Four great presents I'd like to find in my stocking
Switch to a better deal and give yourself a really decent present this Christmas!
Satsuma… Terry’s chocolate orange… socks… current account, anyone? Financial products might not be typical stocking fillers, but switching yours could make you a lot better off in 2011.
Here are my top picks from the UK’s banks, building societies and card providers.
Best current account
The current account market is very competitive at the moment, and there are some great deals to be had. As with most financial products, the right current account for you will depend on your individual financial situation and priorities.
For example: Is it more important to you to have a large interest-free overdraft, or a decent in-credit interest rate?
Your current account is one of the financial products you’re likely to access and deal with most often. I undertake some sort of transaction involving my current account almost every day, so customer service is a top priority for me.
For this reason, my top current account pick is the 1st account from First Direct. In independent customer satisfaction polls, it is consistently highly rated, beating the bigger high street brands (some with pretty appalling service records) into submission.
The 1st account will also give you a £100 cash bonus if pay in £1,500 per month for the first three months. And First Direct is so confident you’ll be happy with the account that if you’re not, it will give you another £100 if you switch within a year. Finally, the account offers a 0% overdraft of £250.
Just bear in mind that you need to pay at least £1,500 per month into the account (or have another financial product with First Direct, such as insurance); if you don’t, you’ll be charged a £10 monthly fee.
To find out about other popular current accounts, read The top six current accounts.
Related how-to guide
Here's how to get into the savings habit, find forgotten money, work out the real value of a savings rate and build up that emergency savings pot.See the guide
Best instant access savings account
My ideal instant access savings account would have three main benefits: A market-leading rate of interest, a genuinely high level of flexibility, and a low minimum level of deposit.
These are all factors that should encourage people to start saving, no matter how tight their budgets or unpredictable their circumstances.
That’s why my top pick in this category is the Online Saver account from the Post Office. It pays a leading rate of 2.90% AER, and you need just £1 to open it.
You can also make as many deposits and withdrawals as you like, with no penalties or restrictions.
Remember that, as with all instant access accounts, the headline interest rate is variable. And it includes a 1.25% bonus element that only lasts a year, so after that you’ll need to find another, more competitive savings option.
Post Office accounts used to be guaranteed by the Irish government. The good news is that they are now subject to exactly the same FSCS protection as other UK accounts.
To find out how you could make easy household savings every month, read Five steps to financial happiness.
Best fixed rate savings account
I’m a big fan of regular savings accounts. They offer a very good, fixed rate of interest (typically for 12 months).
In return for this high interest rate, you need to save a certain amount of money every single month and you usually aren’t allowed to make withdrawals. That means this sort of account also provides a good incentive to improve your savings habit.
My top choice in this category is the Regular Saver Bond (Issue 10) from Principality Building Society. This offers a market-leading fixed rate of 4% AER for 12 months.
There are a couple of other accounts that also offer 4%. For example, the Fixed Rate Monthly Saver (Issue 12) from Santander offers this rate for 13 months.
However, Principality’s offering is my favourite, because it allows you to save an unusually large amount every month: Anything from £20 to £500.
Just bear in mind that this account offers very little savings flexibility. If you miss any payments or make any withdrawals, the rate will drop to a measly 0.1% for the whole term of the account.
If you’re applying for a balance transfer credit card, make sure you follow these top tips.
Best credit card for clearing debt
There’s no doubt that irresponsible credit card spending can cause serious financial problems. However, credit cards can also be used for good.
A decent 0% balance transfer credit card can provide valuable breathing space in the fight to get out of debt - because it allows you to transfer debt from interest-charging cards, and therefore cut your monthly interest bill to zero.
There are currently several balance transfer cards that offer 0% deals lasting 16 months. However, one pips the rest to the post as my top pick, because its transfer fee is very slightly lower.
The MBNA Platinum Plus card offers 16 months interest-free, with a transfer fee of 2.88%.
Just make absolutely sure you’ve cleared the balance before the 0% deal ends. If you don’t, you’ll be charged a substantial 16.7% APR on the remaining debt.
And remember that you won’t be able to apply for this card if you already have one backed by MBNA. This includes some cards - including Virgin’s offering - that are not clearly MBNA-branded.
To find our about other top credit cards currently on the market, read There’s never been a better time to get a credit card.
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