Expat woes with the Lifetime ISA

So we’ve recently had the budget from George Osborne and amongst other things, he announced the Lifetime ISA. On the surface of it, the Lifetime ISA seems like an attractive proposition. And for many, it will be.  

Effective 25% profit (interest) guaranteed from the government on up to £4,000 of annual investment, until a person reaches the age of 50 appears very attractive. And that’s before any natural growth on where the ISA is invested, until the age of 60 when it can typically be accessed.

And this is where Osborne has been crafty, in my opinion. Dangling that 25% carrot in front of many almost seems too good to be true. In many cases, it will make sense to take advantage of the Lifetime ISA – but is this going to be at the expense of pension saving? 

The key difference between a pension and a Lifetime ISA is when tax is paid. So, with a pension, the money we put in to it now is tax free and then we get taxed when we take it out in retirement, often at a more favourable tax rate.

With a Lifetime ISA, the money that goes in has already been taxed up front. This in itself is a shrewd move by Osborne, because in a single swipe, he’s potentially reducing the immediate burden of pension tax relief whilst also securing tax revenues from future chancellor’s budgets.

However, for many, retirement – at whatever age it comes – may include a move to a sunnier climate, retiring overseas and joining an expat community of like minded folk. And this is the issue I have with the Lifetime ISA. 

Because tax has already been paid when the money enters the ISA, it should be tax free when it comes out. But this isn’t the case for expats. ISA’s lose their tax free status for those permanently living overseas, so in effect, a Lifetime ISA will result in money being taxed twice.

This isn’t the same case for a pension though. Putting money into a pension now, benefitting from tax relief at a potentially higher rate and then paying tax on the money coming out, regardless of where you are in the world – may arguably be a better home for retirement investment, if retiring overseas is even remotely being considered.

This isn’t intended as financial advice, it’s just my take on the Lifetime ISA – so please carry out your own research before making any investment decisions!

Why ISAs are still important

Given the recent announcements from George Osborne in his latest, pre-election budget about the planned changes to ISAs and the tax on savings we all pay (in the UK), there have been articles published and online discussion about whether this signals the beginning of the end for the cash ISA. One article in particular on the Guardian, goes into a great level of detail explaining why a basic rate tax payer can earn a similar amount of interest in standard savings accounts rather than needing to shelter money in a cash ISA. And they also claim it’s true for a higher rate tax payer too, although to a lesser extent.

But the key thing for me is that they miss one of the crucial points of using cash ISAs and using as much of your ISA allowance each year that you can. Yes, interest rates are currently at all time lows – and indeed, some speculate that they may fall further (source: BBC) – but that’s not saying that they’ll always be at this level. And as the interest rates inevitably rise, it will impact on the amount of interest you can earn on cash held in savings accounts. The Guardian article suggests a basic rate tax payer can save £62,500 in a standard, easy access cash savings account (whilst interest rates hover around 1.6%) before needing to pay any tax on the interest they earn. But if the rates return to higher levels, as they have done previously, then tax on interest earned becomes payable sooner. At 4%, a basic rate tax payer would only pay no tax on the interest on the first £25,000 of savings.

Whereas, if this cash had been dripped into (cash) ISAs over the years, the interest earned would continue to be tax free – forever (or at least until the government chooses to change the legislation around them!) And if the interest rates returned to the 1999 rates that were in place when the ISAs were first launched by Gordon Brown – at 6.5% – then it’d make even more sense to have your cash sheltered in an ISA. 


With the rates as low as they are, it makes little difference chasing an extra fraction of a percentage point and fixing your ISA rate for more than a year, when the cash ISA rates for easy access accounts are very similar to standard cash savings accounts. The critical difference here is that if you don’t use your ISA allowance in the tax year, you can’t then use it in subsequent years – although you will still be able to use a new allowance allocation.


A final important point to note is that the changes Mr Osborne has already brought in, means its much easier now to switch ISA savings between cash and stocks and shares, so it could be said that it’d be better to put cash into a stocks and shares ISA account now (choosing some relatively low risk tracker funds, for example) and considering switching to a safer cash ISA in later years, when the interest rates return to higher levels. Either way, for me, it’s better than trusting to easy access cash accounts with the banks.

Please note that anything I write in my blog is not to be construed as offering financial advice. It is merely my viewpoint and should be used as such. Any decisions you may make should be based on your own research and often, it’s advisable to seek professional advice.

The 8th wonder of the world

piggybankI read with interest the other day that according to Albert Einstein, the 8th wonder of the world isn’t any natural or man-made structure, but is in fact, compound interest. Einstein famously said, “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.” And I happen to like this idea, even if I may bore my friends talking about it!

My general interest in the topic extends from a vested interest in pensions, ISAs and other saving mechanisms, but more importantly, now I have a son to consider it bears thinking about in terms of helping prepare for his future.

Read more

ISA myths

There’s a good article on the Moneywise web site that I was emailed today… all about the myths associated with ISAs. They’ve given a top 10, as:

  1. You can only open one ISA
  2. They have to be declared on a tax return
  3. They are only worth having if you are a higher-rate taxpayer
  4. They are risky
  5.  Opening an ISA is complicated
  6. Putting money in an ISA is better than contributing to a pension
  7. Transferring an ISA is a nuisance
  8. There’s no point putting money into an ISA outside ISA season
  9. Teenagers can’t have ISAs
  10. If I move abroad, I’ll lose my ISA

The full article is available HERE