Friday, 28 October 2011

Where’s a safe haven for your money?

Simonne gives some wise advice about savings:
We all want to sleep soundly knowing our money's safe....

The world’s stock markets continue to take up too many column inches, and it’s difficult not to worry about how your investments will weather the financial storm. 
So where do you stash your cash when there’s such turmoil the world over?
Investing in stocks and shares still makes sense if you’re happy to put away your money for the long term – in financial speak, that means at least 5 years, preferably longer. One approach to reduce the risk is to drip your money in over a period of months, rather than investing a lump sum and hoping for the best. If you’re worried about the recent turmoil in stock markets, watch this episode of Meaningful Money, with Pete Matthews offering sound advice.
But what if you don’t want to tie up your money for that long? 
Or you’re looking for less risk? Savings accounts are one way to go, but with interest rates so low what other options are there? Here’s are some:

Fixed Interest Savings Accounts If you’re prepared to tie up your cash savings for a fixed term like three, four or five years, you’re likely to get better returns than from ordinary instant-access savings accounts. The Money Advice Service offers some guidelines about getting the most from your savings accounts.

Social Lending This is a peer-to-peer arrangement, so you’ll be lending to individuals rather than to conventional institutions such as banks. The aim is to get a better rate than you would with a bank, but with that comes extra risk. The companies that manage this type of lending are not currently regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and your capital isn’t protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, as it would be with an authorised firm. But there are methods used to control and minimise the risk to lenders. So you’ll need to weigh up the chance of a higher rate of interest with the increased risk and lower protection. Popular social lending sites include Zopa, RateSetter and Quakle. The Consumers Association, Which?, has a good review of some of the main social lending sites.

Inflation-proofed savings National Savings Certificates used to provide a guaranteed, tax-free interest above inflation and were in great demand, but sadly the door closed to new business early last month. Since then we’ve seen a few banks/building societies offering something similar, including the Post Office. But these accounts aren’t backed by the government and interest earned above inflation is taxable. However, if you hold no more than £85,000 in any one banking institution, your savings are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. And they offer a fixed rate of interest above inflation. The accounts currently available tie up your money for a fixed term. A good review of the current selection of savings accounts linked to inflation can be found on SavvyWoman, Sarah Pennell’s, website.

Regular savings accounts If you can commit to save a fixed amount for a fixed term - usually 12 months - there are better rates around, as much as 8% a year, compared to say 3% in a high-interest account. Savings may be limited to £250 per month, though, and you might not be able to access to your money for the whole fixed term. Moneysupermarket is one of a number of comparison sites, which help you weigh up different regular savings accounts currently on the market.

If you’ve got a lump sum of cash to deposit, you could make use of a regular savings account. Run one alongside a high interest savings account, making a monthly transfer from the high interest account to regular savings account, which should increase your overall return.

Structured products have increased in popularity since the credit crunch. They’re usually promoted as a safe way of investing money where you benefit from the upside of the stock market without risking the downside. Typically, your money is tied up for five or six years. At maturity, you get a proportion of the stock market return over that term, and your money back if the stock market has fallen. But be careful, and take time to read the small print. The ‘capital guarantee’ (the getting your money back bit) usually applies only if the market hasn’t fallen below a certain level. This means that if markets fall dramatically, you could lose a big chunk of your original investment. The product may also be backed by different organisations and if the sponsor goes bust, you could lose all your money. Moneyweek’s video warns about their risks.

If you want more advice on savings and some financial coaching, see Simonne's website.

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