Monthly archive for October, 2016

5 percent fixed for 12 months – our best selling current account…

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Last updated: 25/10/2016

With more and more high interest current account providers announcing reductions to their interest rates, the 5% fixed for 12 months from Nationwide now looks even better than before. Here we take a more detailed look at the pressures savers are facing in these difficult economic conditions, as well as help reveal why the FlexDirect continues to be our best selling current account.

Nationwide FlexDirect account summary

  • 5.0% AER (4.89% gross p.a.) fixed for 12 months
  • Paid on balances up to £2,500, no interest paid above this amount
  • 1.0% AER variable on balances up to £2,500 after 12 months
  • You must pay in £1,000 per month to qualify
  • No requirement to set up direct debits
  • Contactless Visa debit card available
  • 12 month fee-free arranged overdraft available
  • Free text alerts to help you manage your account
  • No monthly account fee
  • Covered by the Current Account Switch Guarantee and Financial Services Compensation Scheme

Savings rates in dire straits

Our market leading instant access account (RCI Bank Freedom Savings Account) is currently paying 1.0% AER variable, whilst our best long term fixed rate (Vanquis 5 Year Fixed Rate Bond) will get you 1.95% AER – that’s an increase of less than 1% per year for tying up your money for five years, albeit the rate from Vanquis is fixed for the full term. Then of course there are a load of accounts offering rates in between these, mainly fixed rate bonds of different durations. It may be repeated far too often, but unfortunately it makes it no less true – savings rates are at record lows – and it would seem this at the very least, this is set to continue, and possibly get even worse.

Inflation into the mix

If record low savings rates weren’t enough to worry about, the Consumer Price Index rose from 0.6% to 1.0% in September, the biggest monthly rise in more than 2 years and its highest level for 22 months. Since this rise, less than half of all savings accounts are able to match or beat this level, which means many savers are seeing the value of their cash eroded in real terms. According to the Bank of England, the average easy access account now pays under 0.3%, and with further cuts to savings rates on the cards, inflationary rises are a serious cause for concern.

High interest current accounts

Although historically, current accounts offered little if anything in the form of interest on your account balance this has changed significantly in the last few years, and against this harsh economic backdrop for savers, it is hardly surprising that the high headline rates of interest on offer have made compelling reading. Indeed, high interest current accounts have been one of the most popular safe havens for those looking to combine all of the usual account features you would expect from a full banking service with a highly competitive rate.

5% fixed for 12 months

Top of the rate table is Nationwide’s FlexDirect account which offers 5.0% AER (4.89% gross p.a.) fixed for the first 12 months. This rate is paid on all in-credit balances up to £2,500 and you must pay in a minimum of £1,000 per month to qualify (this excludes internal transfers). After 12 months the rate reverts to 1.0% AER variable. There is no monthly account fee, and with top rates on instant access and fixed term deposits ranging between 1.0% and 1.95%, it is easy to see why this account has attracted so much attention.

Others falling short

TSB Bank also offers 5.0% AER but this is variable and is only paid on balances up to £2,000, rather than the £2,500 on offer from Nationwide. The rate is, however, paid ongoing rather than for a fixed period of 12 months. But TSB has recently announced that with effect from 4th January 2017, the rate will reduce to 3.0% AER variable and will only be paid on balances up to £1,500. This follows in the footsteps of Santander who announced back in August that the 3% top tier interest rate on its flagship 1|2|3 Account would be halved to 1.50%, taking effect from 1st November this year. Lloyds has also announced that the rate on their Club Lloyds current account will halve from 4% to 2% in January 2017.

So whilst Nationwide’s main competitors are reducing their rates, this makes the FlexDirect offering even more competitive, especially since the rate is fixed for the first 12 months. Currently we are not aware that Nationwide has any plans to reduce its rate, although they state their rates are constantly under review.

Fair Investment view

Commenting on the account, Oliver Roylance-Smith, head of savings and investments at Fair Investment Company said; “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 compared to other current accounts offering competitive interest rates. 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 other current accounts and on a par with some of the top instant access accounts currently on offer. With the Current Account Switch Guarantee running alongside, there really is no excuse to finding out more.

Santander still the top choice on larger balances

With effect from 1st November, Santander’s 1|2|3 account offers 1.50% AER variable on all balances up to £20,000. If you were to compare this with the best instant access accounts on offer, it would be a clear market leader, albeit with the cap on the amount you can earn interest on. 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 also a £5 monthly account fee, which may be cancelled out if you make the most of the cashback on offer – their site has a simple calculator to help you work out how much cashback and interest you might earn, versus this monthly cost.

