Money & Finance
Comparing Savings Accounts - an introduction
With interest rates stuck at a record low, it's more important than ever to compare savings accounts to maximise returns on your money.
Even with rates at rock bottom, putting in the legwork to find the best interest rate savings account still pays off.
Whether you're looking to set up a children's savings account, or start saving for retirement, getting your head around instant access savings, cash ISAs, peer-to-peer accounts and fixed rate savings accounts will help you get the best return on your money.
You may even be better off with a basic current account paying a high interest rate.
Whatever you're after, we're here to help.
Use our savings accounts comparison tool and in-depth money guides to make sure you're best prepared when that rainy day arrives.
What do I need to compare savings accounts?
In a word, nothing.
Once you're ready to open a savings account, you'll need basic personal details such as your address, job and current bank details.
Certain savings accounts may also require a minimum deposit.
What types of savings account are available?
The different types of savings account available can be bamboozling.
Here's the lowdown:
What should I look out for when comparing savings rates?
When comparing savings rates, look at the AER (Annual Equivalent Rate) to work out how much money you will get on top of your savings each month.
The higher the AER, the more interest you'll earn.
Then ask yourself how much you can afford to save each month.
If you're able to grow your savings without plundering your balance, you might think about opening a fixed-rate savings account.
Next, look at the length of the savings rate on offer.
How long will the bank guarantee that rate for?
Can you afford to lock away your money for that length of time?
Or do you need to be able to access your cash reserves?
Fixed-rate accounts v instant access savings accounts
Fixed-rate savings accounts will typically offer better savings rates because you have to lock in your money with that bank for a longer period of time.
If the Bank of England raises interest rates, your fixed AER will go down in value. But if interest rates are lowered, your AER will become more valuable.
Instant access accounts are less risky than fixed-term savings accounts, but typically offer a lower AER.
The clue to the chief perk of instant access accounts is in the name: you can get your hands on your money immediately, while still earning interest.
Bear in mind that the interest you earn will fall if you withdraw money.
Some current accounts will offer interest rates on a par, if not better than, instant access savings accounts, so make sure you scour the market to find the best interest rate deal.
Certain banks will offer higher interest rates if you make the account your main bank account - the account your salary goes into and all your Direct Debits are paid from.
ISA savings accounts and fixed-rate ISAs
We mentioned ISAs earlier but they deserve a lengthier explanation.
ISA stands for Individual Savings Account and is a tax-free savings account.
Where most accounts will automatically have 20% taken off from the interest credited to your balance, an ISA will give you the full interest earned on balances up to £20,000 (for the financial year 17/18).
Instant access ISAs allow you to withdraw money without charge, while fixed rate ISAs lock up your money for a set period of time - typically fixed deals offer the best ISA rates.
Banks including NatWest, Lloyds, Halifax and Co-op Bank all offer ISA products.
As with current accounts, the key is to shop around. Compare cash ISAs and fixed-rate accounts to find the best ISAs with the best interest rates.
I'm trying to buy a house, what about a Lifetime ISA (LISA)?
The LISA is a new version of the government's tax-free savings and investment ISA.
At it's heart, the principle is the same: you don't pay tax on what you earn in interest.
Anything you save will be topped up by the government to the tune of 25%. So if you put in £1,000, the government will plug in another £250.
This ISA scheme is designed to help people save for a first home or retirement, and as such is only available to those aged 18-40.
So far, however, the launch of the LISA has been a bit of a damp squib, with hardly any banks signing up to the scheme.
Watch this space.
Some accounts offer introductory bonus rates for a limited time frame, typically six months or a year.
These boosted interest rates are designed to lure new customers, but remember: once the grace period ends you will likely be on an interest rate that is much lower.
How is interest paid into an account?
This will depend on the type of account you choose, and the provider.
Interest could be paid annually, monthly or even daily. Check with the bank or building society to be absolutely clear.
Whenever you receive your money, it will be after tax has been deducted.
What is peer-to-peer lending?
Peer-to-peer lending, also known as crowd lending, matches borrowers with savers.
But this isn't saving in the traditional sense - it's investment and so there's risk attached and you might not get your money back.