Money: Take notice of your account

By Isabel Berwick personal finance editor
WHY DO people still leave their money in savings accounts with a 90-day notice period?

It's baffling. You are required to tell the bank or building society of your intention to remove the money in three months' time. If you have to remove it suddenly without giving any notice you'll lose the interest you would have earned during that period. A saver who had pounds 5,000 in an account paying 5.5 per cent, and had to withdraw it without giving the 90 days' notice, would lose almost pounds 55-worth of interest.

That's a significant amount to lose but the argument used to be that it was worth it. Savers exchanged ease of access for better interest rates. That's no longer true. A look through the latest Moneyfacts savings rate tables shows that some building societies still offer accounts with ludicrous notice periods. Lambeth building society has a 180-day notice account paying a pathetic 2 per cent gross on pounds 1,000 invested. And the society pays half that interest rate during the notice period.

When challenged, Lambeth admitted that this account is designed as a deterrent to carpetbaggers. "The rate of interest is in a way saying you can open an account, but is it for the right reasons?" says Alan Baynes, Lambeth's general manager for investments.

But is Lambeth penalising its savers for the right reasons? Societies admit that their branches are no longer mobbed by would-be carpetbaggers swooping in the hope of a quick windfall payout. They don't need to close their doors anymore. So why are they still sticking two fingers up at would-be customers ?

Maybe all these societies should take note of the fact that the only people mobbing building societies in recent weeks have been angry ex-Northern Rock savers, quite rightly taking their business away from that arrogant institution.

(For those who have been abroad or in bed for the last three weeks, the story so far is that the building society-turned-bank took the extraordinary decision to shut some accounts. It moved its savers' money into different accounts, without consulting anyone. Many people ended up earning less interest on their savings. Now the Office of Fair Trading has waded in to sort out the mess).

Societies don't need to offer notice accounts at all. A good phone-based or postal account will pay you at least 6.5 per cent on pounds 1 upwards. And you can have your money right away (or as soon as the cash gets transferred to your bank account).

Don't wait for the next Northern Rock-style outrage. Get moving.