Posts tagged "First Direct"

Ffrees family card scheme aims to help parents with university expenses

Savings card can be used online and in store with more than 250 retailers earning up to 20% of the value back from a purchase

Parents can save money towards their children’s university costs and other expenses while shopping through a new scheme.

The Ffrees family card, allows shoppers to buy goods and services from more than 250 retailers from supermarkets and clothes stores, to holiday companies and insurers, and receive a percentage of the value of the purchase as Ffrees, units worth £1 each. Someone buying their weekly shop online, or in store from Asda or Marks & Spencer, would get back 3%, but someone taking out a buy-to-let mortgage through Springtide Capital could get 20% back .

Ffrees can either be left in the Ffrees family account earning interest at a standard bank account rate or, once 250 have been accrued, they can be transferred to a choice of three savings funds run by the school fees specialist financial adviser SFIA.

Applicants must be over 18 to open an account, to which they transfer money free of charge from their bank account. They are then sent a MasterCard to load with the money from the Ffrees account: the first two cards are free, with a £5 fee per card if more are required for different family members.

First Direct founders Peter Simpson and Alex Letts, whose son is about to start university, launched the scheme. Letts says it was inspired by the leap in university fees: “Until now it was the little bit of money families didn’t spend each year that went into savings. Now the much larger amount the family does spend will also help.”

Letts has calculated that a family of four spending £19,900 a year with different Ffrees registered retailers, including £3,600 a year on groceries, £1,000 on clothes and £3,500 on holidays, could earn up to £1,628 in Ffrees.

Ffrees family finance is paid commission by the retailers involved in the scheme every time a purchase is made. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Posted by admin - September 16, 2012 at 08:50

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Letters: When power and money corrupts

The growth in profitability of banks and the strengthening of their balance sheets over the last couple of years has little to do with the very well-rewarded efforts of the chief executives. It’s been much more to do with that old fellow in the Bank of England, who kept the bank rate very low. This has enabled the bank to give derisory (and dishonest) low interest rates to savers, many of whom depend on dividends to supplement their pensions. In my case, I receive 0.22% on savings, with First Direct, a little more if I lock it away for months. First Direct then lends this on to mortgage applicants at “generous” rates and to credit cardholders and overdraft customers at anything from 8% to 28%. It hasn’t yet occurred to First Direct that there should be a link between what it can earn from the savings and what it pays for the savings. No effort by the bankers, yet big bonuses for their CEOs. Altogether a shoddy lot, best done without.
Derek Wharton
West Kirby, Merseyside

• Readers of Margaret Heffernan‘s 2011 book, Willful Blindness, will view the behaviour of Barclays’ staff (Barclays fined £290m as bid to manipulate rates exposed, 28 June) as yet another example of the kind of behaviour central to her thesis. She gives various reasons why it occurs and why whistleblowing is so unusual. An interesting one is that paying high salaries dulls the moral sense of recipients. The prospect of more money reduces people’s sense of connectedness to the community. The psychology of this behaviour has been the subject of several academic studies. Maybe it’s time the findings are taken seriously.
Ivor Annetts
Tiverton, Devon © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Posted by admin - June 28, 2012 at 22:38

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NatWest problem ‘could be good news for competitors’

10% rise in the number of people searching for current accounts indicates customers are considering their banking options

NatWest and RBS customers are already believed to be looking for alternative current account providers following the RBS Group’s computer systems failure, which has caused huge disruption to normal banking services.

Comparison website has reported a 10% jump in the number of visitors to its current account pages over the past seven days compared with levels seen during the the rest of 2012.

Spokesman Andrew Hagger said: “It looks as if the NatWest problems could be good news for its competitors. Usually customers are apathetic when it comes to switching to a new bank, but it’s no surprise that those suffering major inconvenience are starting to consider their options.”

Although other websites say traffic has been steady, they say this is probably because NatWest and RBS customers erroneously believe they cannot start switching accounts until the IT problems which have prevented the updating of their account balances, transactions and withdrawal of cash have been solved.

