ISAs vs savings accounts

After setting the goal of saving money, one of the key decisions is how you will save. Two options are Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) or savings accounts – while both will help your money grow, picking the right one (or combination) for your circumstances will help ensure it’s growing as fast as possible. 

What is an ISA?

ISAs are a tax-efficient way to save money. The government sets a limit for how much can be saved each financial year and does not charge tax on the interest/income earned. In the 2019/2020 tax year this limit is £20,000. There are several types of ISAs:

  • Cash ISAs – these are like ordinary savings accounts, except interest on your savings is protected from tax.
  • Stocks and shares ISAs – these protect various types of investment income from tax.
  • Help to Buy ISAs – these are available for people saving for their first home.

Some ISAs have certain conditions and bonuses – such as government contributions – that can help speed up your saving.

What is a savings account?

You can use a savings account to put away money you don't need immediately in order to earn interest. There are several types of savings accounts and depending on your circumstances, you may be charged tax on the interest earned and also have restrictions on making withdrawals. 

  • Easy access accounts – you can withdraw your money  whenever you like without paying a penalty. The interest on these accounts is usually not fixed, so banks may alter the interest rate.
  • Fixed term accounts – you can put your money away for a set period of time during which it will earn a fixed rate of interest.
  • Regular savings accounts – you can contribute money into these each month up to a certain limit. They usually offer a slightly higher interest rate than ordinary savings accounts, but may have restrcitions on how you access the money.

What ISAs can offer

If you’re saving an amount up to £20,000 an ISA offers you a tax-efficient way to save your money. 

The value of an ISA can also be passed on to your spouse or civil partner tax-efficiently by way of an allowance if you pass away, which isn't the case with an ordinary savings account. For this to take place, the government requires you to be living together at the time of death and not separated by court order, deed of separation or in a circumstance where the marriage or civil partnership has broken down.1

What savings accounts can offer

There's no overall annual limit on how much you can put into savings accounts. 

With your Personal Savings Allowance (PSA) you can earn up to £1,000 a year in interest on savings tax-free if you're a basic rate taxpayer, and £500 a year tax-free if you're a higher rate tax payer. However, this depends on your individual circumstances and may be subject to change in future. Additional rate taxpayers do not qualify for a PSA.

Some savings accounts offer more flexibility in accessing your money – this can be helpful if you’re not comfortable locking away your money for a set period.