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ISA choices – what they say about us

More people added money to their ISA in the 2018/19 tax year compared to the year before. Hannah Duncan looks at the potential links between our ISA choices and our salary, location and gender.

Important notes

This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure whether an investment is right for you please seek advice. If you choose to invest the value of your investment will rise and fall, so you could get back less than you put in.

ISAs are still very popular with savers and investors.

In the 2018/19 tax year, 11.2 million people paid a total of £67.5 billion into adult ISAs – up on the previous year – that’s just over £6,000 on average into each one.

Looking at the latest HMRC results, there are some clear trends in our choices of tax-efficient saving and investing.

This article isn’t personal advice. Tax rules can change and their benefits depend on your personal circumstances. If you’re not sure if an ISA is right for you please ask for advice.

How much we earn influences the type of ISA we go for

The introduction of the personal savings allowance in April 2016, allowing savers to earn up to £1,000 in savings income tax-free depending on their tax band, saw cash ISA numbers plummet. But in the year to April 2019 subscriptions started to increase – attracting more than three quarters of all ISA savers.

Stocks and Shares ISAs, meanwhile, had a far tougher year – with fewer people paying into a Stocks and Shares ISA than any year since the 2008 financial crisis. This might not be a surprise when you think back. There was an enormous amount of uncertainty around Brexit, and a deadline looming in March 2019. The fact an agreement looked unlikely by the deadline was a worry for lots of investors.

But interestingly people who earn more than £30,000 a year tend to only invest their money in a Stocks and Shares ISA. While people who earn less than £30,000 a year prefer to store their money in Cash ISA.

How much we earn also impacts the amount we hold in an ISA.

The largest group of ISA subscribers earn between £10,000 and £19,999 each year. These people have managed to save up an impressive average of £23,380 in their account in total. This is more than one year’s full wages.

You’d expect higher earners to have the largest ISA pots. And while they do, people with salaries of more than £150,000 each year manage to store up around half of their income (with an average of £84,530).

Annual Income Average amount of money held in an ISA
£0 - £4,999 £13,136
£5,000 - £9,999 £18,795
£10,000 – £19,999 £23,385
£20,000 - £29,999 £25,468
£30,000 - £49,999 £28,928
£50,000 - £99,999 £40,014
£100,000 - £149,999 £56,462
£150,000 or more £84,528

Source HMRC for the 2017/18 tax year. Correct as at June 2020.

London isn't the ISA capital

Londoners are the worst in England at putting their money into an ISA.

Only 37% of people living in London have an ISA. Interestingly, those in the South West of England are the best at subscribing to ISAs. A whopping 48% of these coastal characters have at least one ISA.

But, it’s the South East which has the most money in their pots, with an average of £31,177.

Location Percentage of adult population with an ISA Average amount in an ISA
English regions
North East 39.3% £21,370
North West & Merseyside 40.5% £22,958
Yorkshire & The Humber 41.3% £24,537
East Midlands 42.7% £23,446
West Midlands 41.7% £23,875
East of England 46.2% £27,541
London 37.0% £29,225
South East 46.3% £31,177
South West 47.7% £28,558
England 42.6% £26,649
Wales 40.5% £23,016
Scotland 37.6% £24,972
Northern Ireland 31.2% £20,765

Source HMRC for the 2017/18 tax year. Correct as at June 2020.

Does gender impact our ISA preference?

More women held an ISA at the end of the 2017/18 tax year – at just under 11.5 million compared to just over 10.5 million men.

The split is more interesting when you look at who prefers cash over stocks and shares.

Women made up 55% of those paying into just a Cash ISA. Men on the other hand made up 56% of those paying into just a Stocks and Shares ISA.

In fact, only about a quarter of women that subscribed to an ISA chose a Stocks and Shares ISA compared to about a third for men. This could mean men are more willing to take risks with their money.

But another big factor at play is that women earn less than men on average., and people need to have enough income to be comfortable investing. As we saw earlier, ISA preference tends to reach a tipping point when our income reaches £30,000 – before then we’re more likely to have a Cash ISA, and after that we’re more likely to favour Stocks and Shares ISAs. Of course you need to think about how much risk you’re happy taking and your goals when deciding what’s right for you.

The HL Stocks and Shares ISA

If you want to invest your ISA allowance, the good news is it’s easy. It takes about ten minutes to get started.

You can do it all online from £100 lump sum or £25 monthly direct debit. All you need is your debit card and national insurance number. Remember unlike the security offered by cash, investments will rise and fall and value, so you could get back less than you put in. Investing should typically only be considered to help reach your longer terms goals.

Find out more about ISAs

Coming soon: The HL Cash ISA

We’re working on a number of new developments to our Active Savings service, including a Cash ISA.

Register now and be among the first to hear about the Cash ISA when it’s available


Hannah Duncan is an investment writer, and founder of Hannah Duncan Investment Content, with years of experience producing content for global leaders in finance and retail.

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Important notes

This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure whether an investment is right for you please seek advice. If you choose to invest the value of your investment will rise and fall, so you could get back less than you put in.

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