Nationwide building society said an increase in applications from NatWest and RBS customers by the end of the week was likely, but added it had experienced no problems with switching accounts from NatWest and RBS since 19 June when the problems began. In the 2011/12 financial year, 19% of new Nationwide current account customers switched from Santander, 16% from Lloyds, 14% from Barclays, 13% from HSBC, 12% from NatWest and 11% from Halifax.

Many readers posting underneath Guardian stories about the problems suffered by NatWest and RBS customers have threatened to switch accounts as soon as possible.

One posting under the name of chingwu said: “Seriously considering moving my account to the co-op. Refusing my wife’s card, yet oddly all direct debit’s went out as normal. Not a happy bunny!”

Another called Zackjones said: “Anyone who continues to bank with NatWest after this is a fool.”

Hagger suggests a number of different current accounts for customers with different banking habits. For those who always keep their accounts in credit he recommends the Halifax Reward Current account, which pays the customer £5 each month as long as he or she credits the account with £1,000 a month. However, this account should be avoided by those who sometimes go overdrawn as the charges are very high.

He added: “Take a look at the 123 Current Account from Santander which pays interest on credit balances over £1,000, plus you get cashback on household bills paid by direct debit.”

If you often go overdrawn you could consider First Direct where the first £250 is interest free and it charges a competitive 15.9% above that. You must put at least £1,500 a month into this account. First Direct is also likely to appeal to those whose priority is now excellent customer service: the bank won the 2012 Which? award for Best Financial Services Provider for its consistently high levels of customer satisfaction, good products and services, as well as clear information for customers.

Nationwide’s FlexAccount also has a lower than average overdraft rate of 18.9% plus free European travel insurance and good loyalty deals for current account customers.

For those wanting a debit card that incurs low charges when used abroad, Hagger suggests the Gold current account from Norwich & Peterborough building society or Metro Bank’s standard current account: neither levy charges on foreign transactions. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Posted by admin - June 25, 2012 at 18:19

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Switching bank accounts: £100 opening salvo in battle for customers

The current account switching war has resumed, with Halifax offering £100 and M&S and Metro joining the battle

The current accounts war has intensified, with Halifax relaunching its £100 switching offer, Marks & Spencer entering the fray, and recent arrival Metro Bank announcing more branches.

So if you’re thinking about moving your current account to another provider – perhaps because you’re dissatisfied with your existing bank, or want your money to work harder – which should you go for?

For some people, free cash will persuade them to take the plunge. Money certainly does talk: in January and February this year, Halifax ran a promotion offering £100 to tempt people to defect. The bank says more than 80,000 customers moved their current account to it during the first three months of this year, almost double the number who switched in the same period in 2011. Halifax has now relaunched the £100 offer, which will run until 15 July.

If you’re a fan of Marks & Spencer, you may want to wait for the arrival of its new banking arm, which will have in-store branches, as well as offering online and phone banking. M&S Bank will be launching a current account from the autumn, and you can pre-register your interest from July.

Meanwhile, last Sunday, new high street player Metro Bank, which launched in July 2010, announced it had raised £126m to fund further expansion in the UK, and would be opening “stores” (it doesn’t use the word “branches”) in Brighton, Reading, Hemel Hempstead, Romford, Staines and Epsom over the next few months, to add to the 12 outlets it has in the Greater London area.

Among those who may be thinking about taking their custom elsewhere will be some people who have their main account with Smile, the Co-operative Bank‘s internet bank. From 6 August, they will earn no interest at all.

Free money offers

The Halifax’s £100 cash is available to people who switch to its Reward current account. It says it is the only major bank that will hand over the cash on the day new customers start the switching process. To qualify, you must transfer all your regular payments and credits across from your existing account using the bank’s switching team – and you can’t already have a Halifax bank account.

First Direct also offers a £100 switching payment if you transfer your monthly salary or income of at least £1,500 within three months of opening an account. First Direct says that if you’re not happy with the account and you want to leave, it will give you another £100.

A good interest rate

If you keep your current account in credit and rarely, or never, dip into the red, you will probably be looking for a good in-credit interest rate.

