We explain how to pick a stocks and shares Isa, including our Recommended Providers, cheapest platforms and investment strategies

How do I find the best stocks and shares Isa?

A stocks and shares Isa isn’t an investment itself – it’s a type of account in which you can can buy almost any combination of investments, such as shares, funds and bonds, with tax-free returns.

Unlike cash Isas, stocks and shares Isas come with the risk of losing some of your money.

Here, we reveal the best places to get a stocks and shares Isa – including our Which? Recommended Providers and cheapest investment platforms.

And our two-minute video explains how to find the best stocks and shares Isa for you.

Have you used up your Isa allowance?

Your Isa allowance for the 2021-22 tax year is £20,000. Any contributions you make to a cash Isa also come out of your allowance.

It’s also important to remember that you can only open one cash Isa and one stocks and shares Isa in each tax year, although you can have more than one of each type in total if you’ve opened them in different tax years.

You can only contribute to one of each type of Isa per tax year – so even if you have two stocks and shares Isas open, you can only add to one of them.

If you want to change provider and then make additional contributions, you’ll need to transfer your Isa first.

Who are the best stocks and shares Isa providers?

Our two Which? Recommended Providers for 2021-22 are AJ Bell Youinvest and Vanguard.

  • Vanguard received an overall customer score of 77%, the highest of the 11 providers we looked at. It offers a limited range of own-house funds, but charges very low fees.
  • AJ Bell Youinvest received an overall customer score of 72%, placing it 2nd. It offers a wider choice of investments, including shares and investment trusts.

We asked almost 2,000 investment platform customers to rate their platforms’ service. We combined those scores with an expert analysis of the fees charged by providers.

Find out more: investment platforms compared

What makes a Which? Recommended Provider?

To qualify as a Which? Recommended Provider (WRP), a platform must have received at least a 70% customer rating and not received below-average scores on any of the underlying criteria.

But as costs are a guaranteed drag on your investment portfolio, recommended providers must not be in top three platforms for costs, based on any portfolio size we reviewed.

Who are the cheapest stocks and shares Isa providers?

The differences in costs between investment platforms can be substantial and add up to hundreds of pounds per year.

Some platforms charge a percentage fee, based on the size of your portfolio, others charge flat fees and some platform charge a combination of both.

In general, percentage-based charges suit smaller portfolios (less than £50,000) and flat fees suit larger portfolios. If you frequently buy and sell investments, you should pick a platform that charges low or no fees for trading.

Stocks and shares Isa fees compared

We’ve estimated the cost of investing various sums in investment platforms over the course of a year in the table below.

We assume you making four purchases and four sales each year, separated by whether you’re buying funds or shares.

The colour coding goes from red (most expensive) to dark green (cheapest).

Company £5,000 £10,000 £25,000

AJ Bell Youinvest

£25 £37 £75

Barclays Smart Investor 

£72 £72 £74

BestInvest

£20 £40 £100

Charles Stanley Direct

£18 £35 £88

Close Brothers

£13 £25 £63

Fidelity 

£45 £35 £88

Halifax Share Dealing 

£112 £112 £112

HSBC InvestDirect

£13 £25 £63

Hargreaves Lansdown 

£23 £45 £113

Interactive Investor

£120 £120 £120

Vanguard 

£8 £15 £38

Figures correct at April 2021. Assumes trades are spread out, so no more than one a month.
Applies to general investment accounts and Isas, but not Sipps.

How do I build a high-performing stocks and shares Isa?

Unlike cash Isas, returns are never guaranteed with stocks and shares Isas. However, you can give your investments the best chance of succeeding by considering the following:

 

 

Your risk appetite

Ultimately, the higher the return promised for a particular investment, the higher the risks involved.

Before investing you should be confident in your ‘risk appetite, ie how much money you’re prepared to lose in a worst-case scenario.

Your risk appetite should also reflect how long you have to invest. Investing for the longer term gives more volatile investments time to bounce back. If you need the money for less than five years you’re better off using a savings account.

If you’re unsure over your risk appetite, read our guide and consider talking to a financial adviser.

Lump sum or regular contributions?

Investing a lump sum in one go will get your money working from you and give it longer to grow.

However, making regular contributions means your investment will benefit from ‘pound cost averaging’.

If the value of your investments fall, you’ll be able to buy up more units for the same price next month. With more units, you’ll be well placed to benefit should the value of investments rise again. It’s also less risky to contribute regularly, since less of your money would be affected were your investments to shrink.

Diversification

You guard against risk by diversifying what you invest in.

That means having a range of assets, based in different regions and ideally held with different fund managers.

Also consider that the protection from platform collapse offered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme only applies to £85,000 of investments per platform – if you’re holding more in one stocks and shares Isa you should consider moving some into another Isa.

Shares, funds or trusts?

Investing doesn’t require you to pick out individual company shares any more.

Investment funds (sometimes called unit trusts or OEICs) allow you to invest in thousands of companies across the world for an (increasingly small) fee.

Some investment platforms even offer ready-made blended funds for particularly risk appetites.

Stocks and shares Isas can also hold investment trusts, corporate or government bonds (gilts) and life insurance policies.

Fund costs

If you’re buying funds, keep an eye on fees.

Active funds, where a fund manager picks out individual investments, tend to have higher fees, without guaranteeing higher returns.

Passive (sometimes called tracker) funds follow an index, such as the FTSE 100, and invest in all, or a representative share of those companies. They tend to be lower cost. You can read more about them here.

How do I review my stocks and shares Isa?

Once you’ve set up your stocks and shares Isa, it can be tempting to constantly check in on its performance – particularly now many investment platforms offer mobile apps.

The danger with doing this is that you’ll be drawn into tinkering with your portfolio.

If your original portfolio is set up on a sound basis, you should aim to leave it for the long term, with annual reviews the sensible way to reassess and make sure your investments haven’t strayed too far from your desired asset allocation, and rebalancing if necessary.

This is what a financial adviser would do for you, after all.

If you deal too often, you risk ending up with a list of random investments rather than a carefully considered portfolio.

Can I transfer an existing stocks and shares Isa?

Yes, although you should look out for ‘transfer out’ fees from your current provider.

If you decide that another provider suits your needs, you can transfer previous years’ investments into the one account – making it easier to monitor and administer your investments.

This can take a few weeks and can, in some cases, require selling investments in order to move your money.