As Starling adds a desktop feature and a few charges, it’s time to see if this digital bank can be your number one current account.
I’ve been a fan of and occasional user of Starling Current Accounts for years now. The reason I got it was for fee-free spending overseas, but for day-to-day banking I’ve hardly touched it.
But a few months ago though I moved my business banking over to Starling so I’ve been using the app a lot more, so I thought it would be useful to share with you all just what it does.
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What is Starling?
Starling Bank was set up in 2014 and along with Monzo and Revolut has led the charge of “Challenger banks”, built from the ground up to work digitally via apps. It’s done well, with 2 million accounts opened in total so far.
You can get a number of different accounts from Starling Bank. The first is the personal current account. It works like any other bank account so you can set up standing orders, direct debits and so on.
Importantly it has a UK banking licence (unlike Revolut), meaning it is part of the FSCS guarantee scheme, and any money held there is protected up to £85,000.
You can also get joint accounts, business accounts, Euro accounts, a teen account and recently a children’s card – Kite – was added to the range.
Ethically, Starling is highly rated by Ethical Consumer magazine, though it does say that it’s only marginally engaged in the issues. Here’s more from my podcast on ethical banking.
The focus of this review is on the standard account, and the features discussed are the same for personal, joint and business accounts, though you can read more about Starling Business here.
How much does Starling cost?
There are no fees for the standard personal account, and no charges for things like cash withdrawals, deposits or overseas spending.
Charges from November 2020
There are a few new charges from 4th November 2020 but most people won’t be affected by these. They include:
- £2 a month per additional personal or joint account (the first one of each is free)
- -0.5% AER interest on Euro account balances with more than €50,000
- £5 charge for replacement cards (one free replacement a year on top of expired card replacements)
- £2 a month charge for a new connected card
- £20 CHAPS payment fees
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How to get a Starling account
For the personal account, you need to be over 16 and a UK resident.
You apply via the Starling app, and security measures will include scanning a passport or driving licence. It should take minutes. You’ll also need to record a video that’s used to verify your identity.
Joint account holders need to have their own personal Starling accounts and be near each other when they open the joint account.
How to use Starling Bank
Since there are no branches, everything you need to do with your account will be via the app. It’s easy to use and navigate, though the summary of transactions is a little hidden (you need to swipe up from the bottom of the screen).
The app is one of the best out there and many of the features being added to high street bank apps are ones Starling has had for a long time. I’ve more on these below.
The desktop feature has been available to business customers for a while, but it’s now something personal customers can access too.
You can do most of what you need to do on desktop, though you can only log in if you authorise it via the app. You also can’t add a new payee or send money without getting confirming it via the app.
On desktop there are extra filters for viewing and searching your transactions. PIN reminders are only on the app.
You can download statements on either your app or desktop as CSV or PDF files – there’s no paper option for these.
Starling Debit card
You’ll get a contactless Mastercard Debit card in a ‘teal’ green. I love that it has the long number, sort code and account number on the back rather than the front.
The card can be added to Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Gamrin Pay or Fitbit Pay with just a click from the app, depending on your phone.
Paying in money
Bank transfers are the easiest ways to add money to your account, and that can be anything from your salary every month to ad hoc payments from other banks.
If you have cash to pay in then you’ll need to go to the Post Office. It’s free to pay the money in and it’ll instantly be there in your account. There’s a limit of £20,000 a year. The Starling website has a postcode finder for your local branch.
Cheques of up to £500 can be paid in via the app, which is a great feature only a handful of other banks use. However if you receive a lot of cheques there is a weekly limit, something Halifax doesn’t have.
Most people are going to be fine taking cash out of a cash machine. There’s a limit of £300 a day for this, and it’s the same if you use a Post Office. If you need larger sums then you’ll need to spread it out over a few days.
There are no branches, so support is either via phone or a chat function in the app. I’ve found the customer support relatively fast and useful, though you will have to wait a bit that’s no different to any bank.
Is Starling Bank safe?
As well as the verification documents and video used when you open the account there’s a compulsory PIN for your phone. You can use Face ID or your thumbprint as well. To make changes and payments you’ll also need to enter your password. At the back end there’s high level encryption in place to protect your account and data.
