Having one bank account isn’t just risky, it could be costing you cash.
Lots of people only have one bank account. In fact, many think they can only have one. But there’s actually no limit to how many you can open from different banks, and you might even be able to have more than one from the same institution.
As I’ve written about previously I’ve got 14 current accounts (it’s actually up to 15 now), and most of you won’t need anything near that many. In fact even just having two can be enough.
And there’s very little risk in opening and running multiple accounts, but you can easily reduce the chance of messing things up.
First make sure your credit report is up to date and there aren’t any obvious warning signs. This is because you will be credit checked each time you open an account. It’s worth spacing the applications out rather than doing them all at once. And if you’re thinking of applying for a mortgage in the next six months it’s wise to just hold off until that has gone through. But the risk is minimal.
You might also struggle to keep tabs of your many accounts, but there are apps like Yolt and Money Dashboard which aggregate all your balances onto one screen which are really useful to keep track. Password managers such as Last Pass also allow you to safely store all those different passwords and usernames.
And those only really become issues if you are having lots of accounts. If we’re talking about opening just two, three or maybe four accounts you shouldn’t have any problems.
But you will see some benefits when managing and accessing your money – and even making some extra cash. Here’s more on those and the other main reasons I think you should open up extra accounts.
If your bank has technical issues
We rely so much on online and app banking nowadays that not having access for even a few hours can be much more than an inconvenience. The TSB debacle last year saw people unable to access their wages or pay their rent. Though the length of time the TSB systems were down has been an isolated incident, occurrences of website crashes and app downtime for hours are increasingly frequent. Just this week the Natwest and RBS websites were down for most of the day (fortunately customers could still access their accounts on the app) and last week the app-based bank Monese was unusable for a good few hours.
And the risk of this happening to your bank is the number one reason why I think you should have at least two current accounts. In this second account put enough money in there that you can cover essentials for a few days. If you can put more, then even better.
Make sure that this second account isn’t part of the same group as these tend to share technical systems. So If you’ve got a Halifax account, make sure the second isn’t Lloyds, and visa versa. And the same for Natwest/RBS. I think First Direct and HSBC have different systems but it’s can’t hurt to do the same.
To earn cashback
If you only want a maximum of two bank accounts a really good option is to make sure one of them is a cashback current account. Natwest and Santander both offer these. You pay a small monthly fee but in return you’ll get cashback on your bills. Unless you don’t pay things like Council Tax, energy or broadband bills then you will make money. You can read more about the different options in my comparison of the accounts.
To separate your savings
When I was younger I was guilty of just having all my money in one account – savings and spending. Which meant that I didn’t ever really know how much I had in savings, and it was possible to “accidentally” dip into those funds with everyday spending.
The answer to avoid this is to open up a separate account and move all your savings over. Then set up a standing order to regularly move more money each month.
Why not use an actual savings account or ISA instead? Well apart from the fact it means you can access the funds if something goes wrong with your main account, you’re also likely to get better interest rates in one.
Though those rates have dropped a lot in the last couple of years, you can still get 5% for one year on up to £2,500 with Nationwide’s FlexDirect, and 3% on up to £1,500 with TSB. These are far higher than you’ll get anywhere else for cash savings right now. Again, this could easily be one of your two accounts alongside the cashback account. I’ve written more about the best place for savings here.
If you need to go into a branch
I’d also make sure one of your accounts – and again this can work if you only have two accounts – has a branch that you can physically walk into if you need to.
Though I rarely need to go into a branch these days, there are times I do. In the last year I’ve had to take out a large amount of cash, sign forms and pay in a cheque (though as I wrote recently some banks allow you do to this via the app). And only a few years ago I popped into a Halifax after there were some fraudulent transactions on my card.
Yes you can cover a lot of this online or over the phone, but I like the option to go into a branch if I feel the need. And if you’ve multiple accounts it’s easy enough to make sure one of those is local.
To manage your money with someone else
Every couple manages their money differently. Some only have their own accounts and that can work fine. We have a couple of joint accounts that we pay money into each month. One is our cashback account for all the bills, while the other two are TSBs for joint savings.
You need to have a chat with your partner about what works best for you, and it could be a joint account is a bad idea – especially since it will link you on things like your credit report.
To keep switching
I’ve made a lot of cash by switching from bank to bank and nabbing incentive bonuses each time. I think I’ve switched six or seven times. Now some people struggle with the idea of switching once, let alone repeatedly, and in part that’s because they like the bank they are with.
Well you can get around this by having a separate account that you just use for switching. The offers come and go, and there are less of them around at the moment than usual, but there’s no harm having an account ready for when offers appear.
The first account you open to switch is likely to be one with limited benefits. The Lloyds Club is a decent option as you can get a year’s magazine subscription or six cinema tickets for opening one, and then you can switch it across to get your free cash elsewhere. And then switch again. Just make sure you check the requirements for a bonus, such as an active number of direct debits, or a monthly deposit. More on the best deals here.
For fee-free overseas spending
A final one to add to your wallet is an account with Starling or Monzo as both offer fee-free spending abroad. Though these have some great budgeting features (as I covered on the podcast recently), I actually just keep them in a separate holiday wallet, alongside my specialist travel credit cards. When it’s time to leave the UK I bring them all with me.
The best current accounts for you
The right accounts for you really depend on your situation, and change regularly. For me, if I was only to have a handful of accounts, I’d go for the following:
The 5% interest for the first year can’t be beaten, and you get £100 if you’re referred by another Nationwide customer. There’s also a branch near me. After the first year TSB’s 3% is the highest interest rate you can get.
This account worked out better for me and Becky (it’s our joint account) than the Santander 123 Lite. All our bills go out of here and we generate a few extra pounds every month. There’s often a switching bonus for Natwest too. (Update Nov 2019 – Natwest is ending cashback on bills in March 2020)
Though I predominantly use my Tandem card abroad, I like to have my Starling account with me too, especially for taking cash out of ATMs.
I’d open this to get the free cinema tickets, then use it to cycle through all the different switching bonuses on offer.
Of course, these offers and accounts can change, so do read more about the latest benefits of all these and other accounts on this regularly updated page.