The Halifax Reward account scores well: each month you pay in £1,000 or more, the bank will credit your account with £5, whether you are in credit or not. This payment is net of tax – the gross amount is £6.25.

Lloyds TSB and Bank of Scotland pay up to 3% interest to customers who add the “Vantage” option to their current account, and say you can earn up to £148 a year. You need to pay in at least £1,000 a month and stay in credit. The top rate of 3% (2.37% after tax) is payable on balances between £3,000 and £5,000, while it pays 2% (1.59% after tax) on balances of £1,000 to £3,000, and 1.5% (1.19% after tax) on £1 up to £1,000.

There is no charge for adding Vantage to your account, but you need actively to opt in.

If you go into the red

Look for the cheapest overdrafts. Some banks offer special deals to encourage you to move to them. Smile customers get a 12-month, £500 fee-free overdraft, while the Co-operative Bank’s Current Account Plus comes with an automatic fee-free £200 overdraft facility.

Moneyfacts rates Smile and Co-op Bank as best buys in the “current accounts with overdrafts” category. The bad news is that the Smile and Co-op Bank’s standard account overdraft rates are rising from 15.9% to 18.9% EAR on 6 August.

First Direct gives customers an automatic £500 formal overdraft when they open their account, the first £250 of which is interest-free. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Posted by admin - June 16, 2012 at 08:22

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How to find the best current account

Some banks will pay you to defect to their current accounts and have dedicated switching teams who promise to do all the legwork

If you are unhappy with your bank and thinking about switching your current account to another provider, there are plenty of carrots on offer to tempt you to take the plunge.

Some banks, such as First Direct, will pay you to defect to them. Others, such as Nationwide, offer a transfer “promise” where they will give you a £100 cash payment if they don’t hit their targets for sorting things out. Many institutions have dedicated switching teams who promise to do all the legwork.

Those considering a move need to look carefully at the different offers to see which will suit their needs.

If good service is important to you, First Direct always scores well in customer satisfaction surveys. Earlier this year it said had achieved “the highest ever score” for a bank in a Which? customer satisfaction poll. The survey was worked out using a combination of overall satisfaction with both phone and online services, and how likely those surveyed were to recommend their bank to a friend.

First Direct was named also”best overall provider” in MoneySupermarket’ awards in January based on the popularity of providers’ products on the website, appearances in best-buy tables and the results of a service survey.

First Direct also offers the lure of a switching payment. If you transfer your monthly salary or income of at least £1,500 within three months of opening an account, it will give you £100.

Another provider that tends to do well in surveys, and a good choice for the ethically minded, is the Co-operative Bank, whose call centres are all UK-based. Its Current Account Plus, for those paying in at least £800 a month, offers an automatic fee-free £200 overdraft facility. There is no monthly fee to pay for the account.

If you keep your current account in credit and rarely or never dip into the red, you will probably be after a decent in-credit interest rate. The Halifax Reward Current Account requires a £1,000 minimum monthly deposit, and credits your account with £5 for each month that you pay in £1,000, whether you are in credit or overdrawn. This payment is net of income tax – the gross amount is £6.25. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Posted by admin - May 5, 2012 at 09:32

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Mortgage rates edge upwards

Fixed and variable rates have been increased by several lenders, so mortgage-hunters should look to grab a deal

Mortgage rates are creeping up, and whether you are sitting on your lender’s standard variable rate (SVR) or a homebuyer looking for a deal, you need to proceed with care.

A string of lenders, including Halifax, Bank of Ireland and Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks, have increased their standard variable rates despite there being no change in the Bank of England base rate. Earlier this month the Co-operative Bank’s standard rate rose by 0.5% to 4.74% from 1 May.

It is thought at least a million borrowers are affected by these rises, which have been blamed on changing conditions in the mortgage market and the increased cost of funding.

Meanwhile, average rates on new two and five-year fixed-rate deals have nudged up, according to research by price comparison site

It found the typical rate for two-year fixes was 3.82% in October 2011, but is now 4.15%. Similarly, five-year fixed rates averaged 4.57% in January this year, but this has crept up to 4.72%. For two-year base-rate tracker loans, the average rate now stands at 3.63% compared with 3.37% last summer.

