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Starting Saving Where to put your money

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Want to start saving but don't know where to start? Our Savings Fountain shows you where to stash your cash first, helping you maximise the interest you earn.

In world of rock-bottom interest rates, you need to make sure you put your money into the right type of savings account in the right order - whether that is a NISA, current account or a regular saver. We show you how it works.

Two questions before you start

1. Do you have any debts?

If you do, it's far better to pay off debts before starting to save. The interest on your debts is much higher than the interest earned on savings. So pay off your debts with your savings and you're much better off.

In some circumstances, this can apply to your mortgage as well as credit card and loan debts. If this is your case, please read the full Repay Debts or Save? guide first.

2. Do you want to save or invest?

It's important to understand the difference between saving and investing as a start point.

  • Saving. You put money away in complete safety, and get it all back plus interest.
  • Investing. You risk losing some interest and/or some cash for the chance it'll grow quicker.

There is no right answer here - it all depends on your circumstances. Over the long term, the stock market usually outperforms savings accounts. Unfortunately, by its very nature this isn't guaranteed. Get it wrong, or even just get the timing wrong, and you could end up with less than you started with.

Of course, it's not just the stock market. Property, wines, antiques, and starting a business can all be seen as types of investment. They all involve you putting money away in the hope your assets will appreciate, but with the risk you may lose cash.

If you can't afford or don't want to take any risk with your cash, then saving is for you and thus read on. If you want to invest, see the relevant articles in the Saving and Investing section.

The Savings Fountain

The Savings Fountain is simple. Pour as much cash as possible into the best-paying savings vehicle possible. Then, when it's full and overflowing, fill up the next best, and so on.

All taxpayers should pour money into a cash NISA first. These are just like a normal savings account, but tax-free.

Each tax year, every UK-resident adult gets a new NISA allowance that they could either put into cash (savings) or stocks & shares (investments). If you don't use your allowance within a tax year, you lose it.

For the 2014-15 tax year, the annual ISA allowance was £11,880 up until 31 June, then from 1 July, the rules surrounding an ISA changed. It's now called a NISA (new ISA) and the allowance increased to £15,000. You'll also be able to put all of it in a cash NISA - a big change from the old rules which only allowed half of the full allowance in a cash ISA.

If you deposited cash into your (N)ISA beofre 1 July, you can deposit an additional £9,060 to make up your £15,000 maximum.

Everyone aged 16 or over can save their cash allowance in a NISA each tax year (6 April-5 April). And the real boon is...

Keep the money in the NISA - it stays tax-free, YEAR AFTER YEAR.

With normal savings, basic-rate taxpayers hand over 20% of the interest to the taxman, while higher-rate taxpayers pay 40% - but in a NISA, you keep that. So basic-rate taxpayers earn a quarter more interest at the same rate in a cash NISA, and higher-rate taxpayers two-thirds more.

Many cash NISAs are instant access - money may be withdrawn at any time without losing tax benefits. But once withdrawn, it can't then be redeposited in the NISA.

Full Cash NISA guide, including updated best buys

Once you've filled your cash NISA, use special regular savings accounts as they consistently outpay standard savings accounts, without locking your money away as harshly as with fixed rate savings bonds.

As the name suggests, they require a monthly payment into the account.

The drawback with regular savers is you can't just dunk cash straight in there - instead, you have to drip-feed it with a standing order from a normal savings account.

Full Regular Savings guide, including updated best buys

Once the money splashes over the edge of a regular saver, or for instant access flexibility, it's onto the best paying standard account. Instant access gives you easy flexibility. The difference between a savings account and a normal day-to-day banking current account is that there are no cheque books, and with a few exceptions, no cash cards. These are a place to dunk your money in and earn serious interest.

These usually allow unlimited (or at least huge amounts of) money to be put in, but for safety reasons most should limit this to around £85,000 in each one. Read our Savings Safety guide.

