stocks and shares isa

Stocks & Shares ISAs

Find the best ISA or investment platform

Every adult has a chunky £20,000 ISA allowance for 2020/21, which can be used for investing in the stock market and/or put into a cash ISA. This guide covers getting a good deal on a stocks & shares ISA. 

Other top ISA guides...

Cash ISAs: The best cash ISAs out there.
Full ISA guide: For everything you need to know about ISAs. 
Help to Buy ISA: Get up to £3,000 bonus if you're a first-time buyer. 
Lifetime ISAs: All the info on the ISAs for the under-40s.


What is a stocks & shares ISA?

Everyone in the UK over 18 has an annual £20,000 ISA allowance (for the 2020/21 tax year ending 5 April 2021). You can use all of this for a stocks & shares ISA if you want, or you can split it between stocks & shares and any of the other types of ISA: Cash ISAsLifetime ISAs and innovative finance ISAs.

A stocks & shares ISA is very different to a cash ISA, which is simply a savings account you never pay tax on. With a stocks & shares ISA, you're investing.

If this is your first experience of investing, it'll be worth reading our beginners' guide to get a broader idea of what's involved.

Quick questions

  • There are many different types of investment. Here are some examples:

    • Corporate and government bonds. You lend your money to a company or a government in return for interest (don't confuse these with fixed-term bonds, which are savings accounts held for a certain period of time).

    • Shares. You invest in individual companies. Owning a share is like owning part of a property. If the price of the house/company goes up, so does your share, and vice versa.

    • Funds. Most people use funds when investing. These can include bonds, shares, a mixture of the two, or in some cases cash. Most funds have a specific theme, around which all the investments are based.
  • A fund is simply another way to buy shares (or bonds, commercial property etc) – but instead of you buying a slice of a company directly, you give your cash to a specialist manager who pools it with money from other investors (like you) to go and buy a job lot of shares in a stock market.

    Each fund is made up of 'units' so if you want to invest, you'll need to buy units – and these come at a cost which varies from day to day.

    The value of each unit will rise or fall (or stay the same, of course) depending on demand in the market for the fund. Say you want to invest £1,000 in a fund, if each fund unit costs £2, you can buy 500 units. Six months later, if each unit is now worth £2.50, your investment is worth £1,250.

    The fund's theme could be anything from geography (European, Japanese, emerging markets), industry (green companies, utility firms, industrial businesses), types of investment (shares, corporate bonds, gilts), to the size of the company.

    The combination gives you the risk factor. If the fund focuses on "fledgling biotech companies in emerging markets", all the elements involve a high degree of uncertainty. So if it goes well, you could be in for massive gains, and if it goes badly, massive losses.

    Alternatively, it could be a FTSE 100 tracker, where the fund simply invests in the UK's 100 biggest companies, and therefore is much more mainstream. While there can still be substantial ups and downs, the fluctuations are likely to be smaller.

    You can also leave your money as cash in a stocks & shares ISA, but you typically won't get a great return (often much less than in a cash ISA or savings account).

Stocks & shares ISAs: Need-to-knows

  • It's very important you understand what the tax breaks are and whether they really matter to you before you decide to use your ISA allowance for investing.

    • CGT is a tax you'll have to pay on the gain you make when selling things such as shares, a second home (you usually don't pay capital gains on selling your main home) and jewellery.

      So if you buy shares at £1,000 and then sell them for £1,500, you've made a £500 gain. You might then have to pay tax on that. But it's important to understand that...

      You're allowed to make £12,300 of gains this tax year (2020/21) tax-free outside an ISA. So you would ONLY gain using a stocks & shares ISA in a year where you were making total gains over £12,300.

      If you have other capital gains, such as you had a buy-to-let property and you've sold it, then if it made a profit, you could have used up your CGT allowance that tax year. See our Tax rates guide for info on the CGT rates you'll then pay.

    • There are two ways you make money from investing. One is when the shares increase in value and then you reap a nice little profit when you sell them. The other is when they pay dividends.

      Dividends are a bit like interest on a savings account. If a company makes a profit, it gives some of it back to you – it could be on a regular basis or as a one-off. And just as you have a personal savings allowance for interest on savings, you also have a dividend allowance each tax year where the first £2,000/year is tax-free.

