Chances are that if you’re on this page you know this already, but choosing the right savings account can make a significant difference for your finances. Interest rates aren’t stellar these days, but there are still gains to be made.
1-2% more or less may not seem like much, but the more you build up your savings, the more difference it’ll make. Say you have £2,500 aside. With a 0.5% annual interest, it’ll earn you £12.50. With a 2.5% interest, you’ll get £62.50. The difference between a pub lunch at the local Spoons and a great dinner in a fancy restaurant. Just saying.
The other important thing to keep in mind is that there are different types of savings accounts with different features that fit different saving profiles. A 50-year-old that has been saving all their life will not need the same savings account of a young graduate at their first job. So you should compare accounts, rates and features to find the best savings account for you.
How do I compare savings accounts?
Savings accounts aren’t the most complicated products in the personal finance world, so the list of their most relevant features is fairly short:
Access. This is probably the first decision you need to make. Are you okay with your savings being locked away for a certain period of time? What if there’s an emergency?
Interest rate. Interest rate is obviously one of the most important factors to consider. Just be aware that, depending on how much you can deposit into the account and when, higher interest rates don’t always come with higher overall returns.
Minimum and maximum deposit. Some top-paying savings accounts either have a high minimum deposit (so most small savers can’t get them) or a fairly low maximum deposit (great for small savers but you’ll still need a different solution for the rest of your savings if you have more).
Time limit/introductory rate. Many savings accounts (particularly fixed rate bonds and regular savings accounts) expire after a certain period of time. Make sure you’re aware of what happens to your savings next. Also, if you find a really great rate somewhere, chances are it will only last for one year or so. More on this below.
Overall earnings. Okay, this isn’t exactly a feature, but it’s an easy way to compare deals when things get complicated. Think of how much money you want to put into your new account, figure out how much it’ll earn you and compare different deals to find out which the most lucrative is.
Savings accounts vs inflation
If you read personal finance news, you’ll hear quite a lot about savings accounts that “beat” inflation.
That’s because if you keep your savings in an account that pays less than the inflation, your money will be worth less and less every year. Inflation causes goods to become increasingly more expensive, which means that, with the same amount of money, you can buy less.
If you stash your savings under the mattress long enough, they’ll lose most of their value – just ask your grandmother how much it was for a loaf of bread fifty years ago.
An interest-paying savings account can partially prevent that, but unless the rate beats the inflation, you’re still losing purchasing power and, by extension, money, even if it may not look like it.
Just to give you an idea, in October 2019 the 12-month inflation rate was 1.5%. While a decent number of fixed term and regular savings accounts will pay more than that, your average high-street easy access account probably won’t.
Setting up a savings strategy
Avoiding spending is certainly the hardest part of saving, but deciding where to keep the money you’ve industriously put aside isn’t all fun and games either. Here’s some advice on how to approach the problem:
Pick your current account first.High-interest current accounts aren’t common, good rates are only available for short periods of time and are often offered by high-street banks whose mobile apps and online banking facilities were only good in the 1990s. Still, if you can bag a decent one, you should. Introductory rates are sometimes really great and you’ll always get access to your money.
Emergency-proof your strategy. Whether you keep it in a current account or in an easy access savings account, make sure that if something happens, you’ve got a decent sum immediately available to take care of emergencies.
Set up a regular saver for your monthly savings. Regular savings accounts tend to offer great rates, so if you save part of your income every month, you should open one. You can set up a standing order and forget about it, which will also eliminate the temptation of spending the money. However, be careful, because many regular savings accounts don’t allow you to withdraw your money once you’ve deposited it.
Plan for the long term too. After the first year or two of saving regularly, you’ll have enough to start thinking about your medium to long term strategy. You have many different options that mostly depend on what you’re planning to do with the money. For example, if you know for sure you either want to buy a house or save for retirement, a lifetime ISA offers good returns thanks to government contributions. Alternatively, if you’d like to keep your options more open, you may want to consider a fixed rate bond.