“Anyone looking for a mortgage, or whose deal will end in the next few months, should act sooner rather than later to secure one of the current rates in case they rise further,” says Clare Francis at

Lenders offering best-buy two-year and five-year fixes at 90% include First Direct (4.19%) and Nottingham building society (4.74%) respectively, while those at 95% include Newcastle building society’s two-year fix at 5.65% and Leeds building society’s five-year fix at 5.99%, according to Moneyfacts.

Use the Guardian’s mortgage service to look for a better deal © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Posted by admin - April 14, 2012 at 09:02

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UK banks: apps of the week

Banking may not be the most sexy area of the mobile app world, but with most UK high street firms offering at least some kind of on-the-go service, it’s time to take a look at who offers what

Recent analysis of 50 worldwide banking apps by MyPrivateBanking found that the features customer most desire include: an account overview, online banking and a branch or ATM-finder. On that basis, the UK is a little hit and miss, with some apps falling short of offering full banking functionality and others failing to integrate branch and ATM-finders fully. Here we ru through five of the most popular UK banking apps:

Barclays Pingit

What can you do? Once registered, you can check your balance, pay people, and locate Barclays ATMs.

What’s good about it? A simple five-digit Pin unlocks the app, meaning you can fire it up and be checking your balance within about 10 seconds, even with a 3G connection – as long as you can remember your Pin. Only needing someone’s phone number in order to transfer money, is also a great feature. The branch and ATM-finders are a nice touch, especially as they include directions, Google street view and branch phone numbers. Handily it’s available on iPhone, Blackberry and Android.

What’s bad about it? It only shows recent transactions made using Pingit rather than all your transactions. At the moment non-Barclays customers with a current account can only receive payments, but the bank says they will soon be able to send money.

Overall mark 7/10.

First Direct

What can you do? It shows you the balance on your current, savings and credit card accounts, going back a week. There’s a facility to make electronic payments to selected accounts, but you can’t specify a hitherto unused destination – for that you have to log on to the full site.

What’s good about it? It’s simple and functional, and doesn’t try to overreach itself. Hard for anyone to steal money from your account due to above restrictions on where you can transfer money to.

What’s bad about it? Could offer more non security-essential functionality such as mortgage or loan rate information, calculators, etc. Available on iPhone only, although other phone users can register for its no-frills Mobile Money service.

Overall mark 8/10.


What can you do? The HSBC “app” for iPhone and Android is a cheat: in reality it’s just a desktop icon that takes you to the mobile version of the website – so you’re still banking via your internet browser as opposed to a standalone app. But this does mean you can do everything you are able to do while internet banking on a desktop or laptop computer: view balances, make payments or transfer money, set up or delete standing orders, look at statements and so on.

What’s good about it? It’s as comprehensive as the normal online banking experience.

What’s bad about it? It’s really fiddly because the website isn’t tailored for use on a mobile, so you constantly have to zoom right in to make sure you press the right links. An app should be self-contained and optimised to the available technology – this is just a loose work around that requires minimum technological input from the world’s local bank. Very odd it hasn’t bothered designing an individual app.

Overall mark 5/10.

Lloyds TSB

What can you do? Check your accounts, set up and make payments, transfer cash between accounts, request an overdraft extension and locate your nearest branches and ATMs.

What’s good about it? It’s attractive and cleanly presented – the set-up will be familiar to anyone who already uses Lloyds TSB’s online banking service. You can go look at pages and pages of transactions, rather than being restricted to just the past week or month, and little arrows indicate whether the money is going in or out of your account. It’s available on the Apple App Store, Google Play, BlackBerry App World and Nokia Store.

What’s bad about it? Setting up a new recipient for a payment involves a bit of a juggling act, as Lloyds TSB will call you to authenticate your request and ask for a number that is on the screen of the phone it is calling you on (you’ll need to write it down). You can’t open new accounts – you have to follow the link to the desktop site – and the branch finder is a bit hopeless, as the phone number – one piece of info you might want while on the move – isn’t listed. Logging out takes time – services that log you out too quickly can be annoying, but I found I was still logged in after a few minutes of inactivity, which seemed a bit of a security risk.

