ISAs - The Basics Explained.

The range of available ISA products, their features and terms, can be confusing. Here are the basic products and their annual limits

  • James Gard
  • 3 min reading time
img article

How can savers and investors make the most of their ISA allowance? Read our special report to find out. 

While the concept of a tax wrapper is relatively simple, and the overall £20,000 limit is a nice round number, the range of ISA products is potentially confusing to new investors. Here we break down the basics. Our list of frequently asked questions is here.

The ISA is simply a tax wrapper in which you can put cash and a range of investment products. A large number of companies offer Individual Savings Accounts, from the High Street banks to online-only start-ups. The government website has a detailed explanation of ISA rules.

While the overall ISA limit is £20,000, there are different varieties of ISA, some with different limits which can count towards your annual allowance:

What Are The Main ISA Types and Their Limits?

The Junior ISA is the only one of these products that can be used IN ADDITION to the annual limit. You can have £10,000 in cash and £10,000 in shares, for example, to meet the overall £20,000 limit. The Lifetime ISA, the Help to Buy ISA and Innovative Finance ISA form part of your overall allowance. 

For current tax year 2018/2019:

  • Cash ISA - £20,000 

  • Stocks and Shares ISA - £20,000

  • Lifetime ISA - £4,000*

  • Junior ISA - £4,260

  • Help to Buy ISA - £3,400 for year one, £2,400 thereafter**

  • Innovative Finance ISA - £20,000***

* Government contributes £1,000 maximum a year on top of this. Available to those aged between 18 and 39. Other rules apply.

** Being phased out from November 2019. Other rules apply

*** Capital at risk as this ISA isn’t part of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which protects savers from a provider going bust - up to a per-person limit.

Beware the Rules

The rules around Lifetime and Help to Buy ISAs are complex and you run the risk of losing the Government bonus if you don't stick to them. For example, with the Lifetime ISA, you can buy a first home up to £450,000 using the ISA as a deposit OR withdraw the whole amount tax free when you reach 60. If you breach these rules, you lose the Government bonus, any interest or capital gains AND have to pay a 5% levy to the Government. So it's worth considering if you will find these terms restrictive over the potential 42-year lifespan of the product - from age 18 to 60.

Also, the rules surrounding how Junior ISAs are accessed can be confusing. We break down these rules here in our frequently asked questions section.

What's the right ISA for me? You might be saving for a house deposit, investing for retirement, building up a "rainy day" fund or saving for a child's education. The flexibility of the ISA wrap is a plus point here. But different products carry advantages and disadvantages that some people may find restrictive.

For this reason, we suggest that ISA buyers do their research thoroughly using provider websites,, speak to a financial adviser or consult the free, government-sponsored Money Advice Service.


Important legal information

Halifax Share Dealing Limited. Registered in England and Wales no. 3195646. Registered Office: Trinity Road, Halifax, West Yorkshire, HX1 2RG. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, 12 Endeavour Square, London, E20 1JN under registration number 183332. A Member of the London Stock Exchange and an HM Revenue & Customs Approved ISA Manager.

The information published on this website is accurate to the best of our knowledge. However, we do not assume any liability whatsoever for the accuracy and completeness of the information and any reliance you place on such information is at your own risk.

The information contained within this website is provided by Web Financial Group, a parent company of Digital Look, unless otherwise stated. The information is not intended to be advice or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any of the shares, companies or investment vehicles mentioned, nor is it information meant to be a research recommendation.

This is a solution powered by Digital Look Ltd incorporating their prices, data, news, charts, fundamentals and investor tools on this site. Terms and Conditions Prices and trades are provided by Web Financial Group and are delayed by at least 15 minutes.

Logo Morning Star

The investments' operational and portfolio data on this website is sourced by Morningstar and is believed to be correct, but cannot be guaranteed.   You should check any information you rely upon to make an investment decision to ensure that it is accurate and up to date. Neither Morningstar nor its content providers are responsible for any damages or losses arising from any use of this information. Any views and opinions made by Morningstar do not represent those of Lloyds Bank.