      Any dividends received above this allowance will be taxed – at 7.5% for basic-rate taxpayers, 32.5% for higher-rate tax payers and 38.1% for additional-rate taxpayers.

      However, dividend income received on shares held in a stocks & shares ISA will be tax-free. (Older investors may remember when there was a 10% tax deducted from dividends at source which couldn't be reclaimed, which meant a stocks & shares ISA wasn't quite tax-free – this was abolished in April 2016.)

      If you earn more than £2,000 a year in dividend income outside of a stocks & shares ISA you'll need to inform HMRC.

    • With corporate bonds, instead of investing in a company's success, you're effectively lending money to it for a set time. In return, it'll have to pay you interest.

      You're taking the risk that it won't give you the money back, so it isn't risk-free. But the good news is...

      If you've got corporate bonds or bond funds within an ISA that pays out interest, you don't have to pay any tax on it.

      If you're investing in corporate bonds outside a stocks & shares ISA, it'll fall under the remit of the personal savings allowance. This means basic-rate (20%) taxpayers – will be able to earn £1,000 interest with no tax while higher-rate (40%) taxpayers – will be able to earn £500 interest with no tax. Additional rate (45%) taxpayers don't get a tax-free allowance.

      Bear in mind that this allowance covers your normal savings interest in a bank as well as other forms of interest. As with the dividend allowance, you'll owe tax on any interest earned above its limit.

  • Whether you should invest depends on your personal circumstances and the amount of risk you're willing to take. But as a rule of thumb, you should invest for at least five years. This allows enough time to ride out any bumps in the market that might see you make a loss on your money.

    As such, if you're looking to use your money within the next few years, you should probably stick to cash savings. See the Top Savings and Top Cash ISA guide for more.

    It's very important to understand that there's no such thing as the best stocks and shares investment. Over the long run, historically, stocks and shares have outperformed money in cash savings accounts. But that's no guarantee they'll do so in the future. Remember, investments can go down as well as up.

      1. The greater return you want, the more risk you'll usually have to accept.

      2. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Try to diversify as much as you can to lower your risk exposure.

      3. If you're saving over the short-term, it's wise not to take too much of a risk. It's recommended you invest for at least five years. If you can't, cash is often best.

      4. Review your portfolio. A fund might be a dud, a fund manager might leave, or you might not be willing to take as many risks as you once did. If you don't review your portfolio regularly, you could end up with a stocks & shares ISA losing money.

      5. Don't panic. Investments can go down as well as up. Don't be tempted to sell or buy funds just because everyone else is.

  • Whether a cash ISA or stocks & shares ISA is best for you depends on whether you're willing to risk your money investing and when you'll need access to the cash. In a nutshell:

    • Happy to risk losing money and can wait at least five years? Investing could be right for you, so consider a stocks & shares ISA.

    • Happy to risk losing money but need access sooner? Investing is for the long term, so a cash ISA would be best. If you can put some of your money away for at least five years, you could split it between a cash and a stocks & shares ISA.

    • Not happy to risk losing money? Stick to a cash ISA - though of course, if the interest rate's lower than inflation this could still mean you end up losing money in real terms.
  • You can buy stocks & shares ISAs from different providers, but for the cheapest offers you want to do it through a website, often called a platform.

    Investing in a stocks & shares ISA is a two-stage process. First you need to pick which provider to buy your ISA from, then you need to decide what investments to put in it.

    It's like buying bread in a supermarket. You first need to pick where you want to buy the bread from (decide which platform to use), then choose what bread you want to buy from there (your funds).

    You'll be charged both for using the platform and buying/holding the funds. To stretch the analogy somewhat, imagine each supermarket charges a different price for its shopping bags.

    Some supermarket bags are cheaper than others, but the ones that have the most expensive bags may be the ones that sell the bread the cheapest. So it's a combination of the two factors that needs to be taken into consideration.

    Note that while the platform fee is charged by the platform you choose, the company running the funds will be charging you for the funds.

  • This may be useful for people coming up to retirement or anyone else who no longer wants to take a risk with their money.

    If you're going to do this you'll need to contact your new cash ISA provider and tell it you want to transfer money from your stocks & shares ISA. Never just withdraw the money – because if you do, you'll lose all the tax-free benefits.

