What is an ISA?

/What is an ISA?

What is an ISA?

ISAs initially comprised three types of account: cash, stocks and shares, and life insurance. Insurance ISAs enabled savers to invest with insurance companies in funds offering potential for higher returns than cash ISAs at lower risk than stocks and shares ISAs. However there was a relatively low uptake for these accounts and the separate life insurance ISA was abolished in April 2005. Between 1999 and 2008 there was a distinction between mini and maxi ISAs.

  • The maxi ISA was aimed at individuals who wanted mainly to invest in stocks and shares, and were subject to an annual subscription limit of £7,000. However, individuals were allowed to combine cash with stocks and shares, as long as the entire package was offered by the same ISA manager. There was a £3,000 limit on the cash element. In practice many maxi ISA managers did not offer a cash option so maxi ISAs tended to be heavily weighted towards stocks and shares.
  • The mini ISA was principally targeted at savers who wanted to hold some of their money in an account which paid interest (mini cash ISAs), although individuals were allowed to hold a mini cash ISA, a mini stocks and shares ISA, and between 1999-00 and 2004-05 a mini insurance ISA.

Following a comprehensive review, changes to ISAs were announced in July 2007. From April 2008 the mini/maxi distinction was abolished in favour of a simple cash and stocks and shares distinction with an overall limit on the amount that could be invested in any one tax year, and rules concerning the maximum that could be invested in cash. Since the review, the main features of ISAs are as follows:

  • There are two types of ISA – cash ISA, and stocks and shares ISA;
  • In each tax year individuals may subscribe to separate cash and stocks and shares ISAs;
  • There is no income tax to pay on the income received from ISA savings and investments, nor is there any tax to be paid on capital gains arising from ISA investments;
  • Individuals have the right to access their investment at any time and there are no statutory lockin periods;
  • Each ISA manager must offer the ISA holder the opportunity to transfer their account to another manager. Funds invested in a stocks and shares ISA can only be transferred to another stocks and shares ISA; however funds invested in a cash ISA can be transferred either to a stocks and shares ISA or another cash ISA;
  • Investments in approved life products can be held in either a cash ISA or a stocks and shares ISA; and  There is no life time limit on the amount that can be saved in an ISA (other than the annual subscription limit) or on the amount of income that can be earned tax free.
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