The Benefits of Cash ISAs

A Cash ISA can come in handy if you're saving for a near-term goal or looking to set up an emergency fund

Holly Cook 11 March, 2013 | 6:30AM
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This article is part of the special series, Investing with ISAs.

We've looked into the essentials of stocks and shares ISAs, but what about Cash ISAs? Though there may be little incentive to save your hard-earned cash with accounts offering interest rates below inflation, Cash ISAs can still come in handy if you have a near-term goal or need to set up an emergency fund. For example, it's generally recommended that people put aside three months of earnings to cover themselves in case of an emergency such as job loss. In this scenario, a Cash ISAs can come in handy.

What Is a Cash ISA?
A Cash ISA is a standard bank or building society savings account that is shielded from tax by being in an ISA wrapper. This means that you won't have to pay income tax on any interest accrued.  These Cash ISAs are often offered by supermarkets, retailers and financial advisers.

Cash ISAs are available to adult UK residents and you can invest up to £5,640 in the current 2012-2013 tax year. In the 2013-2014 tax year, you can put £5,760 into a Cash Isa.(For those looking to save in a Junior cash ISA, the rules are slightly different.)

What to Look For in a Cash ISA
How much does it pay?
The most obvious thing to look for when selecting a Cash ISA is the rate of interest that it pays. You can find lists of the best rates currently available in many newspapers and financial websites. Remember that in most cases the interest rate will be variable so the amount of interest paid can change.

Some providers offer introductory bonus rates that are withdrawn after a certain amount of time. Once these bonus rates expire, the interest rate may seem less attractive.

Some providers also offer tiered interest rates for higher investment amounts. Hence, you need to be sure the interest rate you are looking at is relevant and appropriate for the amount you are going to invest.

How can I invest?
Like all savings accounts, most providers offer traditional “branch saving” accounts. However many providers also offer “internet only” Cash ISAs, which generally have a slightly higher rate of interest compared to the branch account.

When can I get my money out?
The majority of Cash ISAs are instant access, meaning you can take your money out at any time without losing interest. However, just like with regular savings accounts, there are some that offer a higher rate of interest if you are willing to commit your money for a longer term, or if you are able to tell the provider in advance when you want to withdraw your money.

As an example, there are Cash ISAs that require you to leave your money invested for three years in a similar way to a building society bond, or require you to give 30 days notice of an intended withdrawal.

Is it a pure Cash ISA?
There are a number of products available that offer a Cash ISA with a comparatively high rate of interest but also require you to make an equivalent investment in another financial product (usually stock market based) from the same provider.

Can I transfer money in from another Cash ISA?
Many Cash ISAs allow you to transfer money into them from another provider's ISA. This transaction is not always free of charge so be sure to check about fee information regarding cash transfers.

Is My Money Safe?
Historically, the answer to this question has always been a resounding 'yes' and savings accounts have been considered effectively zero-risk investments. The events of the last few years have made many people question whether this is the case and if there is such a thing a zero-risk investment.

Nevertheless, all UK-based savings accounts are covered by a government guarantee of up to £85,000 in cash deposits per institution via the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Therefore, the answer is: your money is safer here than almost anywhere else.

The information contained within is for educational and informational purposes ONLY. It is not intended nor should it be considered an invitation or inducement to buy or sell a security or securities noted within nor should it be viewed as a communication intended to persuade or incite you to buy or sell security or securities noted within. Any commentary provided is the opinion of the author and should not be considered a personalised recommendation. The information contained within should not be a person's sole basis for making an investment decision. Please contact your financial professional before making an investment decision.

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About Author

Holly Cook

Holly Cook  is Manager, Morningstar EMEA Websites

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