ISAs 20 years on

ISAs – 20 years on

Spensionpigource and Credits – Standard Life Technical

This is the year ISAs turned 20 and statistics suggest it has become a huge hit with savers. The value of adult ISAs stand at over £600 billion, shared between around 22 million account holders.

They have also proved popular with successive Chancellors as a means of encouraging the saving habit with the annual subscription limit having almost trebled since launch.

Their relative simplicity has undoubtedly played a key part in this success, but they’re more than just a tax free piggy bank.

ISAs have evolved over the last 20 years to play an important role in shaping and influencing how clients organise their wealth to achieve their life goals.

Instant Access

One of the main attractions of an ISA is that savings can be accessed at any time, whether invested in cash or stocks and shares. This removes any emotional barrier to not being able to access your own money when you want to and that makes them ideal for building up a ‘rainy day’ fund, or targeting for a specific event at a future date.

The introduction of schemes such as Help to Buy and Lifetime ISA (LISA) have added a little more complexity but with some added incentives for first time house buyers provided they meet certain conditions. The LISA also provides the same incentives for retirement provided clients don’t access the money before age 60.

More recent innovations include:

  • ‘Flexible’ ISAs – ISAs where the provider will allow funds to be withdrawn and replaced within the same tax year without affecting the annual subscription limit. This can be particularly useful for those who need money in an emergency. But before withdrawing funds always check that the ISA manager offers this flexibility. Not all providers offer it and once withdrawn it cannot be repaid to a different ISA.
  • Additional permitted subscriptions (APS) – widowed clients can now claim a one-off subscription limit equal to the value of their deceased partners ISA at date of death. This can be significant in protecting assets from income and gains. ISA savers in the 65 and over group account for the highest average savings value of over £42k, and it’s not uncommon to hear of accounts in excess of £100k. For deaths after 5 April 2018 the value will not only cover the value at date of death, but in most cases the income and capital gains made during the administration period of the estate.

Tax benefits

The ‘tax free’ status of ISA investments is the main draw. There’s no tax on income or gains during roll-up or at the point of withdrawal. This can boost savings, but will also reduce tax administration as self-assessment is not required.

The tax free treatment of income and gains can free up allowances and lower rate tax bands for other assets outside the ISA, such as buy to lets, dividends from owner managed businesses and other investments.

In addition, the income generated from ISAs doesn’t count towards any of the income definitions that determine the personal allowance, pensions tapered annual allowance or child benefit tax charge.

ISAs may also help clients who wish to take gains out of a portfolio within their annual capital gains tax allowance. If they want to buy back the same shares or OEICs, they would normally have to wait 30 days because of the ‘share matching rules’. But such shares can be bought back through an ISA immediately, so that clients are not out of the market for a month. This transaction is sometimes referred to as ‘bed and ISA’.

IHT and retirement planning

ISAs can dovetail neatly with other forms of tax and retirement planning to create a better outcome for clients.

As a client gets older and their need for an ’emergency’ fund diminishes, they may be looking to retirement needs and leaving a tax efficient legacy for their family.

If they’re close to, or at retirement it may make sense to consider maximising pension funding from their ISA savings if they don’t have other resources. There are several reasons for this:

  • Pensions offer the most attractive tax incentives for most people. Tax relief at highest marginal rates on the way in, and the availability of 25% tax free cash on the way out will prove a better deal than ISA for most people seeking a retirement income, even if they pay the same rate of tax in retirement as when they were working.
  • Pensions can be accessed at any time after age 55.
  • Pensions are protected from inheritance tax. ISAs will normally form part of the holder’s taxable estate and potentially liable to IHT at 40%. There could, of course, be a tax charge on pensions when a beneficiary draws money from an inherited pension pot, but only if the member died after the age of 75. Even then the tax charge will be at the beneficiary’s own tax rate which may be less than 40% and delayed until it is actually taken. But there may be an opportunity to manage affairs to ensure it’s taken in a year when other income is low.

