best cards for under-18s

Top cards for under-18s

Prepaid cards & bank accounts for kids

If you have kids under the age of 18 then a card could be a great alternative to cash to teach them how to spend wisely. There are two main alternatives – prepaid cards or debit cards that come with children's bank accounts. This guide takes you through the advantages and disadvantages of each to help you choose.

Top-picks for under-18s

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Why should I get a card for my child?

Many prefer giving cash as pocket money to children, and there's nothing wrong with this, but a card has some clear advantages. The most obvious way is teaching them about how money and banking works in the real world, in addition to helping them (and you) monitor how much they spend. 

The control element is often a big draw for many parents, as depending on the card you choose, you can even get text notifications every time your child spends on the card, detailing what they've bought and how much it cost.

Plus, a card is a whole lot safer than cash. Both can be lost or stolen, but you're far more likely to be able to get your lost money back with a card.

Prepaid cards vs bank accounts


If you're looking to get a card for your child, you've two options:

  • A prepaid card. For children aged from six.
  • A debit card linked to a children's bank account. For children 11+.

Both work in a similar way and won't let your child spend any more than the balance on the card, however there are some key differences. Here's an at-a-glance summary before we explain both in detail... 

Now you know the differences, hopefully you've a good idea of which would suit your child best. Read on for more on kids' prepaid cards, or jump straight to info on kids' bank accounts.

How do prepaid cards for kids work?

Think of them like pay-as-you-go mobiles. Your child can't spend beyond £0, forming a 'safe' barrier so they can never go over the limit. You load cash onto one, then it can be used as payment in most places that accept card, just like a debit or credit card – so using chip and PIN or contactless up to £45, though you can often set spending limits to restrict this.

You (or an adult aged 18+) apply – there's no credit check – then give the card that arrives to your child to use. This is typically paired to an app so you can both see the transactions being made. 

These cards are also a good way to teach your children the basics of how banking works before they move onto a bank account when they turn 18.

Cards can be used in shops and online, and (usually) at ATMs to withdraw cash or check the balance. Plus most have apps which visualise how much and where they're spending, so give a good flavour on the basics of budgeting.

The five kids' prepaid card need-to-knows

  • Sadly, most of these cards don't come free. These are the fees to keep an eye out for:

    • Monthly or annual fee. After any free trial, it's typically up to £36/year. 
    • ATM fees. Some cards may charge around 50p/withdrawal in the UK. 
    • Overseas fees. While there are usually no charges for spending in the UK, costs can mount up abroad. 

    It's therefore important to cancel the card to avoid charges if your child stops using it. While these cards are for children, many won't actually stop working once your child hits 18, so you'll need to actively cancel it to stop continued fees.

  • Most cards come paired with a smartphone app which allows you and your child to see what and where money is spent. Some of these cards' providers will send you text messages or app notifications whenever your child uses the card – meaning you can keep track of their spending.

    A second perk for parents is that you can also control how your child uses the card. For example, you can temporarily stop the card, you can set spending limits and monthly allowances, and in some cases you can restrict your child to using the card at ATMs, or in shops or online only.

    There are some restrictions though – for example, your child won't be able to set up direct debits (with children's bank accounts you can) and obviously the card is blocked in certain inappropriate places such as gambling sites, casinos, off-licences and pubs. 

  • Unlike cash, if the card's lost or stolen it can be easily deactivated or 'locked' by the parent – as soon as they're aware it's missing. You can do so instantly, in the app or over the phone.

    Do note that if the card was used after being lost or stolen but before the parent deactivated the card, this money would not be protected. If you think the card has been or is being used fraudulently then you can ask the prepaid card company to investigate. It may be able to return your funds under its contract with Mastercard or Visa.

    If you think the card may just be temporarily lost or your child has been naughty (!) and gone on a spending spree, you can also freeze the card until you're happy for it to be used again.

  • It's important to know that funds on a prepaid card don't have the same protection as money in your bank or savings account.

    Money on prepaid cards is classed as 'electronic money', and all prepaid card providers have to hold your cash in a bank account ring-fenced from their operating cash. Should the card issuer go bust, your money would be protected as it'd be in a separate account.

    But there's an important caveat. Your cash wouldn't be protected if the bank or building society your money was ring-fenced in went bust. This is because it's not counted as a deposit, in the way that cash in a savings account would be, and so it's not protected.

    As this is important, we've full details on how your cash is protected with each of our top picks. 

  • Prepaid cards aren't like credit cards, which offer Section 75 protection as part of the Consumer Credit Act. But you'll have access to Visa and Mastercard's chargeback schemes instead.

