Stocks & Shares ISA advantages and disadvantages

Using a stocks and shares ISA to invest in the UK stock market has been a popular strategy over the years. Among the advantages of an ISA are its tax efficiency, flexibility and low costs compared to other forms of investment accounts.


Advantages


Tax efficiency of a stocks and shares ISA

A stocks and shares ISA could be a more tax-efficient means of investing in the UK stock market compared to a share dealing account. There is no income tax, capital gains tax or dividend tax to pay on amounts invested through an ISA.

This is in contrast to a share dealing account, where an investor is liable to pay such taxes after their annual allowances have been used up. Over time, this could lead to higher net returns from investing in shares via an ISA that ultimately produces a larger lump sum for retirement.

Of course, tax laws can change. Therefore, there is never any guarantee that a stocks and shares ISA will offer the chance to earn returns that are higher on a net basis than a share dealing account. However, for now, an ISA seems to be a means of potentially reducing a tax bill.

The flexibility of an ISA

A stocks and shares ISA could offer greater flexibility versus other types of pensions, such as a SIPP or occupational pension scheme. Amounts invested in the UK stock market through an ISA can be withdrawn at any time without penalty. This is not the case for a SIPP or a workplace pension, which can only currently be drawn from age 55.

This point could be relevant for anyone who may need access to their pension before the age of 55. An ISA may be used to help to pay for unexpected costs, or could even act as a supplementary income before full retirement commences.

Low costs

A stocks and shares ISA may not have charges that are significantly different from a standard share dealing account. The cost to buy and sell shares when investing in the UK stock market may not be all that different. Meanwhile, administration fees can be relatively low among some providers – particularly given the amount of tax savings that ISAs can offer.

An ISA’s charges may be lower than those of a SIPP. This could make them more attractive for smaller investors, or those individuals who are concerned about the impact of greater charges on their portfolio valuation.

As ever, some ISA providers will be cheaper than others. Therefore, it is worth shopping around to find the most attractive deal that suits an individual’s own personal circumstances.

Further, a stocks and shares ISA is by no means perfect – it has its drawbacks.

Here is an article that focuses on three negatives of using an ISA to plan for retirement.


Disadvantages


ISAs are by no means perfect. Using them to invest in shares carries far greater risks than other forms of ISA, such as a cash ISA. Furthermore, unlike an occupational pension scheme, they do not include employer contributions. Their tax specifics may also not be viewed as positively as those of a SIPP or occupational pension schemes by some investors.

Tax disadvantages of a stocks and shares ISA

Amounts invested in a stocks and shares ISA are made after tax has been paid. This is different than for other types of pensions, such as a SIPP or a workplace pension. Their contributions are made before tax is paid.

This would normally even itself out in the long run because no tax is charged on withdrawals from an ISA, whereas it is on drawings from a SIPP or workplace scheme. However, there is a 25% tax-free withdrawal available on SIPPs and workplace pension schemes. Therefore, it may be the case that an ISA is not as tax efficient as other types of pensions, depending on an individual’s own circumstances.

Of course, no tax is paid on any amounts while they are invested in a stocks and shares ISA. This is the same as other types of pensions, such as a SIPP or occupational scheme.

No employer contributions

The introduction of auto enrollment workplace pensions means that employers are required to contribute 3% of an employee’s annual salary to their pension in return for a 5% employee contribution. In some instances, an employer may be willing to pay this into a SIPP instead of an occupational scheme.

Contributions to a stocks and shares ISA are made by an individual, rather than an employer. Therefore, for some people, it may be more logical to make a 5% salary contribution to their occupational pension scheme instead of paying that money into an ISA. This would enable them to benefit from a 3% employer contribution.

While the lack of an employer contribution is not necessarily a weakness on the part of a stocks and shares ISA, it is nevertheless worth considering for employees who are looking at their available pension options.

Risks versus a cash ISA

The risks of investing in the UK stock market are significantly higher than holding cash. Therefore, by its very nature, a stocks and shares ISA is likely to be a far riskier product than a cash ISA. This may help to explain why the latter has historically been more popular in terms of yearly subscriptions than the former.

Of course, cash returns are low at the moment due to low interest rates. This may mean the potential rewards of an investment in shares are also higher than having a cash ISA.