The pension option will, of course, depend on clients having enough pensionable earnings and annual allowance, and an eye must also be kept on where funds stand in relation to the pension lifetime allowance.

Funding a pension using ISA funds won’t always be possible, either because a client has no pensionable earnings or has perhaps triggered the £4k money purchase annual allowance. But ISA funds may still have a part to play in effective retirement planning. Retirement income needs could be better served from the ISA rather than pension, again for IHT reasons – better to use a pot that is subject to IHT than one that isn’t.

Clients can, however, engage in IHT planning with their ISA even if they don’t wish to, or are not able to recycle into pensions:

  • Any income produced in the ISA and taken by the client can be included in valuing income in relation to the ‘normal expenditure out of income’ exemption. If this income adds to, or creates ‘surplus’ income, it can be given away and will be immediately outside the client’s estate.
  • Those able to take on greater risk could turn to an ISA that facilitates investment in shares on the alternative share market (AIM shares). Once held for two years, and provided the shares remain qualifying, they won’t get caught in the IHT net.

Investment planning

A client’s plans on how they intend to use their ISA savings will of course influence how it’s invested. If ready cash is needed, or funds are earmarked for a specific date (particularly if that date is short term), they’re not likely to take on much risk. Funds may therefore sit in deposit or fixed interest funds.

But if a client has both ISA savings and non-ISA savings, given the historically low interest rates and the availability of the personal savings allowance (PSA), it may be advantageous to keep their ISA invested predominantly in stocks and shares with their ready cash held outside their ISA. This is because stocks and shares are more likely to provide a higher return than interest, and so the ISA wrapper will give greater protection from tax, particularly if there would be no tax on interest anyway. And stocks and shares can now easily be moved into cash within an ISA if a client’s attitude to risk changes.

Similarly, if a client wishes to use their ISA to hold stocks and shares but there are bear market conditions at the time they wish to make their subscription, they could always make pay into a cash ISA. This means their subscription is not wasted, and will be ready to move into stocks and shares when market conditions are more favourable.

And of course, why wait until the tax year end to take advantage of the annual subscription. Probably down to human nature, but many will leave it until the tax year end before paying in and will have missed out on nearly a whole year of tax free income and growth.


ISAs have evolved over the last 20 years into a flexible savings plan that’s central to the holistic financial planning for a client. Much more than just a rainy day savings plan.

Source and Credits – Standard Life Technical -30 April 2019

As Independent Financial Advisers we can help and advise you on the tips listed above. Just give us a call on 0345 013 6525 to discuss.

Pensions – The Lifetime Allowance cut April 6th 2014

Don’t snooze or you might lose. (OK I know pension rules are a tad dull but read on it’s important.)

The Lifetime Allowance is being tinkered with again! A year ago it was announced that the pensions lifetime allowance will drop at the end of the (current) tax year 2013-14 from £1.5million to £1.25 million. Remember, if you exceed the allowance, the excess is liable to be taxed at 55%.

Many more people are going to be affected by this than the Government suggests – a major pensions company estimates 360,000+.  Who  should care? Well, for starters anyone with aggregate pensions  (including final salary) currently valued at more than £1.25 million who hasn’t any existing protection from HMRC.  But also anyone in danger of getting close to that limit in the years to come (don’t expect Government to put it back up again anytime soon). The graph below shows the LTA since inception in 6/4/2006 (“A-day”) and perhaps suggests a trend (source = Standard Life):

Pensions Lifetime Allowance LTA chart

Lifetime allowance 2006 to date

Who’s in danger of falling foul of the latest rule change then? Well, of course it depends on how much aggregate pensions you have now, what your current funding level is and how long to go until your likely retirement date – but some simple maths produces the following table as a guide for members of money purchase schemes (i.e.  group personal pensions, occupational money purchase schemes, executive plans, RACs (S226s), S32s, i.e. anything not final salary) as follows:

Fund level now (without further contributions) to achieve £1.25 million
Years to Retirement Fund now growing at 4% Fund now growing at 6%
3 £1,111,245 £1,049,524
5 £1,027,409 £934,073
7 £949,897 £831,321
10 £844,455 £697,993

And that’s assuming you make no more contributions to any plan!

