Monzo and Starling Bank are digital challengers that have been fierce rivals from the start. Both offer a free current account with a slick, intuitive app that sends real-time notifications when you make purchases, categorises your transactions and then tells you all about your spending habits.
Both stole a march on the big banks by offering free transactions abroad, and many people opened accounts for that benefit alone. Each bank now has millions of customer accounts and both have consistently scored highly in Finder’s customer satisfaction surveys.
So is there anything to choose between these rivals? There is – and we’ve set it out below.
Starling vs Monzo: Vital statistics
|Free spending abroad|
|Overdraft rate||15%, 25% or 35% EAR||19%, 29% or 39% EAR|
|Interest when you're in credit||0.05%||0%|
|Go to site|
With the free Monzo current account you get its renowned coral-coloured card, while Starling’s only (and also free) current account comes with a teal-coloured vertical card.
Neither bank has branches, but you can withdraw or deposit money into your Starling account at Post Office counters. Unlike Monzo, Starling also pays a small amount of interest on current account balances (0.05% on up to £85,000).
Both Starling and Monzo have a UK banking licence, which means individual customer funds up to the value of £85,000 are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) if the bank goes bust.
You can apply for overdrafts with both Starling and Monzo – the interest rate you’re offered will depend on your personal circumstances and credit score, although Starling’s overdraft interest rate scale starts at 15% EAR, compared to Monzo’s starting point of 19% EAR.
Monzo was the winner of Finder’s 2021 Banking Customer Satisfaction Awards. This was after it topped our customer satisfaction survey, where it scored 5 out of 5 stars, and 89% of its current account customers said they would recommend the brand to a friend. Starling scored a very respectable 4.5 out of 5 stars in the same survey, with 79% of its current customers saying they would recommend the current account.
Round 1: App features
|Visual breakdown of spending|
|Set spending budgets|
|Set up direct debits in the app|
|Top up via bank transfer|
|Have salary paid in|
|Savings goals or pots|
|Customer service via the app|
|Customer service via a telephone line|
|Freeze/unfreeze card in app|
|Send money abroad|
|Fee for sending money abroad||Local network fee + 0.4% Starling fee||Fee set by Wise (Monzo's money transfer partner)|
|Go to site|
There’s a huge range of very similar features in the Starling and Monzo mobile banking apps. Both have spending categories, where your transactions are automatically placed into pre-set categories like groceries or eating out. This in turn generates daily, weekly or monthly spending insights, which helps you set budgets. The apps alert you when payments go in and out of your account, and remind you if you’re close to overspending
Monzo’s “Pots” and Starling’s “Goals” let you stash money away for particular things, like a holiday or a savings target. Plus both offer “round-ups” where spare change from your transactions can be “rounded up” and put into your savings bucket.
You can pay your salary into either your Starling or Monzo account, set up direct debits and make international payments. You can freeze or unfreeze you card in the apps, as well as contact both customer service teams through the in-app chats.
- Winner: Monzo. It’s close, as the apps offer similar features, but Monzo’s app visuals are slightly more engaging, plus it has more spending categories than Starling.
Round 2: Spending in the UK
|Free card transactions in the UK|
|Contactless card limit||£45||£45|
|Free ATM withdrawals||Unlimited||Up to £250 every 30 days|
|Go to site|
Spending on your Starling or Monzo card is free in the UK, and both cards currently have the standard contactless limit of £45.
You can also add your Starling card or Monzo card to Apply Pay and Google Pay, but only Starling supports Samsung Pay.
Starling offers unlimited free ATM withdrawals in the UK, while with Monzo you can withdraw up to £250 for free every 30 days in either the UK or EEA (it’s a combined limit), then there’s a 3% charge.
- Winner: Starling, with its unlimited free UK ATM withdrawals (and the ability to use Samsung Pay, if that’s your thing!).
Round 3: Using the card abroad
|Free foreign transactions||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Free foreign ATM withdrawals||Unlimited||Up to £250 in EEA and £200 |
elsewhere every 30 days
|Go to site|
Starling and Monzo are the same when it comes to using their respective cards to make purchases abroad – neither charges a fee. Plus they both use the Mastercard exchange rate for foreign transactions.
The key difference when travelling is that with Monzo, there’s a £200 limit on free cash withdrawals overseas every 30 days – after which there’s a 3% charge (and if you’re in Europe, than the combined UK and EEA monthly free limit of £250 applies, before the 3% fee kicks in).
Meanwhile, Starling doesn’t have fees for making ATM withdrawals anywhere overseas. The ATM withdrawal limit is £300 a day, and that applies both at home and abroad.
- Winner: Starling. Although neither Starling nor Monzo charges for using a card in shops or restaurants abroad, it’s hard to beat Starling’s totally free cash withdrawals overseas.
Round 4: Account types
|Teen account (for 16 and 17 year olds)|
|Kids' account or card|
|Go to site|
Starling and Monzo both offer free current accounts (which is presumably why you’re reading this comparison). For Starling, that is the only personal current account it operates, but Monzo has expanded its current account range with two paid-for accounts, Monzo Plus and Monzo Premium.
Joint accounts, business accounts and teen accounts (for 16 and 17 year olds) are all on the rosters of both Starling and Monzo. But Starling also offers a kids’ card called Starling Kite (managed through the parent’s Starling account).
- Winner: Tie. They offer the same types of account, except that if you want a kids’ card then Starling has one, but if you want a premium current account then there’s one to consider from Monzo.
Round 5: Signing up
|Apply through the app|
|Card delivery fee||Free||Free|
|Card delivery timescale||3-5 working days||2-7 working days|
|Go to site|
You can apply for either a Starling or Monzo account through their respective mobile apps in a matter of minutes. There are no credit checks, although a photo of your ID and a short selfie video is required. The accounts are then usually opened on the same day and both the cards are sent through the post for free, taking about the same time to arrive.
- Winner: Tie. The account opening process is similarly quick and easy for both Starling and Monzo.
Overall winner: Is Starling better than Monzo?
It’s incredibly close, as both Starling and Monzo are great options if you want to open an account with a digital challenger bank. They offer streamlined apps with loads of cool features, can be set up quickly, let you spend fee-free overseas and can help you budget or save.
If we had to choose just one, it would probably be Starling, for its free Post Office cash deposits and fee-free ATM withdrawals wherever you are in the world. But if you’re not a heavy cash user, either at home or abroad, then that might not be the most important factor to you.
All in all, it’s a really close call, and based on our satisfaction survey, you’re likely to have an excellent banking experience with either of them – plus you could always try both for free, if you’re still undecided.
- Finder Banking Customer Satisfaction Awards 2021
- Financial Services Compensation Scheme
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