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Last minute tips: all you need to know about ISAs

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With the deadline for 2012/13 ISAs only a day away, Blue & Green Tomorrow is on hand with some last minute information into the ethical options.

ISAs, or individual savings accounts, essentially allow you to save money without offloading a portion to the taxman. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com describes ISAs using a handy cake analogy here.

A typical savings account or investment (Lewis’ cake) is subject to the taxman taking his cut. Depending on what tax bracket you’re in, the tax you pay on the interest varies.

ISAs are often described as a ‘wrapper’ that allows a limited yearly allowance of money to be protected (Lewis’ cling film) from the taxman. So, if you have any savings at all, an ISA is the first port of call.

There are two types: the cash ISA and the equity (stocks and shares) ISA.

If you feel a little lost already, don’t worry because you’re not alone. The now-defunct Financial Services Authority found that “40% of people who own an equity ISA are not aware that its value fluctuates with stock market performance, and 15% of people who own a cash ISA think its value does”(which it does not).

Cash ISA – safe and steady

Cash ISAs are similar to a normal savings account, except any interest earned is exempt from tax. A fixed rate of interest is set by the provider over a period of time, so the income you receive is also fixed.

Notably, any money you invest in a cash ISA each year is deducted from your equity ISA allowance. The limit for a cash ISA is £5,640.

Equity ISA – risk and reward

Equity ISAs can be a little more complicated but essentially allow tax-free investments of up to £11,520 (minus any money invested in a cash ISA in the same year).

The important thing to remember about stocks and shares ISAs is that your money is not protected – your investment will rise and fall with the stock market. While this offers the opportunity of greater income, because of its variable nature, the value of your ISA could be substantially reduced if the stock market takes a dive.

What about the ethical or sustainable options?

Ethical or sustainable investments, whether in an ISA or any other form, allow you to apply your personal morals and principles to your money.

Some investors go down the exclusionary route, rejecting harmful stocks such as tobacco, alcohol and armaments, while others focus on positive investments, and look to invest in companies and industries tackling some of the most urgent sustainability challenges.

Most ethical banks and building societies offer ISAs in some form or another. Triodos, for example, offers a range of cash ISAs, as well as a junior ISA. Our Guide to Sustainable Banking 2012 profiles some of our favourite ethical financial institutions.

Campaign group Move Your Money has a ‘best buy ISAs’ section on its website, where it lists some of the best socially responsible options on the market.

YourEthicalMoney.org is another great resource for sustainability-minded investors who wish to make the most of tax-free savings in the coming 12 months.

Be quick, though; by April 6 (Saturday) you’ll have lost the chance to use this year’s ISA allowance, as the new tax year begins. So make sure you get your sustainable ISA applications in today or tomorrow.

Further reading:

Why I’ll be investing my children’s junior ISA funds sustainably

Budget 2013: green businesses call for sustainable ISA incentives

The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2013

Environment

How to Build An Eco-Friendly Home Pool

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eco-friendly pool for home owners
Licensed Image from Shutterstock - By alexandre zveiger

Swimming pools are undoubtedly one of the most luxurious features that any home can have. But environmentally-conscious homeowners who are interested in having a pool installed may feel that the potential issues surrounding wasted water, chemical use and energy utilized in heating the water makes having a home swimming pool difficult to justify.

But there is good news, because modern technologies are helping to make pools far less environmentally harmful than ever before. If you are interested in having a pool built but you want to make sure that it is as eco-friendly as possible, you can follow the advice below. From natural pools to solar panel heating systems, there are many steps that you can take.

Choose a natural pool to go chemical free

For those homeowners interested in an eco-friendly pool, the first thing to consider is a natural pool. Natural swimming pools utilise reed bed technology or moss-filtration to naturally filter out dirt from the water. These can be combined with eco-pumps to allow you to have a pool that is completely free from chemicals.

Not only are traditional pool chemicals potentially harmful to the skin, they also mean that you can contaminate the area around the pool if chemical-filled water leaks or is splashed around. This can be bad for your garden and the environment general.

It will be necessary to work with an expert pool builder to ensure that you have the expertise to get your natural pool installed properly. But the results with definitely be worth the effort and planning that you have to put in.

Avoid concrete if possible

The vast majority of home pools are built using concrete but this is far from ideal in terms of an eco-friendly pool for a large number of reasons. Concrete pools are typically built and then lined to stop keep out any bacteria. This is theoretically fine, except that concrete is porous and the lining can be liable to erode or break which can allow bacteria to enter the pool.

