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How to find the best stocks and shares Isa

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

In this article
How do I find the best stocks and shares Isa? Have you used up your Isa allowance? Who are the best stocks and shares Isa providers? Who are the cheapest stocks and shares Isa providers?
How do I build a high-performing stocks and shares Isa? How do I review my stocks and shares Isa? Can I transfer an existing stocks and shares Isa?

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 2022-23 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?

We reviewed leading stocks and shares providers including AJ Bell, Charles StanleyHalifax, Hargreaves LansdownInteractive Investor, Vanguard and more.

Which? members can exclusively read the results of our unique customer satisfaction survey, including Which? Recommended Providers and individual platform reviews.

Members can log in to read our reviews. If you're not already a member, join Which? to get full access to these results and all our reviews.

 

What makes a Which? Recommended Provider (WRP)?

 

WRP status is currently reserved for DIY investment platforms.

That means the platform must allow you to pick your own investments from an extensive list, rather than it picking for you, or offering you only a choice of a couple of portfolios.

The platform must have received at least a 70% customer rating and not received scores of two stars or below on any of the underlying criteria, such as customer service, investment information or the quality of its online tools. 

Costs are a guaranteed drag on your investment portfolio, so our WRPs must not be in the top four platforms for charges, based on any fund buying scenario 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 platforms 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.

Which? members can exclusively read our detailed comparison of leading investment platform costs, with suitability ratings for eight different sizes of portfolio.

Members can log in to see our comparison. If you're not already a member, join Which? to get full access to these results and all our reviews.

 

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 or using a 'do-it-for-me' investment platform.

 

Lump sum or regular contributions?

 

Investing a lump sum in one go will get your money working for 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?

 

You could pick out individual company shares yourself, but 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 portfolio funds, which invest in other funds.

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

 

Fund costs

 

If you're buying investment funds or trusts, keep an eye on fund manager 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 given 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 being the sensible way to reassess and make sure your investments haven't strayed too far from your desired asset allocation, then 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. Fill out a transfer form with your new investment platform and it will do the hard work for you.

Don't be tempted to sell and move the investments yourself, as they will lose their tax-free Isa status.

There’s no limit on the number of Isas you can transfer each tax year, but you can only open one type of Isa each tax year. This effectively limits you to switching to a new stocks and shares Isa provider once in any tax year.

Transferring can take a few weeks, leaving you unable to change your investments. If you've got significant holdings in particularly firms, avoid switches immediately before those firms' financial results release dates.

A couple of platforms still charge exit fees if you transfer out, so make sure the move will save you money.

 

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