Money Insider: Get a current account you can bank on

 

If you think all bank accounts are the same then you're not alone. In fact two-thirds of people in a recent Moneynet survey believe accounts ARE all the same. But I don't.

Sure, they may all seem similar in that you get a cheque book, debit card and access to internet banking. But what about the charges for going overdrawn? Or interest on credit balances? Or even the cost of using your debit card abroad?

While many people will switch their credit card balance at the drop of a hat and shop around for a new mortgage deal each time their fixed rate expires, when it comes down to moving our bank account it's always seen as being too much hassle.

Despite the best efforts of the marketing teams at the banks and building societies, large numbers of us remain loyal to the current account we chose when we left university or got our first pay cheque.

But if you're not happy with the service or charges on your bank account, don't just whinge about it, take action. After all a bank account relationship should be long-term, so it's worth getting it right.

There are even cash incentives up for grabs to entice you, with First Direct currently offering a £125 golden hello and Halifax an upfront cash payment of £100 plus a fee free overdraft for the first 12 months. But even though these offers may look appealing, they shouldn't be the key reason to move your bank account.

The most important thing is to find an account that suits the way you manage your money. So whether it's a cheap overdraft, the ability to earn credit interest/rewards or a low-cost debit card for overseas use, there's an account out there that's a good fit.

When you realise that most of the standard accounts offered by the big high street players are paying no interest on credit balances and charging close to 30 per cent for an unauthorised overdraft, perhaps some number- crunching may give you more of an incentive to "ditch and switch".

If you keep an average of £2,000 credit in your current account, at 0.1 per cent you'll receive a paltry £1.60 (after 20 per cent tax) in interest for the entire year, yet if you currently held a similar balance with the 123 account from Santander or Lloyds TSB Vantage you'd receive 20 times as much per year.

Another account worth a look is the Reward current account from Halifax which pays you £5 every month (yes £60 per year) as long as you pay in at least £1,000 per month.

On the flip side the Halifax Reward current account can prove expensive if you're frequently overdrawn as it charges a fixed fee of £1 per day for overdrafts up to £2,000.

If it's low-cost borrowing you're after, take a look at the First Direct current account where the first £250 overdraft is completely free, or alternatively the Nationwide Building Society Flex Account is another low-cost option for those who make use of an agreed overdraft facility. If you're a frequent traveller abroad then a debit card with no additional fees for foreign currency transactions and ATM withdrawals should be high on your list of must- haves. My top suggestions are the fee- free cards on offer as part of the current account deals from Norwich & Peterborough Building Society and Metro Bank.

If this has inspired you to go out and find a more suitable account, there are a few other things to consider:

* You may be required to fund your account with a minimum amount each month; this typically varies from £500 up to £1,500 per month depending on the account you opt for.

* Beware of packaged accounts where eager bank staff will try to persuade you to opt for one of their accounts with add-ons such as mobile phone insurance or car breakdown cover.

* Ask your prospective account provider what it charges for an authorised overdraft and also how much you would be stung if you accidentally went over your limit. While it's not something you plan to do, it's worth understanding what the penalties are if it does happen.

* An account that offers a high rate of credit interest will often turn out to prove expensive for borrowing and vice versa, so opt for an account that fits your account usage.

All the major providers have dedicated switching teams to help the account transfer go smoothly, so why not give it a go? If not, carry on moaning and let the banks profit at your expense!

Andrew Hagger is an independent personal finance analyst from www.moneycomms.co.uk

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