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Learn more about bank accounts

What is a debit card?

If you’re soon approaching the time where you need to set up your very first bank account, you need to firstly understand the tools you will be given to be able to access and manage

your money, and the features that each one offers.

The most popular method of being able to access your money is through a debit card issued

by the financial institution where you choose to keep your funds.

This card will be issued to you soon after you open a bank account (sometimes referred to as a transaction account), and how you can then access and spend your money will be determined by the terms and conditions set out by the card provider.

A debit card allows you to:

  • Withdraw cash from your provider’s branch or automatic teller machines (ATMs)
  • Make purchases with retailers who have EFTPOS (electronic funds transfer point-of sale) machines by using your own PIN (personal identification number), or through payWave or PayPass
  • Manage your money by being able to make deposits, monitor payments and spending and check your account balance 

What are the different features of debit cards?

All Australian banks and financial institutions offer a range of different features attached to debit cards which you need to compare when you’re selecting the most appropriate one for your circumstances, based on your own financial goals and lifestyle.

The key features to consider are: 

  • Fees: You need to look at all the fees attached to the account and the card to determine what will be most cost-effective for you. Look out for establishment fees, any ongoing account fees and transaction fees which may come into effect at certain usage levels.
  • Interest rates: If your debit card becomes overdrawn at any point, an interest rate is usually then applied to the amount and must be repaid on top of the overdrawn amount, so that your balance returns to at least $0.
  • Security features: Your card will have a unique PIN attributed to it, which is either allocated by the provider or set by you, as well as a card verification value (CVV), which is a three- or four-digit number found on the back of your debit card to help reduce fraud, by proving you have the actual card with you when you purchase.
  • PayPass or payWave: Some card providers will offer either of these instant transaction mechanisms so you’re able to use the card for purchases under a certain amount of money at an EFTPOS machine, simply by tapping the card.
  • Rewards programs: If you’re looking at a card that incorporates Visa ‘s payWave or Mastercard’s PayPass, you may also be able to access the rewards program attached to each one, by accumulating points through your transactions which then go towards a range of cash, flights, gift or shopping discount rewards.
  • Overseas use: If you need to use your card and account outside Australia, you need to look closely at what the foreign currency conversion costs may be on the card and whether there are any other additional fees attached to that use.
  • Joint accounts: If you’re looking at setting up an account and card for multiple people to use, so that you can manage joint costs such as household expenses, you need to look at what the conditions are that come with the card and ensure each person is aware of their individual responsibility.

What is the difference between a debit card and a credit card?

Debit cards only allow you to access your own funds – they do not allow you to borrow funds, as you would with a credit card.

Credit cards attract an interest rate on balances not repaid in full by the stipulated time, which must be paid back through regular interest repayments.

The benefit of a debit card is that you have the same level of accessibility to your funds, but you don’t have to repay any additional money borrowed on credit (unless you overdraw your debit account).

For that reason, you are not required to have a credit rating in order to have a debit card, but you will be subject to a credit rating check on your financial history if you apply for a credit card.

A credit rating takes into account your history of managing any credit products, and determines how worthy you are to have credit extended to you by a credit card provider.

Many people choose to progress from having a debit card to applying for a credit card, often because they may require more flexibility to manage their financial commitments in relation to assets or their lifestyle. However, the responsibility of having a credit card should not be considered unless you have shown continued discipline in relation to spending and the management of finances associated with your debit card and account.

Frequently asked questions

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.

Can I start a bank account online?

Yes, most lenders that operate in Australia will let you set up a bank account online. The process is usually simple and takes five to 10 minutes. You will probably need to provide a passport or birth certificate, as well as a driver’s licence, Medicare card or another form of secondary identification. Requirements differ from lender to lender, so some institutions might ask for more or different forms of ID.

Can you open a bank account at 16?

Yes, you can open a bank account at 16, or even younger. If you’re 13 or under, you will probably need a parent to accompany you to a branch.

Can you get a payday loan without a bank account?

Yes. Some payday lenders are willing to transfer loans to prepaid debit cards instead of bank accounts.

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.

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 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 British expats still open bank accounts?

As a British expat, you can open an Australian bank account, and you can apply for an account the same ways an Aussie would. You can even open an account online from the UK prior to relocating.

If you’re overseas, the bank you choose to open an account with may call you to provide you with our new account details beforehand. You can then have your ID verified within a branch once you’ve arrived.

And if you’re already living down under, the following list outlines the types of information required by most banks when opening an Australian bank account.

  • Australian residential address
  • Tax file number (TFN) or a TFN exemption
  • Identification (this can be your passport)

How do you deposit change into your bank account?

One way to deposit change into your bank account is to visit a branch. Many lenders will also allow you to deposit your change through one of their ATMs.

How do you open a bank account under 18?

If you’re under 18 and you want to open an Australian bank account, you will need your passport or birth certificate. (Some lenders might require just a Medicare card or driver’s licence.) You can apply online or at a branch. If you’re 13 or under, you will probably need a parent to accompany you to a branch.

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.

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.

Can I find my bank account number online?

Yes, you can find your bank account number by logging into your online banking and clicking on the relevant account.

Can foreigners open bank accounts in Australia?

Many Australian lenders allow foreigners to open bank accounts in Australia. Often, this can be done before you arrive in the country – with no Australian address required. When you get to Australia, you can pick up your debit card, using your passport as identification.

How do I open a bank account for a child?

There are few better ways for a child to learn about money management than through savings. And there’s a plethora of bank accounts designed specifically for young people and children.

A bank account for a child can be opened online, over the phone or in a branch in a few easy steps. The minimum age a child can open a bank account for themselves usually ranges between 12 and 14.

If the child is too young to open the account, you can do it for them as their legal parent or guardian. 

To do this, you would need to be over 18, have an Australian residential address and currently reside in Australia (or have proof of residency).

You would also need to provide:

  • Identification for yourself and the child
  • Your tax file number (TFN) or TFN exemption

Depending on the bank account, you might be able to choose what level of access the child has to their bank account (online and via the phone).

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.

Can Centrelink access your bank account?

Yes, Centrelink can access your bank account, but only if you give them a reason to. Centrelink uses data-matching software with other federal government agencies to help it crack down on welfare cheats.

This is why it’s important to give true and matching information to all government agencies.

For example, if you report to Centrelink your annual income is $25,000, but at tax time you report your income as $50,000 with the ATO, it’s likely you’ll be ‘red flagged’.

At this point, Centrelink can legally request that your bank hand over your personal bank account details, to review your finances.

In most cases, Centrelink does not have the authority to take money out of your account. You will usually be given written notice to repay the debt.

However, Centrelink can also reduce your benefits until you’ve paid back what you owe. In extreme cases, Centrelink can garnish your wages and assets (including money in your bank account) until your debt is repaid.

Can I have a PayPal account without a bank account?

You don’t need a bank account to send or receive money through PayPal. However, you do need a bank account if you want to withdraw money from your PayPal account.

How can I check my bank account balance online?

Checking your bank account balance online is a simple process. Once you’ve logged in to your online banking, clock on the relevant account and the balance should be visible.

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.