Archived article: This article was correct at the time of publishing. Tax, investments and pension rules can change over time so the information below may not be current.

Are we a last-minute nation?

It’s ISA season again, meaning that the 5 April deadline for the tax year is looming and for people wanting to take advantage of their tax allowances, it’s best to invest soon.

Every year many people really do leave it until the last minute before using their ISA allowance, and our telephone lines are usually busy until midnight of deadline day. In fact, last year our final ISA contribution came in at 11:56 pm. Better late than never, we believe, but that really is cutting it fine!

Lee Dooley Lee Dooley
12 February 2018
Why do you leave things until the last minute?

At Bestinvest we’re always interested in looking at the bigger picture, so we wondered which other areas of life are affected by procrastination. Are we as a nation generally on time? Or are we constantly leaving important tasks as late as possible?

Procrastination Nation: The Survey*

We asked the British public a series of questions about their habits and the results were very revealing. These questions covered topics ranging from which items are most commonly left until the last minute to the reasons why people procrastinate. We also looked into regional and gender differences. Because our focus is on the world of money, we also looked at which financial tasks are most often left until the last minute, a point which we will begin with.

It Pays to Be Early: Financial Tasks  

We asked respondents which financial tasks they are most likely to leave until the very last minute. Their answers told us overwhelmingly that we, as a nation, need to take better care when it comes to bill payments. Late payments can have serious repercussions when it comes to credit scores and make it difficult for people to manage their personal finances. Unfortunately, it seems that many of us are in danger of falling into this trap.

One in five respondents also admitted leaving it until the last minute to use their annual ISA allowance. This can potentially be very costly, as your generous £20,000 ISA allowance doesn’t roll over between tax years – so if you don’t use it, you lose it. The same goes for your annual allowance for pension contributions – which 1 in 10 people admitted to leaving until the last minute.

Tax returns were also right up there, and the complete list is as follows:

  1. Paying bills 42%
  2. Filing a tax return 28%
  3. Paying into an ISA 19%
  4. Paying into a pension 11%

The reasons people gave for these lateness lapses include:

  1. Laziness 23%
  2. Other priorities 22%
  3. Forgetfulness 21%
  4. Inconvenience 19%
  5. Anxiety 14%

The finding that so many people would admit to being lazy was something we found slightly shocking, but our survey revealed many other surprising findings. Read on to find out what they are…

Habitually Late: General Tasks

Our research covered which items people left until the last minute in their general lives. The top five were:

  1. Sending birthday or Christmas cards 31%
  2. Paying bills 20%
  3. Cancelling contracts or memberships 18%
  4. Car-related payments 18%
  5. Essay or work deadlines 15%

Almost 1 in 7 (14%) of us also leave returning retail items until the last minute, showing that this tendency to procrastinate even extends to our shopping habits.

When it comes to a city-by-city breakdown, we found that all cities follow the same trend with regards to sending cards late. However, when it comes to paying bills late, we were interested to note that Sheffield and Birmingham are the worst in this regard.

We also looked at the gender breakdown and found that men and women had slightly different priorities with their last-minute tasks. For example, 25% of men left bills until the last minute, while women were quicker to pay. However, women were slightly less punctual when it came to returning retail items, with 15% of women leaving this late.

Excuses, Excuses: Why We Leave Things Until the Last Minute

Perhaps the most important question we asked was: ‘why do you personally leave things until the last minute?’ The answers, in order of popularity were:

  1. Laziness 28%
  2. Other priorities 27%
  3. Forgetfulness 26%
  4. Inconvenience 23%
  5. Anxiety or fear 17%

So, the numbers suggest that we’re a bit of a lazy nation. However, only males had this as their most common response, while female respondents put ‘other priorities’ as their top answer.

By region, the cities that chose ‘laziness’ as their most common answer are:

  1. Leeds 41%
  2. Belfast 33%
  3. Birmingham 32%
  4. London 32%
  5. Glasgow 28%

Most Likely to Leave Late

We asked which everyday items people were personally most likely to leave until the last minute, and the most common answer was sending cards at 16%. In fact, 18% of women made this claim. The respondents in most cities gave us this answer.

At this time of year we’re also very interested in tax returns. The cities where most people left their tax returns until the last minute were:

  1. Belfast
  2. Liverpool
  3. Manchester
  4. Norwich

Least Likely to Leave Late

A question asking which item people believed they were least likely to leave until the last minute had ‘paying bills’ as the top answer, as it was chosen by 24% of respondents (even though it was the most popular answer when we asked respondents which financial task was most often left to the last minute). This shows that perhaps we mean well when it comes to our personal finances. The gender difference here showed that males (20%) and females (28%) were united in declaring that ‘paying bills’ would be the item they were least likely to leave until the last minute.

Most Likely Reasons

To round off our research we asked a final hypothetical question, about the reasons which were most likely to make respondents leave things until the last minute.

The results were that ‘other priorities’ (17%) came out on top overall, with males claiming that ‘laziness’ (17%) would be their most likely reason and females saying that ‘other priorities’ (18%) would be the most likely reason for them.

So, can we conclude that males appear to be lazier than women when it comes to general life admin work? This could well be the case, and it is certainly enjoyable comparing different groups. For example, we can also look at the city-by-city list and see that the most forgetful cities, which chose ‘forgetfulness’ as the reason they would be late are:

  1. Nottingham 27%
  2. Southampton 25%
  3. Bristol 22%
  4. Manchester 21%
  5. Edinburgh and Sheffield 19%

Don’t lose your ISA or pension allowances

The Government gives you generous allowances for making tax-free investments in your ISA and pension, but these allowances don’t usually roll over from one tax year to the next. If you want to make the most of your allowances this year, it makes sense to pay in what you can before the 5 April deadline. After all, why leave it to the last minute and risk losing your allowance forever?

To get started, why not find out more about our award-winning Best SIPP or Stocks & Shares ISA?

*Bestinvest’s research was informed by a survey of 1,012 people.