The deadline for salting away money in tax-efficient individual savings accounts is fast approaching.

But if you’ve been procrastinating this tax season, all is not lost. Many Isa providers are catering to last-minute investors by offering to process Isa applications upuntil midnight April 5, the last day of the tax year.

Legal General, Hargreaves Landsdown and New Star Investment Funds , for instance, have all extended their call centre operating hours that night and say they will accept applications by debit card up until midnight.

Interactive Investor, the web-based financial services provider, is following suit. It says it will process online applications for its range of “ready-made” Isas until midnight. (To avoid disappointment, however, the company warns that customers should give themselves at least 15 extra minutes online to complete the buying process.)

Providers generally offer two types of Isas. First, and most widely used, are cash Isas, which are similar to standard savings accounts except that interest rates of interest tend to be higher and are of course tax-free. Second are stocks and shares Isas, which can hold equity funds such as unit and investment trusts.

The great benefit of Isas, say experts, is that you can gain instant access to your money or allow it to accumulate tax-free in a cash account and avoid capital gains tax on profits when an investment is sold.

“Additionally 16 and 17- year-olds are able to invest into cash Isas giving parents the opportunity to transfer funds to their children into a tax-free environment,” says David Kilshaw, tax partner at KPMG.

You can invest up to £3,000 a year in a cash Isa, and up to £7,000 a year in a stocks and shares Isa. If you fail to take out an Isa, you can’t carry over your allowance to the following next year, which is precisely why the pressure is on.

But Francis Klonowski, a certified financial planner, based in Leeds, has slightly more relaxed suggestions for the truly time-pinched investor. “Everyone thinks that they need to make a quick decision about which company and which funds to choose, but I say you should put the maximum £7,000 into a self-select Isa, available through a stockbroker or online facility, then do some research and make investment decisions later,” he says.

If you’re ready to act now, though, Klonowski advises doing some homework. According to MoneyFacts, the best rates available for cash Isa deposits of £1 and upwards are 5.4 per cent at Alliance Leicester and 5.35 per cent at Abbey. Saffron Walden Building Society is offering a 180-day notice account with a rate of 5.25 per cent and Yorkshire Building Society offers a 30-day account with a deposit of £10 and upward, also at 5.25 per cent.

Determining the best stocks and shares Isa is much trickier as charges vary and as future performance is unknown. But if you go for an equity-based tracker which merely seek to mirror the performance of key indices such as the FTSE All Share or the FTSE 100, it makes sense to go for a low-cost fund. One of the cheapest trackers around is a FTSE All Share tracking fund from M&G which charges just 0.3 per cent annually.

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