Overall mark 8/10.


What can you do? Registered users can check account balances, pay people and bills, top-up designated mobile phones, and find the nearest cashpoints and NatWest branches.

What’s good about it? An uncomplicated design means moving your money around is easy. Once logged in, with a five-digit Pin, making a payment or transfer between accounts takes just a few taps. If you’re trying to watch the pennies then the service for setting up alerts is great, as it sends a notification when a self-set amount is reached. It is available on iPhone, Blackberry and Android.

What’s bad about it? The mini-statement really is mini. You can only see the last six transactions, which is somewhat limiting. But this app is more for quick and immediate transfers than detailed account information.

Overall mark 8/10. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Posted by admin - March 31, 2012 at 10:30

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Which? demands action over unauthorised overdraft charges

Consumer group calls on financial regulator to rein in the banks over ‘complicated and exorbitant’ borrowing structures

Bank charges on unauthorised overdrafts are “too high, too complex and impossible to compare”, according to a report from consumer organisation Which?. It is calling on the financial regulator to put a stop to these “complicated and exorbitant” charges.

Which? asked a group of consumers to work out the cost of an unauthorised overdraft at four different banks by giving them a mock bank statement. Not one got all the calculations right, with the volunteers only managing to get seven out of 48 correct between them. One volunteer, despite currently studying for a PhD in maths, only got two out of the four calculations right.

Which? says charges made by banks when a current account holder spends beyond their authorised overdraft limit, or goes into the red without having an arranged overdraft in place, are extremely hard to calculate and virtually impossible for consumers to compare, as the fee structures are so complicated and vary from bank to bank.

“While overdraft charges may appear easy to compare, as banks charge either ‘simple’ daily fees or interest on their main current accounts, [our] researchers found each had a myriad of complex rules and additional fees,” it said. “Lloyds TSB‘s fees were particularly confusing, with three different types of fees in addition to charging interest on the unplanned overdraft.”

The research also found that people could be paying more than twice as much a month for an unauthorised overdraft with one bank compared with another. Which? said Nationwide – which for unauthorised overdrafts on its FlexAccount charges 18.9% interest and £15 for unpaid or paid item fees plus a £20 monthly usage fee, with all charges capped at £95 a statement – would charge £50 in fees in the case of a customer making one payment from their account while being overdrawn for two days in a row in a month. In the same scenario, Halifax‘s Reward Account would charge £10.

For customers overdrawn for many consecutive days and making lots of payments, First Direct and HSBC charged the highest unauthorised overdraft fees at £150 a month compared with £66 charged by Barclays for the same overdraft.

The research also revealed the daily fees charged by many banks. Royal Bank of Scotland/NatWest, for example, charged £6 a day, equivalent to an interest rate of 2,190% APR on a £100 unauthorised overdraft.

Which? is using the topic of tackling inflated and complex bank charges to highlight the tough action it wants to see taken by the new financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), when it takes over responsibility for protecting consumers from the current Financial Services Authority (FSA) by the end of this year. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Posted by admin - January 21, 2012 at 08:48

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Winter comfort for consumers

Small cuts in gas and electricity bills join slight savings rates rises to suggest things might not be quite as bad as we thought

Amid all the financial gloom, there are definitely some glimmers of sunshine breaking through the clouds.

If you’ve been struggling to pay your gas and electricity bills, prices are on the way down.

Meanwhile, average savings rates have crept up over the last year, and some impressive deals launched in the first few days of the new year are giving savers hope of a positive trend.

There are opportunities for some borrowers to make savings on their mortgage, and the start of 2012 has also been marked by intense competition in the current account market, with a range of switching “bribes” on offer.

This week, comparison website looked at the financial deals on offer and compared them with those available in January 2011. It says average savings rates are up, and average mortgage rates are down, while there are lower interest rates on loans, and the average promotional period offered on a credit card is at a record high.