It is much better to use a non-porous material such as fibreglass or carbon ceramic composite for your pool. Typically, these swimming pools are supplied in a one-piece shell rather than having to be built from scratch, ensuring a bacteria-free environment. These non-porous materials make it impossible for the water to become contaminated through bacteria seeping into the pool by osmosis.

The further problem that can arise from having a concrete pool is that once this bacteria begins to get into the pool it can be more difficult for a natural filtration system to be effective. This can lead to you having to resort to using chemicals to get the pool clean.

Add solar panels

It is surprising how many will go to extreme lengths to ensure that their pool is as eco-friendly as possible in terms of building and maintaining it but then fall down on something extremely obvious. No matter what steps you take with the rest of your pool, it won’t really be worth the hassle if you are going to be conventionally heating your pool up, using serious amounts of energy to do so.

Thankfully there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure that your pool is heated to a pleasant temperature while causing minimal damage to the environment. Firstly, gathering energy using solar panels has become a very popular way to reduce consumption of electricity as well as decreasing utility bills. Many businesses offer solar panels specifically for swimming pools.

Additionally, installing an energy efficient heat pump or boiler to work in conjunction with your solar panels can be hugely beneficial.

Cover it!

Finally, it is worth remembering that there are many benefits to investing in a pool cover. When you cover your pool you increase its heat retention which stops you from having to power a pump or boiler to keep it warm. This works in conjunction with the solar panels and eco-friendly heating system that you have already had installed.

Additionally, you cover helps to keep out dirt and other detritus that can enter the pool, bringing in bacteria. Anything that you can do to keep bacteria out will be helpful in terms of keeping it clean.

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4 Ways To Get a Green House in 2018

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green house and homes
Featured Image From Shutterstock - By Photographee.eu

Demand for green houses is surging. In 2020, almost 20% of all homes on the market will be green.

If you would like to buy a green home, this is a great time to look into it. Prices are still pretty low and there are a lot more financing options available than there were right after the recession.

If you’re thinking about buying a house, now could be a very good time to make the move! A number of factors in the housing market right now mean that you might be able to afford your dream home. Although in many parts of the country house prices are still rising, if you do your research and plan wisely, there are lots of good schemes to help you get your foot on the property ladder, or trade up to the house you’ve always wanted.

Interest Rates and Stamp Duty

Although the Bank of England raised interest rates by 0.25% recently, they remain very low, which is good news if you’re thinking of taking out a mortgage. However, rates may not stay low and it’s predicted that there’ll be a further rate rise during 2018, so don’t wait too long. Another factor that’s going to help first time buyers in particular is the Chancellor’s decision to abolish stamp duty for first timers purchasing properties for under £300,000.

Different options

For many people looking to buy a green home, raising a deposit of between 5% and 20% may not be a realistic option, in which case there are a growing number of schemes to help. Increasingly popular are shared ownership schemes, through which the buyer pays a percentage of the full value of the property (typically between 25% and 75%) and the local council or a housing association pays the rest, and takes part ownership. This is suitable for buyers who may struggle to meet the up-front costs of buying outright. There will often be a service charge or management fees to pay in addition to the mortgage. The Government’s Help To Buy scheme is a good place to start looking if you’re interested in this option. This scheme is now available to people looking to buy green homes too.

ISA Options

If you’re still saving for a deposit, another scheme is the Help to Buy ISA. You can get a 25% boost to your savings on amounts up to £200 per month with this scheme. It’s only open to first time buyers and you can claim a maximum of £3000.

Other costs

Green home buyers are going to run into a number of other ancillary costs, most of which are common to other homebuyers.

When calculating how much you can afford, it’s vitally important to remember that buying a house comes with a whole host of other costs. Depending on the cost of the property that you’re buying, you may have to pay stamp duty of anywhere between 1% and 5%. There’ll be estate agents fee if you’re also selling a property, although there are a wide range of online estate agents operating such as Purple Bricks or Right Move that have lower fees than traditional high street companies. Conveyancing costs to a solicitor can add another £1000-£3000 and you may need to take out life insurance and hire a moving firm.

There are other initial costs such as, fixing parts of the home that aren’t upto your taste. Getting new furniture to fill up all the new-found space in your new home. If you are moving away from the city, you need to consider the cost of transportation as well, as it can take up quite a lot over time. Take your time, do your homework and shop around and soon you could be getting the keys to your perfect home.

I hope this article was useful for you to learn more about the basics that you need to be aware of before you start the process of buying your first home. If you have any doubts with regards to this, let us know through the comments and we will be glad to help you out. If you have any suggestions regarding how we can improve the article, let us know them through the comments as well for us to improve.

Do you have any other reservations against buying your first home? Do you see your house as an asset or a liability? Do you think it is important for everyone to get themselves a new home? Let us know through the comments.

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