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Bank accounts are the cornerstone of our personal finances, but we often don’t give ours a lot of thought.

This is a shame, because if you search bank accounts you can often find an alternative that offers lower fees, better access and a range of perks that provides a superior banking option.

We’re going to talk about the importance of comparing bank accounts, so you can get the most of your savings and put yourself in a position where you can meet your larger personal goals, while also catering for the smaller-scale financial expenses you encounter in your day-to-day life.

What type of bank accounts are available?

When search for the best bank account in Australia, it’s important to be aware of the different types of bank account offered by financial institutions, and how these bank accounts are set up to cater for different money goals individuals or couples might have over the short and long term:

  • Transaction accounts – These type of bank accounts are designed to make meeting your day-to-day expenses as simple as possible. Transaction bank accounts will typically be where people receive their pay, withdraw cash or pay their bills. These bank accounts are generally highly accessible, but they also offer lower rates of interest, so they might not be the best option if you’re looking to save up for a holiday or other major expense.
  • Savings accounts – When people search for the best savings account, they’re looking for an account with a comparatively higher level of interest that allows them to save for larger financial goals and grow their wealth in a manner that’s generally low-risk. Savings accounts typically aren’t as accessible as transaction accounts, but can sometimes provide incentives for people making regular deposits and can be a useful part of anyone’s broader financial strategy.
  • Joint accounts – These are accounts opened in two names, generally by people who are in a relationship. Joint bank accounts can be advantageous as a manner of simplifying your banking and lowering your fees when you’re in a trusting relationship, but should the relationship turn sour these bank accounts can become quite complicated.

What are the pros and cons of bank accounts?

When you’re comparing the market, and looking to find the best transaction account for your financial situation, it’s important to consider the pros and cons in your bank account search:

Pros

  • Easy to access – Bank accounts that are designed to cover your day-to-day expenses, are set up with the purpose of being easy to access in mind. Whether you need to pay a bill online, withdraw cash, transfer money to a family member or make sure your rent is up to date, the best transaction accounts generally make this process simple, easy and painless.
  • You’re not locked in – A common misunderstanding with bank accounts is that you’re locked in by rigid measures. While you may incur some exit fees, more often than not you’re welcome to change your bank account whenever you like. This is part of the reason why it’s somewhat strange that people don’t compare the market more often to find a better bank account.
  • You earn interest – While it might not be as much interest as you’d earn on a savings account, term deposit or other investment option, transaction accounts do earn interest for their holders, providing the potential to grow wealth in a low-risk environment.
  • Your money is safe – Transaction accounts can be one of the safest places to keep your money, and part of the reason is the guarantee offered by the Australian government. The government guarantees deposits (for up to $250,000) in authorised deposit-taking institutions (ADIs) like banks, building societies and credit unions. This means, even if the economy is performing terribly, you can be confident that your savings are safe.

Cons

  • Temptation to spend is high – The greatest strength of a transaction account (ease of access) can also be its greatest weakness. When your funds are only the press of a button away, you can easily be tempted to spend more than you should, and this can make it difficult to meet your broader financial goals. Therefore, it’s important to be very careful when opening an everyday transaction account, and a good idea to consider opening a savings account in conjunction to this, to make it easy to meet your larger, long-term savings goals.
  • Interest rates are subject to change – While financial institutions like banks, building societies and credit unions take their cues from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), they’re not beholden to the RBA’s official cash rate and can often change their interest rate at the drop of the hat. So while you might have an interest rate you’re comfortable with when you sign up, you could find yourself in a very different situation six months down the track.
  • Interest lower than a savings account – Another factor to consider when comparing the market and performing a search for the best bank account in Australia is the fact that regular transaction accounts generally offer interest that is lower than savings accounts. This makes it difficult to grow your wealth if you’re not making regular deposits, and having a balance that is below a certain level can effectively negate the effect of interest, depending on the interest rate and the level of inflation in Australia.
  • Fees can start to add up – Another problem people run into with regular day-to-day transaction accounts is the fees, which after a while can start to add up. When you’re looking to compare bank accounts, it’s important to closely check the fine print, and make sure the bank account fees you’re obliged to pay as an account holder are something you’re comfortable with. Otherwise, you could dig into your savings unnecessarily.

What sort of fees can I expect to pay with a transaction account?

When you search the best bank accounts in Australia and are looking for a transaction account that suits your needs, it’s important to be aware of the regular fees of a bank account holder.

