Last-minute dash: how to beat the ISA

Many investment houses are waiting till the midnight hour.
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The Independent Online

There are four days until the end of the tax year, so the mad dash to use up that individual savings account (ISA) allowance is on. But even though some fund managers will accept applications up until midnight on Wednesday, it's best to get your form in as soon as possible.

"Every year we make the point that people shouldn't leave things until the last minute, but it's human nature to do so, and every year people do," says Jason Hollands, deputy managing director of independent financial adviser Best Investment.

"However, having an annual allowance is a good discipline and as the annual rush shows, people will invest even if they leave it late. Those who leave it too late, or who only just manage to get their applications in on time, will hopefully realise the benefits of sorting out their investments at the beginning rather than the end of the tax year."

Everyone can invest up to £7,000 tax-free in either a maxi stocks and shares ISA or up to £3,000 in a mini cash ISA, £3,000 in a mini stocks and shares ISA and £1,000 in a mini insurance ISA. You cannot invest in a mini and a maxi ISA in the same tax year.

Many last-minute investors will have to deliver their applications by hand or apply online. To enable them to do this, some investment houses have arranged extra collection points where applications can be delivered. Alliance & Leicester is keeping selected branches open until midnight, and some Virgin Megastores will be open until 9pm. Fidelity is offering free internet time at 20 cyber cafés nationwide so investors can apply online.

People relying on the post need to make sure their forms arrive by first post on Wednesday. To be safe, you should pop the form in the post tomorrow, in one of your own envelopes with a stamp on it, rather than using one of the pre-paid envelopes provided.

"Last year we had hundreds of disappointed investors who relied on pre-paid envelopes," says Richard Royds, managing director of Mercury Asset Management. "For some reason stamps work better, despite the fact that our pre-paid envelopes are supposed to go first class. Investors would be well advised to post applications on Monday as the post goes completely mad in the City at the end of the financial year."

If you are intending to invest in an ISA before Thursday, detailed advice may not be easy to obtain as financial advisers may not have time to collate all the details they need. Mr Hollands warns that some investors may find their choice depends on which managers are still open. If you are after an investment trust, you are too late as, unlike unit trusts, successful applications must be totally cleared before the end of the tax year.

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