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What is a Cash ISA?

By Adam Hill
Updated: May 16, 2024

Citizens of the United Kingdom (UK) have available to them a tax-privileged financial product known as an individual savings account (ISA). A cash ISA is a type of ISA used to hold cash, as opposed to shares of stock. A cash ISA, up to a certain deposit amount, earns interest tax-free.

Cash ISAs were first introduced in 1999 as a replacement for other types of tax-exempt accounts. They were designed to be more accessible than the accounts they replaced, and to benefit a wider range of people. The introduction of the cash ISA began with several different variations of the same basic idea, but many of the distinctions between the account types have either been abolished or have outlived their usefulness.

Only one cash ISA may be opened per year, although there is another type of ISA used to hold shares of stock, one of which may also be opened every tax year. The limits placed on the balances of these accounts have changed since the debut of the ISA, and will likely change again, but through consistent use of these types of accounts, large amounts of money can earn interest which will remain untaxed.

As with any tax shelter, there are many rules that must be observed when opening and maintaining a cash ISA. Perhaps the most important to remember is that there are contribution limits on cash ISAs, which don’t take withdrawals into account. For example, if the contribution limit is 3,000 British Pounds, and a person contributes 1,500 Pounds, then withdraws it during the same tax year, the account can still only have 1,500 Pounds more deposited into it. It is as if the withdrawal never occurred. Significant tax advantages can be lost if this rule is forgotten.

Another important guideline to follow is to exercise care in transferring a cash ISA from one manager to another. When a transfer is made, the managers themselves must conduct it, because if the account holder does it instead, it is treated as a withdrawal for tax purposes. This could possibly defeat the purpose of making the transfer in the first place. Also, if an account holder desires to transfer funds from a cash ISA to one which holds shares, this may be done, but the opposite is not permitted.

While many of the distinctions between cash ISAs no longer exist, it is still wise to do some comparison shopping when looking for a place to invest your money. Interest rates and the accessibility of the accounts vary depending on the managing institution. However, almost any cash ISA will be more beneficial than none at all.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon290287 — On Sep 08, 2012

My brother wants to cash my deceased mother's ISA, but he says he needs my signature. Why?

By AlanJ — On Apr 19, 2011

@confused004 - I think it depends on who your ISA is currently with and who you want to transfer it to. Check with your current provider if there are any penalties for transferring the money out, shop around for the best cash ISA rates and then double check with the new provider that you can transfer money in, and make a payment as well. Then get them to arrange a transfer from your old provider.

By confused004 — On May 12, 2010

can i transfer last year's cash isa into this year for a better rate and then also invest the maximum amount allowed for this year as well?

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