Stocks and shares Isas explained What is a stocks and shares Isa?

What is a stocks and shares Isa?

Stocks and shares Isas offer the possibility of higher returns than cash Isas, but only if you're happy to take some risks with your savings. 

While a cash Isa is simply a tax-free savings account, a stocks and shares Isa is a tax-efficient investment account that lets you put money into range of different investments, including unit trusts, open-ended investment companies (Oeics) and investment trusts, as well as government bonds and corporate bonds. 

You can also buy individual company shares and put them into your Isa. 

So, unlike with cash Isas, you should only invest if you are prepared to take the risk that your investments can go down, as well as up, in value.

Find out more: Understanding investment risk - how to make sure you take the right level of risk for you

How much can you invest in a stocks and shares Isa?

From 1 July 2014, it has been possible to top up Isas for the 2014/15 tax year to a new limit of £15,000. And under new rules, it is possible to split your Isa allowance between cash and stocks and shares with no maximum cash component. The ratio of cash to stocks and shares is up to you.

For the 2015/16 tax year, which will start on 6 April 2015, the Isa allowance will be £15,240

Find out more: The new Isa rules - our comprehensive breakdown of the changes made to Isas from July 2014 

The tax advantages of stocks and shares Isas

The tax advantages of stocks and shares Isas can be significant, especially if you're a higher or additional-rate taxpayer. 

Stocks and shares Isas - tax advantages for basic-rate taxpayers

Dividend income: If you buy shares, or collective investments such as unit trusts that invest in a portfolio of shares for you, you're likely to receive dividends. These will be paid with 10% deducted at source. It's not possible to reclaim this tax, which is why it's not quite true to say that stocks and shares Isas are 'tax-free'.

Capital gains: Any capital gains you make from investments in a stocks and shares Isa are tax-free. However, everyone in the UK has an annual capital gains allowance, which is £11,000 for the 2014/15 tax year, so a stocks and shares Isa will only offer a capital gains tax benefit if you realise gains in excess of this allowance in a single tax year.

Interest: If you invest in interest-bearing investments, such as corporate bonds and gilts in your stocks and shares Isa, interest is paid tax-free, meaning a saving of 20% tax for a basic-rate taxpayer.  

Stocks and shares Isas - tax advantages for higher and additional-rate taxpayers

Dividend income: If you earn dividends from your investments outside an Isa, you will pay tax of 32.5% if you're a higher-rate taxpayer and 37.5% if you're an additional-rate taxpayer - although as with basic-rate taxpayers, 10% of this is automatically deducted before you receive the dividends. Within a stocks and shares Isa, only the 10% deduction applies, regardless of your tax rate.

Capital gains: For higher and additional-rate taxpayers, the capital gains tax benefit is the same as for basic-rate taxpayers.

Interest: If you invest in interest-bearing investments, such as corporate bonds and gilts in your Stocks and shares Isa, interest is paid tax-free, meaning a saving of 40% for a higher rate taxpayer and a saving of 45% for an additional rate taxpayer.

Find out more: Tax on savings and investments - the comprehensive Which? guide

Charges for investing in a stocks and shares Isa

The costs of investing within a stocks and shares Isa will vary, depending on what you invest in and which provider you use, but charges aren't usually any higher than those you'd pay if you invested outside an Isa.

Many investors who are happy to make their own investment decisions without advice opt to use a fund supermarket for their stocks and shares Isa investments. These services, which allow you to access a vast range of investments, levy either an annual percentage charge based on the value of your investments or a fixed fee in pounds and pence.

Some of the investments that you might place into a stocks and shares Isa, such as unit trusts and Oeics, also come with ongoing charges.

Find out more: Fund supermarket reviews - we have reviewed the major players in this market, including unique customer satisfaction scores based on the views of Which? members

Transferring between stocks and shares Isa providers 

You are able to transfer your previous years' cash Isas into stocks and shares Isas without affecting your current year's Isa allowance. You can also transfer your current year's cash Isa to a stocks and shares Isa, provided you transfer the whole amount.

If you already have a stocks and shares Isa and want to transfer it to a new provider, or convert it to a cash Isa, you can do so. You will need to contact your new provider and complete a transfer form.

Find out more: Stocks and shares Isa transfers - how to move your Isa to a new provider

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