Both regular savers and instant access savings accounts require taxpayers to pay tax (clever that, eh?). The rates are:

  • If you earn under your personal allowance (£10,000 for under 65s), you won’t have to pay tax.
  • If you earn (from working and savings interest) less than your personal tax allowance, plus £2,880, you will pay 10% tax on some or all of your interest.
  • If you earn over your personal allowance, plus £2,880, you pay 20% tax on the interest on savings
  • If you pay the higher tax rate you pay 40% tax on the interest on savings.

This'll all change from April 2015. Your personal allowance will be £10,500, and you'll be able to earn £5,000 savings interest tax-free on top of that (provided you've no other income). If your savings income's more than this, you'll then start paying tax at 20% on anything over £15,500.

Full Instant Access Savings guide, including updated best buys

How safe are your savings?

Bank collapse was once easy to dismiss, then the credit crunch and global market turmoil hit. The UK soon found itself bailing out Northern Rock, RBS & the Lloyds group, and the US authorities followed for even bigger bank Bear Stearns. These days every sensible saver should ask “is my money safe?".

The answer is simple. Provided your money is in a UK-regulated bank or building society account, it’s protected under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). Here’s the golden rule:

The first £85,000 per person, per financial institution is guaranteed.

Sadly, this is the simple face of savings safety. The exact rules are more complex, involving how different banks are registered and what counts as a financial institution. For full info, read the full Are My Savings Safe? guide.

How to maximise safety

If you've got less than £85,000, there's no problem. Those with bigger savings, in the unlikely event a bank or building society went bust, for total peace of mind shouldn't put more than £85,000 in any one institution. Spread it around instead.

For those with very large amounts of savings (for example a house sale), this could lead to lots of accounts. Even if you've too much to stick to the £85,000 limit for each one, the general rule of not having all your eggs in one basket still works. For more info, see the how to get 100% safety section of the Savings Safety guide.

This guide and best buys

It's impossible to know if a bank is facing financial demise. We've seen great names of world banking such as Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch in trouble. The only solution for this site is that we'll report the top rates regardless, alongside explaining any 'protection oddities'. So far, world governments have reacted to protect their banks and no savers have lost money, and its likely (though not certain) that will continue.

Don't miss out on updates to this guide Get MoneySavingExpert's free, spam-free weekly email full of guides & loopholes

Other ways to boost savings

There are some other fountain options.

Fixed-rate cash NISAs

Usually, a fixed-rate cash NISA is designed to lock money away for a set period. But by law, providers must allow you access to your cash, whenever you want it. But most will levy heavy penalties if you do this. 

But a few fixed rates have lower penalties, or allow you some access to your cash. If they pay enough and the penalties are low enough, it's worth getting one, even if you have no intention of keeping it for the full term. We've listed the best-paying NISA fixes that allow some form of early access without hefty penalties.

Leaving money in your bank account

If you never enter your overdraft, leaving your savings in your bank account could earn you more than putting the money in a savings account. But you have to have the right account...

This is because unlike savings accounts, current accounts are big businesses for banks and building societies - once you're a current account holder they will then try to sell you other financial products. But the upside of this is that many current accounts now offer competitive interest on any money in-credit, or introductory sweeteners to get you to switch to them.

Full list of top interest-paying current accounts.

Note for non-taxpayers

The non-taxpayers' fountain differs slightly, as there's no cash ISA tax gain. Potential future taxpayers should still consider them as, if you open one now, the interest should still be tax-free by the time you start paying tax. It's a good preventative measure.

For those who won't ever pay tax, the fountain should start with a regular saver as the interest is highest. After that, pick a cash NISA or savings account depending on which pays more.

Remember the rates on all these accounts will change. It's worth checking every six months or so to see if there's a higher-paying equivalent.

Married couples can save tax on savings

If you're married and one of you pays tax at a higher rate than the other, then make sure all the savings (providing you trust each other) are in the name of the lower rate taxpayer. This way you'll pay much less tax on the interest, saving you money. Very simple and very effective. Discuss it in the forum.

Also, remember as children don't pay tax, their accounts are an efficient place to put money in (see the Children's Savings guide).

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