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A bank account is the workhorse of the personal financial world. Although it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of other products, most people in Australia need one to get by.

Choose the right bank account – one that offers convenience, plenty of access and minimal fees – and it will make managing money a whole lot easier.

So, how do you choose a bank account that best suits your needs, especially with so many products on the market? Here is a quick guide to help you out.

What is a bank account?

An Australian bank account (sometimes called a ‘transaction account’ or ‘everyday account’) is an account where you can deposit your pay, receive government benefits and access your money in different ways, such as through ATM withdrawals, debit card transactions, electronic transfer and bank cheques.

A good bank account should help you manage your finances better. Think of it as a tool that allows you to direct exactly where you want your money to go. For example, you may use your account to:

  • Setting up an automatic direct debit for regular payments
  • Using BPAY to pay for bills
  • Link to a high-interest savings account so you can set money aside as savings
  • Withdraw a certain amount of cash each week for spending
  • Keep tabs on whether you’ve been paid by your employer through an app

What features should I look for in a bank account?

There are many bank accounts to choose from in Australia, each offering different features that help you manage your money.

To find a bank account that suits your needs, consider the following:

Easy accessibility

When it comes to spending, ask yourself: what type of access do you need? A lot of bank accounts offer the basics – ATM access, eftpos, a debit card for purchases – but it is worth considering what type of access suits your spending habits.

Do you take cash out on a regular basis? You may want to choose a lender that has a comprehensive network of ATMs. Are you a traveller? Consider a lender that offers cash withdrawals at overseas ATMs and international money transfers. Prefer to speak to someone in person about your account? A bank with a branch near your home may be what you need.

Minimal fees

Transaction bank accounts typically offer very low rates of interest. This means that a good way to differentiate one product from another is the fees they come attached with. Typical bank account fees you may cross paths with are:

  • Account-keeping fees which cover the administration costs of managing your account
  • ATM withdrawal fees if you withdraw money from an ATM (most lenders charge even more if you use another bank’s ATM)
  • Eftpos transaction fee for paying with eftpos while shopping
  • Branch fees for when you visit the lender’s branch for services
  • Foreign transaction fee or a currency conversation when you access your money while overseas
  • Electronic transaction fee for internet banking

Also check if the lender charges a fee if you don’t make a monthly minimum deposit into your account.

It is worth shopping around for a bank account with a competitive offering. Many lenders will waive monthly fees, as well as offer free services such as own bank ATM withdrawal, eftpos, direct debit and internet banking.

Online features

Online banking isn’t just for the digitally savvy; it can be a convenient option for anyone who prefers to do their banking at home or on the run.

To take advantage of the convenience technology offers, consider opening a bank account with a bank that has a mobile app and internet banking, so you can transfer money across accounts, pay bills and check your balance online. Digital wallets and contactless payments can also be a good feature to have, especially if you are the type of spender who doesn’t like to carry cash.

Tailored for my needs

While most transaction bank accounts in Australia are suitable for anyone, some lenders offer accounts specifically suited to a certain demographic or stage of life. These may include:

  • Student bank accounts – for those engaged in full-time study, these bank accounts often charge no account-keeping or ATM fees
  • Online-only bank accounts – online-only lenders don’t operate any branches, so they can potentially offer savings in fees
  • Pensioner savings account – many lenders offer unlimited withdrawals, no monthly fee and increased fraud protection
  • Joint accounts – these can be held in two names if you want to share financial management with a long-term partner, or work together towards a financial goal

Frequently asked questions

How do I close a bank account?

Closing a bank account is one of those tasks that’s easy to put in the too-hard basket. There are quite a few steps involved, some which may require you to hang on the phone for a while.  

Here’s a handy checklist of items to tick off, so the job gets done quicker. If you don’t do your banking online, the following steps can also be done at a branch.   

  • Cancel any scheduled or recurring payments
  • Update your direct debit details (such as loan repayments) with creditors
  • Export your payee address book (to keep a record of saved third-party bank account details)
  • Transfer the balance of your account (to the new bank account)
  • Close your account online, or by calling the bank or visiting a branch

Can you find your bank account number online?

If your bank offers online services, you should be able to find your bank account number online by logging into your account on your bank’s website and checking your details there.

Keep in mind that each type of account you have with a bank comes with a unique account number. This means if you have a bank account as well as a savings account, for example, your bank account number and your savings account number will be different.

If you don’t have access to your bank account online or can’t login, you should be able to find your account number on a mailed bank statement, if you have one.

