Stocks and shares ISAs explained
Last updated on 6 April 2016
What are stocks and shares ISAs?
Stocks and shares ISAs are investment accounts which you can put certain types of investments in, to minimise the amount of tax you pay on any income or gains they make.
You can put unit trusts, open-ended investment companies (OEICs), investment trusts, corporate bonds and government bonds in a stocks and shares ISA.
You can also put individual shares in an ISA but you will need a self-select ISA for this. You can also put unit trusts, OEICs and so on in a self-select ISA. These ISAs are usually offered by stockbrokers.
Any gains and the income from a stocks and shares ISA are tax-free. So you don't have to pay income tax on any income, dividend tax on any dividends, or capital gains tax on any profits when you sell. Changes to the way dividends are taxed outside of ISAs make stocks and shares ISAs potentially more attractive for people with significant dividend income. Since April 2016 every individual has a £5,000 Dividend Allowance. That means the first £5,000 of dividends earned in a year is tax free. But any dividend income above £5,000 is taxed at 7.5% for basic-rate taxpayers, 32.5% for higher-rate taxpayers and 38.1% for additional-rate taxpayers.
Each tax year you have an annual ISA limit. In 2016-17 this is £15,240. You can choose how much of this you invest in a stocks and shares ISA and how much in a cash ISA. If you want, you can invest the whole lot in either a stocks and shares ISA or a cash ISA.
You must be 18 or over to invest in a stocks and shares ISA but you can invest in a cash ISA from age 16.
You have to pay the usual charges on any investments in a stocks and shares ISA but these are no more than if they were outside the ISA and may even be cheaper. Investment funds typically charge an annual management fee. With self-select ISAs, brokers may charge a set-up fee, an ongoing administration fee plus dealing charges when you buy or sell shares or a regular charge for using their platform (online software).
If you want financial advice about which ISA to choose or what investments to put in it, you will pay a separate charge for this direct to the adviser.
Where to buy
Stocks and shares ISAs are available from fund managers, stockbrokers and other financial services firms. You can either invest direct or through a third party such as a discount broker, fund supermarket or financial adviser.
Discount brokers. If you know what fund you want to invest in and don't need any advice, this is often the cheapest option. If you go direct to a fund manager it usually charges its standard annual management fee. A discount broker aims to negotiate reduced charges. Discounts vary so it's worth looking at several discount brokers' websites to see what deals they offer.
Fund supermarkets. These are a type of platform (online software) that let you invest in a range of funds inside one stocks and shares ISA. Many are used by discount brokers and offer discounts on the funds’ charges. No advice is offered so you need to know what you want to invest in.
Financial advisers. If you need advice a financial adviser can help, but expect to pay a fee. Some also offer their own ISAs.
You can transfer from one stocks and shares ISA to another whenever you want. If it's an old ISA you can transfer all or part of the value. If it's the current tax year's ISA you have to transfer everything you've paid in since the beginning of the tax year.
You can also transfer money invested in a stocks and shares ISA into a cash ISA.
Spouses and civil partners can inherit their partner’s ISAs and keep the tax benefits. This means that instead of the tax benefits being lost when you die, your partner will still have these if they inherit your ISAs.