National Savings & Investments (NS&I) has upped the rates on its savings products again in the wake of the Bank of England hiking the bank rate on consecutive occasions.

NS&I now offer a Direct Saver with a return of 1.8%, up from 1.2% and 1.75% on its Direct ISA. Income bonds now also offer 1.8% returns – the highest level since 2012. Earlier in October it also increased the prize fund rate from 1.4% to 2.2% in premium bonds.

This is not a guaranteed level, but the average rate it says savers can now get based on prize wins in its premium bonds. That means you could win the top £1 million prize – or nothing at all. In practice the 2.2% rate is the average of what most savers will see as a return on their cash each year.

So, with these rates now at a decade-long high, is it time to put our cash back in the national savings bank?

Better rates elsewhere

NS&I holds a special place in the public’s imagination. Premium Bonds in particular are popular because of the prize-draw element of the savings product.

But in reality, the firm’s rates are inferior to other savings providers by some margin.

For example, at the time of writing, the best easy access account rate comes from Marcus By Goldman Sachs, with a 2.5% rate of interest on its savings account and its cash ISA, and no notice necessary to withdraw your money.

If you save for one year, you can get 4.6% from RCI Bank. For a five-year fix this rises to 4.95% from the same firm. If you want to shelter cash in an ISA, you can get a one-year bond from Aldermore for 3.65% or a five-year cash ISA from Leeds Building Society paying 4.31%.

It goes without saying then that NS&I is definitely not the most competitive. But it is also true that it will pay you a better rate than most high street banks, where you might hold your current account.

The interest rate outlook

The issue with these rates is while they look much better than in recent years, they still sit way behind inflation, which currently stands at around 10%. If you plump for the top-rate one-year bond, you’re still seeing your savings devalue by around 5.5% in a year.

On 3 November, the Bank of England staged the largest single rate hike since September 1989, hiking 0.75% and taking the base rate to 3%. This will no doubt push savings rates up even further.

But if we look into the detail of what its Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) said about the trajectory of interest rates, it believes financial markets are now overpricing its interest rate path, thanks to softening economic data.

What does this mean in practice?

Despite the big fresh hike, many firms that price their products on interest rate expectations, such as savings and mortgage providers, may now be overestimating how high the ‘terminal’ bank rate will go.

This terminal rate is essentially the high-water mark for the actual bank rate. If the economy is now largely overestimating this high-water mark, interest rates, counterintuitively, could now fall -or at least moderate – somewhat.

In short, this means that interest rates on financial products could already be near their high point and will at least remain well-short of inflation until price rises come back to normal levels, something the MPC only sees happening in 2024.

In the short term, having some cash set aside can be a good tool for anyone building wealth. See our article here on that. But in practice, investing still offers the best route for anyone thinking about long-term wealth growth.

Although investment performance is not guaranteed, it has generally been a better tool for wealth growth over a long-time frame.

Any opinions stated are honestly held but are not guaranteed and should not be relied upon.
The information contained in this document is not to be regarded as an offer to buy or sell, or the solicitation of any offer to buy or sell, any investments or products.
The content of this document is for information only. It is advisable that you discuss your personal financial circumstances with a financial adviser before undertaking any investments.
All the data contained in the communication is believed to be reliable but may be inaccurate or incomplete. Unless otherwise specified all information is produced as of 9th November 2022.