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Savings & ISAs Guide

Leanne Macardle

Leanne Macardle

Editor
Published: 31/01/2019

At a glance

  • Having some money set aside for a rainy day, or perhaps for a long-term goal, is a key part of money management.
  • There are various methods of saving available and plenty of different account types to suit, such as easy access accounts if you want to save money on a regular or ad hoc basis, or fixed rate bonds if you’ve got a lump sum you don’t mind losing access to.
  • It’s important to find an account that pays a decent savings rate, but you’ll want to bear in mind plenty of other features, such as how you can manage the account and when interest is paid.
  • Tax is an important consideration too; while many people won’t pay tax on their savings anymore thanks to the Personal Savings Allowance, the importance of ISAs cannot be overlooked.

What is a savings account?

This may seem like an easy question; savings accounts are accounts you save your money in, right? However, there's more to these handy products than that. Aside from a nice, safe place to stash your cash, savings accounts offer a rate of interest on the cash you deposit, meaning you'll be able to get more money out than you put in.

 

In exchange for storing your money and paying out interest, providers get a cache of funds that they can use to provide loans to other customers, in the form of mortgages for example. Considering these banks and building societies are getting something out of your savings as well, they should not charge you any fees to save with them.

 

Additionally, in the UK these funds are usually protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). This means that up to £85,000 of your savings are covered should the bank or building society you've chosen to stash your cash with go bust. This is per banking group, too, so you could spread your funds around multiple providers to keep all of it protected against the worst-case scenario.

So, the key characteristics of savings accounts are that they offer to keep your cash safe while allowing you to get some extra money through an agreed-upon (variable or fixed) rate of interest on your pot. All other aspects of these accounts will depend on the type you choose and the restrictions that providers put on their products.

What types of savings accounts are there?

This leads us to the different account types that are available. Depending on your needs, you might want to get a few accounts to take advantage of all the different features on offer. You can choose from.

Easy access accounts

These accounts allow you to add and withdraw your money whenever you want (though some accounts may still have some access restrictions). Because of this, they tend to offer lower interest rates than most other accounts. A sub-set of these accounts include a fixed bonus rate for a certain period, which could make them a safer bet. An easy access account can be the ideal place for an emergency pot.

Fixed rate bonds

Fixed bonds require you to set your money aside for a set period of time - typically from one year up to seven or more - and they usually won't allow you to add to your pot over that time (bar the occasional window on opening the account). You may be able to access your funds for a little while or on a severe interest penalty, but many of these accounts will not allow any access at all until the full term of the bond is up. In exchange, they do tend to offer the highest available rates of all standard savings products.

Notice accounts

In many ways, notice accounts are a halfway house between easy access and fixed rate savings. They may allow unlimited additions, but withdrawals will usually require the stated notice period, which can range from 30 days to six months. Sometimes savers will even be able to get early access on the loss of a certain number of days' interest (usually equivalent to the notice period). As they live between easy access and fixed, the rates on offer also tend to sit between the two.

Monthly interest accounts

As the name suggests, monthly interest accounts pay out interest on a monthly basis. These accounts may require notice or could be easy access. They will likely offer saving rates that are less than those offered on annual interest-paying accounts.

Regular savings accounts

These accounts tend to offer the highest rates, but also come with the most restrictions. They will have a time limit to them, as well as an upper investment limit, and they'll usually require a certain number of deposits per year. They tend to be ideal for those looking to save small amounts every month, to develop a savings habit or save up for a specific purchase.

Offshore savings accounts

Offshore savings accounts are specifically designed for expats or those who live beyond the UK mainland, typically in Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man and Gibraltar. Such accounts are typically offered by the offshore arm of the UK’s largest banks and building societies, but bear in mind that funds held in such institutions will fall under the depositor protection scheme of the relevant jurisdiction, not the UK Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

ISAs

ISAs, short for individual savings accounts, are a specialised sub-section of savings products that are exempt from taxation. There are easy access and fixed rate ISAs available, as well as stocks & shares ISA, Junior ISAs, and specialist versions such as the Lifetime and Help to Buy ISA. You can find out more about them in our guide on the subject, or read our FAQs below.

Read our guide to help you find the right savings account for you.

Interest rates for savings

Aside from these main account types, you will want to look out for the type of rate on offer. Variable rates can change throughout the life of the product, while fixed rates are set until the term ends. Easy access rates tend to be variable, while fixed bond rates will naturally be fixed. The other account types can be both.

