Basic bank accounts

Aim of this page

If you’re looking to open a bank account then the simplest account to open is a basic bank account. This page looks at the benefits you can expect from this type of account together with information on the alternatives if you’re unable to open a basic account.

It’s part of our information section on banking.

Why is this important?

Life without a bank account can be very difficult especially if you need to set up direct debits, pay utility bills or have your salary or benefits paid in.

Basic bank accounts are ideal for people who don’t want an overdraft (or can’t have one) or have a low credit score and may struggle to open a classic current account. You’ll need to be at least 16 to open a basic bank account, although for some banks the minimum age is 18.

A basic account will give you all the benefits of a typical current account but allows you to control your spending.

What do basic bank accounts offer?

They are very simple, so they don’t provide a cheque book or overdraft. It can be a first step towards opening a regular account later on. You will generally be able to:

  1. Have your wages, benefits, pension or tax credits paid in
  2. Pay in cheques for free (you’ll be able to spend the money after four working days)
  3. Get money out at Post Offices and cash machines
  4. Pay your bills by direct debit

Some accounts will also give you a debit card.

Basic accounts don’t offer any credit, making it much harder to get into debt. They also don’t pay any interest, nor do they come with a cheque book.

Choosing the right bank

Most high street banks offer basic bank accounts, so how do you know which one is right for you? The best way to start is with some independent advice on what each bank account has to offer. There is also a useful table (viewable below, but can be downloaded here) that can be used to compare the different accounts of each bank.


Some general things to think about:

  1. Can you use a cash machine near to your home or work for free?
  2. Is there a local branch where you can pay in money and check your account?
  3. Does it offer the services you need, such as a debit card, Direct Debits or standing orders?


If you have tried but can’t open a basic bank account, you might need to look at alternative options. Although we can’t give financial advice, there are a few alternatives below, and you should seek independent financial advice from organisations such as CAB or the Money Advice Service, as they can help you decide what is best for you.

Post Office Card Account

If you can’t open a basic bank account, you could consider opening a Post Office card account, which is specifically designed for receiving benefits, state pensions and tax credits. However, you cannot receive wages into this account.

Credit Union Current Account (CUCA)

You could look at those credit unions which offer the CUCA.

CUCA’s have facilities for wages and benefits to paid directly into, and along with direct debit, standing order and bill payment facilities, members receive a full range of day-to-day banking services direct from their credit union. There is normally a small weekly charge (usually around £1 –£2) for a CUCA.

Credit unions can only open accounts for people who fall within the credit unions ‘common bond’. This is normally based on location. If applying while in prison, you will need to apply to one that covers where the prison is based. You may be able to find this out in the prison, or ask somebody to use on your behalf.

Prepaid cards

These can be useful for people who have a record of fraud and have been refused by a main-stream bank. We have more information here.

Reasons for refusal

Record of fraud

All account providers reserve the right to reject applications from people who have a ‘record of fraud’ as a result of money laundering regulations. This does not mean anyone convicted of an offence that could be considered fraud cannot get an account. For example, banks would not usually decline an application from a person convicted of providing incorrect information when claiming benefits. Banks do not have access to criminal records, however they do have systems to detect applications from people who have a record of fraud against financial institutions, such as banks and insurers.

Undischarged bankrupts

Most banks also reserve the right to reject applications from people who are ‘undischarged bankrupts’. This is someone against whom a bankruptcy order has been made and who has not been discharged from bankruptcy (which usually happens 12 months after bankruptcy).

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Key sections include:

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

More information

  1. For practical information – More information can be found in our banking section
  2. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  3. Policy work – Read about the policy work we’re doing on this issue
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

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  1. Comment on this page (below)
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  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum
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