Opening a personal bank account

Woman signing an application form for a personal bank account

Opening a personal bank account – or switching your account from one bank to another – is usually easy. But you’ll want to check that you’ve got all the information you need and that there aren’t going to be any problems.

Can I get a bank account?

You should normally be able to get a bank account if you can prove you live in the UK and are over 18 (or for some banks, 16). But you are likely to find it much harder to open a bank account if you:

  • are bankrupt
  • have a record of fraud
  • are in prison or have recently been released
  • are a public figure (for example, a senior politician or military officer)
  • are involved with countries or industries with a high risk of money laundering

As well as this, many bank accounts are only open to people who can pass a credit check. If you don’t have a good credit history, you may find it easier to open a basic bank account. A basic bank account doesn’t offer a chequebook or overdraft, but you can pay in and withdraw money, pay bills and use a debit card to make purchases.

Some online-only accounts operate in a similar way, without a chequebook or overdraft, and can also be opened without needing to pass a credit check.

How to open a personal bank account

Start by deciding what kind of bank (or building society) you want to open an account with. Shop around to see which offers the best bank account for your particular needs.

Make sure that you can meet the bank’s requirements for that account. For example, many accounts require you to pay in a minimum monthly income and/or to make a certain number of direct debit bill payments each month to suppliers such as utility companies.

Check the bank’s website or application form to see what proof of identity and address you need to provide. You can normally prove your identity with a passport or driving licence, and your address with a recent council tax or utility bill. If you are opening a joint account with someone else, you will both need to provide documentation.

It’s usually easiest to open an account online (and some of the newer digital banks will only accept online applications). But you may want to contact the bank by phone, or visit a branch, if you find this easier or think you might have problems providing the documentation they want.

It doesn’t usually cost anything to open a new bank account. You may need to pay in some money if the account has a minimum balance requirement. You will also need to agree to pay any future monthly service charges or overdraft fees.

Switching your bank account

If you want to switch from an existing account to another bank, you can normally use the Current Account Switch Service to make the process easier. This service automatically moves:

  • your balance
  • any existing payment instructions – for example, if your phone and energy companies take direct debits from your current account
  • your overdraft (if you have agreed this with your new bank)

The Current Account Switch Service covers almost all the UK’s most popular current accounts. You cannot use the service to switch savings accounts, or accounts in another currency. If you can’t use the switching service, you will need to:

  • open the new account
  • contact your old bank and ask them to close the old account
  • set up any direct debits or other payment instructions with your new bank

Whether you are using the switching service or not, you should avoid setting up new instructions with your old bank in the week before the planned switch.

When you switch account, you should let anyone who might make payments to you – for example, your employer – know about your new bank account details. Even if a payment is accidentally made to your old account, it should automatically be forwarded to your new account, but there can be problems with international payments and some other less common kinds of payment.

Being refused a bank account

Often a bank account can be opened almost instantly, though it may take a few days for checks to be carried out and for any cards or chequebook to arrive. But the bank doesn’t have to offer you an account, and may not give you a reason if they decline your application.

It’s worth asking why they turned you down, and making sure that you haven’t made any errors in the application process (for example, by submitting proof-of-address documentation that isn’t recent enough).

You may also want to check your credit records to see if there is any missing or incorrect information that is hurting your credit score. You can see your credit rating online for free with the major credit bureaus:

It may be worth checking your credit records with the major credit report providers and checking any inaccurate information that could be harming your application:

If there aren’t any obvious problems and the bank still won’t offer you an account, you might want to try other providers. If banks generally don’t want to offer you an account, other options may include:

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