    Once you've requested it, the transfer may take a few weeks. If you're opening a cash ISA with a different provider to where your stocks & shares ISA was, you'll likely pay a closing fee. If you're switching with the same provider, there usually won't be a fee.

  • It's tempting to try to time the market, but it's almost impossible and even the most experienced investors get it wrong. By pulling out of the market as soon as a share dips or trying to second-guess when a share will reach its peak, you could lose out on sharp recoveries or see the price go down again.

    Instead, you should invest on a regular basis – in investment lingo this is called 'drip-feeding' – to smooth out any ups and downs. This will give you an added benefit of something called 'pound cost averaging'.

    • If you invested a £10,000 lump sum and bought shares valued at £10 each, you'd have 1,000 shares.

      If you bought £5,000 worth of the same shares per month over two months (amounting to 10,000 overall), you'd buy 500 shares in the first month.

      But if the share price went down to £9.50 in the second month, you'd be able to buy 526 shares, as the shares are at a lower price.

      So, rather than your full £10,000 investment being affected by the drop in share price, only half of your money drops in value.

      In this example, a lump sum of £10,000 buys 1,000 shares, while two payments of £5,000 buys 1,026 shares. Smaller investing on a regular basis means any drop in share price won't be too noticeable.

  • You must invest in your stocks & shares ISA by 5 April, the end of the tax year, for it to count for that year. Crucially, any unused allowance (£20,000 for 2020/21) doesn't roll over – so if you don't use it, you lose it forever.

    Any savings or investments which stay within the tax-free ISA wrapper will continue to earn interest and reap the tax benefits until you withdraw the money.

    So it's possible to have substantial amounts invested within ISAs: over £180,000 since ISAs began in 1999 (though your total may be more or less depending on how your investments have performed).

  • Both the platform and the funds you invest in will cost you money. The main ones to look out for are:

    • Platform charge. 

      It's as if you have to buy a carrier bag from the supermarket: some charge you 50p for it and others charge you 10p. This can either be a flat fee (best for high investors) or a percentage of the value of your funds (the larger your investments, the more it'll cost you).

    • Fund manager charge (also known as annual management charge). 
      You'll also be charged for everything you put in that bag – the funds you invest in. This is the charge by the actual manager of the fund held within your stocks & shares ISA. This is always a percentage and can typically vary from 0.1% to 1%+ per fund, depending on which fund you're investing in.

    • Selling/buying funds. 
      This is the cost every time you buy or sell a fund on the platform. These can be anything from £0 to £25. So if you're an active trader, looking for a low trading charge should be a high priority.

    • Transfer out fee. 
      The cost involved in moving your stocks & shares ISA from one platform (provider) to another. This is usually charged per fund, so the more funds you have within your stocks & shares ISA, the more it'll cost you. However, some platforms don't charge a fee for transferring out.
  • Once you've got your head around the various charges, it'll be easier to work out whether your current stocks & shares ISA provider is overcharging you.

    A platform might have been cheap at first, but new charging structures mean it may no longer be. Be sure to check any exit fees with your current provider, but if you won't take too much of a hit by leaving, then in the long run it'll likely be cheaper to switch provider to one with lower fees.

Investment Platform Best buys

Below we have divided the best buys into do-it-yourself, do-it-with-me and do-it-for-me platforms – depending on the level of service, help assessing your attitude to risk, and fund/portfolio choice you want.

Do-it-yourself platforms

This option really is best suited for those who know what they're doing. You need to be clear on why you're investing, what you want to achieve and, importantly, how long it will take to achieve it. You'll have to research your chosen investments, build your own portfolio and then keep track of it.

This doesn't mean you won't be given any help at all with these sorts of platforms – while you won't be directed to a choice of investments, there will still be information available to help you make a decision.

It may be the case that you already have a stocks & shares ISA you've been investing in and want to transfer to one of the platforms below to take advantage of the lower charges. If so, make sure you take into consideration any exit fees from your existing platform before you transfer.

If you do want to switch to one of the platforms below, you'll have to do an ISA transfer. Be aware however that the new platform may not offer all the investment options your previous platform did. So if there is a particular fund you like investing in, you'll have to weigh up whether it's better to stay with your existing platform that still offers it, or move to a new platform to take advantage of lower charges.

