Last updated: 27/09/2016
Although we use our current account more than any other, it is often the one that we review the least in terms of comparing it with the latest the market has to offer. But with interest rates as high as 5.0% on offer, various types of cashback and other financial incentives, along with a 7-Day Switch service that offers peace of mind to those that do switch, the market for current accounts is the best its ever been. So here we take a look at the three accounts which are proving most popular with those either making the switch, or choosing to take out a second account.
Historically, current accounts have been renown for offering paltry rates of interest, and it is only fairly recently that this has significantly started to change. What this now means is that, provided you are usually in credit with your account, you can now be rewarded with very healthy rates of interest indeed. Not only do all of the accounts featured offer full banking services and have VISA debit cards available, but because of the interest rates on offer the amount that can be achieved when compared with leading instant access and short term fixed rate bonds, can be compelling in its own right.
Current account versus savings account
Therefore, although these should be technically described first and foremost as current accounts, they also have every right to be considered amongst the range of options for savers, especially since they are predominantly offered by the main high street banks and building societies and so eligible deposits are covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
Could you get more from your current account?
Many existing accounts pay no interest at all, so with up to 5.0% available it is always worth comparing what the market has to offer. Staying put simply because you have all of your direct debits set up is no longer a valid reason, especially since the introduction of the current account switch guarantee (see below for further details).
Our top three selections
Each account has its own features and criteria, and most usually require a minimum amount to be paid in each month to qualify for the headline interest rate, with different rates being paid for different levels of account balance. Here we take a look at our three most popular high interest current accounts.
Nationwide’s FlexDirect is our most popular current account, mainly due to the level of interest it pays on all in-credit balances up to £2,500. The interest rate is 5.0% AER (4.89% gross p.a.) which is fixed for the first 12 months of the account being opened. To receive this rate, you must pay in a minimum of £1,000 per month (excluding internal transfers). There is no monthly account fee, a fee-free overdraft is included for the first 12 months and you can manage your account online or via automated telephone banking. After 12 months the rate reverts to 1.0% AER variable.
Fair Investment view: “The FlexDirect from Nationwide offers a market leading interest rate on balances up to £2,500 although the £1,000 you are required to pay in each month is at the higher end. There is also no monthly account fee, so all of the interest earned goes straight into your pocket. Although the rate drops to 1% variable after the first 12 months, this is still considerably more than most current accounts and not that far off some of the top easy access accounts currently on offer.”
TSB’s Classic Plus account also offers 5.0% AER (variable) interest, payable on balances up to £2,000. No interest is paid on balances above this amount and although the 5.0% is variable, it is paid ongoing (i.e. is does not drop down after a set period of time). In order to receive this rate you must pay in a minimum of £500 per month, as well as register for internet banking, paperless statements and paperless correspondence. The account also offers 5% cashback on your first £100 of contactless or Apple Pay payments each month (this offer ends December 2016 and terms and conditions apply).
Fair Investment view: “The 5.0% headline rate matches that from Nationwide’s account although it is a variable rate (rather than fixed) and is paid on a slightly lower account balance of £2,000 – however, the amount you are required to pay in each month is at the lower end of the high interest current accounts available. As with Nationwide’s account, there is no monthly account fee and the fact that the variable interest rate continues without a time limit could make this an attractive option for those looking beyond 12 months.”
The Santander 1|2|3 account combines a competitive rate of interest with the opportunity to receive cashback on a number of your main household bills. You will receive 3.0% AER variable once your balance is at least £3,000, payable on your entire balance up to a maximum of £20,000, with lower rates of interest paid on balances of less than £3,000. Please note that interest paid on the account will change to 1.50% AER on all balances up to £20,000 from 1st November 2016. You can also earn up to 3% cashback on selected household bills such as council tax, gas and electricity, broadband, mobile phones and more. You must pay in at least £500 per month and have at least two active direct debits to receive interest and cashback. There is a £5 monthly account fee.
Fair Investment view: “Because of the way the interest is calculated, this account is likely to appeal to those with higher in credit balances, particular those who regularly have over £3,000 available. For example, if you had £4,167 in your Santander 1|2|3 account, you would earn the same interest as you would be paid on 5.0% AER on a balance of £2,500, whilst this account continues to pay interest on higher credit balances up to £20,000. So if you’ve got savings of £3,000 or more, this account could offer a compelling overall rate of interest, as well as cashback on your monthly bills.”
Apart from the low interest rates generally on offer, one of the main reasons many of us have stayed with our current account provider far longer than other type of account, is the fear that something would go wrong with the direct debits associated with our account. However, since the introduction of the current account switch service in September 2013, the whole process of switching banks is easier and will now be completed in seven working days – the 7-Day Switch.
Over 40 banks have signed up to the service (including Nationwide, Santander and TSB), which makes sure that all outgoing payments, such as standing orders and direct debits, will be transferred across to your new bank on your behalf. The service also guarantees that should any incoming payments be sent to your old account in error, these will be automatically redirected to your new account for up to 36 months after your switch date. This means the banks do all the hard work for you, making switching smoother and faster.
To switch or not to switch?
The 7-Day Switch rules therefore offers peace of mind to anyone considering a switch from their current account provider. However, you don’t necessarily have to switch your current account – Santander is the only provider in our top three which requires you to have any active direct debits (at least two), and so if maximising interest is your top priority, you could also consider taking one of these accounts out in addition to your existing current account, thereby leaving everything you already have in place. You will of course have to make sure you pay in the minimum amount required each month in order to earn the level of interest on offer.
Do not let the thought of moving your current account put you off. The competition for current accounts has rocketed in the last couple of years and hundreds of thousands of people have already made the move to a new account. So as major banks and building societies compete for your custom, always remember to compare the interest rate and any other benefits your current account offers with the best market has to offer – you may be surprised at just how much difference it could make…
AER stands for Annual Equivalent Rate and illustrates what the interest rate would be if interest was paid and compounded once each year.
Gross is the interest you will receive before tax is deducted.