This guide to choosing the right bank account is for you if you’re trying to decide what type of account best fits your needs or you want to know which features of an account you should compare. It can also help if you’re thinking of switching your bank account.
Choose the type of account that suits your needs
Most people use a current account with a bank or building society to manage their day-to-day money.
It allows you to:
- Pay bills by Direct Debit or standing order.
- Receive automated payments such as salary, wages or benefits.
- Access to an overdraft, although this will need to be authorised by the bank.
- Pay for things with a debit card and withdraw money from cashpoint machines.
If you’re thinking about opening a packaged account, be sure to check out how many of the additional benefits you would actually use and whether you can get them cheaper elsewhere.
Some current accounts offer extra features for which they charge a fee (often between £10 and £15 a month).
These are known as packaged accounts.
- Special offers (e.g preferential interest rates on overdrafts)
- Car breakdown cover
- Insurance cover (e.g travel or mobile phone insurance)
- Extra services
Fee-free basic bank accounts
These are often used as a stepping stone to a current account.
A basic bank account doesn’t normally have an overdraft facility but does allow you to:
- Pay bills by Direct Debit or standing order
- Receive payments such as salary, wages or benefits
A fee-free basic bank account might be right for you if:
- You have a poor credit record or you’re on a low income
- You don’t need the extras that a current account offers, for example an overdraft facility
Jam jar accounts
These accounts are sometimes called budgeting accounts or rent accounts and are designed to help you budget.
They let you divide your money into different ‘pots’ or ‘jars’.
You decide how much money goes into each pot by working out how much you need for your bills and how much is left over for spending or saving.
They also allow you to:
- Pay bills by Direct Debit or standing order
- Receive payments such as salary, wages or benefits.
One disadvantage of these accounts is that they charge a monthly fee
A jam jar account might be right for you if:
- You want an account that helps you to budget
- You want to avoid charges for refused Direct Debits
- You rent a council or housing association property – in which case your landlord might pay the monthly fee for you
Bank accounts for students and graduates
Most banks offer a specific student account, usually with an interest-free overdraft up to an agreed amount.
Banks often offer attractive accounts to graduates to try to secure them as long-term customers.
Decide what charges and features you want to compare
Fees, charges and overdraft costs
Fees can vary a lot between banks and between accounts, with one of the highest fees being charged for going over your agreed overdraft limit (if you have one).
If you regularly spend more than you have in your account, choose one that will give you an overdraft up to an agreed limit without charging fees and/ or with a low interest rate.
Interest rates on credit balances
If you’re careful about your spending and never go overdrawn, have a look at the accounts that pay interest on your credit balance.
However, if your earnings are on the low side and you do sometimes use your overdraft, don’t pay too much attention to the credit interest – focus more on the charges instead.
Many banks offer deals to attract new customers, but be sure to check if there are strings attached.
Look beyond any short-term offer and make sure that, when it ends, the account will still be the best for you.
- A cash incentive
- Higher interest for a period
- A monthly credit of usually around £5.
Decide how you want to deal with your bank
Do you like dealing with a person in a branch or would you prefer the convenience of telephone or internet banking?
Not all banks provide phone, internet, mobile banking, postal and branch services, so make sure you’ll be able to bank how you want to.
If you like going into a branch, choosing a bank you can easily get to will be the most important factor.
Make sure there’s a cashpoint machine you can use free of charge near where you live or work.
Otherwise you might be charged between 75p and £10 for withdrawing money.
Compare different accounts using comparison sites
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:
In Northern Ireland, you can also try the Consumer Council Comparison Tool.
- 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.
Is it worth switching your bank account?
If you’re unhappy with the service you are getting from your current bank, it’s easy to change.
Your new bank will do the work for you and there’s no need to deal with your old bank.
It’s worth checking every year that your bank is offering everything you need. If not, think about switching.
It takes just seven working days to switch your account under the Current Account Switch Service.
You choose the date you want to switch, and agree this with your new bank.
They will arrange to move all your incoming and outgoing payments to your new account.
If you’re claiming Universal Credit
Follow the link below to find out what your account options are and the pros and cons of each one.
Watch our video – How to open a bank account
Read a transcript of this video (DOC 26.5KB)
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