Mar 11

Stocks and shares ISAs: how to pick the best

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Stocks and shares ISAs have the potential to make you a lot more money than cash ISAs in the long-term. Of course, it depends what you invest in, but if you do it right and, importantly, leave your money there for years, over time you should see good returns and pay less tax.


What is a stocks and shares ISA?

Stocks and shares ISAs refer to a number of different share-based investments which can be put inside an ISA ‘wrapper’ meaning that you don’t pay tax on any gains you make. From 6 April 2017 you are able to save up to £20,000 in a stocks and shares NISA, or you can put some of the £20,000in a cash ISA.

It is important to remember that ISAs are not the investments themselves; they are just the ‘wrappers’ that protect your savings from tax. 

So putting money in a stocks and shares ISA is just the same as putting money in any stock market investment (like a fund, or shares in an individual company) but you ‘wrap’ it in a tax-saving ‘bag’ – so that when your investment grows you don’t lose any of it in tax payments.

In fact, the ISA wrapper has two advantages; it protects you from paying Capital Gains tax on profits you make from share price increases, and enables all the tax you would pay on bonds to be reclaimed.


Why is a stocks and shares ISA better then a cash ISA?

Equities (shares) outperform cash deposits over the long term

In the 2010/2011 tax year, 12 million cash ISAs were opened, compared to 3.4 million shares ISAs. Despite this, recent figures from Virgin Money show that if you had put £5,100 into a cash ISA you would have seen returns of £145 (based on a rate of 2.85%).

In contrast, the same amount invested in a stocks and shares ISA would have reaped a return of £593 (based on the 11.62% annual return of the Virgin Index Tracking Trust Isa, which tracks the FTSE All Share) before charges – a massive £448 more!

However, getting the most out of the stock market is about being in it for the long haul 

The same Virgin figures show that if you had invested in the Virgin Index Trust in the four years to January 2011 you would have suffered a loss of 3.91%.

BUT, if you invested in that trust in January 2003, you would have seen an impressive return of 63.43%.

Should I have one?

As you need to tie your money up long-term to get the best from a stocks and shares ISA, you need to make sure that you already have a nice chunk of cash savings before you consider investing.

How much depends on your personal situation, but you really need the equivalent of three months salary (though ideally six months, plus a bit extra as a buffer) at the very least.

In stock market terms, long-term means 10 years or more – making these the kinds of investments you want to cash in much further down the line (perhaps for your retirement fund).

ISAs were brought in originally to boost our savings for our old age – and that’s why for a long time we were only allowed to put our full tax-free savings allowance into stocks and shares ISAs, as opposed to cash ISAs where you are limited to half the allowance (with ISAs, this is no longer the case). It’s an incentive to invest in equities which, longer term, offer a better return.


Which are the best?

Good question! All you have to go on with these types of investments is past performance (and perhaps your knowledge of  funds or companies you might want to invest in).

Also the type of investment you choose will depend upon your personal circumstances: your cash savings, your age, your career and your family situation to name a few.

Need a helping hand?

Investment ISAs for Dummies Guide is a great place to start for more information. It tells you everything you need to know before you begin and then how to get started.

Download yours here.

What else should I bear in mind?

With equities all you have to go on is how well the product has done in the past few years, how well the company has done generally and what the annual charges are (generally the lower the charges, the better the investment does long term). But none of those elements can tell you definitely which will perform the best this year, next year and in following years.

However, there are some types of equities investments that generally do well and are easy to invest in. Here is a run-down of the investments we think you should consider including:


Index-tracking funds

Index-tracking (tracker) funds are simple, cheap, easy to understand – and they work. You can find out a lot more about them in our article here, but basically they work by putting a small amount of your money into every single company in the index you are tracking.

So, for example, they might use the FTSE 100, the FTSE All Share index, or even one of the foreign stock indices like the DAX in Germany or the Dow Jones in America, and they will divide your money between every company in that index.

They work by computer, and because computers don’t need payment these funds are cheap. In fact it’s rare to find a tracker fund that charges more than 1% a year to manage your money, which is a good rate. Remember the lower the charges, generally, the more money you make because less is being taken out of your fund each year.

Tracker funds are also easy to invest in and often come ‘pre-wrapped’ in an ISA which makes them even easier to buy.


Exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

These are also quite cheap and effective. In fact, they work a bit like trackers and their charges are very low, usually less than 0.5%. Also, you don’t have to pay stamp duty on them. See our article about ETFs here for more information.

