Alternatives to the Woolwich Cardsaver account

Now that Barclays are scapping the excellent Woolwich Cardsaver account, are there any alternatives that give a similar level of usefulness from a savings account?

Sadly, none offer the combination of reasonable interest with international debit card access but there are a number of accounts around at the moment which offer most of the attributes of this sadly missed account.

If you don’t fail the credit check, the Egg Money card is excellent. This gives you a Mastercard debit card with no cash withdrawal charges at home and abroad (foreign exchange of 2.75% applies), good interest when in credit, an excellent rate if you’re overdrawn with it and internet access. Where it falls down is that it isn’t a true bank account so you need to quote the reference number on your card when making payments and you don’t seem to be able to get cheques written from the account if you needed to withdraw more than the £500 daily limit (although you could buy things with it). Also, since it is a credit card (albeit intended for savings), they run a credit check on you which may not suit everyone and there would normally be a charge for paying cash into the account as they don’t have any branches. Interest is about 0.75% more than Cardsaver and you even get a cash rebate on things bought using the card.

Similar to this is Cahoot which is a full bank account which offers an even greater range of facilities than the Egg Money account. Downside on this one is that there is a 1.5% withdrawal charge when used overseas (plus exchange rate charge). There’s a credit check on this one too and again no branches although you can pay money in via Post Office branches. Interest is about 0.5% more than Cardsaver.

Intelligent Finance is a more complex version of Cahoot but without the access to Post Office branches. Interest is about the same as Cardsaver if you go for their cheque account, about 2% more if you go for their savings account. Deposits are only by cheque in the post or electronically from another account.

The Easy Access Savings Account from Ulster Bank and First Reserve from Natwest offer pretty much all the facilities of Cardsaver (it’s a Solo debit card instead of Visa Electron) but with a much lower interest rate. However, as the equivalent account issued by Royal Bank of Scotland (who own Ulster Bank and Natwest) only has a cash card (Cirrus, so useable internationally) I wouldn’t depend on the debit card facility remaining. As it’s a savings account, there’s no credit check. Interest is about 1 to 1.5% below the Cardsaver rates.

Beyond the above, you’re limited to cash card based accounts, and for internationally useable ones there seems to be only one option: the Instant Access/Instant Savings Tracker accounts from Royal Bank of Scotland (Cirrus system, interest about 0.25% less than Cardsaver depending on your balance).

The best account for you depends on your needs. Cahoot is best overall in giving good interest and access to Post Office branches for deposits and withdrawals plus it’s a full current account. If you want to avoid the credit check the accounts from Ulster Bank and Natwest are the only ones with debit card access although if you want international access and can do without the debit facility, the Royal Bank’s Instant Savings Tracker account pays more.

If you drop the requirement for international access, your best bet is probably Smile‘s savings account at 4.5% (if you have their current account too) or indeed their current account on its own at around 3% (ie Cardsaver level) which is accessible through their branches and the Post Office too.

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