When it comes to money management, asking these questions and comparing the market for the best personal finance product can really pay off – literally! When it comes to your hard earned dollars, you deserve the best rate, service and perks – but with thousands of rates and features offered on the market (not to mention all that fine print) personal finance shoppers can find themselves second guessing their choices.
As Canada’s independent rate comparison site, we’re here to dispel that doubt: introducing Best of Finance 2012 – our hand picked best product winners, representing credit cards, mortgages, bank accounts, insurance and investing.
The Process Behind Our Picks
It’s our mission to provide transparent access to the best products on the market. We used the following methodology to select those that stood out from the rest.
1) A competitive rate: While the lowest rate on the market doesn’t always indicate a superior product, who doesn’t love a great deal? Lenders looking to save Canadians a buck or two are tops in our books – those who offered a great product at a consumer-friendly price lead the pack.
2) Best value: Are you getting the best return from your savings and investing vehicles? We rounded up the highest interest-paying products that not only rewarded investors financially, but helped save time through intuitive features and user-friendly convenience.
3) Features: While savvy investors value substance over style, a good perk never fails to sweeten the deal. Rewards can single out the best credit card for your needs, while flexible prepayment options can make or break a record-setting mortgage rate. These unique features were strongly considered when selecting the best products in each category.
4) Ease of use: No one likes red tape – there’s nothing more frustrating than navigating hidden clauses and fine print to understand how a product will impact your wealth. Our picks have been selected due to the straightforward payoff they provide, and how effectively they fulfill a consumer’s needs.
Without further ado…. presenting the best financial products of 2012!
Credit Cards: Best Rewards
Cash Back No-Fee Credit Card: Smart Cash MasterCard® Credit Card
Why it’s the winner: With 5% cash back on life’s gas and grocery necessities, this is the highest cash back reward return on the Canadian market (it goes to 2% after this introductory period). Shoppers can also receive 1% back on all other purchases, and those looking to switch to this card can take advantage of a low balance transfer rate of 1.99% for the first 10 months (21.99% after that). With all these competitive perks at no annual fee, it’s no wonder this has been one of the most popular credit cards on our site.
Cash Back Fee Credit Card: Scotia Momentum® VISA Infinite
Why it’s the winner: This card rewards your every purchase, providing 4% back on gas and groceries, 2% on recurring payments (get a break on those bills!) and 1% back on all other purchases. While it comes saddled with a $99 annual fee, the cash back rates offered are not subjected to an introductory period, so your saving opportunities will never expire.
Travel No Fee Credit Card: Capital One Aspire Travel Platinum MasterCard
Why it’s the winner: You’ll earn one reward mile with every dollar spent with this no-fee travel rewards card, which can be redeemed for travel, gift cards – even cash! New sign ups will kick off those travel goals right away with 5000 bonus points, and card holders receive an additional 25% extra reward miles every year.
Travel Fee Credit Card: RBC Royal Bank® Visa Infinite‡ Avion®
Why it’s the winner: Take to the skies right away with 15,000 welcome RBC Rewards points (a $350 value) upon signup. Everyday purchases will bring in one point on the dollar, but travel-related buys will earn you 25% more points. Points never expire, and travelers aren’t limited to blackouts or seat restrictions. While the annual fee costs a cool $120 per year, services include the Premium and Extensive Insurance package, covering medical emergencies as well as peace of mind for your trip, hotel rental vehicle, cancellation requests and purchase protection.
Specialty No Fee Credit Card: Scotiabank SCENE Visa Card
Why it’s the winner: Film buffs rejoice – you can collect points towards free movies with every purchase. This no-fee card will award one SCENE point on every dollar spent on everyday purchases, and 5 points on the dollar when used at Cineplex locations. You’ll also receive 2,000 points on signup – enough for two free movies. SCENE points can be swapped for movie tickets, free concessions (in addition to receiving 10% off at the snacks counter), music and other entertainment rewards.
Specialty Fee Credit Card: American Express Gold Rewards Charge Card
Why it’s the winner: While this is a charge card (no interest applies as purchases must be paid off in full each month), the benefits offered to frequent flyers make it the pinnacle of flight rewards. Right off the bat, the $150 annual fee is waived for the first year and new signups are gifted with 15,000 points (yes – you read that right!) when $500 is charged to the card within the first three months of use. Not only can you earn double points on eligible travel and everyday purchases, but they can be converted to your choice of frequent flyer program, Aeroplan, or Avios.
Credit Cards: Best to Pay Off a Balance
Low Interest No Fee Credit Card: MBNA TrueLine MasterCard
Why it’s the winner: This no-fee credit card features a fixed 9.99% annual interest rate, balance transfer rate and cash advance rate. It’s a great low-interest option for no-fuss no-muss credit management – with no expiration or introductory rate restrictions.
Low Interest Fee Credit Card: Scotiabank Value® VISA card
Why it’s the winner: Those looking to pay down a credit card balance will be hard pressed to find a better interest break than 0.99% (offered on balance transfers and cash advances for the first six months). With a regular interest rate of 11.99% and super low annual fee of $29, this is one of the most competitive low-interest offerings on the market.
