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Locking your money away in a fixed-rate accounts is a good thing to do if you’re looking for a guaranteed rate of return – and with some banks now offering more than 2.5% AER for four to five-year terms, it may be a wise time to consider this kind of investment. It is worth bearing in mind, however, whether you really want to lock your money away for such a long time. Read on for our simple guide to savings bonds as well as checking out the latest fixed-rate deals.
Fixed-rate savings bonds (also known as term accounts, or simply fixed-rate savings accounts) are in many ways similar to other types of savings account. The main difference is that with savings bonds, you agree to tie your money up for a certain amount of time, generally in return for higher-than-average interest rates.
How long does the fixed-rate period last?
A bond can be short-term, lasting between six months and one year. Alternatively, it can be longer term, lasting for between one and five years.
Can I add money during the fixed-rate term?
A few savings bonds will allow you to add money during the term, but the majority will only allow you to put money in at the very start.
Can I take money out?
Once you’ve set up the account, you shouldn’t take any of the money out until the end of the bond period.
If you need the money in an emergency you may be able to get at it – but you’ll have to pay an interest penalty.
How is the interest paid?
While you have the money invested you can usually choose how to receive the interest – either monthly or annually. With some savings bonds you can also choose (at the end of the term) whether to take the money out or to re-invest it.
How much money do I need to put in?
It depends. Minimum savings bond contributions can range from a mere £1 to £10,000 or even more. There may also be a maximum amount that you’re allowed to put in.
How do I put money in?
The same way you put money into other types of savings accounts – either online, by post or over the counter.
Just click on any of the links below to take you to the best fixed-rate savings accounts we’ve found.
How to choose
When looking at different accounts, you’ll generally be concerned with the AER (Annual Equivalent Rate). This is the amount of interest your money will earn in a savings account if you leave it alone for one year.
If your interest is paid monthly, the gross rate (the flat rate of interest) will usually be less than the AER because it doesn’t take into account the interest being paid on the interest – the ‘compound interest’.
Always compare like for like. So compare the gross rate of various accounts, or the AER – but not a combination of the two!
The small details
Make sure you understand the exact terms of the account. Never be too embarrassed to ask questions – it’s your money and you need to be crystal clear about what’s happening to it. For example, find out whether you can withdraw money during the term and whether additional amounts of money can be added.
Interest being paid into a different account
There are some savings bonds which offer an attractive rate, but pay any interest into a separate account. This means you can’t earn interest on the interest you make – so check whether this is the case before you open any account.
Is it safe?
As with all savings accounts, there’s a certain element of risk involved. One way to minimise the risk to your savings is to invest in government-owned institutions like Northern Rock and National Savings & Investments. Government bonds (gilts) are also very safe.
The interest rates are by no means the best around – but having an account with one of these institutions may give you peace of mind.
Get more tips and advice in our golden rules to safer savings.
The main concern for most people is that the bank or building society will go bust and they’ll lose their savings. This potential problem is fairly easily solved: never put more than £85,000 in one savings account. That’s because the first £85,000 of any money in a UK-regulated bank or building society is covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, so if you have less than that amount, your money will be completely safe.
You get higher rates
Generally speaking, a savings bond will give you more interest than an instant access account. However, often a long-term bond of three years or more will have a less attractive rate.This is because the risk to the bank or building society is higher with such a long bond. A bank doesn’t want to be stuck paying a high interest rate (the Bank of England base rate may drop significantly during the period of the bond) so they tend to hedge their bets with longer bond periods.
The rate is fixed
Banks will often drop their rates without warning, so with flexible (variable-rate) instant-access accounts it’s extremely important to keep an eye on them. However, with a savings bond you can rest assured that the interest rate will stay the same for the duration of the bond. If rates fall, you’ll benefit from the fixed-rate agreement. However…
The rate is fixed
As you can see, this can be both a benefit and a drawback. Interest rates could rise during the bond period, meaning you’ll miss out on any higher rates on offer during that period.
However, there’s nothing to stop you opening another account if you have enough money.
Your money is tied up
Your money will be tied up, so in an emergency it could be difficult to access it.
It’s a good idea to keep an amount saved as a ‘safety net’ in a flexible, instant-access account purely for emergencies. We recommend you put aside at least three months’ worth of living costs to cover yourself if you lose your job or get into financial difficulties.
Should I invest in savings bonds?
The best long-term fixed-rate savings bonds:
As a word of caution, at the moment the top rates are generally only with very long-term bonds (five years) and this can be a risky move with interest rates expected to pick up at some point over the next few years.
We think fixing for such a long time in the current climate is a big risk – with the base rate at an all-time low, fixing for five years could leave you stuck with an uncompetitive rate for a long time when base rate rises. The risk still applies for three-year bonds, but to a lesser extent. Having said that, rates on short-term bonds aren’t particularly eye-catching so at least you’ll be earning a comparatively decent rate in the meantime.
The best short-term, fixed-rate savings bonds (with a fixed-rate period of 24 months or less):