Move it or spend it but don't waste your windfall

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The Independent Online
The free shares are in the post - finally - while the accounts of 650,000 savers with the now defunct National & Provincial building society are about to gain pounds 750. This week sees the long-awaited handout of the largess from the Abbey National's takeover of N&P - the first in a series of windfalls announced by a clutch of building societies.

Some 622,000 customers of the former N&P will get Abbey shares - mostly pounds 500. Savers who had been with the society for two years were given the choice of cash or shares worth pounds 750 plus 7.75 per cent of balances.

What to do with the shares is a more complicated decision, but for those getting cash my advice is withdraw it - you can use it to go windfall- hunting elsewhere.

The Nationwide and Bradford & Bingley building societies actually have adverts encouraging customers of the old N&P to open accounts with them. True, neither is the hottest tip around, but I reckon there's a good chance at least one of them won't make it to the millennium in mutual form. For a quicker pounds 500 my tip is Birmingham Midshires. I sniff an announcement this year, with the lolly in 1997.

The accounts windfall-hunters should open are those with membership rights. With Midshires and many other societies you will need more than pounds 750 to open an account, in which case the obvious piggy bank to raid for the extra is, again, your old N&P account.

Alternatively you could just spend the N&P handout. After all, it is likely to be well into next year - probably Alliance & Leicester first - before the next.

The Consumers Association, publisher of Which? magazine and purveyor of independent advice on topics as varied as credit cards and colonic irrigation, is issuing its own credit card. And arguably not a particularly attractive one, either.

If this seems anomalous, the CA defends the move by saying the card will, uniquely, offer a free legal service and that Which? will continue to independently review and nominate best-buys among cards.

The CA says it designed the card after researching what its supporters wanted. The result? No annual fee (fine, but nothing special), interest rates of 16.9 or 18.9 per cent, discounted for six months (not the cheapest for borrowers, irrelevant for those who pay off bills in full, as most CA supporters do) and this free legal service. The idea is to offer card- holders help in getting compensation if purchases don't come up to scratch. True, some card users have had problems. But those who can't get direct redress are meant to be able to fall back on their card issuer already. As someone who has never had a problem, I was hoping for more - a cash rebate if I used the card a lot, for example.

Those sneaky, cheeky students. Some claim to have tricked their way to more than one set of freebies, by saying they don't get a grant and then shifting their parental contribution cheque from bank to bank (see page 12). Others have the chutzpah to switch banks in mid-course or at graduation to take advantage of the best deal available. The National Union of Students reckons getting on for half of students change banks at graduation, while the banks' competitive advertising and ever-better deals are prompting more to change mid-course. This stands in contrast to banks' claims that their soaring subsidies will be recouped when students become top-notch executives in the future.

Good luck to the students, of course. But in the meantime if any bank wants to tempt teetering-on-thirtysomethings like me with a Cafe Rouge voucher, a Sting CD and an interest-free overdraft - and forget the footloose students - I'm listening.