Basic bank accounts
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You can use a basic bank account to receive money and pay bills. A basic bank account may be a good option if you’ve been turned down for a current account and can act as a first step towards opening a different type of account later on.
- What you can do with a basic bank account
- Who can get a basic bank account?
- How much does a basic bank account cost?
- How to get a basic bank account
- Managing your basic bank account
- What to do if things go wrong
What you can do with a basic bank account
Basic bank accounts are very simple, so they don’t provide a cheque book or overdraft.
In December 2015, a new type of basic bank account will launch. These new accounts will be completely fee free, but will only be available to customers who don’t qualify for any other accounts. Some banks and building societies may launch their versions ahead of schedule.
With most accounts, you can:
- Have wages, salary, benefits, pensions and tax credits paid straight into your account
- Pay cheques in for free (as long as they’re not in foreign currency) – funds are cleared after 6 working days
- Get money out over the counter or from a cashpoint machine
- Pay your bills by Direct Debit or standing order
- Pay money in over the counter
- Check your account balance over the counter or at a cashpoint machine
Some accounts will also give you a debit card.
Who can get a basic bank account?
Over 16 – You need to be at least 16 to open a basic bank account, although at some banks the minimum age is 18.
No minimum monthly payment – Unlike current accounts, basic bank accounts don’t have a minimum amount you have to pay in each month, which can be an advantage if you’re on a low income.
No need for a good credit history – Because basic bank accounts don’t allow you to go overdrawn, you don’t need to pass a credit check when you open the account.
Proof of identity and address – All banks will ask for proof of your identity and address before you can open a bank account.
How much does a basic bank account cost?
As long as you have money in your account, you don’t usually have to pay for basic bank account services.
Charges for refused Direct Debits and standing orders
Although you can’t go overdrawn with a basic bank account, it’s important to know that if there’s not enough in your account to cover a standing order or Direct Debit the bank can refuse to pay it. And you may be charged as much as £25 each time a payment is refused.
Cash machines (ATMs)
Withdrawing money from a cash machine at a bank or Post Office in the UK is usually free.
- Private cash machines, such as those found inside shops, will charge but will ask you to agree the fee before you withdraw your cash
- You may be charged to withdraw cash while abroad
How to get a basic bank account
How to choose a basic bank account
Basic bank accounts are available from banks while building societies and credit unions may offer suitable alternative products. You can open one on your own or with someone else (a joint account).
Things you might want to check before opening a basic bank account:
- Check you can use cash machines near your home or work for free – ask the bank or building society if you’re not sure
- Find out if there’s a local branch where you can pay in money and check your account
- Make sure it offers the services you need, such as a debit card, Direct Debits or standing orders
- Check if there’s a buffer zone that lets you take out a small amount like £10, even when your account balance is low so you can still get money using a cash machine.
- Make sure that the bank is not planning to carry out a credit check when you open the account.
- If you already have an account with the same bank and you owe money on it (for example you’re overdrawn), they may use money in your new account to pay off what you owe on your old account. For this reason, it might make sense to open your new account with a different bank, building society or credit union
Comparison websites are a good starting point for anyone trying to find a current account tailored to their needs.
We recommend the following websites for comparing current accounts:
- Money Saving Expert
- Go Compare - This also allows you to use the government-backed midata tool to securely upload your past transactions for customised current account recommendations.
- Money Supermarket
- Comparison websites won’t all give you the same results, so make sure you use more than one site before making a decision.
- It is also important to do some research into the type of product and features you need before making a purchase or changing supplier.
- Find out more in our guide to comparison sites.
What do I need to open a bank account?
You can usually apply for a basic account in person, by post, over the phone or online.
Check with the bank what proof of identity and address you need to show them when you open your account. If you don’t have the documents, ask what they will accept instead.
If your application is turned down, don’t be afraid to ask why – the bank should be happy to give you a reason for a rejected application.
Managing your basic bank account
Once your basic bank account is open, look for cash machines that are free to use rather than paying to take out your money.
Checking your balance regularly will help you to make sure there’s enough money in your account to cover any standing orders or Direct Debits – so you don’t pay charges for having them rejected.
What to do if things go wrong
If the bank turns you down, they should explain why, unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as suspicion of fraud or money laundering.
If you have a problem with your bank, the first step is to tell the bank itself.