Money Insider: Record inflation surge adds to savers' woes

The record 1 per cent monthly surge in the rate of inflation (CPI) to 2.9 per cent reported on Tuesday came as a bit of a wake-up call and was far higher than many experts had predicted.

While this may turn out to be a temporary spike, it's yet another dose of unwelcome news for consumers who are already struggling to get a decent return on their savings.

For only the third time in a decade, no variable-rate savings products (excluding ISAs) are offering a rate which enables a basic- or higher-rate taxpayer to preserve the spending power of their cash.

The Bank of England rate-cutting policy may have seemed like the right course of action to take at the time, but with base rate stuck fast at 0.5 per cent since last March, savers are getting a raw deal all round.

There were, however, a few bright spots, in the form of new products, worthy of mention.

In the fixed-rate bond market, Post Office launched issue 11 of its popular one-year growth bond, offering a top-five rate of 3.3 per cent fixed for one year.

New tax-free ISA deals this week included some excellent rates from Aldermore, with a two-year best buy at 3.6 per cent and a three-year table-topper at 4 per cent.

Post Office launched a one-year fixed-rate ISA at 3 per cent, with Aldermore at 3.05 per cent, while the current best buy for a one-year tax-free fix remains Bank of Cyprus UK's 3.33 per cent.

The basic facts

The unexpectedly high inflation numbers led some to predict that base rate may increase as soon as this summer, whereas previously the general consensus was a possible upward movement at the end of 2010 or the start of 2011 at the earliest.

Over the past year, the mortgage of choice for the majority of consumers has been a variable-rate tracker product, but this renewed base-rate uncertainty could herald a gradual swing back towards a fixed-rate option.

Even though house-price growth is predicted to taper off, we're still seeing healthy competition between mortgage providers, which is continuing to force pricing lower.

For fixed-rate products, First Direct trimmed its best-buy offset product even further, and with the two-year rate now standing at just 3.47 per cent and a reasonable fee of £498, this is an excellent opportunity to grab a good deal for those who have a 65 per cent or less loan-to-value requirement.

If it's a longer fix you're after, the new five-year mortgage from HSBC will prove popular if you've got at least 40 per cent equity. At 4.73 per cent and a £999 fee, there is likely to be plenty of interest. If you don't meet the 60 per cent loan-to-value criteria then the 4.99 per cent five-year loan from Yorkshire Building Society with £999 fee remains the best-buy option in the market for borrowing up to 75 per cent loan-to-value.

More confusion on the cards

The UK Cards Association, which represents the UK credit card industry, this week submitted its response to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' consultation 'Review of the Regulation of Credit and Store Cards'.

Encouragingly, they are recommending an industry-wide change to the way that credit card payments are allocated to a customer's balance.

At the moment, only a couple of credit card providers adopt the customer-friendly practice where the most expensive debt is repaid first.

However, even though the call is for the cheapest debt to be repaid first, it's disappointing to note that the recommendation doesn't apply to the minimum payment, and proposes that this portion of any repayment can be allocated at the discretion of the lender.

We need credit card charging to be easier to understand, but introducing this variable, which may be adopted by only part of the industry, will only make matters more complicated and the task of comparing products unnecessarily complex.

If we're going to clean up the image of the personal-finance industry, let's take this opportunity to eradicate confusion for end users, not make it worse.

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

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