Money Insider: The search to find a better current account

 

With the new current account switch service four months old and running smoothly, there's even less of an excuse not to up sticks and move your bank account if you're fed up with your current provider.

Too many people have put up with sub-standard service for too long, but now it's much less hassle to switch to an account that mirrors the way you manage your money.

The concern however, is that even with the new faster-switching rules and switch guarantee in place, people still won't know which account to choose and may end up with a product that isn't the most appropriate for their needs.

Although each bank and building society has its own tariff and rate details clearly displayed on its website and marketing literature, working out which account is best can prove a big headache. The problem for consumers is that no two accounts are the same, and difficulty in trying to compare the different rates and charging structures is probably one of the major reasons that customers have stayed put.

There is not one bank account that works out as the best for everybody; it's more about weighing up the individual elements of an account that are most important to you.

For some people a low-cost overdraft will be the priority, while for others interest payable on credit balances or a debit card offering low-cost transactions abroad will be key.

I've carried out some research to try and establish which accounts are strongest in each of the different areas.

If it's a cheap overdraft that's most important, then take a look at First Direct (first £250 interest free), The FlexAccount from Nationwide Building Society or the Post Office.

The latter is building a reputation as a trusted alternative to the high-street banking giants and has recently extended its pilot to include 110 Post Office branches across East Anglia and the East Midlands – if it keeps the existing tariff as it is; the overdraft rate of 14.9 per cent effective annual rate is a very good deal when compared with the rest of the market.

For those seeking interest on credit balances or reward for their custom, then for balances of £2,000 or less take a look at Halifax Reward.

Lloyds TSB with Vantage and Santander 123 are tops for those with balances of £3,000 plus, with Santander the market leader for balances over £5,000 – paying a very competitive 3 per cent gross up to balances of £20,000.

If you're seeking a cheap debit card for use overseas then Norwich & Peterborough Building Society offers this facility for free worldwide while Nationwide Building Society is much cheaper than the main banks in this area.

Picking the wrong bank when it comes to debit card use overseas can cost you a lot more than you'd imagine. For many people there's more money to be saved in this area than any other element of a bank account. Your two-week summer holiday could easily see you shelling out an extra £50 or more in charges – for most customers that can cost you far more than the amount interest you'll earn on your bank account in a year.

Yet for some, all they really ask is the ability to talk to a human being at a UK call centre 24x7 and to receive a consistently good level of customer service. Consistently top performers for service continue to be First Direct and The Co-operative bank.

The decision to switch is not something people undertake lightly, so it's important to do your homework and pick an account that reflects the way you run your finances rather than being swayed by short-term sweeteners.

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

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