Our Prudent Parent weighs the perks and pitfalls of a much-loved British savings vehicle.
The British public has long had a love affair with premium bonds, but the figures show that buying premium bonds for children or grandchildren is likely to be an unrewarding relationship. My own experience is a good example: I have a few hundred pounds in premium bonds from my late grandparents. Over about 20 years, I have won £50.
- Prudent Parent: Build a ‘rainy day baby’ fund for parental leave
Yet the attractions are clear: the bonds are backed by the government (so capital is safe unless the UK goes bust), with monthly prizes from £25 to a life-changing £1 million.
Returns are tax-free, but this is not the lure it once was, as the introduction of the personal savings allowance in April 2016 allows basic-rate taxpayers to earn £1,000 (higher-rate taxpayers £500) tax-free each year, so you would need to have a significant sum stashed away in cash before tax became an issue.
Ultimately, the Achilles’ heel is inflation, as most premium bond holders will see the value of their capital slowly whittled away in real terms. The annual prize fund interest rate stands at 1.4%, below the 2.3% rate of CPI inflation in November. Moreover, the prize pot is not split equally, so the interest rate of 1.4% does not reflect individual experience – in reality there are far more losers than winners.
While the prospect of landing a big win is enticing as well as fun, the main way to beat inflation over the long run in the current climate is in the stockmarket.
Premium bonds are a gamble: if you don’t win, you lose interest that could have been earned elsewhere. It’s not savvy to take that risk and have premium bonds forming the bulk of savings for children or grandchildren.
This article was originally published in our sister magazine Money Observer, which ceased publication in August 2020.
These articles are provided for information purposes only. Occasionally, an opinion about whether to buy or sell a specific investment may be provided by third parties. The content is not intended to be a personal recommendation to buy or sell any financial instrument or product, or to adopt any investment strategy as it is not provided based on an assessment of your investing knowledge and experience, your financial situation or your investment objectives. The value of your investments, and the income derived from them, may go down as well as up. You may not get back all the money that you invest. The investments referred to in this article may not be suitable for all investors, and if in doubt, an investor should seek advice from a qualified investment adviser.
Full performance can be found on the company or index summary page on the interactive investor website. Simply click on the company's or index name highlighted in the article.