Last–minute ISA

1 April 2010
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April: lighter evenings, warmer weather (hopefully), Easter holidays, chocolate eggs and hot cross buns. In the words of Julie Andrews ‘these are a few of my favourite things’. The beginning of April also sees the end of the current tax year.  So for those of us who still haven’t made use of our ISA allowance, the first few days of April are a desperate scramble to find a suitable ISA. Julie Andrews didn’t sing anything about that.

‘Sort ISA’ has been on my to do list for… oh I don’t know maybe a year or so?  I’d done the research though and I knew which one I wanted: Santander’s variable rate ISA. It currently offers a rate of 3.5% and this rate is guaranteed for the first year as the minimum rate of interest. Given the rate can only get better it makes sense to put my money in this ISA for the next year as I have easier access to my money than with a fixed rate deal. I can put in up to £5,100 next year into the same ISA and there’s even the chance of the interest rate increasing.

Despite all this the effort of going to a branch – you can’t open this ISA online, was nearly enough to deter me. Even on my walk to the nearest branch two days ago I almost changed my mind because the sun had come out and I thought it would be nice to read my book outdoors. (Remember it is one of my favourite things). But I kept telling myself that for sacrificing one lunchtime I would be rewarded with £126 interest – and more if I topped up next years’ limit too after April 5.

Two days ago I finally ventured to Santander but I forgot my chequebook. The next day there was a two–hour wait over lunchtime. The woman on the help desk informed me that I couldn’t book an appointment and come back and that even if I came first thing tomorrow morning I might still have to wait a long time. It was as if the ISA gods were conspiring against me becoming a saver.

The woman also reminded me that, given I had to pay a cheque in, if I didn’t get my ISA sorted by lunchtime on April 1, I wouldn’t be able to use my allowance for the 2009/10 tax year. I’m sure she has had to deal with irritatingly haphazard people pitching up all week asking to open an ISA but I didn’t appreciate her teacher tone. Still it riled me enough to make sure that I got up extra early this morning and arrived at Santander, Bishopsgate at 8.15am ready to open my ISA.

A different, friendlier, lady on the help desk asked me for my name and told me I’d have to wait a little while to be seen. “Have you got ID, your NI number and cheque?” she asked. “Yes!” I answered a little too enthusiastically for first thing in the morning. “I put Mr by your name!” she laughed. Apparently this week she has seen so many men sorting out their ISAs, it was automatic to preface my name with Mr. “They usually leave it to the last minute,” she chirped. I cringed.

After a twenty or so minute wait I was called in to go through some simple details with Debbie. It wasn’t even 9am but Debbie was more than a little jaded at yet another ISA application. “It’s been non–stop. Apparently the ISA was plugged on GMTV this week too, which explains why so many people are still coming in.” She took my details so I didn’t even have to fill in a form, all I had to do was write the cheque. There was some slight embarrassment when Debbie asked for my occupation. I could have just answered “journalist” but for some reason (guilt/sense of relief) I felt compelled to tell her that I was a personal finance journalist. “You should know better!” I know Debbie, I know.

Despite my job title – or perhaps in light of my tardy application, Debbie still went through the product details to make sure everything was clear. She also warned me that in a year’s time the rate would drop considerably and that I should review my ISA then. Duly noted. Fifteen pain–free minutes later I had an ISA.

For my friends and family who know me and my lack of organisational skills, one final caveat should be added: although today’s date, April 1 is traditionally a day for practical jokes and tricks, this blog is no April Fool.