Best stocks & shares Isas: Pick the right DIY investment platform

The rise of DIY investing delivered a revolution in buying shares, investment trusts and funds – offering investors huge savings through online brokers.

A website, smartphone or app nowadays makes it easy to invest in a stocks and shares Isa, self invested personal pension, or standard trading account online and start putting your money to work, without the need for a stockbroker or financial adviser.  

But picking the right DIY platform is crucial and the array of different options has left many investors scratching their heads.

We explain how to decide on a DIY investment platform to invest in the full range of options: from shares, funds and investment trusts, to ETFs and direct retail corporate bonds.  

Check the table for the brief details and read our full round-up of each platform’s features and who they could be good for below.

Admin charge Charges notes Fund dealing Standard share, trust, ETF dealing Regular investing Dividend reinvestment
AJ Bell YouInvest 0.25%  Max £3.50 per month for shares, trusts, ETFs.  £10 for Sipps. £1.50 £9.95 £1.50 1% (Min £1.50, max £9.95)  More details
Barclays Smart Investor 0.2% on funds, 0.1% on other investments  Min monthly fee £4, max £125   £3  £6  £1  Free  More Details 
Charles Stanley Direct** 0.25%  Platform charge waived on shares if one trade in that month. Annual min £24 and max of £240 on shares. Free £11.50 n/a n/a More details
Fidelity 0.35% on funds £45 flat fee up to £7,500. Max £45 per year for trusts and ETFs (Some shares) Free £10 Free funds £1.50 shares, trusts ETFs £1.50 More details
Hargreaves Lansdown 0.45% Capped at £45 for shares, trusts, ETFs Free £11.95 £1.50 1% (£1 min, £10 max) More details
IG  £96 (£24 per quarter, waived if three trades in period or £15,000-plus in Smart Portfolio) Shares, ETFs and trusts only (No funds)  n/a  £8 or £3 if three trades made in previous month n/a n/a  More details
Interactive Investor * £119.88 for standard account / £9.99 per month £7.99 per month back in trading credit lasting 90 days  £7.99 £7.99 Free £0.99 More details
iWeb £100 one-off £5 £5 n/a 2%, max £5 More details
Tilney Bestinvest 0.40% n/a Free £7.50 n/a n/a More details
Vanguard  0.15%  No fee above £250k (£365 cap)
Only Vanguard funds
Free  Free only Vanguard ETFs  Free  n/a  More details 
(Source: Jan 2021 Admin charges quoted annually, may be collected monthly or quarterly)

Why does an Isa or investing platform matter?

Not so long ago, investing typically required a stockbroker or financial adviser and the willingness to hand over a big chunk of commission. 

Now armed with a computer – or just a smartphone – investors can use a DIY investing platform or online broker and the wealth of research at their fingertips to hopefully build their fortune.

The right Isa wrapper or investing account has the power to boost your investments, helping you to build a portfolio and limiting how your hard-won returns are eaten into by fees.

DIY investing platforms act as a place to buy, sell and hold all your investments and a tax-efficient wrapper around them if you choose to invest in an Isa.

When weighing up the right one for you, it’s important to to look at the service that it offers, along with administration charges and dealing fees, plus any other extra costs.

We highlight Isa and non-Isa charges, but don’t forget that investing in an Isa makes sense, as it should protect your hopefully growing investments from as much tax as possible.

We’ve busted the charges of what we consider some of the best (and cheapest) DIY investing platforms, including different fees for buying shares, funds, investment trusts and ETFs. We would advise doing your own research and considering the points below before you choose.

Investing can be as easy as picking up your phone and using it to buy or sell funds or shares - and that's far cheaper than when it involved calling your stock broker

Investing can be as easy as picking up your phone and using it to buy or sell funds or shares – and that’s far cheaper than when it involved calling your stock broker

Flat fee vs percentage charge 

DIY investing platform prices can be chiefly be split into two camps. Some charge a flat administration charge, while others charge a percentage of investors’ holdings.

The former tend to always charge for buying and selling investment funds, while the latter may bundle this cost in and offer free fund dealing.

All charge for buying and selling shares, investment trusts and other products that are not funds, but the dealing fees vary from as low as £5 to about £12.