Energy Prices

Price hikes last autumn pushed average energy bills up around 14%, but there was good news, of sorts, this week, when three of the big players announced modest cuts.

On Wednesday, EDF Energy said it was cutting its gas prices by 5% from 7 February. This means the average EDF Energy dual-fuel bill will reduce by £38, from £1,241 to £1,203.

The next day, British Gas and Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) announced reductions. More than 5 million British Gas customers will see their electricity bills fall by 5% after the company announced it was cutting its standard tariff with immediate effect. It says this will give an average saving of £24 a year, and adds that the cut makes its standard electricity the cheapest in Britain.

However, the reduction was less than expected and there was no change in gas prices. It warned it was “too early to say exactly what will happen to energy prices” later this year.

SSE is reducing its gas prices by 4.5% – but this won’t take effect until 26 March. Around 3.5m households will benefit, cutting typical gas bills by around £28 a year. The company says it has also decided to extend, by two months, its promise to cap household electricity and gas prices – from August 2012 to October 2012. “This means it will not implement any increases before October 2012 at the earliest, but will implement more price reductions if it can,” a spokesman says.

Last week, independent supplier Ovo Energy announced it was cutting gas and electricity prices by 5% – after it had also dropped a planned increase in November. Recent entrant, the Co-op, has cut prices by 3%.

All the big players are well aware that the regulator, Ofgem, is trying to stand up the oft-made claim that the energy firms are slow to pass cuts in wholesale costs to customers.

Ann Robinson at says: “Disappointingly, none [of the three] has cut both gas and electricity. The bottom line is that these cuts will go nowhere near cancelling out the £224 or 21% hikes consumers have seen in the last 18 months. We can only hope these reductions are the first, and more will follow.

“But households can help to mitigate the impact of higher bills by shopping around for a cheaper deal and cutting back on the amount of energy they use by being more energy efficient. Moving to dual fuel, paying by direct debit and signing up to a competitively priced deal will save up to £420.”


Now is the time to check you are getting the best return possible on your savings. The average top five easy access account rate has crept up by 0.23% in the last 12 months to reach a not-bad 2.97%, says The average on a one-year fixed rate Isa has gone up from 2.99% in 2011 to 3.17%. And the average rate for five-year fixed rate savings bonds has hit 4.14% – the highest since July 2011, Moneyfacts says.

Announcing its first new savings accounts since acquiring Northern Rock on 1 January, Virgin Money kicked off 2012 with its Easy Access Saver paying a variable, table-topping rate of 2.85% gross which, unlike many of its rivals, is not inflated by an introductory bonus. This just beats Sainsbury’s Finance Extra Saver paying 2.75% on £1 to £100,000, launched at the end of 2011.

Virgin’s Easy Access Cash Isa also pays 2.85%.

Elsewhere, the Post Office this week launched a new issue of its branch-based Reward Saver offering a variable 3%, which includes a 12-month bonus of 1.25%. It can be accessed in-branch, by phone or by post, and allows easy-access withdrawals with the loss of 30 days’ interest on the amount withdrawn, or penalty-free withdrawals provided 30 days’ notice is given.

If you’ve got money to tuck away for a year, the branch-based Platinum Monthly Saver launched by the Cheshire, Derbyshire and Dunfermline building societies, is paying an attractive 5% until 31 January, 2013.

Customers can pay in between £100 and £500 a month over the term of the account, either by cash, cheque or standing order. They will earn 5% provided they make no more than one withdrawal, and miss no more than one monthly deposit, between account opening and 31 January 2013.

More than one missed payment, or more than one withdrawal before the end of the term, will result in a drop to 1% gross.


On the home loans front, things certainly look a little brighter than they did 12 to 18 months ago.

“During the latter half of last year, rates were as competitive as they have been for a long time, and they still are,” says David Hollingworth at broker firm London & Country Mortgages.

If you’ve been sticking with a fairly average standard variable rate for a while, you can probably shave 1% or even 2% off.

However, says Hollingworth, with the eurozone crisis still unresolved and the housing market likely to be “bumping along a bit”, there is some uncertainty in terms of the outlook.

