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Competition to offer a decent rate on savings has deteriorated to the point where the best deal out there at the end of September came from a bank run by a store chain selling tires, windshield washer fluid, hardware and household items.

Take a bow, Canadian Tire Bank. Your 1.8 per cent beat all comers in the banking sector.

There are roughly a dozen alternative banks, trust companies and credit unions offering 1.5 to 1.8 per cent on savings right now. The big banks aren’t in the game any longer, and that’s starting to stress their clients.

I’ve had a few readers reach out lately to vent their frustration trying to get a particular rate on a savings account or guaranteed investment certificate from a major financial institution.

Check out this recent e-mail from a reader: “You understandably promote finding a decent rate – but it’s a time-consuming process and without any guarantees the rate won’t drop any time. My worst experience was with a [Big Six] bank that demanded a lot of information and then played games with the rate, which was not as offered.”

Some suggestions to bank customers to help them get the best possible rates and avoid frustrating interactions with their banks:

Understand the economic backdrop

Interest rates of all types have been pounded lower as we work through the pandemic. Low rates help promote the borrowing and spending needed to support the economy. Savers are collateral damage.

Understand the term ‘guaranteed’

Only with guaranteed investment certificates can you be assured of a particular rate. The word guarantee here refers to the rate of return on your deposit over the specified term. GIC rates are negotiable for larger deposits at big banks, but you’re almost certainly going to get a better rate from an alternative bank, trust company or some credit unions. Rates on savings accounts are not guaranteed and are subject to fluctuations at any time as a result of a) the bank’s changing motivation level in staying competitive with the competition and b) the broader interest-rate environment as determined by what’s going on in the economy.

Understand the competitive market

Some banks are more committed than others to providing a competitive interest rate on savings. For help in avoiding the posers who don’t deliver on a consistent basis, check out the savings-account comparison chart on Click on a bank’s name, and you’ll find a link to a savings account interest-rate history, complete with charts. Pay close attention to how a bank has handled rates since the COVID-19 lockdown in March. Some banks have rushed to cut rates, while others have held their ground on a comparative basis.

Understand the deals being offered

Some banks use temporary rate bonuses to lure new clients or hold onto select existing customers. As a rule, the regular rates at these banks are pathetic. If you take advantage of a rate bonus, be nimble about moving money as required once your deal is over.