Energy for tired savers

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The Independent Online
How much interest are you getting on pounds 1,000 of savings on instant access with your building society? Even less than you think is probably the answer.

Typically, savers reckon they're getting just under 4 per cent net of tax, according to research published last week by investment company Save & Prosper. One in five of those asked thought they were getting 6 per cent or more. In fact the typical rate is 2 per cent net, worth an even worse 1.5 per cent to higher-rate taxpayers.

A series of small cuts over the past year has brought rates down to their lowest level for 20 years or more. And a further paring down is on the cards after the mortgage rate cuts earlier this month.

Any move to improve rates would seem welcome, therefore. Bradford & Bingley building society, for example, has just announced that savers in many of its out-of-date accounts are to gain from transfers into more modern accounts. The switch is the society's latest attempt to illustrate the benefits of not paying a windfall.

But the rate improvements are only between 0.25 and 0.5 per cent. Furthermore, the B&B's rate on pounds 1,000 instant access is still just 1.75 per cent, and that's gross. And a minority of savers will be worse off after the transfers. For a society that has been so vocal about the virtues of being owned by its members, there is also the question of why it hasn't improved the deal on the old accounts already. Most other societies got rid of the discrepancy some time ago.

But knowing what a bad deal even the less profit-hungry societies are giving doesn't solve the wider problem of generally low rates. Despite the hype, savings new-boys such as Direct Line and Tesco are only offering 5 per cent or so, and that's before tax. In fact savers might still be inclined to stick with societies in the hope of yet more windfalls. In that case it's simply a case of good housekeeping - such as switching to postally operated accounts (check you remain a member of a society) and, if you can handle a five-year commitment, maximising returns through a tax-free Tessa.

Personal equity plans and other stock market investments should be treated with caution for now. With one obvious exception, that is. British Energy, the Government's latest privatisation, looks set to be the mother of all giveaways. Yes, it's nuclear power. But even the expected dividends knock the spots off deposit rates. Share shops are already inviting registrations - no harm doing so - and we'll give a buyers' guide nearer the sell-off deadline, expected to be in early July.

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