Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Expat rates: three problems that savers have to face

The problems can be summarised as low interest rates, eurozone problems and a dwindling number of providers willing to take their money.

Let's look at interest rates first. Offshore variable savings rates are heavily influenced by Bank of England base rate. It's been stuck at 0.5% for more than three years now, and it looks as if we will be lucky if it remains at that. Head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, has suggested that the UK should consider cutting it from this level.

Even if that does not happen then the chances of a rate rise are becoming increasingly distant. The latest predictions are that we may have to wait until 2017 before rates rise: the furthest away prediction since rates fell to 0.5% in March 2009.

This means that fixed rates are likely to start falling – and onshore, this has already happened. Research company Moneyfacts says that the average one-year fixed rate onshore is now 2.63%. Just a month ago it was 2.85%.

Offshore rates don't usually move as quickly as onshore ones – and this means at the moment expat savers are actually at an advantage. The best onshore one-year fixed rate is currently 3.6% from Cahoot but this is on a minimum of £25,000: you can get 3.45% from Investec, again on £25,000, or the same from Close on £10,000. But offshore, you can get 3.5% on just £5,000 from Alliance & Leicester or on £20,000 from Permanent or Bank of Ireland (IOM) on £25,000.

Over two years, the best you can get onshore is 3.75% on £10,000 from Close: offshore it's 3.8% on £10,000 from Clydesdale International. For five years, Lloyds TSB International is still paying 4.5% on a minimum £10,000 – you can just about get this onshore but not from a high street name and, interestingly, Halifax (part of the same banking group as Lloyds) is paying only 4.15%.

Given that offshore fixed rates are looking particularly attractive, it's wise to expect them to fall in the near future. Indeed, Nationwide International announced on Friday that it is cutting its one- and three-year fixed rates by 0.5 of a point.

Regarding the eurozone, every day brings a new tale of woe for the single currency. Smart savers may well choose to move their money from euro-denominated accounts.

That could also mean getting a better rate of return. Nationwide International, for example, pays 1.95% on less than £25,000 on its Bonus Access account denominated in sterling, but 1.8% on the euro version and just 1.05% on US dollar-denominated accounts (on €25,000 and $25,000 respectively). A survey by Lloyds TSB International found that 46 percent of investors expect two or more countries to leave the eurozone within the next year, and 42 percent predict the "complete break up" of the eurozone within the next five years.

The falling numbers of banks is a sadly recurring theme for expat savers. The most recent to announce that it is packing up offshore is AIB International, where savers are being encouraged to move by low interest rates.

The bank has announced that it is "experiencing a high volume of outbound payment requests" adding that it apologises that there may be a delay of up to two days in processing withdrawals. Hopefully this will not inconvenience any AIB savers trying to snap up fixed rates elsewhere, which could disappear at short notice.

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