Easy access, notice accounts, bonds, ISAs: get the best savings account for your situation
Whether you need to keep your money within arm's reach, or can afford to lock your cash up, we've got the right savings account for you.
There are so many savings products to choose from, it can all be a little confusing.
I've organised them below into rough groups to help you decide which is going to be best for you.
If you might need the money within 12 months
Easy access savings accounts give you quick or even instant access to your savings without penalty. In return, you get a lower rate than if you agree to tie yourself in for longer. These are generally used for emergency savings or for savings you'll need within a year.
They can be useful for longer periods, too. If you tie yourself in to other, more long-term products, you will get a better rate. But those rates might not be so attractive when interest rates rise, leaving your worse off overall.
To keep up with good interest rates, you should really switch easy access accounts once a year.
Check out Your best bets for instant access savings for a full round-up of the best deals.
If you don't need rapid access to your money
Notice accounts require you to give notice, usually between one month and half a year, before you can withdraw money. If you withdraw your money with less notice, expect to pay a high penalty that could even see you end up with less money than you put in.
For years it's been rare to find a notice account that's worth opening, because they don't pay much more than easy access accounts. Frequently they even pay less, despite being less accessible.
If you won't need the money for between one and five years
A better alternative to notice accounts are fixed rate bonds. These pay a fixed interest rate for between one and five years. You can't normally access your money early. If you can, the penalty is usually very high.
As a general rule, the longer the bond lasts, the higher the interest rate. Generally, banks seem to compete more with the one-year and five-year deals, which means you could probably expect a more competitive price with those than with the two-, three- and four-year deals. One-year deals pay roughly what easy access accounts pay, and five-year deals can pay a couple of percentage points more.
Read The top fixed rate savings bonds for more.
Complete inflation protection
Occasionally a savings product linked to inflation is offered. These are rare.
Save while you lend to others
Social savings are actually an investment product. You lend your money to individuals or businesses. Instead of being paid interest by a bank, you're paid interest by the borrowers.
Save tax free
Cash ISAs are savings accounts that you can get in most of the above flavours: easy access, notice, or fixed rate deals. The difference is they're tax free.
With normal savings accounts, banks deduct one-fifth of the interest you earn and pay it to the taxman. If you're a higher-rate taxpayer, you need to declare even more tax on your savings interest through your tax return.
Non-taxpayers can fill in a form to stop the bank taking taxes (and couples with a non-taxpaying partner should use that to their advantage). However, the rest of us can also avoid the tax by using our Cash ISA allowances. The Government has allowed individuals to put in £5,640 this year, on top of what they already have in ISAs. That's £11,280 for couples opening an ISA each.
Check out The best Cash ISAs for the new tax year 2012/13 for more.
Tax-free savings for children
Junior cash ISAs are cash ISAs for children. Most of them have variable interest rates and your child can't access the money until reaching 18. This year you can pay in £3,600 on top of what your child already has in the account.
Read The best Junior ISAs for more.
Like social savings, share ISAs are investments rather than savings. They could be far more rewarding than savings accounts, although they're riskier the shorter your investment horizon.
The UK's best Stocks and Shares ISAs will give you a good idea of the best ones to consider.
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