from one year to the next, so it’s a case of use it or lose it.
If you already have an investment ISA, you can transfer it to a new provider if you want to. You can transfer money held in a cash ISA into an investment ISA, and vice versa.
Transferring ISAs from previous tax years won’t count towards your current year’s ISA allowance and you can choose to transfer all or part of the balance. But if you do transfer an ISA that you have contributed to in the current tax year, you must transfer all of it. Remember to follow the correct ISA transfer process with your new provider to retain your ISA benefits. If you transfer cash from an existing ISA into a lifetime ISA it will count towards your lifetime ISA allowance for the year and qualify for the government bonus, but will not count towards your overall ISA allowance.
It’s also a good idea to check whether any ISA you're considering moving to is flexible or not, although no lifetime ISAs offer this feature. With flexible ISAs, if you want to take money out of your ISA and put it back later in the same tax year, you won’t lose any of your tax-free entitlement. Repayments must be made in the same tax year as the withdrawal.
There are various reasons why you might want to make an ISA transfer. For example, you might want to transfer to a provider offering far wider range of funds. Another reason could be the chance to reduce your overall investment costs. Always weigh up the pros and cons before transferring. If you have to sell your investments in order to make a transfer, you’ll be out of the market for a period of time. This could have an impact on your returns. If you’re unsure about any aspect of such a transfer, talk it over with a financial adviser first.
There is no obligation to declare ISAs on your tax return, but it is a good idea to keep a note of what goes in and what comes out each year. This record-keeping will also help you stay within the annual ISA allowance. If you have a Barclays Investment ISA, your investments are all recorded on your ISA account page.
Always remember that investments can fall in value. You may get back less than you invest.
Also remember that ISA and other tax rules may change in the future. They could be amended or abolished. The benefits to you of any favourable tax treatment depend on your individual circumstances which may change over time, as well.