If you are a buy and hold investor putting away a large sum of money then you may benefit from a flat fee rather than percentage-based charging, which can mount up to a hefty amount. 

But if you plan on buying and selling regularly watch our for dealing charges, as these can also add up substantially and easily erode the gain from a flat fee. Lower charges for regular monthly investing can substantially cut costs. 


How we choose the best DIY investing platforms 

We have focused on two vital aspects, cost and quality. This is not a collection of all of the absolute cheapest platforms, these are some we think stand out and that also compete keenly on price.

All discount initial fund charges down to zero in most cases. Some funds can still carry an initial charge though – platforms should provide you with a list to check.

We have picked DIY Isa platforms to suit different investors and focus on those that offer a choice of investments – not just funds. Each one will be better for some investors than others and you should choose depending on your needs. Remember there are plenty of others available too.

This list is in no particular order.

Hargreaves Lansdown is the big gun of DIY investing. The website is packed with information from its advisers and analysts, the shares and fund data is comprehensive and there is a very handy app.

Investors pay a 0.45 per cent fee on their total fund investments up to £250,000; 0.25 per cent to £1m, 0.1 per cent to £2m and nothing above that. Shares and investment trusts also incur a 0.45 per cent charge on the entire holding, capped at £45.

Hargreaves has negotiated some reduced annual management charges from fund managers.

Fund dealing is free. Share, investment trust, corporate bond and ETF dealing costs £11.95 per trade. If you trade more than 10 times per month share-dealing costs step down. Regular monthly share and some investment trust investing is £1.50, dividend reinvesting is 1 per cent, with a £1 minimum charge and £10 maximum.

Hargreaves has its very influential Wealth 50, a range of Master Portfolios, and its Portfolio+ service to make investing progressively easier and more hands off

Hargreaves Lansdown recently announced it would remove exit fees and cut a number of its costs. 

Standard non-Isa dealing: Hargreaves’ non-Isa Vantage account carries the same charges except for removing the fee for holding shares and trusts.

Who is it good for? Those looking for an advice-rich service that is price-competitive but not the cheapest around. It does come with lots of bells and whistles, including a very good app and portfolios for easy investing

Our tests found Hargreaves platform easy and intuitive to use and its newly revised app is good. 

It offers a proven popular service  weighted towards funds but with access to investment trusts, ETFs, shares and the corporate bond market under one roof. [More details on Hargeaves Lansdown]

Interactive Investor

Interactive Investor has monthly fee plans, ranging from £9.99 to £19.99 per month. 

There are three plans that can be chosen according to your investment style: Investor, charging £9.99 a month, Funds Fan charging £13.99 a month, and Super Investor charging £19.99 a month.

With each plan you get £7.99 of trading credit per month, with different charges to buy or sell applying. The trading credit lasts for 90 days.

In the Investor plan, trades in UK shares, funds and investment trusts and US shares are charged at £7.99 each.

For funds fan investors, the same costs apply but trades in funds and investment trusts are charged at £3.99 each.

In the Super Investor plan, trades in UK shares and funds and investment trusts are £3.99 each and £4.99 for US shares.

Trading in other international shares is £19.99 for the Investor and Funds Fan plans and £9.99 for the Super Investor plan. Dividend reinvestment is just 99p for all plans and regular investment is now free.

Sipp investors pay an extra £10 per month on all plans.

Who is it good for? Choose the standard option under Interactive Investor’s charging structure and you will pay £119.88 per year and get back £95.88 in trading credits – but you must spend them within 90 days.

The cost of buying and selling UK investments at £7.99 isn’t bad, although fund investing costs more than some rivals. Free regular investing is a winner.

In This is Money’s view, Interactive Investor’s charging plan makes it a top contender among investing platforms. Service is good and the fees are keen.

Interactive Investor is a good option for those with larger portfolios who would find percentage-based charges elsewhere mounting up. Someone with £100,000 in funds at Interactive Investor would pay £119.88 per year, or just £24 if they used all their trading credit. At Hargreaves Lansdown, with a 0.45 per cent annual fee, they would pay £450. 

Our tests show II to be easy to use, with useful functions such as excel portfolio downloads, and an app that has improved greatly in recent times.