Quick question

  • With do-it-yourself platforms, as you are deciding everything yourself, you need to take all charges into account – including any platform fees, fund charges, trading charges and exit fees. For the best buys below, we list the different costs. However, we haven't taken fund charges into account as these will vary depending on which fund you pick – but should remain pretty constant between platforms.

    When looking at do-it-yourself platforms, we've done our comparisons to show which are best for frequent or infrequent traders. We also assume most of your trades will be in funds and not other areas such as shares and ETFs – though we do note these often incur extra charges if you trade them.

    We know from experience at MSE that cheap isn't always what people are looking for when it comes to parting with their money, so we have also included a platform in this section which costs a bit more, but is a more comprehensive offering with an easier to use website.

    How much a platform will cost you will depend on how much money you have invested and how often you trade, so you may need to do some sums yourself as well.

    If you have a small amount to invest then it's likely you'll be drawn towards percentage-based charging – where you get charged a percentage of your total portfolio – whereas if you have lots of money invested then fixed fees will likely work out cheaper for you.

    For the sake of our best buys in this section, we looked at the different platforms' charges and trading costs. We then crosschecked this with specialist investment consultancy the lang cat's analysis, which assumes investment in funds and the cost of four ad-hoc fund transactions in the year, to confirm our choices.

Cheap for larger portfolios or infrequent traders

No frills investment website iWeb, which is operated by Halifax Share Dealing, is one of the cheapest do-it-yourself platforms out there. There's a one-off account opening charge of £25, then it's £5 per trade after.

It's not the most flashy website and doesn't offer a mobile app, so if this is something you're interested in, you could look at Interactive Investor below.

Platform charge: £25 (one-off)
Min ISA deposit: N/A
Transfer out fee: £25 per fund (max £125)
Fund dealing: £5 per trade
No. of funds: 2,300
Account closure fee: £0

More comprehensive offering

If you want a more well-known investment platform with a more comprehensive offering and an easier to use website, then Interactive Investor* might be for you. As it has a fixed fee, if you have a large pot of money to transfer, it can work out a lot cheaper than a percentage-based charging model. 

Also currently it is offering £100 cashback if you transfer an existing ISA worth at least £20,000 from another provider to it (subject to its terms and conditions). 

It has three different plans to choose from – the cheapest, the 'Investor' plan, costs £9.99/mth, and gives you one free trade per month worth £7.99. The cashback deal means the annual platform fee for the 'Investor' plan would effectively be £20 for the first year. 

Trades cost £7.99 each, though regular investing is commission-free. It offers a mobile app and a wide range of funds to choose from, so if you want a diverse portfolio, and want to trade and check on your funds on the go, this is a good pick. See the II site for other plan options.

Platform charge: £9.99/mth for 'Investor' plan (exclusing cashback)
Min ISA deposit: Any lump sum or £25/mth
Transfer out fee: N/A
Fund dealing: £7.99 – plus one free trade a month and commission-free regular investing
No. of funds: 3,000+
Account closure fee: £0


This is a middle-of-the-road option. Here, the investment decisions are yours to make, but there is help available. So a big list of funds may be narrowed down for you, but it is essentially still your decision which one you pick.

There may also be portfolios with different risk levels to choose from, but you don't get told which one to go for like you would with the do-it-for-me option below – instead it is up to you to make the decision. So if you're not sure of how much risk to take, you may be better off looking at the do-it-for-me platforms to help guide you.

A lot of the platforms in this section could also fall under the do-it-yourself category above, but they also offer you a helping hand if needed.

Quick question

  • With do-it-with-me platforms, we assumed you won't be trading but will stick with your original portfolio of investments. We looked at platforms which offer either a list of suggested funds, or a range of portfolios, and our top picks come with the lowest charges of the platforms we looked at.

    When looking at fund fees, we give an example of a mid-risk option from each platform to give you an idea of costs – but be aware, different funds may charge more.

    How much a platform will cost you will depend on how much money you have invested and how often you trade, so you may need to do some sums yourself as well.

    For the sake of our best buys in this section, we looked at the different platforms charges and charges for their suggested portfolios. We then crosschecked this with specialist investment consultancy the lang cat's analysis.

