Children's choice in money management: Lee Rodwell describes how 11-year-old Tamsin finally made up her mind where to open her first bank account

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WHEN the cheque arrived my 11- year-old daughter, Tamsin, was adamant. She did not want her first earnings - the fee for a magazine article she had written about her eye operation - paid into the building society account I operate for her. She wanted an account she could manage herself.

She is not alone. Major's Children '93, a study published by the TSB this week, revealed that 70 per cent of 12-year-olds are already savers. And they expect that becoming teenagers will bring them more control of their own money.

The TSB has launched a series of accounts aimed at youngsters of all ages. But what are the other banks and building societies doing for the pre-teens - and what do young people really want? Tamsin and I set out along our local high road in north London to find out what was on offer.

The Lloyds Headway account is officially for 12- to 17-year-olds who have a minimum pounds 10 deposit, but the clerk assured Tamsin that, as she was almost 12, she would be eligible. This pleased her enormously, although later investigation revealed that Barclays and Midland run similar accounts for 11-year-olds upwards.

She was also taken with the offer of a free camera and the promise of a cash card of her own, albeit issued only with parental permission.

The fact that there are five bands of interest, paying between 1 and 3 per cent gross depending on how high her balance was each month, was of marginal appeal, since she worked out that in her case this would probably amount to nothing very spectacular.

Down the road at Barclays she was given information about BarclayPlus, for 11- to 16-year-olds. The minimum deposit is pounds 1, but youngsters have to be 14 before they can apply for a cash card. Interest is paid quarterly at a flat rate of 1 per cent and youngsters become members of the BarclayPlus Our Price Music Club.

They get a 'free booklet of Our Price music vouchers worth pounds 10', with each voucher entitling them to a 50p discount when they spend pounds 4 or more. 'That's not exactly free, then, is it?' Tamsin observed.

The Midland's Livecash also requires a minimum deposit of just pounds 1 and is for the 11-18 age group. Shopping vouchers are the incentive here, too, giving discounts totalling just over pounds 30 on clothing, footwear, tapes, pizzas - even magazines and sweets. Over-16s also get a free driving lesson with BSM and five pounds 3 discount vouchers towards more lessons.

Interest is higher, at 2.47 per cent, and paid monthly, but a cash card is only available from the age of 13.

NatWest had nothing specifically for 11-year-olds, although staff suggested Tamsin could open a First Reserve instant access savings account with a minimum deposit of pounds 1. This gives six bands of interest, ranging from 1.75 to 2.5 per cent, paid quarterly, and a service till card is available at the manager's discretion when a child reaches the age of 13.

Our next call was the Post Office. A National Savings Bank Ordinary Account can be operated by children from the age of seven, but the new rules seem unlikely to encourage the saving of small sums.

For Tamsin the minimum deposit of pounds 10 was not a problem, but she did not like the fact that subsequent deposits had to be at least pounds 10.

Nor did she fancy having to queue at the Post Office to withdraw her money, let alone the fact that her passbook would have to be handed in if she wanted to take more than pounds 100 out at a time. The interest rate of 2.5 per cent (or 3.5 per cent for any month when there is a balance of more than pounds 500, providing the account is running for the whole of the calendar year) failed to make up for this inconvenience in her eyes.

Further investigations on the high street revealed that pounds 1 could open the newly launched TSB FirstSave Account for 11- to 15-year-olds, an Abbey National Instant Saver Account, a Nationwide Cashbuilder account or a Smart 2 Save account (for children aged 7-14), a Woolwich Prime Gold Account or even a Leeds Liquid Gold Account, where the minimum deposit for adults is normally pounds 25.

The TSB's FirstSave gives a yearly interest rate of 3.75 per cent, plus discount vouchers for specified films at MGM Cannon cinemas and money- off vouchers that can be used at Champion Sport, Athena and Superdrug shops. Youngsters can apply for a Speedbank card when they are 13.

At Abbey National, Tamsin was offered automatic membership of the Action Savers Club with a twice- yearly magazine offering competitions and discount vouchers to zoos and theme parks.

But the interest on savings totalling less than pounds 500 was only 0.5 per cent, paid annually, and she had to be 13 before she could apply for a cash card.

On the other hand, Nationwide's Cashbuilder offers cash cards to 11- year-olds and the equivalent interest rate, paid yearly, is 1 per cent. Their Smart 2 Save account offers 2.3 per cent on sums up to pounds 500 as well as discount admission vouchers to museums. No cash card, though.

Nor does the Leeds offer cash cards on a Liquid Gold account until the age of 16. Interest, paid yearly, on sums up to pounds 500 is 1.5 per cent.

Woolwich will allow any child to open a Prime Gold Account - once the branch manager is satisfied he or she has a 'reproducible signature for future identification purposes'. Interest on sums under pounds 500 is 1.15 per cent, paid annually, and the minimum age for a cash card is 13.

Armed with all this information, Tamsin sat down to make her choice - and, in the end, the plastic proved the crucial factor. The Lloyds Headway account won hands down.

As she explained: 'You get a card and a camera. Even if the camera isn't a very good one, it's free. Discount vouchers are only any use if you spend money to start with. And I don't want to save up loads of money, so the interest rates wouldn't make that much difference.'

Then she came to the clincher. 'Anyway, having a card is more grown up.'

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