Inevitably, the best deals are reserved for those who can manage the biggest deposits. HSBC has a lifetime base rate tracker where the current pay rate is 2.49% (Bank of England base rate plus 1.99%), and it is fee-free. There are no early repayment charges. Maximum loan-to-value (LTV) is 65%.

Similarly, there is a five-year fix from First Direct priced at just 3.28%, but again the maximum LTV is 65%, and there is a hefty £1,999 booking fee.

For those who can only manage a 5% deposit, Hollingworth points to Newcastle building society’s new two-year fixed-rate at 5.95% until 31 March, 2014. The maximum loan is £250,000, and the fees are £995.

“There are deals out there, though it will depend on the level of deposit,” he adds.

Current accounts

Growing competition among banks to attract current account customers means there are an increasing number of incentives designed to persuade you to switch provider.

Santander has just extended its £100 cashback offer to people switching their main current account to its Preferred Current Account until 29 February. You have to pay in a minimum of £1,000 a month.

It pays switchers 5% in-credit interest on balances up to £2,500 for 12 months (the rate drops to 1% after that) and provides a free arranged overdraft for 12 months.

Further sign-up bonuses – the most you can pocket is £300 – are on offer to existing Santander mortgage holders and those with £10,000 in savings at the bank who switch their current account.

Halifax recently joined the ranks of banks offering a £100 cash bonus to anyone who switches to its Reward Current Account, but became the first to pay the cashback on the day you go into a branch to open an account and start the switching process; others do not credit you with the cash until weeks after the account is up and running.

Those switching to the Reward account also receive a monthly £5 “reward” if they pay in £1,000 or more each month, and the bank guarantees to help customers move to another bank if they are dissatisfied with the service they receive. The offer runs until 19 February.

First Direct’s offer of a £100 sign-up bonus to switch to its 1st Account remains ongoing. Switchers get access to an 8% regular saver account once their 1st Account is opened – that rate is fixed for 12 months – plus the promise of a further £100 cashback if they are unhappy and decide to switch to another bank, provided they meet the criteria.

And until 31 January, HSBC is offering switchers to its Bank Account the incentive of 6% interest for 12 months on balances up to £2,500, plus access to a 4% regular saver account once the current account is opened.

Personal loans

Leading the way this year is M&S Money, which has just reduced the rate on its personal loans between £7,500 and £15,000 over 12 to 60 months, from 6.4% to 6% APR (representative) – the most competitive right now.

A 6% APR on £10,000 over a five-year term is the lowest loan rate on offer in four years, according to Moneyfacts, which predicts this deal will prove popular with people looking to consolidate their debts at a competitive rate. Someone borrowing £7,500 over 36 months at 6%, for example, would pay back a total of £8,194 at £227 per month.

Tesco Bank also recently dropped its rate on loans from £7,500 to £14,999 to 6.1% APR (representative) for new or existing customers age 18 or over.

But not everyone automatically gets such competitive rates. For starters, you need to be age 30 or over, or a homeowner, to apply for an M&S Money loan. And only applicants with a clean credit record are likely to get these headline-grabbing rates.

People who do not fit the standard criteria, or whose financial standing is less than squeaky-clean, may still apply but are likely to be charged more.

Car buying

If you need to buy a new or used car in the next few months, are you aware that January is best month to bag a bargain? So says the car value experts at Glass’s Guide. With most buyers in hibernation until early spring, dealers are likely to welcome you with open arms and be more prepared to strike a deal. The only exception to this rule is for those looking to buy a used 4×4, as after three white winters, “snowproof” vehicles are in higher demand.

Conversely, those considering buying a convertible shouldn’t delay as the savings will be even greater.

Glass’s suggests buyers look at pre-registered cars, which, it predicts, will be plentiful this year. These are cars registered by dealers to boost overall sales figures, and then sold on almost “as new”, but at a big discount. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Posted by admin - January 14, 2012 at 08:44

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Co-operative Bank freezes overdraft fees for three months

The mutual bank says its scheme is designed to help customers get their finances in order, not to boost borrowing Read more…

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Posted by admin - January 3, 2012 at 09:37

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