Likewise for those lucky enough to have a defined benefit (final salary) pension (the calculation is 20x the annual benefit, so £62,500 per year is where it max’s out):

(Deferred) Annual Final Salary Pension level now to achieve £1.25 million
Years to Retirement Pension revaluing at 3% p.a. Pension revaluing at 4% p.a.
3 £57,196 £55,562
5 £53,913 £51,370
7 £50,818 £47,495
10 £46,506 £42,223

The table above assumes you’re no longer an active member of the scheme / adding years!

Don’t forget to aggregate your money purchase and final salary pots together.

What to do?

There are two new options to lock into the current higher allowance:

“Fixed protection 2014” allows clients to lock into the old £1.5m allowance beyond 2014. The down-side is that pension savings have to stop after 5 April 2014. You must apply for this by 5 April 2014.

“Individual protection” is only available to clients with pension savings worth more than £1.25m on 5 April 2014. It gives a personal allowance equal to that benefit value on 5 April 2014 (i.e. up to £1.5m), and importantly it doesn’t mean giving up on pension saving. You must apply for this by 5 April 2017.

It’s a complicated issue though and might require regular monitoring of all your pension accounts.  There are many potential angles to this and not all are obvious. For example, maybe you think you’re a marginal case? Well perhaps de-risking your pension investments works for you – e.g.  if  a steady lower risk, lower return portfolio probably keeps you below the limit, but a higher risk approach (always assuming it does achieve higher returns)  is likely to take you over it – in which case do you really want to take risk chasing higher returns  when the Government stands to get most of the benefit? Just one example of things to think about.

The simple message is get to advice from a good independent pensions adviser   …………..(hmmm… Oh! Hello …… ) if you are in any way concerned about this. We can look at various scenarios and discuss solutions and the alternatives which suit your particular circumstances and give you the best results when you do actually retire.

Remaining invested in Pensions beyond age 75

Following changes in 2011, Pensions legislation no longer requires you to buy a lifetime annuity, or take any pension commencement lump sum (PCLS), at age 75. However, for those who remain invested in pensions via drawdown plans or uncrystallised pension policies, and are approaching that magic age of 75, this presents two key decisions:

  • Taxation of lump sum death benefits after age 75. From that point onwards a 55% tax charge will apply to any lump sum death benefit paid from pension savings, whether untouched or in drawdown (this was the main reason why a client of mine recently crystallised his benefits).
  • Lifetime Allowance test at age 75. Pension savings that clients have built up which are not providing a lifetime annuity or scheme pension will be tested against a client’s available Lifetime Allowance at 75. Once the test has been carried out there will be no further Lifetime Allowance test on the value of those savings.

This may well influence your choices as to how much, and when, you decide on taking income from your remaining pension savings.

Whilst pension legislation now allows pension policy holders freedom from enforced annuity purchase at age 75, not all of the pension policies in which those people’s savings are currently held actually allow this flexibility. Many older, legacy, pension products were designed with systems and policy terms that reflect the old restrictions that applied to earlier the legislation, and in many cases those terms will not be updated and will still dictate what clients can do with those policies.

For some it might mean that annuity purchase becomes the only income solution available at 75, whether the pension savings are in drawdown or not. For others it could even mean a worse-case scenario, as  recently reported in a case in the Daily Telegraph, that a client could lose all options to be provided with authorised benefits from pension savings, resulting in a 55% tax charge being applied to the total capital value of those savings that were paid after age 75.

If you are unaware of what flexibility, or limitations, exist with your existing pension products and you are near to age 75, you might struggle to have enough time to consider alternatives that could provide continuing solutions that align with your preferred retirement income plans. If this sounds like you, i.e. approaching 75, and still with an older drawdown scheme or perhaps uncrystallised pension plans, you should consider an urgent review of the choices available to you from your existing products, to help ensure your longer term retirement income plans are to be achieved without potentially significant change.

-Source: Skandia