Thursday, 31 March 2011

Who is the Junior ISA for?

The government is suggesting that 6 million children will be able to get the new tax-free Junior ISA from the launch expected at the beginning of November, then an extra 800,000 babies will "benefit" each year.

But will they really? It's a great idea to save for the children, particularly with all the worries about paying for university. Hence this replacement for Labour's Child Trust Fund.

However, there are several reasons why take-up could be disappointing.

*Families are struggling to find money to save.

*There is no taxpayer contribution to kick-start the plans.

*The money will still be locked in. Parents won't be able to get it back if they need it.

The first two points are fairly obvious. Whatever you think about the taxpayer stumping up hundreds of pounds for each Child Trust Fund, it did encourage parents to engage with the idea.

Around one in five families added their own contributions. It might be optimistic to think that the same proportion will be tempted by the Junior ISA.

The last point, though, could be very significant. Parents are unlikely to identify any major difference between the Junior ISA and other forms of saving which are open to them, except that they are waving goodbye to their money forever.

Remember that only a third of Britons save regularly, according to the Halifax. And just under a third have no savings at all to fall back on or less than £249 set aside as a financial safety net.

So you are already talking about a minority who might be tempted by the Junior ISA.

Now consider what parents might be doing with their money, after meeting mortgage and other debt repayments and settling the monthly bills.

First up might be pension contributions. We don't want to be a burden on the young later on, do we?

Then there are straightforward ISAs, the parents' own Individual Savings Accounts. Cash ISAs for the short term and, possibly, share ISAs for the longer term.

Parents can keep savings in their own Cash ISAs, up to £5,340 each year for each adult (from 6th April), accumulating year after year. And, crucially, they can take the money out if they need it. Or they can spend it on the kids.

So the Junior ISA may only be attractive once a couple is putting aside more than their joint annual entitlement of £21,360 in their own ISAs -- and that's on top of any pension contributions.

Which feels like a small proportion of the population.

It's true that some parents really do value the fact that the money is locked-in and will be safe for the children. But many could steer clear of Junior ISAs.

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