Cash for ISA Questions

Let me be very clear – I LIKE CLIENTS TO HAVE CASH… its VITAL. The real question is “what is a sensible amount of cash to hold?” This will be different for everyone. Cash should really be available for planned expenses within the next 0 to 3 or 4 years, that way you know its there ready for your use. Thereafter, cash is vital to run any business and any personal finances. Whilst budget calculators and spreadsheets suggest nice neat twelfths, many costs are not monthly. As thoughts turn to Christmas – this is something we all know happens annually, once the presents have been unwrapped and you start looking forward to the potential of the new year, thoughts turn to summer holidays… and so on. So having cash on deposit is a very good and wise thing and don’t forget that some expenses are unplanned – such as repairs or replacements due to loss or damage.

Interest rates are so low is it worth bothering with a Cash ISA?high_and_low

The short answer is “maybe” – it rather depends on your circumstances and when you need the money. Sadly, despite ISA allowances never being higher, interest rates haven’t been lower in living memory. Many if not most, deposit accounts are paying less interest than the rate of inflation (1.3% according to ONS). So your pound is declining, slowly, in purchasing power. This is an unfortunate reality that we currently live with. I would also take issue with official figures about inflation which bears little resemblance to the spending patterns of various people (think of the price increases in gas, electricity and rail).

Just to be clear… what is a Cash ISA?

A Cash ISA is simply a deposit account where interest is tax-free. Interest is taxable normally and should be reported on your HMRC self-assessment tax return. The amount you can put into a Cash ISA is linked to tax year allowances and the ISA rules (all of which are within our free APP or you can look them up). These changed in July 2014, lets stay brief and current, the new allowance is £15,000 each for the current tax year. You can now hold all of the allowance as cash or as investments, or any combination between the two within an ISA (previously you could only contribute 50% of the ISA allowance towards cash). As a result of the new rules, you can have a more suitable balance between cash and investments within your ISA to suit your requirements.

Should I just pick the best rate?

A word or warning, picking a cash ISA (or any deposit account) based entirely upon the headline rate, may not be wise. Perhaps you will remember the Icelandic banking crisis in 2008, which ought to provide some cautionary tales.

It is worth the effort?

It depends on your current rate of interest within your ISA and what the alternatives are. Remember that an interest rate of 1% will be worth 0.8% to a basic rate taxpayer and 0.6% to a higher rate taxpayer. Within an ISA you get the full untaxed amount. However if the sums are small or modest, say £10,000 then shopping around for an extra 0.5% is only going to provide £50 over a year, which given that if the better new rate is with a different Bank (or Building Society) you have to go through the ususal opening an account procedures – demonstrating your identity and UK residency and so on.

If this cash is just a part of my portfolio, should it now be mixed within my investment ISA?

Maybe. If you have a modern investment ISA on a “platform” which holds lots of funds, shares etc, then the platform may well have cash deposit options too. However be warned that platforms generally charge for their adminstration based on the balance on it, so you may well (probably) get charges for cash holdings too. If its ok at your Bank/Building Society then as long as your adviser knows that you have it and therefore not “too much” in cash, that should be OK. However for long-term wealth I would encourage people to use an ISA as an investment vehicle, rather than a place to dump cash as savings. Context is everything and needs thoughtful assessment with an adviser.

So where can I find current ISA rates?

Try looking here at Moneyfacts. However, I suggest doing a proper search using their search engine or any other that is widely available. Remember fixed rates are lock-in’s. If you think rates will rise, then you may wish to question the wisdom of locking into a low rate that is fixed for ages and if you are really locking away cash for 4 years or more, then perhaps you should be thinking about investment instead.

Anything else I should know?

Well, the age old one about bias. Financial advisers and financial planners like me are in part remunerated based upon the amount of money we look after, so if you invest more, we earn more. Of course the hope and expectation is that this is a very worthwhile exercise for you – getting better returns etc (but more importantly getting your money right for you). However it needs to be clear that its not free. Of course a Cash ISA with a Bank/Building Society can appear free – there are rarely any charges, but that doesn’t make it free. This is part of the problem with the delusion that the retail banking system maintains – that banking is free. It isn’t. The bank invariably pay bonuses to their staff for new accounts opened.  They lend the money back out at far higher rates of interest and make profit as a result.  However that money is at risk (of not actually being repaid to the Bank) and possible Bank collapse – hence the £85,000 FSCS protection and of course there is the inflation to also consider, you may actually be losing money – as many people are if their rate of interest is less than the rate of inflation (which is the majority of current accounts and many savings accounts).

A final point – this (the above) is not advice. You should naturally always plan with your own goals and context. A Cash ISA can be a very good tool in your financial box, but it may also be a rather blunt instrument – it all rather depends on the job at hand and the degree of skill you have using it. Here is a decent little video from Nationwide which is pretty clear. I’m not promoting Nationwide and depending on when you read this the information may be out of date. However the principles are right… oh yes, Nationwide do not pay me to mention them… so no cash for promotions.

I hope this is helpful.

Dominic Thomas