Investing is an option. Investing your savings is way riskier than depositing them in a savings account and it isn’t for everyone. However, it’s also become much easier than it used to be, even for complete beginners. If it’s something you may want to consider at some point, you can read our guides on share trading and on stocks and shares ISAs.
What are introductory bonus rates?
Something to look out for when browsing savings accounts is high interest rates for new customers, often referred to as “introductory bonus rates”. While this is definitely an alluring feature, remember that when the introductory period is up you’re likely to be left with a significantly lower interest rate. Because of this, it may be a good idea to keep your account open while you qualify for the introductory rate, before switching to an account with a better rate once the introductory period is finished.
If you decide to go with an account offering an introductory bonus rate, make sure you’re clear on the terms so you don’t end up losing the rate. For example, if you withdraw money before the end of the introductory period the introductory rate may be withdrawn.
Are savings taxed?
A taxpayer who pays the basic rate of income tax can earn up to a maximum of £1,000 from interest payments on a savings account without paying tax, while a higher rate taxpayer can earn up to £500 before paying tax. This is what’s known as the Personal Savings Allowance.
The Personal Savings Allowance is in addition to money earned from an ISA account, which is all tax-free.
What is the FSCS?
Short for Financial Services Compensation Scheme, the FSCS protects customers when financial services fail. Look out for its logo on the financial products you’re comparing. If your money is in a bank – an institution that holds a banking licence – then up to £85,000 is protected by the scheme if the bank goes bust. However, if you had more than £85,000 across two banks in the same group – such as HSBC and First Direct – then only £85,000 is protected.
Since 2001, the FSCS has helped millions of UK customers, paying out billions of pounds. If a firm has stopped trading or does not have enough assets to pay up, the FSCS will step in.
Frequently asked questions
As the name suggests, a savings account is a bank account that’s designed to hold your savings. Unlike with a current account, you don’t get a debit card and you won’t be able to receive your salary in it or set up direct debits or standing orders. Instead, you can only withdraw or deposit money in it. In exchange for keeping your savings there, you’ll earn an interest rate.
Usually, anyone who is 18 or older, lives in the UK and can meet the required minimum deposit (which can be as low as £1). Children’s savings accounts are also available, but a legal guardian will usually have to be the person opening it.
You can normally do it online, through your mobile app or in person at your bank’s branch. It’s usually a very quick process, but depending on whether you already have an account with the same bank, you may need an ID and a proof of address.
It depends. Some savings accounts can be closed online – this is more likely if the interest is paid monthly and the account is easy access. If you’re trying to close a regular saver or a fixed term account early instead, you may have to go to a branch or contact the bank’s customer service.
You most certainly can, but if you’re thinking about an automatic service like the one you get for current accounts (the so-called Current Account Switch Service, CASS), you’re out of luck. You’ll need to do it manually: open your new account, move your savings, close your old account.
If you find a better deal, go for it! That’s what the cool comparison table at the top of the page is for. However, you want to be very aware of your current savings account’s terms and conditions. With many savings accounts (particularly fixed rate bonds and regular savers), you won’t be able to get out of your current deal until it expires without paying a fee.
Yes, you can usually turn your personal savings account into a joint savings account. You may have to pop into a branch or give your bank a call though.
It stands for annual equivalent rate. It tells you how much a particular savings account will pay you in interest if you deposit your money in it and leave it there for one year. The long version of the story is in this guide.
Compound interest is when you earn interest on your interest. For example, say you have £1,000 in a savings account that pays a 5% interest rate. If the interest is paid yearly, at the end of the year you’ll have £1,050. However, if the interest is paid monthly, at the end of the year you’ll have £1,051.16 because your balance would have grown a bit every month. The AER of the first account (paying annual interest) will be slightly lower than the AER of the second account (paying monthly interest), because the AER takes compound interest into account.
Matthew Boyle is a banking and mortgages publisher at Finder. He has a 7-year history of publishing helpful guides to assist consumers in making better decisions. In his spare time, you will find him walking in the Norfolk countryside admiring the local wildlife.
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