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Cash Isas

Cash Isas can be as simple to use as regular savings accounts, and you won't have to pay tax on the interest you earn. Learn more and compare rates.

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Key facts about Isas

  • Nisas replace Isas on 1 July, 2014
  • Save without paying tax on interest
  • Annual allowance limits apply
  • Tax year is 6 April to 5 April

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.

Do you currently pay tax on savings?

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 a cash Isa.

Cash Isa allowances

Each year you have an Isa allowance, which is an amount you can save into a tax-free account.Cash Isas

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.

You can save the allowance amount into a cash Isa and/or a stocks and shares Isa without troubling the taxman.

The 2014-15 allowance has been complicated by the announcement that the New Individual Savings Account (Nisa) will replace the Isa on 1 July, 2014 - read more in our beginners' guide to the Nisa.

From 6 April to 1 July, 2014, the Isa allowance will be £11,880, of which a maximum of £5,940 can be put into a cash Isa. Any account you open in that period will automatically become a Nisa on 1 July.

In the tax year to 5 April, 2015, savers will then be able to invest up to £15,000 in Nisa cash and/or stocks and shares accounts. The full £15,000 can be in cash if you so desire.

What kinds of cash Isas are there?

There are as many kinds of cash Isas as there are standard savings accounts. You can get regular-saver Isas, fixed-rate bond Isas and easy-access Isas.

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 makes 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.

Key cash Isa facts

  • You can withdraw money as with any other saving account
  • You can open one new cash Isa every tax year
  • If switching providers transfer funds, don't withdraw them

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. If you withdraw it then it stops being tax free and you can't reinvest it without using your current tax year Isa allowance.

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.

Often, your new Isa account provider will take care of this for you and will ask if you are transferring funds in when you open the account.Piggy-bank

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. 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 a cash Isa to a stocks and shares Isa?

It is possible to transfer a cash Isa to a stocks and shares Isa, 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.

It's not possible to transfer funds from stocks and shares Isas into cash Isas, but this restriction will be lifted when Nisas are introduced on 1 July, 2014.

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 cash Isa rates to find the best each time.

By Felicity Hannah