2012 was another awful year for banking. Yet far too many sit on their hands complaining without acting, thinking there is little option.
That is not true. There is banking choice out there. Here are the 10 things you need to know.
1 Reclaim £100s of packaged account fees. Millions pay a monthly fee for their bank account, often sold on the basis of “free insurance”. While it can be a great deal, even the regulator, the FSA, says huge numbers of these policies are “useless”. I believe many thousands of people may have been mis-sold them. If you have got or had a premier or packaged bank account in the last 10 years, if it over-promised, told you it was compulsory, or gave you insurance that didn’t cover you when you came to claim, you could be due £100s or even £1,000s back. To complain, write to the bank and explain why you feel it was unfair.
It will likely reject you, but that is not too bad as it allows you to go to the free Financial Ombudsman Service, which gives an impartial adjudication. See mse.me/reclaimpackagefees.
2 Switching is easier than it was. Banks’ switching services move direct debits and standing orders for you.
Just tell your employer and anyone else who pays money into your account the new details. My tip is keep your old account open for a few months, with minimal funds, as a back-up.
3 Free £100 to switch to best customer service account. If your bank does not treat you right, consider Firstdirect.com. It has smashed every customer service poll I have done. Right now it is giving new switchers £100, though you need a minimum income of £23,500. It also gives 0 per cent on overdrafts up to £250, 15.9 per cent above that. While it doesn’t pay interest if you are in credit. If you don’t hit the earning criteria, or for other options see mse.me/bankaccounts.
4 Get 3 per cent bills cashback and 3 per cent on savings. Alternatively, for rates, the Santander.co.uk/123 bank account uniquely pays 1-3 per cent cashback on water, council tax, Santander mortgages, energy, phone, broadband and TV bills. Someone with typical bills would earn around £115 a year, but many with bigger bills can make £300, which easily offsets its £2-a-month fee. Better still, if keep £3,000-£20,000 in there, you earn 3 per cent interest. Avoid it if you are overdrawn though.
5 The top premier account — huge insurance benefits. While slamming packaged accounts at the start of the piece, done right, they can be a good deal. If you are going to pay for monthly fee for extras, the easy winner is the highly rated Co-operativebank.co.uk Privilege at £9.50 a month (£114 a year). The main benefits are:
Cover for up to four smartphones (including iPhone 5s) in your family high-end worldwide travel insurance, with a maximum age of 79 (64 for winter sport. There is also Privilege Premier at £13 month, which includes RAC European breakdown cover too. See mse.me/accountanalyser.
6 Struggling to get a bank account? It is a disgrace that over a million people in the UK are not banked. If that is you, don’t apply for a normal bank account — the likelihood is you will fail the credit score. Instead, go for a basic bank account – these don’t credit score you. Yet unless you specifically ask for the right application form, you risk being rejected if they give you forms for their standard account. Generally, the two easiest to get are Barclays Cash Card and Co-op Cashminder.
7 Is ethical banking an oxymoron? As the advert says, you need a bank account, but not necessarily a bank. Ethicalconsumer.org rates firms on the environment, human and animal rights, and politics
Building society Nationwide.co.uk’s fee-free account gives European travel insurance for one person up to age 73. Co-operativebank.co.uk is highly rated too, and its packaged accounts are our top pick. Nandp.co.uk building society gives cheap spending overseas.
8 Fed up with banks? Try a non-profit local credit union instead. There are 500 across the UK and 25 of them offer bank accounts. There is the same £85,000 per person protection as banks, and the Government’s just given £38 million extra funding. See Findyourcreditunion.co.uk.
9 Shift your overdraft to 12 months at 0 per cent. If you are overdrawn, Halifax.co.uk/reward offers a 12 month 0 per cent overdraft, and also gives switchers £100. Watch out though, as after a year, the overdraft charges jump to a huge £1-£3 a day.
10 Reclaim cash from old accounts. There are billions unclaimed in forgotten accounts. If you think there might be cash you can claim, go to Mylostaccount.org.uk.