Own goal for football fans who prove loyalty with their savings

Club affinity accounts and cards are a long way off the top of their leagues. Julian Knight reports

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The Independent Online

The Premier League jamboree has started another season and despite some post-Olympics disillusionment with football, no doubt millions of loyal fans will stream through the turnstiles of Britain's professional football clubs.

Click here to view the graphic 'Supporter's Penalty'

Buying tickets and wearing the team shirt are traditional ways fans prove their loyalty, but the rise of affinity savings accounts and credit cards allow them to go one step further and put more money in the club's coffers. But by doing so does it mean such supporters are missing out on the best deals?

Kevin Mountford, the head of banking at comparison service moneysupermarket.com thinks so: "The average savings rate offered by football clubs is much lower than through traditional providers, so fans are potentially missing out on earning additional money on their savings. Similarly, fans using their club's credit cards will find the average APR is higher."

In fact, according to financial information service Moneyfacts.co.uk no football club savings account pays anything near the current rate of inflation. So over time – in real terms – savings held in these accounts will lose buying power.

The best paying account on offer, the Leeds United saver from Leeds building society, returns just 1.5 per cent about 2 per cent below the current rate of price increases. In addition, the Leeds rate falls far short of the market best buys: the Coventry building society currently offers a one-year fixed rate bond paying 3.25 per cent, while the Investec High five account pays 3.23 per cent.

Some of the football savings accounts pay virtually nothing, marking them out as a rank bad deal. Norwich & Peterborough's Canary saver account – which is linked to Norwich City – pays just 0.10 per cent interest, but this is generous in comparison to the West Bromwich building society account for the Albion, which pays a paltry 0.05 per cent interest. What's more, the accounts are not offered within an individual savings account (ISA) so the poor interest that is paid is liable to tax at the saver's marginal rate.

But football savings accounts are unusual in that they are as much about the benefit to the supporter's club as the saver. Across the board, these accounts offer a 1 per cent interest payment to the club. The more you keep in the account the more cash it receives. "Many devoted supporters are happy to forego a competitive return on their savings, in return for supporting their club which is particularly good news for smaller teams who may be struggling financially," says Charlotte Nelson savings expert at Moneyfacts.co.uk.

Club credit cards don't ask fans to sacrifice their cash in the same way. Instead, they offer benefits to the club if the cards are used, as well as freebies for account holders.

MBNA is the biggest provider of affinity cards, having deals with most of the country's biggest clubs including Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Celtic. Clubs receive a "contribution" from any money spent on the cards. All the MBNA cards have a zero per cent introductory period of 12 months on balance transfers, three months on purchases and a typical APR of 16.9 per cent thereafter. Every £1 spent on purchases accrues one reward point which can be used on merchandise, travel, entertainment and shopping. For many fans, though, the big benefit is receiving a card in the club livery.

Creations Financial Services also offers club affinity credit cards, with deals with the Championship club Leeds United and the Premier League's West Bromwich Albion.

Creation's offering is more expensive than MBNA's. Its introductory period on balance transfers is just six months and the typical APR is 18.9 per cent. However, zero per cent interest is available on season-ticket purchases for 9 months. There are also some club specific freebies, with Leeds fans able to claim a free matchday programme, while Albion fans get a 5 per cent discount on purchases made with the card in the club shop.

But such football related offers pale in comparison with best buys in the wider market. "For those who clear their balance in full, rates don't have to be the main deciding factor. They may want to consider introductory offers and rewards such as cashback. Those with existing debts may also want to look at the length of time on any zero per cent balance transfer offer and the transfer fee," says Michael Ossei, a personal finance expert at uSwitch.com.

"The most generous is American Express's Platinum Cashback credit card, which gives customers 5 per cent cashback in the first three months on up to £2,000 of purchases and then an ongoing 1.25 per cent cashback on any purchase. In addition, loyal customers will be rewarded with double cashback (2.5 per cent) every year in the month in which they signed up. Fans could then use the money from such cashback deals to spend in the club shop," Mr Ossei adds.

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