A note on the Personal Savings allowance

Remember that since the start of the current tax year (6th April 2016), most people receive a personal tax free allowance for interest earnings on savings. For basic rate taxpayers this is set at £1,000 each tax year, whilst higher rate taxpayers get an allowance of £500. Beyond these allowances, basic rate taxpayers will pay 20 percent on savings income and higher rate taxpayers pay 40 percent. Additional rate tax payers will not receive a personal allowance. Also note that income from ISAs does not count towards your Personal Savings Allowance (it’s already tax-free).

An important part to play for savers?

Even with the Personal Savings Allowance, there is no doubt that every penny counts in these days of record low rates, creeping inflation and economic pressures all round, and so the returns on offer from the best high interest current accounts cannot be ignored. 5% on £2,500 equates to £125. Our market leading instant access currently offers 1.0% and so you would need £12,500 in that account to achieve the same level of return. Although these are first and foremost current accounts, they also have every right to be considered amongst the range of options for savers.

7-Day Switch

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 and Santander), 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 offer peace of mind to anyone considering a switch from their current account provider. However, you don’t necessarily have to switch your current account – although Santander requires you to have at least two active direct debits, Nationwide does not 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.

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). As a minimum, these accounts should be considered an important contributor to the overall returns from your savings.

 

Click here for more information on Nationwide’s FlexDirect account »

Click here for more information on TSB’s Current Plus account »

Click here for more information on Santander’s 1|2|3 account »

Click here to compare high interest current accounts »

 

Please note that all rates and charges quoted are subject to change.

Overdrafts are only open to customers aged 18 or over and are subject to approval.

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.

Top 10 tips for ISA savers and investors

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Since we have just passed the halfway point in the tax year, now is the perfect opportunity to review your ISA planning, whilst you still have plenty of time to do so. There are plenty of ISA opportunities out there, and since each of us (over the age of 16 for a Cash ISA, and 18 for an Investment ISA) has a healthy ISA allowance each and every year, this really should be a top priority for all savers and investors to review all existing ISAs as well as the wide range of options open to them. To help you act and act fast, our head of savings and investments, Oliver Roylance-Smith, has put together his Top 10 ISA tips, so there can be no excuse for missing out on valuable tax-efficient returns well before the end of the tax year…

Tip 1 – Know your limits…

At the start of each financial year, HMRC set a limit on the amount each individual can put into an ISA over the course of the next twelve months, between 6th April and the following 5th April. This is known as the ISA allowance. The ISA allowance for the current tax year (2016/17) stands at £15,240, which is the highest it has ever been. Also remember that this allowance is per person (over the age of 16 for a Cash ISA, and age 18 for an Investment ISA), so a couple can invest up to £30,480 in total this tax year.

Tip 2 – Consider the impact of current ISA savings rates

However, despite this generous ISA allowance it is not all good news, especially for cash ISA savers. This is because the increases to the ISA allowance in recent years has coincided with some of the lowest interest rates on record, so although there is the incentive to save, the deals on offer are far less attractive than the cash-based returns of yester-year. Therefore it is more important than ever to consider the potential impact of this on the overall returns from our capital and what impact this might have.

Tip 3 – Take a risk check

Cash ISAs protect your initial capital (and your initial deposit is normally covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme) and offer either a fixed or variable return, whilst Investment ISAs offer the opportunity for higher returns but place your capital at risk. Generally the greater risk you take with your capital, the higher the potential rewards and capital losses are.

Further to the Bank of England’s first base rate cut in seven years back in August, savers have again realised that the likelihood of any significant change to savings rates is very unlikely, and even when interest rates do start to rise there is no guarantee that this will be passed on to savers. Times have definitely changed, and this has resulted in the continued trend of record Investment ISA subscriptions as more and more ISA savers are in the hunt for higher returns. So now would be a good time to review the risk versus reward on offer from both your existing ISAs and any new ISAs you are considering.

Tip 4 – Think about tax free income

Although the personal savings allowance has resulted in many savers not having to worry as much about the impact of tax on their overall returns, there are still other considerations and those who have existing ISAs, are higher (and additional) rate tax payers, or anyone who is or may in the future take a high amount of non-dividend income from their capital, should all think about using ISAs to receive tax free income. Not only does this income not need to be declared on a tax return, but income from ISAs is not included in the personal savings allowance, so you can use additional further funds towards this.

