Could your clients use a pension to offset ISA losses?

Published  04 January 2023
   5 min read

Craig Muir, our Senior Pension Development and Technical Manager, looks at an ISA/pension case study that focuses on offsetting potential losses clients may have suffered.

Are your clients feeling nervous about their ISA fund performance?  Well here’s a suggestion which you can use to boost clients' assets at any time.

Case study

Let's consider a client who has money in an ISA and how they can increase their assets by switching it to their pension.  

Meet Graham

In April 2021:

  • Graham was aged 55
  • he was employed, had a pension fund of £400,000 and was a higher rate tax payer
  • he put £20,000 into a balanced portfolio with his ISA provider.

By April 2022, Graham's ISA portfolio had dropped 20% from the original value and was valued at £16,000. He knows that portfolio values can fluctuate, but is concerned he needs 25% growth to recover his loss.

Over the next five years, Graham's balanced portfolio performs well and returns 31.25%, bringing his fund up to £21,000. However, based on his initial investment of £20,000, this is a compound annualised return (CAR) of just 0.82%.

So what could Graham have done differently?

Graham understands how pension tax relief works and knows that regardless if you’re a non-taxpayer, basic, higher or additional rate tax payer, if you pay into a relief at source personal pension scheme, the pension provider will provide basic rate tax relief. If you’re a higher or additional rate tax payer, you can claim back extra tax relief from HMRC.

So although the ISA value had dropped to £16,000 in April 2022, if Graham had switched it to his pension, then assuming he still had available annual allowance, this would have attracted 20% tax relief - bringing it back up to his initial investment of £20,000.

As Graham is a higher rate tax payer, he knows he can claim the additional tax relief from HMRC, but decides he would rather boost his pension savings.

He works out that a gross contribution of £26,667 would produce a net contribution of £16,000 after 40% tax. As the pension provider only applies basic rate tax relief at 20%, Graham realises he would need to pay a net contribution of £21,333 for a gross pension amount of £26,667.

If Graham had an additional £5,333 on deposit and he paid this in at the same time as the £16,000 from his ISA, his gross pension contribution would have increased to £26,667.

Graham has £5,333 on deposit plus £16,000 from his ISA equals a gross pension contribution of £26,667.

As a higher rate tax payer, Graham would claim the £5,333 back from HMRC to replace the money he had on deposit.

So instead of having £16,000 in his ISA, he has £26,667 in his pension. An increase from his initial investment of 33% and 67% higher than what he would have had in his ISA.

Assuming the charges are the same and Graham invests in a similar balanced portfolio and receives 31.25% return over the next 5 years, his pension would be worth £35,000, an annualised growth rate of 9.78% of the initial ISA investment, compared to 0.82% in the ISA.

Great, but the ISA would provide £21,000 tax free and of course, the pension will be taxed at Graham’s marginal rate, so what would the net income be:

An illustration showing the annualised returns on a pension pot for different tax rates compared to ISA account.. This image is an infographic and has alternative text available if you are using a screen reader.

Graphic shows that for a pension pot of £35,000, the amount of compound annualised return (CAR) a basic rate taxpayer would receive is 6.84%, a higher rate taxpayer would receive 3.44% and additional rate tax would be 2.50%. This compares to 0.82% CAR in the ISA.

Perhaps at age 61 Graham will be a basic rate tax payer, but even if he’s still a higher rate tax payer, he would receive £24,500 net instead of £21,000 from his ISA.

Other things to consider 

As an adviser, there are other things to consider. For example, the impact of the money purchase annual allowance if Graham took his pension savings as a lump sum and of course, death benefits.

If Graham died at age 61 and his estate was in excess of the nil rate band, his £21,000 ISA would be subject to 40% inheritance tax, but the personal pension of £35,000 would be paid tax free to his beneficiaries.

Of course, you'll need to consider your client’s personal circumstances and objectives, and a combination of tax wrappers will likely provide the most tax efficient income in retirement.

However, the tax relief granted to pension contributions could help to alleviate some of the losses from other investments. We can’t change past performance, but using a different tax wrapper could improve the chance of better performance in the future.