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Where to turn for a real return on your savings?

Piggy bank with pound coins in backgroundSavers with variable instant-access accounts have had little to shout about in recent months with base rate stuck at 0.5 per cent since March - and savings rates at record lows.

And, with CPI - the Government's target measure of inflation - now back up to 1.5 per cent from 1.1 per cent in September *, the prospects are not looking good.

A basic rate taxpayer will now need to earn 1.875 per cent gross to get a real rate of return on their savings - a pretty mean feat given that so few variable rate accounts are paying anywhere near this rate.

Check your rate

With inflation rising sharply, it is more important than ever to keep a close eye on the rate you are getting on any funds you have squirrelled away - to ensure you're not losing out.

The crux of the matter is that if you're a basic rate taxpayer and earning anything less than 1.875 per cent on your money, the value of your cash is being eroded.

At the same time, high rate taxpayers will now have to earn a gross rate of at least 2.5 per cent to maintain the spending power of their savings pot.

Best of the bunch

While this may make for gloomy reading, there are still a few variable rate accounts paying a decent rate. West Bromwich Building Society, for example, is paying 2.85 per cent on its Branch Easy Access Saver, and Saffron Building Society is paying the same rate on its Online Goal Saver.

Boost returns with a bonus

One option for those looking to get a real rate of return on their rainy day fund, is an account with a bonus. Citibank, for example, is paying 3.25 per cent on its instant access Flexible Saver, which includes a bonus element of 2.25 per cent for the first 12 months.

Bonuses are no bad thing given the state of the market, but you must make sure you note down when that bonus period expires and be prepared to move your money.

Make the most of your Isa

Looking at the bigger picture, you'll need to move the bulk of your money out of instant access accounts in order to get a real return. Your first port of call should always be an individual savings account (Isa), as the tax-free status will boost your interest earnings further.

Those over 50 can now put up to £5,100 into a cash Isa each year, rather than £3,600; although those under 50 will have to wait until next April for the new thresholds to kick in. Rates are not particularly competitive at the moment, but you can still get 2.65 per cent from Standard Life Bank.

Get in a fix

Once you've made full use of your Isa allowance, you should look to put any remaining funds into a fixed-rate bond, as these accounts are paying the highest rates at present.

You can get a table-topping 3.95 per cent on a one-year bond from National Savings & Investments and 4.8 per cent on a three-year bond from Barnsley Building Society.

And, if you're happy about tying your money up for as long as five years, there are rates as high as 5.35 per cent up for grabs from the Skipton Building Society.

Be proactive

Given that the situation is likely to get worse, not better, as inflation is expected to keep on climbing over the next few months, the message is simple: review interest rates regularly and don't let your money languish in a low-paying account.

All rates correct as of 18/11/09

* Office for National Statistics

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Esther Shaw

Esther Shaw

Esther Shaw is a regular contributor to and is the former deputy money editor at The Independent and Independent on Sunday. Before that, she worked as a money and City reporter on The Daily Express and Sunday Express.
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