Opening your first bank account

Discover all you need to know about choosing and opening your first bank account.

Bank accounts can be useful for all sorts of reasons. They enable you to receive your salary or state benefits, and they can help you pay bills and make other payments.

When it comes to opening your first bank account, there are a variety of accounts to choose from so it’s important to find one that meets your needs. Here’s what you need to know.

How to choose your first bank account

Bank accounts come in all shapes and sizes, so when choosing one you’ll need to consider which features are most important to you.

If you’re opening an account for a child or a teenager, bank accounts tend to be fairly basic and won’t offer facilities such as an overdraft or a debit card (unless you give permission). In this case, you can simply compare how much interest each account pays and take it from there.

However, if you’re an adult, it’s a good idea to ask yourself the following questions to help you find the right account:

  • Do you want/need an overdraft?
  • Are you likely to stay in credit and if so, which accounts pay interest?
  • Do you want to take advantage of cashback or other rewards?
  • Are you happy to pay a monthly fee for your account?
  • Do you want to be able to access your account in-branch or are you happy with an online-only account?

Getting your priorities straight can help you to select the account that best matches your needs. You can compare a range of bank accounts here. Keep in mind that if you have a low credit score, you may find it harder to get accepted for a mainstream bank account, particularly if it has an overdraft. In this case, you may want to look at basic bank accounts which offer limited facilities but are designed for those with bad credit. There are also specialist bank accounts for those with bad credit.

What do you need to open your first bank account?

To open your first bank account, you will need to provide your bank with a range of documents and details. This can vary between providers but usually includes:

  • Proof of identity such as a passport or driving licence
  • Proof of address such as a bank statement, utility bill or council tax bill. You may also need to show how long you’ve lived at your address. Some of the challenger banks do not require this and it is possible to get an account without proof of address
  • Personal details including your name, address, date of birth, nationality, contact details and marital status
  • Income and expenditure details – some providers may ask for your total monthly income and employment status

What happens when you open your first bank account?

Depending on the account, you may be able to open it online, over the phone, by post or in person at your nearest branch. You’ll need to fill in an application form and provide the above details and documents. If you open your account over the phone or online, depending on the bank you may still be required to bring your proof of ID and address into a branch.

Once that’s complete, your chosen bank might run a credit check to look at your financial history – particularly if the account has an overdraft. If you pass and your application is accepted, your provider will get in touch, your account will be opened and you’ll then receive your debit card and PIN separately in the post.

Depending on the provider and how you’ve opened your account, it can take up to 10 working days to complete the account opening process. Once you’ve received your debit card you’ll usually need to activate it online or by phone before you can use it.

What is the minimum age you can open an account?

Children’s bank accounts can usually be opened from the age of 11. Adult accounts can usually be opened from the age of 18, although some accounts are available to those aged 16 years or over.

Pros and cons of a bank account

Pros

  • Bank accounts are ideal for managing your day-to-day money.
  • Many bank accounts are fee-free.
  • Some accounts pay interest on in-credit balances.
  • You may benefit from an interest-free overdraft.
  • Some bank accounts offer rewards and perks such as travel insurance or breakdown cover.

Cons

  • Some accounts, particularly those that offer rewards, charge a monthly fee.
  • You’ll usually need a good credit score to get an overdraft.
  • Overdrafts can be expensive.
  • You may need to pay in a minimum amount each month to qualify for features such as interest or cashback.

Bottom line

Bank accounts can be useful for managing your everyday finances. They enable you to receive payments, including your salary, directly into your account, and can help you pay other people and bills. Some accounts will also offer a host of additional features and benefits.

However, as with any financial product, it’s crucial that you shop around and look for an account that suits your needs best, paying particular attention to any fees or conditions of the account so that you don’t get caught out. You can compare bank accounts here.

Frequently asked questions

We show offers we can track - that's not every product on the market...yet. Unless we've said otherwise, products are in no particular order. The terms "best", "top", "cheap" (and variations of these) aren't ratings, though we always explain what's great about a product when we highlight it. This is subject to our terms of use. When you make major financial decisions, consider getting independent financial advice. Always consider your own circumstances when you compare products so you get what's right for you. Most of the data in Finder's comparison tables has the source: Moneyfacts Group PLC. In other cases, Finder has sourced data directly from providers.
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Written by

Rachel Wait

Rachel Wait is a freelance journalist and has been writing about personal finance for more than a decade, covering everything from insurance to mortgages. She has written for a range of personal finance websites and national newspapers, including The Observer, The Mail on Sunday, The Sun and the Evening Standard. Rachel is a keen baker in her spare time. See full profile

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