ETFs also come pre-wrapped in an NISA which makes it easier to buy them. To get an ETF, though, you need to go through a broker. We suggest TD Direct Investing as a cheap, online broker which is easy to join and use.


Managed funds

Some managed funds (that is funds that are actually ‘managed’ by real people rather than a computer) do well – sometimes very well. But the majority of them don’t. In fact about 85% of funds that are managed by the guys in the city under perform compared to the stock market. Not only that, but you are often charged a lot for the privilege of losing your money!

However, if you find a fund that has been well run by a really good fund manager, you can make great profits.  You can see how various funds have performed on the independent website Moneyspider which tracks them. Remember that even if a fund has performed well in the past, that doesn’t guarantee that it will continue to do so in the future. You will need to monitor it once a year or so to make sure that it is still worth investing in.

When you are choosing a managed fund remember that the annual fees are very important. Try to avoid ones with higher fees unless they have an exceptional track record. Also, there are some ‘star’ fund managers whose funds have consistently outperformed the stock market, and their funds are generally worth considering.


Individual shares

Entire libraries are filled with books about how to invest in shares. There are several different theories about how best to make money through shares, and some people spend a lifetime trying. Others, like multi-billionaire Warren Buffett, spend a lifetime amassing a fortune through shares.

Essentially, if you would like to invest in individual companies rather than just funds, you will need to spend some time studying the market, studying books on investment and keeping an eye on the companies you put money into. In other words, it’s not an easy ride.

If you just buy shares in a company because your friend says it’s good or a bloke down the pub gave you a tip off you are likely to lose your money. People who consistently make money by investing in individual companies are those who work at it and follow investing rules rather than their own whims.

So if you want to look into this, get reading and studying. We like the book The Naked Trader by successful investor Robbie Burns. He also recommends other works on investing in the book. Also check out investment websites such as the The Motley Fool and Interactive Investor.

If you do the work and decide on a company you want to buy into, you will need to make the transaction through a stockbroker. Happily, that doesn’t have to cost you much now that there are online stockbrokers that anyone can use. Just sign up to one, like TD Direct Investing, and you can pay as little as £8.95 per trade.

Click here to check out our selection of free eBooks and brochures for more useful information


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Ian Clements
Ian Clements

I am about to get a windfall pot of money (>£150K) and I wish to invest part of this regularly into a stocks and shares ISA.

I am attracted to either the HSBC FTSE 100 Index tracker or the iShare FTSE 100 ETF, because both have low charges and a good reputation.

Any guidance as to which one is the better please? and how I would go about actually doing the investing?


Please advise, I just sold a piece of artwork for 1000 pounds and want to invest the money, rather than putting it into my savings account. I’m in my 50’s, working part-time, and hoping to make more money from selling my art. I am happy to invest it for a year and see what happens…just want the best option and not sure that the ISA route is the answer. HELP!


I don’t think a stocks/share ISA would be a good idea
1 year is far too short a time for this. Usually think of minimum 3-5 years for these
You would be better putting the money in a cash ISA
Hope that’s useful

stock picking
stock picking

If you are new to investing go for the option that is likely to give you the best return relative to risk cheaply. In my opinion has to be the etf.

Aaron Smith
Aaron Smith

Thank you for the information. By the given information we got an over view about invest on shares.


I like this site. you people had done a fantastic job just keep it up.

Steven Parker
Steven Parker

HI Jasmine and Team, Could you please assist me in a confusing situation i find myself in. As i am on a low income of only around £15.000 per annum from three part time jobs, my time to gather enough savings before i retire will soon be upon me.This year i reach50 and have no savings to speak of.As i live alone the prospect of me not having sufficient funds for when i retire is troubling me. At the moment i have a supperannuation pension from a previous county council job which is aroud £300 per month. As my income… Read more »


Hello Steven, This is a tough situation for you. Firstly, if possible, have a go at getting some better-paid work. Easy to say I know, but sometimes we keep on with certain work because we’ve got it and it’s too much hassle to look for better stuff. Give it another go when you have a moment, you never know what’s possible. I don’t like the idea of you dipping into the pension income you’re already getting. I was going to suggest that you save nothing because that would mean you would qualify for more State benefits when you retire. However,… Read more »


Interesting reading I too in a similar position !!
Bet were not alone in this thinking , what are the answers ? we need to live today , how can we worry about the long term future when the coming years are going to be a struggle , with minimum wages + fewer jobs , surviving today is more important than when were old !!

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