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The last 18 months have seen savings rates gradually edge up, providing hope for savers who have faced low rates since the Bank of England cut the base rate to 0.50% in March 2009, where it remains following the latest Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting on June 21, 2018.

Research from Moneyfacts shows savings rates have hit a two-year high with increases in rates on savings products outweighing cuts for 17 consecutive months. In May there were 144 savings account rate rises compared to 44 decreases.

Inflation might be at a one-year low of 2.4% – but that’s still relatively high against the base rate, which means it’s difficult to earn a real return from a savings account. Still, if you have money sitting around, it’s better to put it in a savings account and counteract some of the inflation, rather than leaving it to languish in a current account.

With the best easy access savings accounts paying just 1.30%, and the top notice accounts pegged back at 1.78%, you have to invest for at least five years in a fixed rate savings bond to beat inflation.

The other options are to save smaller amounts in a high-interest current account or look to the stock market for growth.

Here we look at the best savings options for a variety of savers with different amounts to deposit and different aims for their finances. You might like to read our frequently asked savings account questions before diving in.

Low deposit savers

If you have less than £5,000 to save and want easy access to your money, high-interest bank accounts pay decent interest rates on limited amounts.

Nationwide’s FlexDirect account pays 5% on balances up to £2,500 for the first year. You have to pay in £1,000 a month. After the first year, the rate drops to 1%, but you can open a Nationwide Flex Regular Online Saver account that pays 5% on deposits up to £250 a month.

Tesco Bank’s current account pays 3% on balances up to £3,000 until April 1, 2019. You have to have three active direct debits to get the interest. If you have more money to save, you can open two accounts, doubling the amount you could save at this rate. If you have a partner, they could also open two accounts, so it’s possible to save £12,000 between you at this rate.

First Direct’s Regular Saver Account is only open to current account customers and pays 5% on regular monthly deposits up to £300, so potentially £3,600 a year. No withdrawals are allowed to get the rate. Interest is paid after 12 months.

HSBC, Santander and M&S Bank also offer linked savings accounts that pay 5% on balances up to £250 a month, (£200 for Santander) if you have a current account with them. They also offer good switching incentives for opening a current account.

Easy access savings

Rates for regular savings accounts that allow withdrawals remain low. The best rate is 1.30% but you can save larger amounts.

Cash ISAs

Variable rate cash ISAs don’t offer much better returns currently either. The top paying account from Charter Savings Bank pays 1.40% and you must give 95 days’ notice to access your money and deposit at least £1,000. The top instant access rate is 1.36% from Al Rayan Bank with a minimum deposit of £50.

Regular savings accounts

The best pay more than easy-access savings, but like savings accounts linked to current accounts, deposits are limited. Saffron Building Society pays 3.50%, but deposits are limited to £200 a month and interest is paid on maturity of the 12-month bond. Kent Reliance offers 3% on regular monthly payments up to £500 a month on its one-year bond.

Medium deposit savers

Monthly interest accounts

These often need a minimum deposit of £1,000 and require 90-120 days to withdraw funds. You can usually deposit between £100,000 and £1 million – and rates are variable, so they could go up if the Bank of England raises interest rates.

Currently only six providers offer rates above 1.40% and all require between 60 and 120 days notice to access funds. Charter Savings Bank offers the best current rate of 1.67%.

Remember, the first £85,000 you deposit in any single regulated bank or building society is protected under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

Notice accounts

These accounts require 90 to 180 days notice to access funds and the minimum deposit is usually £500 or £1,000. Top rates are for online accounts only. Secure Trust Bank offers the highest rate at 1.78%. The minimum investment is £1,000 and maximum is £1 million. Interest is paid quarterly.

NS&I

National Savings and Investments government backed bonds remain a popular option. Savers automatically enter a monthly prize draw and can win up to £1 million.

However, NS&I recently cut investment limits for new savers to £10,000 to meet its annual ‘financing target’ as the bonds are oversubscribed. The rate for its Guaranteed Growth Bond is 1.50% over one year and 1.95% over three years, below the best one-year bond at 2.05% and leading three-year fixed rate bond of 2.33%.

Short-term savings bonds

Moneyfacts said short-term savings bonds have benefited most from the two-year high that savings rates have reached.

Top rates for one-year fixed rate savings bonds come from Atom Bank at 2.05%, only requiring a minimum deposit of £50 and maximum of £100,000, and Gatehouse Bank at 2%, with a minimum deposit of £1,000 and maximum of £1 million.

More than a dozen two-year savings bonds currently pay at least 2%. Again, Atom Bank tops the charts at 2.15%, though OakNorth beats that for a 30-month bond at 2.16%. It’s an online only account and you can invest between £1,000 and £250,000.

Fixed rate cash ISAs

Fixed rate cash ISAs provide a guaranteed tax-free savings return.

The best rates still don’t beat inflation, but the top two-year fixed rate cash ISA from Al Rayan Bank pays 1.81% quarterly. The minimum deposit is £1,000. You can transfer in funds but no early access is allowed.

Shawbrook Bank is second currently for rates paying 1.70% on maturity. The minimum deposit is £5,000 and you can transfer in funds and make additional deposits. You can access funds but you’ll lose 180 days of interest.

Large deposit savers

Long-term savings bonds

The best rate available for a five-year fixed rate savings bond is 2.68% from Gatehouse Bank. The minimum investment is £1,000 and maximum is £1 million. No withdrawals are allowed and interest is paid annually.

Other online only options from Vanquis Bank, Secure Trust and UBL pay 2.66% for a five-year term.

If you are prepared to invest for seven years, Secure Trust offers 2.76%. The minimum investment is £1,000 and maximum £1 million. Interest is paid annually.

Long-term fixed rate ISAs

Fixed rate ISAs for three, four and five-years pay progressively more. Aldermore Bank pays 1.80% for a three-year bond. It’s an online only account and interest is paid annually. You can access your funds but you’ll lose 180 days of interest. Minimum investment is £1,000; maximum is up to the 2018/19 ISA limit.

The top paying five-year fixed rate cash ISA comes from Charter Savings Bank at 2.31%. Minimum investment is £1,000 and it’s online only. You can withdraw funds but you’ll lose 270 days of interest. Shawbrook Bank comes a close second at 2.30% but the minimum investment is £5,000.

P2P lending and stock market investments

In the hunt for returns that beat inflation, investment ISAs or stocks and shares ISAs can provide bigger returns, but they’re not guaranteed and are riskier because stock market investments can go down as well as up. How you invest depends on your attitude to risk and how long you’re willing to invest for.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending is a new form of investing and comes with bigger risks, but potentially higher returns. Your money is not protected by the FSCS.

To find out more, read our introductory guide to Innovative Finance ISAs.

The ongoing low interest environment is challenging for savers, which means it’s even more important to assess the best options to maximise returns.

The good news is, savings rates across the market are steadily improving. By checking out the options now, and thinking about your attitude to risk how long you want to invest for, you’ll be in prime position to build up your savings when rates go up further.

Now read our guide on how to start building up your savings – or how to save up for a mortgage deposit