And as mentioned above your money is protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme if things did go wrong.
Account and card information
Something I think is really handy is the ability to see your card details in the app. So you can still make payments online even if you don’t have your card with you.
You can also send account details via text message or cut and paste your sort code and account number to your device – handy if you’re using them in another app or setting up a direct debit.
You can freeze your card if you think it’s missing, and then cancel and order a new one if you definitely can’t find it.
You’re able to get a pin reminder, though you can’t change it in the app.
You can also lock the card so it can’t be used for things like ATM withdrawals, online transactions or gambling.
You can also get an additional Connected card which let other people you trust use your account. The money comes out of a Space you set up in the app (more on these in a bit). You move the money in and out of this space and it’s capped at £200. They also have a unique PIN you can set up.
So if you ever need someone to spend on your behalf (such as being unable to leave home because you’re shielding) this is a safe way to do it.
Of course you should only give you additional card to someone you trust!
Fee-free spending abroad
Starling gives you fee free spending and cash withdrawals overseas. There’s no cap on ATM transactions as you get with Monzo, and since it’s a debit card you’ll also not risk any interest charges. There are other holiday spending cards available, with my pick here.
You can also get a free Euro account, handy if you get paid or hold euros on a regular basis. You even use your same debit card. There is a charge though to covert money to the GDP account.
Budgeting & tracking features
Though more and more banks offer this, the instant spending notifications are something I’ve always loved about Starling and Monzo. As soon as you spend money it pops up as a notification on your phone. Useful not just so you can check you’ve been charged the right amount, but they can also act as a warning in case of fraud.
Your spending will also be categorised to help you track where your money is going. So at a glance you can see the total spend each month on groups such as transport or groceries, or particular retailers such as Amazon or Uber. You can also add photos or notes to each transaction too.
You can set up Spaces which are essentially sub-sections of your account. You can transfer money into these and they are ring-fenced from everyday spending. To use the money from these Spaces you need to transfer it back to the main account. So you could have one for bills, one for emergencies and so on.
It’s also easy to get friends to pay you money they owe with the ability to split transactions and send requests IOUs to friends to pay you.
You can also create Goals, which sit within Spaces. You can name them and add a photo of your goal – both things proven to help motivate you to save money.
In these spaces you can add the option to Round Up your transactions. So spend £1.80, and 20p will be moved from your main balance to the chosen space.
Savings, loans and overdrafts
Starling Bank interest
The interest rate is a very low 0.05%, so not worth considering really. I’d look to keep my money elsewhere.
Starling Bank overdraft
There isn’t a fee-free overdraft buffer any more, but the rates are potentially lower than most other UK banks. Depending on your credit report you’ll be offered either 15%, 25% or 35%. Even if you get the 15% it’s better to look at alternatives.
Starling Bank loans
There are personal loans available via Starling – if you pass credit checks. It’s easy to do via the app, and you’ll also be able to track payments and progress there too.
However, it’s best to compare the whole market to check you can’t get a better rate and terms.
Should you get a Starling account?
Without a doubt I think a current account from Starling Bank is a good option for your banking. It’s a more advanced app than you’ll be used to with your existing high street bank, and isn’t bogged down by decades of red tape.
But whether it’s the best account for you depends on why you’re thinking of changing bank.
Bank switching offers
You won’t get any incentives to join Starling so you might want to switch your old bank to one offering a cash bonus. Here’s more about the current switching offers.
Starling vs Monzo
If you’re keen to have a digital bank I’d say it’s between Starling and Monzo. I prefer Starling for most things, including the fee-free cash withdrawals without any limit, cheque payments and card controls.
Monzo doesn’t have these features, though it possibly has the edge for tracking your spending and budgeting but it’s close. You can also add more auto-saving features with Monzo. You can read my Monzo review here.
Starling vs high street banks
I’d also consider having Starling as an additional account rather than the only one. We’ve seen digital banks struggle this year and there’s always the risk that a technology issue can stop you accessing your account, so having a second account with a high street bank is a good back up.