The 500D was my choice when I started and I have not outgrown it yet (although the 5D mkII is calling
) and I have never looked back. I was torn between the 500D and the Nikon D5000 as they were very similar but the Canon just felt better for me and was improved upon even more with a battery grip.
I researched the lenses and found that they were going to be cheaper for me and I had more options available when it came to used ones if I went with Canon also. As an example, the Canon 50mm prime lens (one that should be in everyone’s bag) is the cheapest 50mm of all the main brands and gives great quality images. I don’t think the 550D offers enough to warrant the extra money and you would better off using that extra money going towards new kit (because that road is never ending!!!!!)
I found the Kit lens a great starting point and still use it today.
Best advice I can give is. Consider your budget than research research research and when you have a few options get in the shop and try them out. Take some memory cards with you, then when you get home compare the quality and after everything, make your own decision.
I came on here when I started asking for advice about what to buy and the best advise you can receive is "go with what feels right for you" as you will always have your Canon fans & your Nikon fans and at the end of the day, it's you that will be using it.http://www.dphotographer.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=1932
Have a read, hope that helps and good luck.