Alternatively, you can call your bank’s customer service number or visit a branch to retrieve your account number.

Can you open another account at the same bank?

Yes, you can open another account at the same bank if you already have an account there, but some banks place a limit on how many specific accounts you can open.

Generally, though, it is possible to have more than one everyday account, one personal account and one joint account, or have different types of accounts – such as a transaction account and a savings account.

Keep in mind that some bank accounts come with fees, so you could be charged twice for having two types of the same account at the same bank.

Also, if you have more than one high-interest transaction account at the same bank, only one account will be able to earn the highest rate of interest.

How to transfer money to another bank account

Transferring money to another bank is often called a bank transfer, and it can be done a few different ways.

Customers generally need three pieces of information to transfer money to another bank account. Customers need the account name, BSB and account number of the account they wish to transfer money to.

One way of transferring money to another bank account is in a branch with the help of a staff member; they will often give you a receipt as well as confirmation of the transfer.

Transfers can be also made via internet banking and phone banking.

Some banks also allow customers to make transfers via partnered ATMs, especially if the account is with the same bank.

How do you set up a bank account online?

Once you’ve compared bank accounts and found the right one, the process of opening a bank account online is quite simple and can be done in around 10 minutes.

To set up a bank account online, you’ll need to prove your identity and provide an approved form of ID as well as your tax file number (TFN).

If you’re a new customer of the bank, you’ll need to verify your identity and potentially upload documents before you can complete your online application.

Once your ID has been verified and you’ve set up your bank account online, you should receive your bank cards in the mail along with your PIN and any other account details.

Can you deposit money into somebody else's bank account?

One of the easiest banking tasks in the world is depositing money. You can even deposit money into someone else’s bank account if you wish.

The basic information you need to deposit money into a third-party bank account is:

  • Payee’s name
  • Bank, building society or credit union (though this isn’t necessary)
  • BSB (or bank code, which is the branch identifier)
  • Account number

Including the name of the financial institution isn’t necessary – particularly with online banking – because the BSB will identify this for you.

A handy tip is to record yourself (or add a personal message) in the transaction description or reference. This will show up on the recipients account, letting them know who’s paid them the money.

How do I open a new bank account?

There are a number of ways to open a new bank account – online, over the phone or in the branch. The trick is to decide what type of bank account you want beforehand.

It might sound like a simple enough task, but there are literally hundreds of bank accounts to choose from. And each offer their own banking features and benefits.

A comparison site like RateCity can help you work out what bank account product matches your needs.

Once you’ve made up your mind what you want, it’s advisable to have the following information ready for the application process.

  • A couple of forms of identification (such as driver’s licence, Medicare card, passport)
  • Tax file number
  • Residential address, contact phone number and email (though email is not essential)

How do you open a bank account in Australia?

Opening a bank account in Australia is usually a straightforward process. Some banks give you the option of opening an account online, while others require you to visit a branch.

Different bank accounts offer different features, so it’s best to compare your options to find one that suits you.

All banks require you to pass an identity check to open a bank account. Australia uses the 100-point identification system, which means you’ll need to show a number of forms of ID that, together, add up to 100 points.

Common ID types include a driver’s licence, passport, Australian visa in a foreign passport, and Australian Medicare card. You’ll find out what types of ID are accepted when you go through the sign-up process online or at a branch.

Once your account is open, you’ll be given or sent a debit card that you can use to make purchases and withdraw money from your account.

Can I open bank accounts for my children?

A common question for new parents is, ‘Can I open a bank account for my child?’

The short answer is yes – as a parent you can open a bank account for your child.

Once you’ve compared your options and found a bank account that suits your needs, the process is relatively simple.

As the bank account is for your child, you’ll need to provide some documentation such as proof of ID, including your tax file number.

You will also need a copy of your child’s birth certificate, and in some cases you may also need to sign a guarantee of indemnity.

Depending on the bank and whether you’re an existing customer, you may be able to open a bank account for your child online. However, you may still need to go into a branch to prove your identity.

Are bank accounts frozen when someone dies?

Yes, Australian bank accounts are frozen when someone dies. If you want to close the account of somebody who has died, you might have to provide proof of death and a copy of the will. You might also have to prove your relationship to the deceased person.

If you have a joint bank account with somebody who has died, you will generally be entitled to all the money in the account. Again, you might have to provide proof of death if you want to change the bank account from a joint account to a one-person account.

Can debt collectors take money out of your bank account?