[More details on Interactive Investor]

Five things to consider when picking an investing platform 

1. Cheapest is not always best: You need to think about a combination of price and service – it is worth paying for quality but make sure you are actually getting that.

2. What will you invest in: Different dealing fees for shares, investment trusts and funds mean you need to think about how you will invest and tailor your choice accordingly.

3. Tools and information: What level of useful portfolio building tools and information does a platform offer?

4. Overall charges: Don’t just look at the admin fee or dealing charges. You need to combine both to get a true cost, along with costs such as dividend reinvestment and regular dealing charges. A low admin fee might look good but if you are an active investor who buys and sells a lot, then dealing charges will soon rack up and send costs soaring.

5. Extra fees: Check for regular monthly investing discounts, dividend reinvestment fees, transfer charges and other elements  


Fidelity is one of the big investing names and has a platform packed with useful information, guides, market commentary and videos.

Share dealing has a flat £10 fee and this charge also applies to investment trusts and ETFs. 

Holding investment funds carries a 0.35 per cent charge up to £250,000 and 0.20 per cent above that and 0 per cent above £1million.

However, if you are investing small amounts the charging structure is slightly different. Fidelity charges a flat £45 on amounts up to £7,500 before the 0.35 per cent rate kicks in.

There are no fund dealing charges for buying and selling.  

Who is it good for? Fidelity offers very useful service. It is one of the big guns, has model portfolios, tools to help you decide how to invest and a wealth of information on offer. 

Our tests found the main site easy to read and navigate, with lots of helpful information. [More details on Fidelity] 

AJ Bell Youinvest has a 0.25 per cent annual administration charge. 

Only one live Isa at a time

Remember, you can only pay new money into one Isa wrapper each year, but you can keep an old tax year’s Isa wrapper open (with no new payments into it) and open a new tax year one, or transfer all your holdings onto the same platform. Beware exit charges typically apply.

For non-fund holdings in Isas, such as investment trusts, shares and ETFs, this is capped at £3.50 per month. In a Sipp the cap is £10 per quarter.

For fund holdings it steps down to 0.1 per cent from £250,000 to £1million, 0.05 per cent to £2million and then nothing above that. 

Fund dealing costs £1.50. Share, ETF and investment trust dealing is £9.95 – or £4.95 if you have traded ten times in the previous month.

Regular investing costs £1.50 into funds, FTSE 350 shares and a limited range of investment trusts.

Who is it good for? Youinvest scores with a low percentage admin charge that is also capped for shares, trusts and ETFs. It does have fund dealing charges, but at just £1.50 these are competitive.

There is cost effective regular monthly investing in funds, shares and selected investment trusts. There is no cheap dividend reinvestment.

Our tests show AJ Bell Youinvest to be simple to use and while it may not look as flashy as some rivals, it competes well on cost.

 [More details on Youinvest]

The Share Centre – Self-Select Isa 

The Share Centre has been removed from this article after it was bought by Interactive Investor and no longer takes on new customers. 

iWeb run by Halifax sharedealing offers a competitively priced service. Its stocks and shares Isa offers the chance to invest across shares, investment trusts, funds and ETFs, with a £100 one-off set-up charge but then no admin charge beyond that.

It costs just £5 to buy or sell funds, shares, investment trusts or ETFs. Dividend reinvestment is 2% with a £5 maximum charge.

Standard non-Isa dealing:  Charges are the same

Who is it good for?  iWeb is keenly priced for those looking to regularly buy investment trusts, shares or ETFs thanks to its low £5 dealing fee but the set-up fee of just £25 has now gone up to £100. Bear in mind that you do need to pay for fund-dealing here. [More details on iWeb]

Bestinvest Isa and standard investors pay annual  charge of 0.40 per cent a year on their portfolios up to £250,000, and 0.2 per cent above that to £1million. No extra charges are added above £1m.

Bestinvest has no dealing charges for funds and standard share and investment trust dealing is decent value £7.50.

There are no reduced regular monthly investing charges for shares and trusts, nor is there cheap dividend reinvesting.

In an unusual step those who invest through a Sipp, as self invested personal pensions are known, see their charges cut to 0.3 per cent and 0.2 per cent, respectively.

