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Keep watch for a reliable return on your savings

Fed up with changeable rates? Here's our guide to the most dependable accounts around

Chiara Cavaglieri,Julian Knight
Sunday 04 March 2012 01:00 GMT
With the right vigilance you can get better rates for your savings
With the right vigilance you can get better rates for your savings

Monday brings an unhappy anniversary for savers, as it will mark three years since Bank of England interest rates were cut to their historic low level of just 0.5 per cent.

Paying the cost of the UK's borrowing boom, savers have since had to make do with the scraps on offer from the banks and building societies. Only the most ardent shopper-around will have been able to earn a return even vaguely worth the rate of inflation. But it's a downright pain to have to keep moving money from one account to another just to ensure our savings are working as hard as possible.

Keeping a sharp eye on the best buys and switching as soon as the rate on your own account drops is undoubtedly the most successful strategy, but because so many of us fail to do this, could consistency be the next best thing?

On behalf of the Independent on Sunday, Which? has pulled together its pick of the most dependable accounts around, looking at instant-access and cash individual savings accounts (ISAs) paying above-average rates over the past three years.

And it seems that the building societies and smaller providers, rather than the high street banking giants, offer most stability.

Take Intelligent Finance, for example, which has paid 2.49 per cent on its iSaver since October 2009 and 2.5 per cent on its cash ISA, or the Beverley Building Society Postal Account which has paid 1.65 per cent for the past three years.

"For consistency you may take a little bit of a hit in terms of the best rates that are out there, says Gareth Shaw a researcher at Which? "If you aren't a rate chaser and you don't take the time to switch regularly then you at least know that these are going to pay above average rates."

Just because a headline rate offers the best return now, it does not mean it will remain so later down the line. A growing trend is for the very best accounts on offer each year to have hefty introductory bonuses to bring them to the top of the best-buy tables.

However, when these expire, you're often left with a paltry return. A no-strings account could still offer a good return, without the need to constantly search the market for better rates.

Beyond the accounts selected by Which?, Investec Bank's latest offerings could be worth a look. The two new versions of its notice savings accounts don't offer a set interest rate; instead, the weekly rates are set by taking the average of the best deals available elsewhere (taken from price comparison website Moneyfacts).

So, the Investec High 5 Issue 2 account will set its rate by the average of the top five rates (currently paying 3.17 per cent), while the Investec High 10 account will use the top 10 (currently paying 3.11 per cent). The problem here is that you need a hefty minimum deposit of at least £25,000, so this is only for those who have already built up considerable savings.

Providers are currently making a big push for your ISA deposits before the tax year deadline, but many of those at the top of the pile feature big bonus rates.

For example, the AA is paying 3.05 per cent on its Internet Access ISA (Issue 2) but this includes a hefty 1.35 per cent bonus for 12 months.

The ING Direct cash ISA also features in the best-buy tables, paying 3 per cent, but again, 1.96 per cent of this return is a bonus for 12 months.

Grabbing the highest rate is still the best way to boost your savings, but only if you keep on top of these fluctuating offers, and research suggests many don't – two thirds of people who opened a cash ISA with a bonus interest rate failed to move their money once the introductory offer expired, according to Consumer Focus.

"Savvy savers may prefer to look for an account with an introductory bonus to make the most of the more common, best-buy rates.

"However, after the introductory period, consumers need to review the rate to make sure they are getting the best deal," says Rachel Springall from Moneyfacts.

If you look at some of last year's top ISA accounts, many of those rates are soon to plummet.

Halifax's ISA Direct Reward, for example, paid a top rate of 3 per cent when it was launched, but that is due to fall to a miserly 0.5 per cent today. Right now, if you have money in Santander's Flexible ISA 3, it is only paying 3.30 per cent, but could have fallen to as low as 2 per cent, depending on your balance. Similarly Principality Building Society's Promise ISA was originally offering a return of 2.30 per cent but now pays only 1.50 per cent.

You should receive written notice from your banks and building societies before they reduce your rate, but the banks don't always make it easy, changing rates regularly and giving different accounts confusingly similar names.

With this in mind, it may help to look for innovative services such as the new Governor Money platform which allows customers to choose from a range of fixed-term bond and cash ISA products and sending alerts before the fixed term ends, giving them time to move money to another product at the click of a button.

"All too often savers needlessly miss out on higher returns for their cash and many leave their money languishing in accounts paying poor rates once initial interest bonuses expire," says Miles Bingham, the chief executive of Governor Money.

"It can be difficult to keep track of your savings, let alone ensure various products are all earning competitive rates."

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