Frenzy to buy PEPs and Tessas could be `unwise'

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The Independent Online
BANKS, BUILDING societies and record shops will be open this Bank Holiday weekend to deal with the rush of last-minute customers hoping to beat the deadline of midnight on Monday for buying the tax- advantageous savings products, Tessas and PEPs.

But City analysts are warning savers not to make any rash decisions, as the replacement product, the individual saving account (ISA) may offer as good a deal.

Halifax is to open 100 branches, while Nationwide is opening 16 of its bigger branches to process applications. Virgin Direct is offering a free courier service for customers up to 8pm on Sunday, and forms can also be obtained at a number of Virgin Megastores. Gartmore, the investment arm of NatWest, is keeping its offices open until midnight to handle PEP applications, while Fidelity, the US investment giant, is arranging pick- up points for PEPs around the country.

Save & Prosper is keeping its main administration centre in Romford open until midnight on Easter Monday to cope with the "massive" number of applications.

Such has been the demand for the personal equity plans that some City observers are worried that the extra money flooding in to the stock market will push up share prices artificially.

Over the past week, as PEP money flooded in at four times the normal rate, the FTSE 100 index jumped by 5.2 per cent.

The last-minute rush has been prompted by fears that the end of PEPs and Tessas (tax-exempt special savings account) would spell the loss of valuable tax incentives to save. The products together have attracted over pounds 100bn of savings since their launch in 1991. But the ISA, coming on-stream on Tuesday, will offer tax breaks that are at least as generous. Investment advisers are worried that savers are opening PEPs and Tessas because of these fears, rather than because it is in their best interests to do so.

Geoff Kangley, of the Sheffield-based firm Kangley & Co, said: "The customers are almost taking out PEPs against my advice. The market is too high right now to invest in equities. I think it's because there is a lot of scepticism about the Government's plans for ISAs and whether they will work. It's almost as if they're doing to spite the government.

Roddy Kohn, of advisers Kohn Cougar, said: "The concern is that many of the buyers are basic-rate taxpayers who are being told to take out a PEP because if they don't they'll have missed their last chance.

"But ISAs have a better spread of investments than PEPs - you can invest anywhere in the world. And the tax-free limit for ISAs is pounds 7,000 against pounds 6,000 for PEPs.

"There is no reason for a last-minute rush, and too many customers are making rash decisions."