BestInvest offers a selection of model portfolio funds, rated in an investing risk-style. 

Standard non-Isa dealing: Charges are the same.

Who is it good for? BestInvest is a good option for fund investors looking to take advantage of its research and lack of dealing charges.

Those buying shares, investment trusts and ETFs benefit from a £7.50 dealing fee, which is lower than most. The ready-made portfolios offer an easy hands-off route into investing at a reasonable cost.

It’s also an interesting offer if you have a small Sipp and want to manage all your investments under one roof, as the Sipp charge is competitive. [More details on BestInvest].

The broker’s online platform Charles Stanley Direct platform has a 0.35 per cent annual charge on fund holdings, above £250,000 of fund holdings charges begin to step down. 

There is also a 0.25 per cent charge on investment trust or share holdings, with a minimum of £24 and maximum of £240 per year. This is removed monthly if you trade at least once in that month.

A Sipp costs £100 plus VAT per year but this fee is removed if you have more than £30,000 across all the broker’s online platform services. 

Fund dealing is free, but investment trust and share dealing will cost £11.50 and there is no regular investing option for this.

Investors holding individual bonds and overseas shares must pay £30 per year per holding.

Who is it good for? Active fund investors get a good deal at Charles Stanley with a low annual fee and no buying or selling charges. This is also a decent Sipp option for those with more than £30,000, who can then avoid the extra fee for pensions.

Those buying and holding investment trusts and shares can also do well if they trade each month and lose the platform fee, but that needs to be weighed up against £11.50 dealing charges adding up and the lack of a cut-price regular monthly investing option.[More details on Charles Stanley Direct]

…Or for cheap investing with less choice 

US giant Vanguard has set up a UK investing platform but you can only buy its funds. 

It is cheap with a 0.15% per year fee and has no costs for buying and selling. You can use this to buy Vanguard’s simple and cheap passive funds, its active range, or its all in one LifeStrategy funds that invest in shares and bonds around the world.

Who is it good for? If you are looking for a simple and low cost investment platform, Vanguard is a good choice. You only get its funds but the firm’s trackers and ETFs are among the best in the business – this is a particularly good option for those looking to start out with LifeStrategy funds.

Some final thoughts on picking an investing platform 

Before you make a final decision, think about the points above on picking the best platform, what you want to invest in: funds, ETFs, investment trusts etc, and how you want to do so: lump sum, buy-and-hold, regular investing or trading.

Don’t forget that there is a delicate balancing act between administration fees and dealing charges.

Do your own research, sit down and work out how the DIY investing platforms you favour compare against each other. This homework will be worth it in the long run.

  • If you think you have a better investing DIY investing platform suggestion please tell us in reader comments below


Why invest through an Isa

Investing in an Isa is one of the few opportunities we have for making money tax-free.

Each tax year investors get an Isa allowance – this currently £20,000.

The reason for investing in an Isa is its tax-friendly nature, with the added bonus that you don’t need to worry about a tax return or declaring gains.

Any gains within an Isa are free from capital gains tax. Everyone has a CGT allowance of £12,300 per year (2020 to 2021) and many may feel they are unlikely to ever make more than this in profit each year from selling their assets.

However, those who invest consistently over time may one day be surprised at how much those investments are worth and holding them in a tax-free wrapper makes sense.

Income from investments is also treated in a tax-friendly way in an Isa. The tax-free dividend allowance has been cut from £5,000 to £2,000 and beyond that rates of 7.5 per cent at basic rate and 32.5 per cent for higher rate taxpayers and 38.1 per cent for additional rate taxpayers apply.

However, if you hold shares, investment trusts or a fund in an Isa there is no tax to pay on dividend income. 

While you may be nowhere near using all of the £2,000 dividend allowance now, you might get there one day, so putting your investments in a tax-free wrapper is a sound tactic.

Isa investing also means you don’t have to fill in dividend income on a self-assessment form and removes the headache of tax returns for any capital gains.

It used to be that investing in an Isa was not always worthwhile, as charges were higher. In most cases charges are now exactly the same as for normal investing, so using an investing Isa makes sense.

And be warned, the Chancellor is rumoured to be planning a raid on capital gains to pay the coronavirus crisis bill. 




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