Choosing the right bank account

The different types of bank account available to manage your day-to-day money can be confusing.  Here we help you decide what type of account best fits your needs and tell you which account features you should think about.

Opening a new bank account can normally be done in-branch or online, can involve filling in lengthy forms, and will require you to provide some form of identification, such as your passport.

If you have surplus money and want to know about the different types of savings accounts available, see Cash savings.

Choose the type of account that suits your needs

Current accounts

Most people use a current account with a bank or building society to manage their day-to-day money. It allows you to:

Money fitness tip

Only choose a packaged account if you really need the extra features.  But bear in mind you'll be paying a monthly fee for them and you may be able to get them cheaper elsewhere.

  • Pay bills by Direct Debit or standing order.
  • Receive automated payments such as salary, wages or benefits
  • Pay for things with a debit card and withdraw money from cashpoint machines
  • Access to an overdraft, although this will need to be authorised by the bank

To help you manage your money you can:

  • Make use of the secure bank app, to check and make payments.
  • Set up text alerts, to warn you of a low balance.

See Current accounts for more information.

Packaged accounts

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. Extras include:

  • Special offers (eg preferential interest rates on overdrafts)
  • Car breakdown cover
  • Insurance cover (eg travel or mobile phone insurance)
  • Extra services

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. See Packaged accounts for more information.

Fee-free Basic bank accounts

A fee-free basic bank account may be worth considering if you can’t open a standard current account, possibly because your credit rating is low or because you’ve not got a credit history. Once you’ve had one for a while a bank may offer you a current account. 

A basic bank account doesn't 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

    Money fitness tip

    Use our Choosing a bank account checklist. It sets out what you need to think about to get the right account for you.

See Basic bank accounts for more information.

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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 which 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.

Incentives

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. Deals include:

  • don't get caught out

    Make sure you know what the charges and fees are. They can add up and before you know it you'll be in trouble. Watch Conor and Steve's video to find out more.

    A cash incentive
  • Higher interest for a period
  • A monthly credit of usually around £5.

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Customer service

You can use the Which? quality rating customer score to find the banks with the best customer score. The rating takes into account things like service performance and dealing with complaints so you can find a bank that suits you.

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 will have a branch near you or let you have internet access to your account, for example.

When you’re looking for your account, check how the bank lets you access it and which ways are important for you:

  • Telephone banking.
  • Internet or mobile banking.
  • Cashpoint machine near you that’s free of charge to use.
  • By post.
  • Branch service - if you like going into a branch, choosing a bank you can easily get to will be the most important factor.

Not all banks provide phone, Internet, mobile banking, postal and branch services so make sure you will 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 that you can use free of charge near where you live or work. Otherwise you might be charged between 75p and £10 for withdrawing money.

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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

Remember:

  • 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 is 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. It’s backed by a guarantee that means you’ll be refunded any interest and charges on your old and new accounts if anything goes wrong.

Find out more about  how the current account switching service works on the Current Account Switching website. 

If you’re claiming Universal Credit

See the Money Advice Service's Choosing a bank account for your benefit payment to find out what your account options are and the pros and cons of each one. 

Watch this video How to open a bank account from the Money Advice Service.

Last reviewed: 16/07/2018