ISA or pension – which is right for me?

Views & insights

Choosing between ISAs and pensions for your savings and investments can be tricky. Here are some questions to ask yourself.


11 April 2023 | 4 minute read

ISAs and pensions are a great way to save for your future because of the generous tax breaks they offer. But it can be difficult to decide which savings vehicle to prioritise and how much to invest in each one.

The choice will usually come down to what you’re investing for and how to achieve those goals in the most efficient way. For many people, it isn’t an either-or decision. You might decide that splitting your savings between ISAs and pensions offers the best of both worlds.

A financial adviser can help you choose the right option for your individual needs. In the meantime, here are some of the main considerations.

What are you saving for?

Before you can decide whether to invest in an ISA or a pension, it’s worth thinking about what you are saving and investing for.

You can’t withdraw money from a pension until you reach age 55 (or 57 from April 2028). So, before paying into a pension, you must be comfortable with the fact you’ll be locking away your money for what could be several decades.

If you are able to commit your money for the longer term, pensions are a fantastic way to save for retirement because each time you pay in money, the government adds 20% tax relief. This means a £100 pension contribution only costs you £80. If you’re a higher or additional-rate taxpayer, you can claim a further 20% or 25%, respectively, via your tax return. Tax relief is essentially free money from the government. It provides a 20-45% boost to your savings, which can supercharge how much money you have at retirement.

For pre-retirement goals, such as buying a bigger house, carrying out a home renovation, or paying for your child’s university fees, you might want to consider investing in an ISA. You don’t pay income tax or capital gains tax on investments inside an ISA, and you can withdraw money whenever you like, tax free. If your ISA is ‘flexible’, you can take money out and then put it back in during the same tax year, without reducing your current year’s allowance. With pensions, you can usually withdraw 25% tax free and subsequent withdrawals are taxed at your marginal rate of income tax.

This isn’t to say ISAs can’t be used for retirement saving. When used together, ISAs and pensions could prove to be an extremely tax-efficient way of funding your retirement because of the unique tax advantages they provide.

Have you maxed out your allowances?

ISAs and pensions have different annual allowances, which could also affect where you decide to invest your money. In the 2023/24 tax year, you can pay up to £20,000 into ISAs – this includes Investment ISAs and cash ISAs. For most people, the pension annual allowance is up to 100% of your UK relevant earnings or £60,000, whichever is lower.

If you’ve already maxed out your ISA allowance, it might make sense to focus on pension saving instead. This will help you maintain your savings habits and continue growing your money in a tax-efficient way.

Have you started pension saving?

If you haven’t already started saving into a pension, then the sooner you begin, the better. Your retirement might still be decades away, but saving into a pension today will give you a much better chance of a secure financial future than if you leave it until you’re in your late 50s. The earlier you start, the more time you’ll have to benefit from tax relief and potential investment growth. Investing over long periods is especially powerful because of the impact of compound returns – where you get a return on your previous returns as well as on your initial capital.

Do you want the best of both worlds?

If you’re not sure what your goals are, splitting your savings between ISAs and pensions could give you the best of both worlds. Your money will have the opportunity to grow tax efficiently, and you’ll be saving for your retirement in addition to things like helping your children onto the property ladder.

Next steps

Deciding where to invest your money might seem overwhelming, but sticking your head in the sand isn’t the answer. Investing could make a real difference to your long-term financial wellbeing, and it’s not something you want to get wrong. Getting some smart advice could put you on the path to a more secure financial future. So why not speak to one of our financial advisers today?

The value of investments, and any income from them, can fall and you may get back less than you invested. This does not constitute tax or legal advice. Tax treatment depends on the individual circumstances of each client and may be subject to change in the future. Information is provided only as an example and is not a recommendation to pursue a particular strategy.

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