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
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.
Each current account is identified by an account number, which is usually eight digits. It also has a six digit sort code to identify your bank and sometimes the branch you use. The combination of the sort code and account number is unique to your account.
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
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
High interest accounts pay monthly or annual interest on the balance held in your account
Overdraft current accounts let you borrow money when your balance falls below zero, but often come with fees
Reward current accounts offer benefits with the account like cashback on your spending or bill payments, but they sometimes come with fees
Packaged current accounts offer perks like travel or phone insurance, but they come with a monthly or annual fee
Accounts for your circumstances
Joint current accounts can be taken out with one or more other people
Student current accounts are available if you are in full time education and usually include benefits like free overdrafts
Children's current accounts can be opened if you are under 18 and come without an overdraft
Prepaid and basic bank accounts come with less features and no overdraft, but they often accept people with bad credit records
Business current accounts offer a range of banking features to companies
Charity bank accounts can be taken out by charities, clubs and societies
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
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.