Before you think about how to open a bank account, it’s helpful to prepare by knowing what kind of account you want and how the application process works.
For example, you might need a current account to receive your wage or salary as well as any state benefits, or to pay bills and rent/mortgage payments. Alternatively, you might want a savings account to work towards a financial goal, or perhaps you want an ISA to take advantage of additional tax-free saving benefits.
When shopping for a bank account, it’s also good to keep in mind the potential benefits of different accounts, such as interest and savings rates, overdrafts, and other perks such as cashback and rewards, and the different charges you might have to pay for using the account.
Choosing a bank account
There are many different types of bank account that are suited to different customer needs. It’s good to know exactly what you need the bank account for before comparing, so consider:
- Standard current accounts – the normal current account with all the standard features
- Specialised current accounts – these are current accounts with benefits and extra features that typically come with a fee
- Basic bank accounts – a basic current account is an account with some limited features, directed at customers with poor or no credit history
- International/foreign currency accounts – an international bank account is intended for use in different countries
- Student accounts – student accounts are designed to help university students with features like interest-free overdrafts
- Graduate accounts – graduate accounts help students and graduates with the transition into everyday banking
- Savings accounts – savings accounts let you save and gain interest on your money
- ISAs - ISAs allow you to save a certain amount tax-free every year
Opening a bank account
Opening a high street bank account can be a simple process – you generally have to apply for the account first, giving a few details such as:
- Personal information including your full name, nationality, contact details, date of birth, and national insurance number
- Proof of address, like a recent utility bill, mortgage statement or tenancy agreement, a bank statement, or a council tax bill. You might also be required to show how long you’ve lived there
- Proof of identity, such as a passport or driving licence. Some banks may accept birth certificates for a child’s or student’s account
Depending on the bank you choose and the type of account you want to open, the bank may run a credit check to examine your financial history. If they accept your application, they’ll notify you and you’ll later receive your debit card and pin number in the post – normally in separate instalments. You will probably need to activate your card online or by phone before you can use it.
You can open a bank account in person by visiting the branch, or you can do it via phone or online – you’ll still need to provide the above details, but you might still have to visit a local branch so they can make copies of your documents.
How to switch bank accounts
Switching bank accounts can be a good way to find more favourable interest rates and better or more useful account perks, such as insurance coverage or overdraft limits. Thanks to the Current Account Switch Service, the process to switch is simple and easy – and guaranteed to take place within seven working days.
However you won’t be able to use the Current Account Switch Service to switch:
- Savings Accounts
- Non-sterling payment accounts
- Joint accounts without all account holders’ permission.
This means that swapping to another bank for any of the above could take over a week to get you up and running.
Whichever type of account you’re looking to switch, it’s important to find the right one for you before starting the process. You can do this by comparing account by details like their interest rates, limits on overdrafts or withdrawals, any special features, and even whether you have to regularly pay in a certain amount to keep these features.
When you’re moving to the new bank account, it can be a good idea to review the payments attached to your old account – this way you can cancel any unneeded ones and make the new account like a fresh start.
Once your new account is up and running, and you’re ready to close your old one, you can choose your switch date (as long as it isn’t a Saturday, Sunday, or Bank Holiday). All you have to do is wait the seven working days and everything is taken care of for you: your old account will be closed, your existing direct debits will be transferred over and any balance – or debt – will follow.
Opening a bank account for someone else
You can’t normally open an account for another adult, but you are able to add them to your own account – this is known as a joint account.
If you’re opening an account for you and one or more other person(s), you’ll need to open a joint bank account. To set up a joint account you’ll need each account holder to provide their information, proof of identity, and proof of address, just like opening a standard current account. All account holders will be able to make and see transactions, have a bank card, and pay money in.
Children’s current accounts
Children’s current accounts are by and large very similar to standard current accounts. You’re able to pay money in, withdraw from ATMs, and use debit cards to make transactions in shops. However they don’t generally have overdrafts.
Children’s current accounts are normally only available to children aged 11-18 – with some banks setting the minimum age limit at 16. Some banks also only let children open the current account themselves at 16, with parents having to open them for younger children.
You’ll still need to show ID, though depending on the bank if the child is under 16 the documents can be in your name – but you might still need to provide a birth certificate or NHS medical card to confirm your child’s identity. You’ll also need the regular documents, such as a utility bill as proof of address.
Children’s savings accounts
Children’s savings accounts are generally open to children of all ages, as opposed to children’s current accounts. However if the account is in the child’s name themselves, they normally have to be at least seven years old. The options you’ll have for children’s savings accounts include easy access accounts, notice accounts, fixed rate accounts, and regular savings accounts as well as Junior ISAs (JISAs).
Opening a digital bank account
With the changing landscape of banking, many people are swapping traditional banks for digital-only banking. These companies offer a different service that is almost entirely app-based, and they focus heavily on user experience.
The signing-up process for these accounts is relatively simple – you need to provide the same information as for any other bank account, including proof of ID and address and some information such as name, age, and contact details. As they don’t have physical branches, it’s likely you’ll have to photograph or photocopy your documents to send them via the app, while some also ask for a short self-shot video of you outlining your application.
It’s worth noting that not all digital-only banking apps offer current accounts. Some only offer a prepaid card, which you top up and spend like you would a normal debit card.
It’s important to understand that not all of the companies offering digital banking are banks. This sounds confusing, but what it really means is that the company isn’t allowed to invest or lend your money to anyone else The disadvantage is that these companies won’t be part of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which protects people from losing their money if a bank goes bust, up to £85,000.
However, these companies are required – by law – to hold all of your money until you want it. This means that if you topped up a prepaid card with £100, the money is safeguarded and sits on your card until you spend it.
It’s easy to tell whether the company is a bank or not: they have to be a bank in order to offer current accounts. If they offer a prepaid card only, they may not be a bank. Make sure you read about the company before you apply for an account.
If you want to pursue digital-only banking, it’s important that you choose a company that is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority.
Managing your bank account
Once you’ve opened a bank account, you’ll have different options for how you want to manage your money.
- Face to face. The traditional method of banking involves dropping in to your local branch and speaking face to face with a bank employee, so they can help you with any questions or problems you may have.
- Over the phone. You’ll also be able to contact your bank through the phone to ask for help or advice with your finances.
- Online/app. Most banks also have an online platform/app that lets you access your bank account and conduct transactions 24/7.
Closing a bank account
Closing a bank account shouldn’t be an issue – it normally just requires you to contact your bank and tell them you want to close the account. It’s unlikely you’ll be charged or penalised, but if there’s an outstanding overdraft you’ll have to pay it off first.
In the event that your bank closes your account down without your request, they should give you two months’ notice for current or instant access savings accounts. They must also give ‘reasonable’ notice if they are closing another kind of account of yours, though this may be delayed if there are still payments pending from your account.
Comparing bank accounts
Whether you’re closing an old account or opening a new one, it’s always good to make sure you’re getting exactly what you need from your bank. With MoneySuperMarket, you’ll be able to compare accounts by interest rates and overdraft limit, as well as added bonuses and customer feedback, making sure you find the best possible account for you.
Many banks even offer incentives to switch account – for example, a bank might offer a cash sum such as £100 if you close an old account and switch over.
Once you’ve found the one you want to open, switching bank accounts is easy. Thanks to the government’s Current Account Switch Service the process takes a guaranteed maximum of seven working days (excluding weekends and bank holidays) to swap current accounts.