Act fast to grab the best bank rates

Gemma Swinglehurst rounds up the week's personal finance news, including the best savings rates around at the moment.

"Savers should act quickly to snap up the best rates in almost two years as banks battle for deposits in the run-up to Christmas," says James Charles in The Sunday Times. Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks offer the best-buy a five-year account paying 4.7% and a one-year account paying 3.6%. The best instant-access account is from Coventry building society with a rate of 3.15%, including a 1.15% bonus.

Nationwide Building Society has launched a market-leading cash Isa, which pays a top rate of 3.1% if you have at least £25,000 of ISA savings to put away. If you deposit less than this amount, the interest rate is 2.75%. The minimum deposit is £1,000 and is available only to Nationwide cardholders.

YourPoints World MasterCard is now available to anyone, having previously only been available to NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland customers. It offers a tempting rate of 0% on purchases and bank transfers for a period of 13 months, and a rewards system for flights, holidays and shopping at Harvey Nichols, M&S, Boots and Amazon. However, as Emma Wall in The Daily Telegraph notes, there are catches. Balance transfers from other NatWest or RBS cards are prohibited and after the initial period of 13 months watch out for the APR of 17.9%.

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Debt-counselling charities warn borrowers not to be lured into interest-free short-term loans, says Jill Insley in The Guardian. At Instant Loans Direct, for example, loans are charged at 0% interest for the first eight days, then 50p a day for every £100 borrowed until the loan is repaid, equating to an interest rate (APR) of 448.3%. The best defence Instant Loans Direct could muster is that "most payday loan lenders charge an APR of over 1,000%". That's all right, then.

Nationwide Building Society has reduced the rates on its unsecured personal loans for both new and existing customers by 0.1%. The new rate of 8.9% is available on loans of £7,500 to £14,999, "making it one of the best deals for new customers", says Sylvia Waycot in The Guardian.

"Scottish and Southern Energy customers on its Go Direct 5 online tariff are set to be hit with a second price hike in three months, as the company follows British Gas's lead and ends its online discount deals," says Miles Brignall in The Guardian. Mark Todd, a spokesman for the switching site, suggested that "Go Direct 5 customers (and anyone else) looking for a better deal should go for nPower's Go Fix 8 tariff. It is one of the cheapest available and offers fixed prices until February 2013".

Homeowners should consider securing a good mortgage deal now even if they are not moving or refinancing until 2012 as some lenders will let borrowers reserve a rate six months in advance, says Tanya Powley in the FT. These include ING, First Direct, the Yorkshire and Coventry building societies and the Woolwich, with most charging a non-refundable booking fee of between £100 to £250.