Tip 5 – Make full use of the ISA’s flexibility

Gone are the days when there was a different limit for Cash ISAs and Investment ISAs, and for the last couple of years there has been no restriction on the amount you can put into either type – so Cash ISA savers have enjoyed the full ISA allowance. This greater flexibility means that you can put the full ISA allowance into a Cash ISA, an Investment ISA, or a mixture of the two in any proportion you choose. This allows ISA savers to give careful consideration to balancing the risk versus reward of their ISA portfolio, whilst remaining safe in the knowledge that the benefits of not paying any tax increases over time – so the more you can put away each year, the more you are likely to benefit.

Tip 6 – Get ahead of the game

Despite it being only half way through the tax year, you should always have half an eye on the 5th April end of tax year deadline. We can all be guilty of putting off until tomorrow those things which could be done today, and we all know how quickly time can fly. Remember, you cannot backdate your allowance so if you don’t use it, you lose it. In addition, the earlier in the tax year you act, the more time your cash has the potential to benefit from the tax efficient returns.

Tip 7 – Think to the future

Needless to say that in the current financial climate, every penny counts – so why pay tax on money that you can protect from the tax man, both now and in the future? Money held in an ISA has the opportunity to build on the tax-efficient returns year on year. If you had invested the maximum into a Cash ISA since they were first introduced in 1999, and you had received 2.5% per year, at the end of this tax year you would have a savings pot of almost £120,000. If you put the maximum into an Investment ISA every year, and that had grown at 6% each year, you would see a lump sum of almost £279,000. Both are sizeable amounts, none of which would be subject to income tax or capital gains tax. Please note that the tax efficiency of ISAs is based on current tax law which is subject to change in the future.

Tip 8 – Always check your current interest rate

Rates change frequently and once you’ve deposited your hard earned cash, your ISA provider knows from experience that some of you are unlikely to get round to switching providers, even if your rate ceases to be competitive. Don’t be that person! Always check the rate you are currently receiving (this should be detailed on each statement) and compare it with a wide range of other options on offer. However good your ISA deal seems at the outset, it is likely that you will need to transfer your ISA fairly frequently in order for it to remain competitive.

Tip 9 – Take advantage of ISA transfers

Many of us already have existing ISAs, however, like so many other savers and investors, you may find that your ISA is no longer paying a competitive rate or your investments are underperforming – this is where the ISA transfer can help. You can transfer all previous ISA holdings and most allow you to do this without charge, although don’t forget to check whether there are penalties from your existing provider. Remember that now you can transfer between Cash ISAs and Stocks & Shares ISAs without any restriction, which means that you can choose to keep all of your ISA savings and/or your investments in one place.

With such low interest rates, much of the increase in the numbers of Investment ISAs in the last couple of years has come from ISA transfers. The upside here is the potential for higher returns whilst the downside is that such returns are not guaranteed and your capital is at risk. Either way, don’t waste your ISA by keeping it in a low paying savings plan or poorly performing investment. There is a wide choice available.

Tip 10 – Maintain your ISA at all costs

Whilst your savings and investments remain in their tax-efficient ISA ‘wrapper’, the benefits become more and more valuable over time as the compound effect of not paying tax each year builds and builds. This is why not only should you try and maximise your ISA allowance each year, but you should also aim to make sure your ISA is the last money you dip into since as soon as you take money out of your ISA it loses these benefits.

Start a new ISA or transfer your current ISA now

The current ISA allowance is available now and many of the savings accounts and investments available through Fair Investment Company are available as new ISAs and accept ISA transfers. So start as you mean to go on, review your options carefully and make sure you benefit from up to a half a year of extra tax-efficient returns by taking action now. This also means one less thing to worry about until 6th April next year…

 

Compare Cash ISAs »

Compare Income ISA investments »

Compare Growth ISA investments »

Compare ISA transfers »

 

Please note that this information is based on current law and practice which is subject to change.

No news, feature article or comment should be seen as a personal recommendation to invest. Prior to making any decision to invest, you should ensure that you are familiar with the risks associated with a particular investment. If you are at all unsure of the suitability of a particular investment, both in respect of its objectives and its risk profile, you should seek independent financial advice.

Tax treatment depends on your individual circumstances and is based on current law which may be subject to change in the future. Always remember to check whether any charges apply before transferring an ISA.

The value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise and you may not get back the full amount invested. Different types of investment carry different levels of risk and may not be suitable for all investors.