    Chargeback schemes give you a chance to get your money back if you buy faulty goods, a service isn't provided, or a company goes bust and goods aren't delivered. You'll get your money back straightaway, if your claim's successful. Our Chargeback guide has more info.

Top-pick prepaid cards for under-18s

All the below cards come with mobile apps – one for parents and one for kids (except Starling, which is still building its kids' app). Both can be used to view transactions and receive spending alerts, plus the parent's app lets you top up the card, set up regular payments, and set usage and spending limits.

Top-pick prepaid cards for under-18s

New. FREE prepaid card for kids – but it can't be used at ATMs. HyperJar works by letting you put money in different 'jars', which can be a good way to sort kids spending and saving money, or help them save for different things. You can set spending permissions and limits on each one separately within the app. 

 

 

HyperJar*
FREE

- Available for ages 6-17

- Can't be used at ATMs

- Set spending limits on each 'jar'

- Card management via app only

- Money protected as e-money

Cheapest card that can be used at ATMs. Apply via our link below and you get an ongoing 20% discount, making this card cheaper than some of its competitors. The app lets you specify how the card can be used, as well as allowing you to set spending limits. Plus you can choose an amount to go to savings each time the card's used, helping your child build a savings habit. 

 

Nimbl*

£22.40/yr or £1.99/mth

+ first month free

- Available for ages 6-18
- Limit card usage online, in-stores or at ATMs

- Set daily, weekly or monthly spending limits
- Card can be managed online and via app
- Money protected as e-money

Lets you track chores before making payments. RoosterMoney has a broad set of parental controls, and also lets you automatically split pocket money between spending and saving pots. Plus there's a built-in chore tracker so you can set it only to pay out when they're done. 

Rooster.png

 

RoosterMoney

£24.99/yr (£19.99/yr for additional cards)

+ first month free

- Available for ages 6-16

- Limit card usage online, in stores or at ATMs

- Set daily, weekly or monthly spending limits

- Card management via app only

- Money protected as e-money

Good choice if you (are happy to) bank with Starling. If you don't already have a Starling current account, you'll need to apply for one first (including passing a not-too-harsh credit check). Once open, you can apply for a kids account which will be linked to yours – their account will be in your 'Spaces' tab. Both accounts can be managed via your mobile app, and Starling is currently building its own kids' app. 

productbox-starling-2020.png


Starling Kite

£24/year

- Available for ages 6-16

- Limit card usage at ATMs and on card purchases

- Set daily, weekly and monthly spending limits

- Card management via app only
- Money protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme

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How do children's bank accounts work?

Children's bank accounts

These are just like 'adult' bank accounts, just without the overdraft facility or credit check. So your child (aged 11+) can transfer money to other accounts and set up direct debits and standing orders. They also come with a debit card, or if you prefer, a more restricted cash card, which can only be used for cash withdrawals at ATMs.

Many children's bank accounts also offer interest on money held in them, which can be a good way to teach them about spending and saving. Though see the top children's savings accounts if you're primarily looking for a place to save. 

Unlike prepaid cards where a parent has to apply for one, your child must apply for the account in their own name (although a parent or guardian needs to be present to help with ID checks and form-filling). Most accounts then turn into an adult account when your child reaches 18.

The five kids' bank account need-to-knows

  • Children's bank accounts are fee-free so they won't cost you anything, unlike most prepaid cards. Your child can't go overdrawn. However, like with prepaid cards, do watch out if your child's spending overseas – most banks add a 3%ish exchange fee for this.

    Some may also choose a bank account rather than a prepaid card because it's from 'a name you know' like Santander or TSB. All high-street banks have accounts for children – we detail the best (and the rest) below.

  • If you treat these accounts like mini adult bank accounts then you won't go far wrong. However, if you're expecting to be able to set controls on your child's account, you'll be sorely disappointed.

    Even if an account offers an app, its unlikely you'll be able to get your own access and will lack any parental controls over it. You'll also not be able to restrict how your child uses the card, such as spending limits and temporary stops (though you can cancel it if it's stolen).

    Of course, if it's you (and not your child) paying money into the account, you can control the account balance. Though there's nothing stopping your child withdrawing all the money in one fell swoop at a cash machine (up to the daily withdrawal limit, typically £200-300).

    There's also no way to stop your child from using their card (in store or online) at places such as gambling sites, casinos, adult stores, off-licences or pubs (which are blacklisted if you use a prepaid card).