Once you know what type of account you're looking for, it's a matter of looking at the rate, investment limit and account management methods to see which savings deal best suits you.

Our guide explains how to get the best return on your savings

How many savings accounts can I have?

There is no limit to the number of savings accounts you can have. There are, however, certain restrictions in regards to ISAs, which are explained in our guides. It's also important to note that you can only earn £1,000 in interest per year across all your non-ISA savings accounts before you may have to start paying tax on it due to the Personal Savings Allowance that was introduced in 2016 which depends on the level of income you have from other sources. The limit is £500 for higher rate taxpayers, while additional rate taxpayers get no tax-free buffer.

Not only can you have multiple accounts, but it's generally prudent to have a few different kinds. For instance, you might want a fixed rate bond for your longer-term savings, an easy access account for your emergency pot, and a regular saver to save up for your next holiday.

How is interest paid?

On most accounts, interest is paid once a year, either on a set date or on the anniversary of the account opening. Some accounts, including monthly interest accounts, will pay out interest once a month. Some even pay interest quarterly, while short-term fixed rate bonds with a term of 15 or 18 months may pay out on maturity, which would be more than a year away.

You can easily find out when interest is paid by clicking on the 'Further details' of the account you're interested in. As to where the interest goes, this will depend on whether the account requires interest to be paid away or not. If it does, you will get the funds straight into whichever account you have nominated. If interest is compounded instead, the interest will be added to the savings account itself, allowing you to see your pot grow.

Considering all these different options, it's not easy to determine what the best savings account to gain interest would be. There's obviously the rate to consider, but you should also ask yourself if you want a monthly income from your savings, or you'd prefer to get as much interest as possible via compounding. The top savings rate may look attractive, but always consider if it's got the right terms for your needs before committing.

Read our explanation about how compound interest works

What information do you need to provide to apply for a savings account?

Most accounts will require you to provide not just your basic information - your full name, date of birth, address and such - but also a current account that they can use to link to the savings account. Some providers may even ask you to open a current account with them before you can get one of their savings accounts.

This nominated account will be used not only as the default from which you can add to your savings - if allowed - but also as the account where your savings will end up if you decide to close your savings product. Even if you don't get asked to link a current account, you will generally have to provide an account from which to transfer the minimum investment, as you won't be able to open a savings account without putting some money into it.

What are the best savings accounts?

Given the vast number of savings products out there, spread across all manner of different types, it may be difficult to determine which is the best one. Indeed, you may be disappointed to find that there's not a single best savings deal we can point to as the absolute number one.

Sure, there will be the account with the highest interest rate, and that might be perfect for you, but it won't be right for everyone. Standard high interest savings accounts in the form of fixed rate bonds are good for those who have a lot of cash to put away and don't mind losing access to their money for five years or more.

Alternatively, you might want a high interest savings account in the form of a regular saver, which, as stated above, will offer potentially the highest rates of interest you can find, but won't usually allow you to put aside more than £500 per month. As you can see, even picking out the highest interest savings account isn't straightforward.

To find the best deal for you, you will need to know how to compare savings accounts. Once you know what type of account you want, you can look at the best savings account interest rates available in your search, but you may want to look a bit closer before you decide. How will you be able to open and manage the account? What is the minimum investment limit, and do you have enough? Is it a variable or fixed rate? Is early access allowed? How is interest paid out?

These are all important questions to ask before you pick an account, and only you will be able to answer them. So, instead of looking at who has the best savings rate, see who offers the top rate among those that fit your criteria. You may well find that this is a bank you've never heard of before, but don't be afraid - all banks and building societies featured on our charts are covered under a Depositor Protection Scheme, so your savings will be protected (up to £85,000 per person per bank for UK providers) no matter where you place them.

How does inflation affect savings?

Inflation, which measures the increased price of goods and services, affects the cost of everything you buy. As inflation rises, so does the price of your groceries, fuel etc. Because of this, you'll ideally want an interest rate that is above the rate of inflation, so your money doesn't lose its spending power.

When inflation is greater than the average interest rate, or (in the worst case) all savings rates fall short of the Consumer Price Index - the most commonly used measure of inflation - you will essentially be getting negative interest. That's why it's always a good idea to make sure your savings interest rate is higher than the rate of inflation, if possible.

