Guide to Cash Isas
- Save without paying tax on interest
- Annual Isa allowance limits apply - in 2015-16 it's £15,240
- You can open one new Cash Isa every tax year
- Tax year is 6 April to 5 April
- You can withdraw money as with any other saving account, subject to the provider's terms and conditions
- If switching providers transfer funds, don't withdraw them
Do you enjoy paying tax? No, of course you don't.
So it makes sense to use an Individual Savings Account (Isa), which comes with one incredible perk - the taxman can't touch it.
The interest you earn on your money is yours, and yours alone.
Until new rules are introduced in April 2016, unless you're in a tax-exempt category† you pay tax on any interest you earn that's not inside an Isa wrapper.
You may not even realise it because, unless you're a higher-rate taxpayer, it's deducted before you receive it.
The bank or building society automatically siphons off 20% of your interest and passes it along to the taxman.
Higher- and top-rate taxpayers have to declare their earnings to the taxman so that they can pay the extra tax.
But all taxpayers can avoid this by saving into an Isa.
Each year you have an Isa allowance, which is an amount you can save into a tax-free account.
That amount resets every new tax year and, if you haven't used it, you lose it. The tax year runs from 6 April to 5 April the following year.
The allowance for the 2015-16 tax year is £15,240. All of that can be in cash, or you can split the £15,240 between cash and stocks and shares in whatever proportion you please.
What kinds of Cash Isas are there?
There are about as many kinds of Cash Isas as there are standard savings accounts.
In fact, the only real difference between a Cash Isa and a normal savings account is that the taxman won't take a cut of the interest you earn.
That means you can save in the best way for you. If you haven't put any money aside this tax year then it may make sense to start by using your tax-free allowance.
Who can use a Cash Isa?
These tax-free accounts are only available to UK residents aged 16 and over. If you're under 16 or want to save for a child, then take a look at Junior Isas.
Most people use their Isa allowance to make long-term savings. Once you've invested money into an Isa, the taxman can't touch the returns until you withdraw it.
But even if you just want somewhere to keep your rainy-day fund, an easy-access Cash Isa could be right for you. After all, if you're lucky then you'll never need to touch your emergency cash, so you may as well keep it in a tax-free account.
How to transfer your Cash Isa savings
You can switch Cash Isas to find a better rate, you just need to transfer the money.
Under current rules, if you withdraw it then it stops being tax free and you can't reinvest it without using your current tax year Isa allowance.
This will change with the introduction of 'radically flexible Isas' on 6 April, 2016, though. These will allow Isa savers to withdraw and replace money from their Cash Isa without counting towards their annual Isa subscription limit for that year, so long as the repayment is made in the same tax year as the withdrawal.
If you're thinking of switching, remember that your current Isa provider is obliged to let you transfer money out of its account and into a better one, so don't let them put you off.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is working to ensure that a guaranteed seven-day Cash Isa switch period is in place by January 2017, something that it expects all but the smallest Isa providers to sign up to.
Often, your new provider will take care of a switch for you and will ask if you're transferring funds in when you open the account. If it's the current year's Cash Isa then you'll only be able to transfer the entire amount, but with older Isas you may be able to transfer just a part of the fund.
Having said that, not all providers accept transfers into new accounts, so you need to check that before opening a new account.
When you compare Cash Isas through Gocompare.com, you can clearly see whether an account allows transfers in. That should make it easier to choose the right deal.
If you've locked your money up in a fixed-rate bond Cash Isa, then you may have to pay a penalty in order to transfer the money into a new account.
Do the maths and make sure it's still worth it before going ahead.
Can I transfer between a Cash Isa and a Stocks and Shares Isa?
It is possible to transfer a Cash Isa to a Stocks and Shares Isa, and vice versa, subject only to the restrictions mentioned above. If it's the current year's Isa you'll only be able to transfer the full amount, and not all account providers will accept transfers.
You may be able to transfer partial amounts from previous years' Isas, but again this will be subject to your new account provider's conditions.
Note that rules changed significantly on 1 July, 2014 - before that date, it had not been possible to transfer from a Stocks and Shares Isa to a Cash Isa.
Watch out for the 12-month drop
Some accounts pay a bonus rate for the first year in order to tempt savers in. These can be a great way to earn a better rate.
But you should make a note of when you open the account and be ready to switch on the first anniversary. If you're particularly savvy you can keep switching to a better account every year, comparing rates to find the best each time.
By Felicity Hannah