Many people find themselves struggling to cope with debt at one time or another. In these cases, a debt collector could contact you to demand payment for a debt, to explain the consequences of you failing to pay a debt, or to organise alternative payment arrangements.

If you’re contacted by a debt collector, you may be wondering what their rights are and whether they can take money out of your bank account.

Creditors cannot access money in your bank account unless a court order (also known as a ‘garnishee order’) is made to allow creditors to recover debt by taking money from your bank account or salary.

If this happens, the creditor can take money out of your bank account unless you pay the debt in full or make an alternative payment arrangement such as paying in instalments through the court.

Can I close a bank account with pending transactions?

You can close a bank account with pending transactions. But after the account is closed, any incoming transactions will be declined by your (old) bank.

The best way to ensure this doesn’t occur is to either wait to close your account until all pending transactions are complete, or contact the creditor and supply them with alternate bank details.

If you’re unsure whether you have any scheduled transactions, you can speak to a banking representative over the phone or via online support.

In most cases, your bank withholds the amount owing for pending transactions (such as online purchases).

Because the pending amount is deducted from your bank balance, you can close your bank account and the purchase will be honoured.

What do you need to open bank accounts?

Opening a bank account is one of the simplest online tasks you could perform. The hard part is deciding which type of bank account you want to open.

All banking institutions have a website where you hit ‘apply’ on the account of your choice and step through an application in less than 10 minutes.

Here’s a list of information that is generally required for applications.

  • Identification (driver’s licence, passport, proof of age card, proof of citizenship and/or birth certificate)
  • Tax file number (so you don’t get charged the highest tax rate)
  • Address, contact email and phone number

If you decide to open a new account at the branch, make sure you ask beforehand what information you need to take with you, or take all of the above to be safe.

Do you need a bank account to sell on eBay?

You don’t need a bank account to sell on eBay. But if you don’t have a bank account, you must provide either a credit card or debit card.

Can I link a bank account to Paypal?

Paypal is a safe and convenient way to pay online without the need to share your financial details. You can send and receive money or accept credit and debit cards as a seller using Paypal.

It’s easy to link your bank account to a Paypal account and start making transactions within minutes.

To start, you first need a Paypal account (it’s free to join). When setting up your Paypal account, you will be prompted to link a credit card or bank account (or both if you wish).

PayPal works without a balance; you can use Paypal to shop or send money when your balance is zero.

When your Paypal balance is zero, Paypal will ask you to choose your preferred payment method at the checkout.

This could be either your linked bank account or credit card. Your bank details can be updated if you change banks or credit cards.

Do you need a bank account to get a credit card?

To get a credit card, you need to show proof of income, which will almost certainly require you to have a bank account.

How do you find a bank account number by name?

For privacy reasons, Australian banks won’t hand out account numbers or other details about their customers. However, if you provide a bank with a BSB and account number, they should be able to confirm if those numbers belong to one of their customers.

How long does it take to open a bank account?

The length of time it takes to open a bank account varies, depending on whether you want to open it online or in person.

Online

Most banks and credit unions have simple online applications that usually take no more than 10 minutes to fill out. It can be especially fast if you have your identification documents like your driver’s licence and passport handy. Sometimes you will instantly be approved and the bank account opened. However, depending on the financial institution, it may take a day or so to be processed and your account number issued. Your account information and ATM or debit card will then be mailed to you, which usually takes between five to 10 days.

In person

If you decide to go into a branch or office to open a bank account, it may take about half an hour. Make sure you bring your identification documents with you. Also book an appointment if you can, otherwise you might be forced to wait in line. Sometimes your ATM or debit card will be issued on the spot, otherwise you’ll need to wait for one to arrive by mail, which usually takes between five to 10 days.

How can I find bank accounts in my name?

To find ‘live’ bank accounts in your name, you’ll have to ask individual lenders, which involves contacting them one by one and proving your identity each time. To find ‘unclaimed’ bank accounts (those that have been inactive for at least seven years), you can use this website.

How do I open a bank account for a baby?

If you’ve just welcome a new baby into the world, congratulations. Opening a bank account for your child can be a wonderful first gift.

Before you can open your child an account, you’ll need to have a birth certificate or passport for your baby.

As the parent or guardian, you’ll also be listed as a joint holder on the account. This means you’ll need to have proof of your identification and address (a driver’s licence, passport, birth certificate or Medicare Card).

Many banks and credit unions offer baby banks accounts. Usually, you can apply online; otherwise you can head into a local branch or office with your documents.