How are savings taxed?

Since April 2016, the Personal Savings Allowance means basic rate taxpayers are able to earn up to £1,000 in savings interest tax-free, while 40% taxpayers can get £500 in tax-free interest and anyone paying 45% tax will have no tax-free allowance. Any amounts of interest above these tax-free amounts are taxed at the marginal rate applying to that person (20%, 40% or 45%). (Rates of tax in Scotland may differ.)

This means that if you earn interest above £1,000 (or £500), you'll need to declare it to HM Revenue & Customs. Cash ISAs, in contrast, are tax-free regardless of your tax status, so this is always a good first port of call for large savings pots or higher rate taxpayers.

Find out more about the how your savings are taxed.

What are the best interest rates for savings of over £100,000?

If you have more than £100,000 to put into a savings account, you should be aware, first of all, that you will likely have to pay tax on the interest that you get, as you would breach your personal savings allowance with a rate as low as 1%. To that end, the best savings vehicle for you might be an ISA, where you'll be able to enjoy the build-up of your interest without worrying about tax.

However, ISAs will only allow you to put in a certain amount per year (£20,000 for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 tax year), so you'd still have £80,000 to stash away. With this, you might want to put £20,000 aside for the short term, to be put into a new ISA or added to an existing one the following year, keep some of the rest in an easy access account, and put the remainder in a longer-term bond or even invest it on the stock market depending on your objectives and attitude to investment risk.

Depending on the savings rates at the time, there's no guarantee that you won't have to pay some tax on your interest, but the amount of interest you get may just outweigh the tax you'd have to pay – seek professional advice if you're not sure.

Want to invest in the stock market but still get tax-free returns? Look into stocks and shares ISAs.

What are the best savings accounts for over-50s?

While there are a few savings accounts available that are exclusively for people over the age of 50, or even 60, these won't necessarily offer the best savings account rates. Instead, it’s often best to tailor your savings search according to your financial needs, regardless of your age – you’ll want to make sure any potential account can be managed in the way that you are most comfortable with and that it allows the level of access you desire, and of course make sure you’re getting the best savings rate to go with it.

What is an ISA?

An ISA is a type of savings account that’s entirely free from tax, no matter how big a pot you accumulate over the years. You’re only allowed to deposit a certain amount each tax year – which for the 2019/20 tax year is set at £20,000 – and if you don’t lose it, you lose it, meaning you can’t transfer unused allowance to the next tax year.

What happens if I make a withdrawal from my ISA?

This depends on the account in question. Traditionally, if you withdrew money from an ISA you wouldn’t be able to replace it in the same tax year as it would count towards your annual allowance, so if you deposited £19,000 and withdrew £10,000 a few months later, you’d only be able to put an additional £1,000 into the account before the end of the year. Now, however, lots of accounts have flexible ISA status, which means you’d be able to withdraw and replace money in the same tax year without it counting any further towards your tax-free limit.

Is a bond better than an ISA?

This entirely depends on your individual circumstances. It’s true that non-ISA deals tend to pay better rates than cash ISAs at present, but if you’ve got a particularly large savings balance or are in a higher tax bracket, it’d be worth opting for an ISA to maximise your tax-efficiency. Remember, too, that ISAs remain tax-free regardless of how much is held in the account, so over the years you could truly benefit.

Should I get an ISA or a savings account?

This needn’t be an either/or question; rather, it could be looked at as more of a mix and match approach. There’s nothing to stop you from having both an ISA and a savings account, perhaps using each for different means – an easy access savings account for an emergency fund, for example, and a fixed rate ISA for savings you want to squirrel away. It all comes down to your individual circumstances and savings goals.

pink piggy bank

At a glance

  • Having some money set aside for a rainy day, or perhaps for a long-term goal, is a key part of money management.
  • There are various methods of saving available and plenty of different account types to suit, such as easy access accounts if you want to save money on a regular or ad hoc basis, or fixed rate bonds if you’ve got a lump sum you don’t mind losing access to.
  • It’s important to find an account that pays a decent savings rate, but you’ll want to bear in mind plenty of other features, such as how you can manage the account and when interest is paid.
  • Tax is an important consideration too; while many people won’t pay tax on their savings anymore thanks to the Personal Savings Allowance, the importance of ISAs cannot be overlooked.

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