Low Balance Transfer Credit Card: Platinum Plus® MasterCard® Credit Card
Why it’s the winner: Stuck in an interest rate death spiral? Sometimes the best strategy is to cut and run – and take that balance to a credit card with a more forgiving APR. This card offers a safe haven of ZERO per cent interest on balance transfers within the first 10 months of use (rising to the still-competitive rate of 17.99% after that). This unparalleled opportunity to seize control of spiraling debt is the reason this card takes top spot.
Credit Cards: Best Business and School
Best Student Credit Card: Scotiabank SCENE Visa
Why it’s the winner: This card is sweeping a second category, and for good reason – it boasts fantastic features for a consumer on a limited budget. Not including free movie and concession perks (cheap date night, anyone?), but this straightforward rewards card is free of annual fees, offers insider access to additional Visa perk discounts, as well as deals on Avis car rentals.
Best New Credit Card of 2012: Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
Why it’s the winner: Earning 4 times the points on every dollar, this card is a must have for the seasoned business traveler. Expenses paid at gas stations, restaurants, dining and entertainment are rewarded with additional travel points, and discounts abound on airfare, hotels, cruises and more. Points are redeemable at any travel provider, and can be booked online through Scotia Rewards Travel Service. New signups also receive 20,000 bonus points – a $200 value.
Lowest 5 Year fixed rate of 2012: 2.76%
Why it’s the winner:This record dropper was spotted on November 29th, and offered by broker Advent Mortgage Services in Ontario. It was a new low for what had already been a precedent-blasting year for five year fixed mortgage rate levels, providing consumers with more incentive than ever to lock in.
Lowest 5 Year variable Rate of 2012: 2.40%
Why it’s the winner: Wild rose country laughed all the way to the bank when this bottom of the barrel rate appeared September 28th by True North Mortgages. Available only in Alberta, it was a prime example of how the record-low cost of borrowing benefited homeowners last year.
Most popular rate of the year: BMO 5 year fixed 2.99%
Why it’s the winner: While brokers are the traditional go-to for the lowest of the low, consumers flocked to BMO when the big bank took the plunge with a 5-year fixed 2.99% mortgage rate. Complete with a 90-day rate hold, and offering 10/10 prepayment options (allowing up to 10% of the purchase price to be paid annually), this mortgage product takes the prize for 2012’s most popular, and the year’s biggest attention grabber.
Best Savings Account: Ally High Interest Savings Account
Why it’s the winner: Why not get a bit more bang for your buck? At 1.80%, this savings account offers a higher rate than your traditional high interest account, and can be set up for as little as $1. With zero monthly fees, a monthly interest payout and no maximum balance, this is a great strings-free way to grow your money with peace of mind.
Best Chequing Account: ING THRiVE
Why it’s the winner: This chequing account comes free of service and account charges, and pays 0.25% interest on balances under $50,000 (up to 1.10% interest on balances exceeding $100,000). This online account offers unlimited bill payments and transactions, and will even toss in your first cheque book for free.
Best Student Account: RBC Student Banking
Why it’s the winner: Full time students get free banking with this no-fee account, which includes 25 debit transactions a month and choice of Signature RBC Rewards, RBC Visa Cash Back Visa or WestJet RBC MasterCard. The account also provides access to learning tools such as myFinanceTracker, helping students master necessary money management skills.
Best Children’s Account: ING Children’s Savings Account
Why it’s the winner: Start them off right with a savings account that will pay 2% interest back on their balance. With no fee or minimum balance, this is a great first bank account sure to teach kids the value of an invested dollar.
Best Tax Free Savings Account: Canadian Tire
Why it’s the winner: Turns out Canadian Tire isn’t just a great go-to for household needs it’s also a market leader for your rainy day fund. The tax free savings account offered by Canadian Tire Financial Services has no minimum balance or annual fee. It’s our top pick for tax-free savings.
Best Seniors Account: Scotia Plus Program for Seniors
Why it’s the winner: Available to those 59 years of age or older, this account offers a variety of discounted services including zero transfer fees, no minimum or maximum balance and unlimited Interac transactions.
Best GIC: ICICI 2.85%, $5000 5-year term
Why it’s the winner: With 2.85% back on a minimum investment of $1000, this is a great investment vehicle for boosting your nest egg with one of the most popular terms in Ontario. Receive compounded interest annually, though balances cannot be redeemed prior to the end of the 5-year term.
Best Online Discount Brokerage: Questrade
Why it’s the winner: Avoid steep commission fees with Questrade’s deeply discounted rates – capped at $9.95 per trade, and as little as $4.95 a trade. While there is a minimum balance of $1000 required to establish the account, maintaining this level is not mandatory in order to trade. With access to margin, and the ability to trade commodities, ETFs and on the Forex, this full-service brokerage offers the same trading capabilities as a big bank, but for far less.