The best deals are out there in cyberspace

Melanie Bien on a new service comparing financial products

As financial consumers, we've long been advised to shop around for the best deal. That, though, used to be easier said than done - a tedious and time-consuming process involving ringing round various providers. So it is no wonder that most people stuck with the same bank or building society for all their financial products.

As financial consumers, we've long been advised to shop around for the best deal. That, though, used to be easier said than done - a tedious and time-consuming process involving ringing round various providers. So it is no wonder that most people stuck with the same bank or building society for all their financial products.

Now, though, the internet has made shopping around much easier. A growing number of websites let you compare the cost of hundreds of financial products, such as loans or insurance policies, with a couple of clicks of the mouse. It's quick and easy, especially as you can often apply directly to the provider of the best deal by clicking the link on the website.

USwitch.com, which allows consumers to compare the cost of utility providers and digital TV suppliers, became the latest internet operation to launch a personal finance site last week. Initially, only credit cards will be listed. But it has plans to offer a calculator to compare the cost of personal loans and insurance.

The difference between this site and others that run the ruler over financial products, such as moneysupermarket.com or moneyfacts.co. uk, is that instead of offering a list of the cheapest credit cards available, it assesses the best one for your circumstances. This is also the approach taken by moneynet.co.uk.

To find the best card you are asked a series of questions, such as how much you prefer to repay each month and how much you typically spend. Once you've answered these, the calculator presents you with a bespoke results table outlining the best deals for you. This also includes savings that can be made over a six-month to three-year period if you switch from your existing credit card.

Paul Schofield, head of personal finance at uSwitch.com, says: "Our move has been driven by demand and feedback from our utilities customers. Our new calculator will help people avoid paying crippling interest charges by finding an affordable card that's right for them."

Showing just how difficult it can be to work out the charges on a credit card, even if you know what the annual percentage rate (APR) is, the calculator has been verified and endorsed by Professor Huw Dixon of the Department of Economics at York University.

Uswitch's managing director, Andrew Salmon, argues that this service offers something different and compares all available credit cards - not just a selection. Some sites aren't comprehensive: even Moneysupermarket, which has one of the biggest and most useful sites, misses some of the most competitive credit card deals out of its "best buy" table.

For example, Halifax One Visa doesn't make it into the three "best buy" credit cards for balance transfers, even though it offers a 0 per cent introductory period of nine months; two of the top three in the table, Egg and Morgan Stanley, offer eight and six months respectively. And, oddly enough, on our own best buy tables on page 27, which are supplied by Moneysupermarket, Halifax One Visa is included.

Stuart Glendinning, marketing director for mortgages, savings and credit cards at Money-supermarket, says that certain providers aren't included on the site because they have requested not to be. They are worried about being able to cope with the demand that could be generated from offering such competitive products, he says.

But Mark Hemingway, a spokesman for the Halifax, says the reason it isn't included is cost. "We have taken reference to the Halifax One card off all these money financial websites simply because we have to pay commission to them if customers [apply for] a card through these sites."

Whatever the reason, you may find you have to shop around among websites because not all of them include every type of financial product. Until Uswitch.com's service is expanded, for example, you'll need to use www.moneyextra. co.uk or www.moneynet.co.uk if you want to compare personal loans as well as credit cards.

The ability to compare products in the least time possible is top of many people's list of priorities when using these sites, and Moneysupermarket is certainly fast. Mr Glendinning argues that it is "easily the best" site for this reason. "It is ruthlessly quick. We don't make people click through lots of pages before they get to a result. You are only one click away from a results table."

Contacts: www.moneyextra.co.uk; www.moneyfacts.co.uk; www.moneynet.co.uk; www.moneysupermarket.com; www.screentrade.co.uk; www.uswitch.com

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