Different funds offer different levels and types of fees, and this should be a factor when shopping around. Bank account fees you may be charged with a transaction account include:

  • Account-keeping fees – These are the fees that are typically associated with the upkeep of your account by your bank, building society or credit union. Different financial institutions offer different levels of fees, and some waive fees for a period as a sign-on bonus.
  • Phone banking fees – These are the fees bank account holders incur when they’re undertaking phone banking transactions, queries and account changes.
  • Internet banking fees – Bank account holders may also have to pay internet banking fees on certain transactions and interactions.
  • Overdraft fee – Some transaction accounts have hefty fees for bank account holders who have overdrawn. It’s important to consider these when comparing bank accounts.
  • Transaction fees – Certain financial institutions impose fees for select transaction types, which is why it’s important to read the fine print in your product disclosure statement (PDS) and make sure you know what you’re getting in to before you sign on the dotted line.

FAQs

Opening a bank account for someone under 18

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.

Can foreigners open bank account in Australia?

If you’re migrating, studying or working in Australia, you’ll be pleased to know that you can open an Australian bank account. For the most part, opening a bank account in Australia is a simple process which starts by comparing the types of bank accounts foreigners can open in Australia.

Once you’ve found a bank account that suits your needs, you can start the application process.

When you apply for the account, you’ll need to provide proof of ID which may include your passport, overseas ID or credit card. You may also need to provide a copy of your visa and proof of address in Australia.

Depending on the bank and the type of account you choose, you may be able to apply for the account online or over the phone before you arrive in Australia.

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.

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.

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 close my bank account over the phone?

In most cases, you can close a personal or business bank account over the phone. In fact, this is the best way to ensure you’ve closed an account properly.

By speaking to a banking representative, you can capture and close out any pending transactions, or interest owing/payable on the account being closed.

In the instance where the account is a joint account, or you have multiple bank accounts you want to close, your bank may send you a form that you need to fill out and return.

Either way, you would be advised over the phone of the steps you need to take. Calling your bank ahead of closing an account is often a smart course of action.

Do I need to open a business bank account?

Just because you’re in business doesn’t necessarily mean you need a business bank account. You could be a sole trader not registered for GST, and use your personal bank account for business.

If you do want a business account, there are plenty of benefits attached to business transaction and savings accounts, as well as business term deposits.

There are business bank accounts designed for businesses with a high volume of transactions, and those for start-ups with a small amount of trade. You could also include an EFTPOS service with your account.

Some business bank accounts charge for the number of transactions per month, while others offer a pay-as-you-go fee structure, where you only pay fees for transactions you make.

It’s up to you whether your priority is mainly transactions, or earning the maximum amount of interest on your principal. There’s a business banking solution for you if you need one.

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 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.

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

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).

Can I open a bank account in another country?

Despite having a bad rap for facilitating tax evasion, it is possible and legal to open a bank account in another country, also known as an ‘offshore account’.

Some people choose to open a bank account in another country to invest overseas, for higher interest-earning potential or to access foreign banking services.

The process for opening an offshore bank account differs depending on the financial institution and country in which you’re opening the account.

Typically, you will need to provide identification such as a passport, a local bank statement and a signed declaration proving the source of the money being used to open your account. Usually, deposits into offshore accounts can be made by international money transfer.

How do I open a bank account if I'm under 18?

The good news for savvy young folks like you wanting to take charge of your finances is that there are many bank accounts available for under-18s.

For bank accounts that require you to be 18 or older, you’ll have to rope in a parent or guardian to open the account for you.

Otherwise, you can apply by yourself online or at the branch of the bank, credit union or building society that has the account you would like to open. 

If applying online, you might be asked for a form of identification. For under-18s, this could be a Medicare card you’re listed on, your birth certificate and/or your current home address.

In most cases, you can verify your identity online (at the time of applying) or at the branch afterwards.

How do you delete your bank account from PayPal?

Deleting your bank account from PayPal is a simple three-step process:

  • Go to your Wallet
  • Choose the account you’d like to delete
  • Click ‘Remove bank account’

Which bank is best for business accounts?

Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer to the question of which bank is best for business accounts. That’s because ‘best’ will differ from customer to customer, depending on their unique circumstances. These include not only your company’s financial position, but also its size, its age and the sector in which it operates. Another factor to consider is what features you want in a bank account. Your business may require different features than another business; and your business may require different features tomorrow than it does today.

The best thing to do is to thoroughly research the market before opening a business account. And when you do open an account, you should reassess your options every year or two, because the market moves quickly. A particular bank might offer the best account today, but be surpassed by one or several rivals tomorrow.

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)

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.

Can a debt collector garnish my bank account?

A debt collector can garnish your bank account, but only with a court order. This drastic action is usually taken only if you’ve ignored several notices asking you to pay the debt.

If this happens, there is nothing you can do to stop it other than immediately pay back your what you owe in full or make arrangements to pay it off in installments.

Once a garnishee order is issued, your bank will put a freeze on your account as it processes the order. This usually takes two to three days and you won’t be able to access any of your money during this time.

If you have Centrelink payments, they may be protected, depending on what the court order says.

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.