Money Insider: Do your homework before switching financial services in the new year

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The Independent Online

Whether it's on your television screen, your computer, in your newspaper or on a high street billboard, there's no shortage of advertising from the banks, building societies and credit card providers, all trying to convince you that their product is the one you should choose.

Often they'll be a cash incentive or some other short-term sweetener on offer to try to convince you to switch your allegiance. A strategy that sees too many consumers choosing an account for the wrong reasons which they later regret and end up having to go through the whole process again to find an account that really fits the bill.

This week Moneynet recognised the best personal finance products in its 2011 awards, looking at mortgages, savings, current accounts, loans and credit cards, picking out the star performers from the last 12 months in each category.

Products were assessed mainly on the interest rate but also the level of innovation and features on offer to the consumer, it's not about launching a good interest rate for a few days and then disappearing back into your shell, it's about building a reputation for consistently offering a top rate and useful features that customers deserve.

Product areas were split into sub categories, so with mortgages for example, HSBC came out on top for variable rate products, with First Direct and Woolwich the winners in the fixed-rate and remortgage categories respectively.

For the overall mortgage provider of the year, it will come as no surprise to readers of this column that the award went to Yorkshire building society. It was a sterling performance from the mutual provider, brushing aside many of its bigger rivals right across the full range of its extensive mortgage portfolio.

In the personal loan category, Sainsbury's Finance took the gong, having dominated the upper reaches of the best buy tables for the last year, plus giving their customers that bit extra on top, with double nectar points on Sainsbury's shopping and petrol for two years.

The current account market has always been the most fiercely contested and it's a product which requires you to select an account according to the way you run your finances.

For those who always remain in credit and pay in at least £1,000 per month then award winner Halifax Reward paying customers a net payment of £5 every month is worth a look.

As a consumer I don't think it's too much to expect a competitive price, features that make your life a little easier and some decent customer service – award winners' aside, there's obviously still plenty of work to be done.

Andrew Hagger is a money analyst at Moneynet.co.uk

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