  • Unlike cash, if the card's lost or stolen you can ring the bank to deactivate the card – as soon as you're aware it's gone.

    Do note that if the card was used after being lost or stolen but before you contacted the bank, this money would not be protected. However, if you think the card has been or is being used fraudulently, you can ask the bank to investigate. It may be able to return your funds.

  • Children's bank accounts, as with all UK-regulated current or savings accounts and cash ISAs in banks, building societies and credit unions, are covered by Financial Services Compensation Scheme protection, up to £85,000.

    But this doesn't mean you'll get £85,000 for every account – the £85,000 is per financial institution. So if the bank fails, you'd get back up to £85,000 per person, per financial institution. The majority should get it within seven days. See our guide to the savings safety scheme for more.

  • You'll have access to Visa and Mastercard's chargeback schemes.

    Chargeback schemes give you a chance to get your money back if you buy faulty goods, a service isn't provided, or a company goes bust and goods aren't delivered. You'll get your money back straightaway, if your claim's successful. Our Chargeback guide has more info.

Top-pick children's bank accounts

A number of major banks offer special accounts for kids aged 11+. Our two top picks pay the highest interest rates and are available UK-wide.

Though remember there's much less parental control with these accounts than on prepaid cards – kids will be able to operate the accounts online and/or via a mobile app. So if you want to view their account activity, you'll usually need to ask them.

Top-pick children's bank accounts

Account Rate (AER variable) Gives debit card? Min/max deposit How to open Min/max age
Santander*
123 Mini
3% on £1,500 to £2,000 (1)

More info

£1/ no max Branch/ online (2) 0/17
TSB
Under 19s
2.5% on £1 to £2,500 (3)

More info

£1/ no max Branch 11/18 (4)

(1) Pays 1% on £1 to £999.99; 2% on £1,000 to £1,499.99; and nothing below £1 or above £2,000. (2) For a child under 13, the account must be opened in branch by a parent with a Santander current account. Children aged 13+ need to open the account themselves online. (3) 0.1% above. (4) For a child under 15, a parent/guardian must be present to open the account.

If interest isn't important, here's an overview of the rest

These are some of the kids' accounts offered by other big-name brands, listed in alphabetical order. Don't forget to also check smaller banks, building societies and credit unions too.

Best of the rest: bank accounts for under-18s

Account Rate (AER variable) Min/max age
Bank of Scotland Under-19s 0.5% up to £2,500 11/17
BarclayPlus 0.1% up to £1,000, 0.6% above 11/15
Danske Discovery None 11/17
Halifax Expresscash 0.5% up to £2,500
11/17
HSBC MyMoney None 11/17
Lloyds Under-19s 0.5% up to £2,500 11/17
Metro Bank Cash None 11/No max
NatWest Adapt 1% 11/17
Nationwide FlexOne 0.1% up to £1,000 11/17
RBS Revolve 0.55% on any balance 11/17

See full features, terms and conditions on the above links before applying.

Cards for under-18s FAQs

  • There's no right or wrong answer here – it's personal preference. As we've said above, debit cards are only available with children's bank accounts and there are fewer parental controls with these accounts than on prepaid cards.

    Kids are able to fully operate the accounts themselves, entirely independently. You'll not be able to restrict how your child uses the card, such as spending limits and temporary stops, nor will you be able to view their account activity – you'll usually have to ask them. Of course, if it's you (and not your child) paying money into the account, you can control the account balance. Though there's nothing stopping your child withdrawing all the money in one fell swoop at a cash machine (up to the daily withdrawal limit, typically £200-300).

    There's also no way to stop your child from using their card (in store or online) at places such as gambling sites, casinos, adult stores, off-licences or pubs (which are blacklisted if you use a prepaid card).

  • If your prepaid card is lost or stolen, deactivate the card ASAP to protect the cash. You can do so instantly, in the app or over the phone. If you think the prepaid card may just be temporarily lost, you can also freeze the card until you're happy for it to be used again. If you have a children's bank account, call the bank ASAP to block the card.

    Do note that if the card was used after being lost or stolen but before you deactivated the card or got in contact with the bank, this money would not be protected. However, if you think the card has been or is being used fraudulently, you can ask for the bank or prepaid card company to investigate and it may be able to return your funds.

  • All the children's bank accounts we've listed offer a debit card which allows contactless payments – some also offer the choice of a more restrictive cash card instead, which can only be used to withdraw cash from ATMs. All the prepaid cards we've listed also allow contactless payments.

  • A credit check is not required – regardless of whether you choose to go with a prepaid card or a children's bank account.

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