Choose between a hand-picked list of funds

AJ Bell* has a 0.25% platform fee, but also charges £1.50 for buying and selling funds.

You've got three options for the do-it-with-me offering. Either you pick from any of 88 'favourite funds' which have been chosen by AJ Bell as good options, you can choose from six passive funds with different risk levels, or you can choose from four ready-made portfolios. If you choose the second option, there's no fee to buy the fund.

If you were to transfer out to another provider in the future, there's a £25 transfer-out fee per fund – so if you have a lot of funds to transfer, this could leave a big dent in your wallet.

Annual platform charge: 0.25% for under £250,000, 0.1% for £250,000-£1 million, 0.05% for £1 million-£2 million, nothing above £2 million

Fund manager charge example: 0.35% (passive balanced fund)
Fund dealing: £1.50 (£9.95 a trade, reducing to £4.95 if there were 10 or more trades in the previous month for shares and ETFs)
Min ISA deposit: £500, or £25/mth if regularly saving
Transfer out fee: £25 per fund
No. of funds: 3,000
Account closure fee: £0

Cheapest platform overall but you can only invest in Vanguard funds

Vanguard is a cheap way to invest in funds, charging the lowest percentage-based platform fee around of 0.15%. However, you can only invest in its own range of funds.

It has 73 to choose from, including its popular 'LifeStrategy' funds which let you choose between five options based on the level of risk you want to take and whether you have short- or long-term goals. However, if you want the diversity of some of the best buys above, then Vanguard isn't the right option for you.

Another good thing about Vanguard is it doesn't charge exit fees. So if you do decide to leave, you won't be landed with a big bill.

Annual platform charge: 0.15% (max £375)
Fund manager charge example: 0.22% (LifeStrategy 60%)
Fund dealing: £0
Min ISA deposit: £500, or £100/mth if regularly saving
Transfer out fee: £0
No. of funds: 73
Account closure fee: £0

Do-it-for-me platforms

These platforms are best for those who want all the hard work done for them and don't want the responsibility of making any investment decisions.

Here, you will be asked some fact-finding questions, with risk-profiling by the platform to help decide on an investment portfolio. It will be based on your attitude to risk, any investment goals and what you can afford to invest.

Perhaps confusingly, these platforms can sometimes work out the cheapest option, even though you're being given the most amount of help. This is purely based on the fact that the underlying investments in your portfolio will likely be exchange traded funds (ETFs), which typically are low-cost in nature.

Quick question

  • With do-it-for-me we looked at the platform and average fund charges for several providers. We have also taken into account any special offers that are available such as fee reductions or cashback.

    Do note that with cashback offers, the bigger the investment, the less cashback will matter. If you invest more than the minimum needed to receive the cashback, or intend to invest for a long time, higher platform fees may mean over the long term an alternative platform could be better, despite the cashback deal.

    How much a platform will cost you will depend on how much money you have invested and for how long you want to invest for, so you may need to do some sums yourself as well.

    For the sake of our best buys in this section, we looked at the different platforms and portfolio charges. We then cross-checked this with analysis from specialist investment consultancy the lang cat.

No platform fee for a year

If you're a new Nutmeg customer and you open an ISA account via our link* you'll pay no platform fees for the first year. After a year the fees will revert to 0.45% up to £100,000, and 0.25% after that for its fixed allocation portfolio - then making it more expensive than OpenMoney below.

However, if you want to move to another platform with cheaper fees after the fee-free deal has ended, you'll probably need to sell your investments and then reinvest on the new platform. 

In line with it being a do-it-for-me platform, you choose your goal, timeframe and an amount you'd like to invest. You select a risk level and you'll be shown the potential returns you might get based on that. 

Nutmeg also offers a fully managed option – which means your investments are monitored and changed by its investment team – or a socially responsible option – where you can invest in companies that have been highly rated for ethics and sustainability. These come at a cost and if you're happy to just pick your portfolio and let it do its thing, choosing its fixed allocation portfolio is a good option.

