Simon Read: Just two days remaining to use your tax allowances

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I'm not a fan of publicity stunts in general because often the PR puff is all there is. But there was some substance behind a stunt from financial advisers Hargreaves Lansdown this week. Staff from the Bristol-based company travelled up to the City of London on Wednesday dressed as sandwich-board men. Their boards featured a simple message: 'The end of the tax year is nigh'. Tax is not an issue that many folk are happy to discuss. They find the system complicated and the rules annoying with HM Revenue and Customs seeming to demand more money from us every year. But it's for that very reason that everyone should take note of Hargreaves Lansdown's warning.

The end of the tax year - as you should know – falls on Monday. If you don't use your allowances by midnight on Monday, you lose them, effectively turn your back on extra cash. Or, to put it another way, by doing nothing, you could be giving more money to the Government than you need.

In the 2009-10 tax year, £9bn will be unnecessarily handed to the Treasury simply through people not making the most of tax breaks, according to That massive sum includes £4bn in unclaimed tax credits and £2bn lost through the payment of inheritance tax that people needn't have paid out. It's too late to do anything about that but you can still act to save some of the current year's tax allowances.

If you're one of the 5.9 million adults who have a savings or deposit account but no Isa, then you still have a few hours to do something about it. Or if you're one of the 1.5 million people who has shares outside an Isa, you may still have time to find a tax shelter for some of them. The savings are not to be sneezed at. Unbiased says Isa inertia will cost us £35m in unnecessary tax payments this year.

But you may have to search to find a home for tax-free savings or investments this weekend. Because Monday is a bank holiday, many financial firms will be closed for business. It means you may have to search round the internet to find a suitable firm or race round the high street to find a bank or building society still prepared to accept your cash.

I heard an anecdotal tale of a customer in a building society branch this week asking to open an Isa only to be told to "come back next week as the person who does that is away". If the customer has waited until next week, they will have lost this year's allowance. Don't make the same mistake. Act now to save tax. And make a mental note to sort out next year's allowances soon. You could start on Tuesday.

*There was good news from Saga this week when it removed the international usage fee from its Platinum credit card. Only a tiny handful of card companies don't make an additional charge when you use your card abroad so it's good to add another name to the list, although only the over-50s will benefit. The other firms that don't charge travellers for flashing their plastic overseas? The Post Office and Santander allow holidaymakers to use their card without fees across the world while Nationwide doesn't charge outside Europe. With holidays upon us, let's hope others follow.

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