What can you use current accounts for?

You can get one from a bank or building society to look after your incoming and outgoing money.

You can pay money into them by:

  • Having your wages or other income paid into them*

  • Receiving bank transfers from other people or from companies

  • Paying in cash or cheques

You can take money out by:

  • Setting up automatic bill payments through direct debits or standing orders

  • Withdrawing money from a cashpoint

  • Paying for things in person or online with your debit card

  • Sending bank transfers to companies or other people with internet or telephone banking

*Many employers only pay wages by bank transfer, meaning you need a bank account to receive your salary, benefits or state pension

Your account has a balance, which is the amount of money in it. When you pay money in, your balance increases; if you spend money, it decreases.

Many accounts have an overdraft, which is a feature that lets you spend more than you have in your account, although they are often expensive.

What is a debit card?

Most current accounts come with a debit card, which lets you withdraw money from a cash machine and pay for things:

  • In person, such as in a shop or restaurant

  • Online

  • Over the phone

  • By mail order

If you pay online, by phone or by mail order, you need to provide your 16 digit card number and other details like your card's expiry date or security number.

If you pay in person, you can verify the transaction with your PIN or signature, but some cards now offer faster contactless payments.

Your debit card spending comes with some protection if things go wrong. Here is how the Chargeback scheme works.

How does internet banking work?

Most bank accounts let you access them online by signing in using a browser or an app for your tablet or smartphone. You can use this to:

  • Check your balance, transactions and statements

  • Make bank transfers to people or companies

  • Set up, cancel or amend direct debits and standing orders

  • Contact your bank with a secure message

What types of account are there?

You can choose from a range of different types, including:

Accounts with benefits and features

Accounts for your circumstances

What they cost

Bank accounts can be free if you use them carefully and avoid using your overdraft or exceeding its limit.

However, they can come with several costs, including:

  • Monthly or annual fees for keeping some accounts open. These accounts usually offer features like bundled insurance, cashback or high interest rates on your balance.

  • Overdraft fees, which can be charged if you spend more money than you have left, although some accounts let you use an overdraft for free. Here are the different overdraft fees you may have to pay.

  • Fees for withdrawing cash or spending abroad on your debit card. Here is how much it costs and your alternatives.

  • Private cash machines fees are sometimes charged when you use them. Most banks' cash machines are free to use.

  • Failed direct debits or standing orders fees are charged when there is not enough money in your account for a bill payment to go through. Banks can charge you up to 25 when this happens.

You may also be charged if you request the following from your bank:

  • Copies of old statements

  • Sending money by CHAPS, which is a same day bank transfer that costs around 25

  • Sending a banker's draft, which is a cheque written by your bank to a payee of your choice

  • A written reference from your bank

Who can get a bank account?

They are usually only available if you live in the UK and have a permanent address. Some bank accounts are only available if you are over 18, but some accounts are available if you are aged 11 to 17.

Some only accept you if you can pay in at least their minimum amount each month, so you would need to earn enough money for these accounts.

Most banks run a credit check when you apply, which means they look at your financial situation before they decide if they can accept your application.

However, banks also offer basic bank accounts, which have no overdraft but do not require a credit check.

How to open a current account

You can open a current account:

  • Online, which is often quickest

  • In person at a branch, which can be the safest way to hand over identification documents

  • By completing an application form and posting it to your bank

  • By phone

You need to complete an application form with your name, address and other personal details. You may also need to provide documents to prove your identity. You bank may ask for:

  • Proof of name, like a passport or driving licence

  • Proof of address, like a utility bill or bank statement

You can get current accounts from banks, some building societies and other companies like prepaid card providers. You can find one using our current account comparison, which includes every account you can get in the UK.

If you already have a bank account and want to move to a new one, here is how to switch accounts quickly and easily.

How to use your new bank account

Once you have opened a current account, here is how to manage and use it so you make the most of its features and avoid having to pay fees.

You can make your account as secure as possible when you send payments, use internet banking, withdraw cash or spend on your debit card. Here is how to keep your banking safe.