Annual platform charge (after one year): Fully managed or socially responsible portfolio: £0-£100k at 0.75%, fixed portfolio: £0-£100k at 0.45%. Investment fund costs (average): 0.17%-0.33% depending on portfolio. Effect of market spread cost (average): 0.07%
Fund manager charges (average): Fixed: 0.17% Fully managed: 0.19% Socially responsible: 0.33%
Effect of market spread (average): 0.08%
Min ISA deposit: £500, for the waived fees
Transfer out fee: £0

No platform fee for a year

If you're a new Wealthify* customer and open an ISA account via our link, you'll pay no platform fee for 12 months. After the first year, the fees will revert to a flat rate of 0.6% - making it more expensive than OpenMoney below.

However, if you want to move to another platform with cheaper fees after the fee-free deal has ended, you will most likely need to sell your investments and reinvest on the new platform. So be aware, in this instance if your investment has gone down, you could lose money.

In line with it being a do-it-for-me platform, you let it know what type of investor you want to be – from cautious to adventurous, or somewhere in between – and it builds a plan based on this for you.

Annual platform charge: Free for year 1 for newbies via our link, then: 0.6%
Fund manager charges (average): 0.22%
Min ISA deposit: £1
Transfer out fee: £0

Cheap long-term platform

You may not have heard of OpenMoney, but it has one of the lowest platform fees of the do-it-for-me offerings.

Total annual fees, including fund and transaction charges, are just 0.49% – this means if you're investing over the longer term, or if you've a large portfolio, it may work out cheaper than those above, even with our no-fee offers.

OpenMoney is the parent brand of evestor, which offers the same ISA product – however with OpenMoney you will have access to a service which provides advice on OpenMoney products for free.

You do a questionnaire about your circumstances and financial goals, which gives you an investment recommendation and allocates your money to a portfolio that matches your risk appetite. You can also speak to someone over the phone if needed.

Annual platform charge: 0.35% (0.25% OpenMoney fee + 0.10% product fee)
Annual transaction costs: 0.03% max
Annual fund manager charges: 0.11% max
Min ISA deposit: £1
Transfer out fee: £0

Get free research to help choose a fund

If you're new to investing and have decided to take the do-it-yourself or do-it-with-me route, then as well as the information which may be available on the website of the platform you have chosen, there's detailed fund and stock market information on other websites that you can use. 

If you've jumped straight here, don't just dive in – it's worth going back to the start of this guide where we explain exactly how stocks & shares ISAs work and what a fund is.

Here are our top picks to get up-to-date, in-depth and easy-to-read information on funds, so that you can swot up before deciding where to invest your cash.

Hargreaves Lansdown*

Although Hargreaves Lansdown is one of the pricier platforms, it doesn't mean it's a no-go for investing. It provides a good and reputable service and has a very helpful and easy-to-navigate website jam-packed full of information about funds which you can make the most of whether you decide to use it or not.

It also has 'Wealth Shortlist' - a collection of funds selected for their performance potential.

Interactive Investor*

Interactive Investor (II) has a wide range of information, including beginner's guides on a range of investments and a glossary of terms you might come across while you're researching investments. II's research team also produce tables showing the top and bottom 10 funds and the 10 most traded funds on its website in each monthly period. If you sign up for a free account, you'll be able to access the more in-depth technical insight section. Once you're logged in, you'll be able to select specific funds and review performance, and see any patterns which have emerged over time.


Bestinvest's research team looks at more than 85,000 funds and compiles research on a monthly basis. The website has a huge range of guides available to download for free, covering everything from how to spot the worst performing funds, to the top rated funds and general information on how stocks & shares ISAs and other products work.

You'll also find stock market news and a tool which allows you to search for particular fund managers by their performance and track record.

Charles Stanley Direct

If you don't need as much hand-holding, Charles Stanley Direct's website has a good round-up of what's going on in the markets.

The market data section of the website breaks down lists of FTSE companies and allows you to check performance for any time period from one day to three years. You can also check which companies have risen and fallen, or view any changes by whole industry sector. All the information is updated every 15 minutes, so you get a very accurate feel for what's going on in the market.

Cashback sites may pay you for signing up

As an extra plus, members of specialist cashback websites can be paid when they sign up to some financial products. Do check that it's exactly the same deal though, as terms can be different. And remember, the cashback is never 100% guaranteed until it's in your account.

Full help to take advantage of this and pros & cons are in our Top Cashback Sites guide.

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