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?

It's a good question. What's the point when cash is just as good? Or is it? With 72% of all UK sales made by cards in 2018 (UK Cards Association) and 98% of adults holding a debit card in 2019 (UK Finance), it's clear that having some kind of card and knowing how to use it is important.

Giving a child a card instead of cash can help them (and you) monitor their spending, as well as teach them about how money and banking works in the real world.

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.

The cards available for kids

We obviously can't tell you when your child is ready for the leap into using a card. But if you do decide you want to get a card for your child, there are two options:

Your main choice is between a prepaid card or a debit card that you get with children's bank accounts.

Both work in a similar way in that your child won't be able to spend any more money than what's on the card, as neither allows an overdraft facility, so there's no need to worry about them racking up a massive bill.

However, prepaid cards and bank accounts for kids offer different features so depending on what your child (and you!) want, one could be better than the other. Here we explain how each works...

What are the main features of each?


Before we delve into the detail of how both options work, here's an at-a-glance summary of the main features of each to help you make the decision...

main features of prepaid cards and bank accounts for kids

Prepaid cards for kids

Prepaid cards work like this – you load cash onto one, and it can then be used in shops and cafés just like a debit or credit card. Payment will be taken by chip and PIN or possibly contactless (the maximum contactless spend is the same as for adults – £30 – but you can set spending limits to restrict this).

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 their limit.

Your child can't apply for a card on their own – you (or an adult aged 18+) must open an account which will come with one card that you'll be able to give to the child (you can request it with their name on). Each adult can apply for up to four cards in total (one card per child) which will be in each child's name.

Typically a child needs to be at least eight to get one (Rooster and GoHenry requires your child to be at least six). The card will also be paired with an app that the child and parent can download.

And don't worry that your child won't be able to use a prepaid card in a lot of places. The prepaid cards we've listed are Mastercard or Visa, meaning just like credit or debit cards, they're accepted by most retailers in the UK.

There are several types of prepaid cards on the market – however, for obvious reasons, we're only going to talk about the ones aimed specifically at under-18s.

kid with prepaid card

Reasons to choose a prepaid card

There are two main reasons you might want to get a prepaid card for your little one(s).

These are for control and educational purposes. Let's quickly break down what we mean for each...

1. Control

All cards we've selected as the best on the market come paired with a smartphone app which allows you as the parent and your child to see what and where money is spent.

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 in ATMs, shops or online only. The latter is great if you worry about junior going on an online spending spree

safe barriers

Your child also won't be able to use their card (in store or online) at 'blacklisted places' such as gambling sites, casinos, adult stores, off-licences or pubs.

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.

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). However, as long as they have funds available on their card, they will be able to sign up to age-appropriate subscription services such as Netflix or a magazine subscription.

2. Educational value

As the cards can be used in shops, online and for cash withdrawals it's a good way to teach your children the basics of how banking works before they move onto a bank account when they turn 18.

Also, most of the cards have apps where your child can visualise how much they're spending, how much money they have left on the card and where they're spending. They could be a great tool to help your child learn the basics of budgeting.

educate kids about money

The drawback – fees

Of course, these perks don't come free. There are a couple of fees associated with prepaid cards that you need to keep an eye out for:

  • Monthly & annual fees – Typically, cards will require a monthly or yearly fee. This could cost as little as £15/year up to £36/year. However, many prepaid cards come with a free trial period.

  • ATM fees – Your child may face a cash withdrawal fee in the UK. This will probably cost about 50p/withdrawal. Plus, there are usually charges for spending and withdrawing cash abroad.

All prepaid cards we feature have a free trial period – so could be worth a try if you're unsure. There's no obligation to keep the card at the end of the free trial if you decide it's not right for you and your child.

Closing the card is usually a simple case of contacting the prepaid card company to end your subscription and transfer any funds remaining on the card. Just make sure you do it BEFORE the free trial period ends to avoid being charged membership or account termination fees.

Quick questions

Here are a few other points to consider with prepaid cards for kids:

  • 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. However, the maximum liability (that is, the most you could lose in this scenario) is £50. So if your child had £100 on their card and that was withdrawn before you had time to deactivate the card, the prepaid card provider would refund you £50.

    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 with it being used again.

  • It varies for each prepaid card but it's worth noting there's not an 'adult' version of these cards, so all spending restrictions will still apply.

    Prepaid card provider GoHenry will allow your child to keep the card aged 18+ until its expiry date, at which point you'll need to cancel the account to avoid further fees.

    Another provider, Osper, lets your child keep the card indefinitely (with the same pricing levels) while another, Nimbl, will allow your child to keep the card by taking over the parent's account (and agreeing to the T&Cs), or continuing to use the card as normal (with the parent being able to see all spending).

  • There are safeguards, though it's important you 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.

  • Neither you nor your child will be credit-checked when you apply, making the application process much simpler – though you'll need to be 18+ to apply for the card. And you'll need an ID check.

  • 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.

Best prepaid cards for under-18s

Here we've picked the top prepaid cards for under-18s. All let you set usage limits on where and how the card can be used (eg you can specify that your child can't use the card online, or at ATMs, for example). Plus, all cards can be topped up at a very low cost, or for no charge.

 

Card Fee/yr Min/ max child ages Manage account App ratings How is cash protected?
RoosterMoney

£24.99 (1)
(1st mth free)
6-18 In app Android: 4.6 
iOS: 4.7
E-money
Starling Kite (2) £24 6-16 In app N/A (3) FSCS
Nimbl £28 (or £2.49/mth) 6-18 In app/
online
Android: 4.0
iOS: 3.6
E-money
Osper* £30 (1st 30 days free) 8-18 In app Android: 4.0
iOS: 4.4
E-money
GoHenry* £35.88 (4) (2mths free via our link) 6-18 In app/
online
Android: 4.6
iOS: 4.7
E-money

(1) £19.99 for additional cards. (2) You must already be a Starling current account holder to get this card for your child(ren). (3) Starling's building an app for kids. You can manage their cards from your main Starling account app for now (rated 4.7 on Android and 4.9 on iOS) (4) You get one free top-up a month, then it's 50p per top up. 

Children's bank accounts

Children's bank accounts

These are just like 'adult' bank accounts – while they have no fees or charges and don't offer an overdraft facility, these accounts allow your child to transfer money to other accounts and set up direct debits and standing orders.

But unlike prepaid cards where a parent has to apply for one, your child must apply for the account in their own name (although in reality a parent or guardian needs to be present whether it's an online or in-branch application for help with ID checks and form-filling).

Your child must be aged 11 to 17 (in some cases 11 to 18 – eg, Barclays' Young Person's Account) and in some cases over-16s may be able to open an account independently.

Children's bank accounts come with an optional debit card, instead of which you could choose a 'cash card'. A 'cash card' (each bank will call it something different) will only allow your child to withdraw money from ATMs. It will NOT allow spending – online or in shops.

Reasons to choose a children's bank account

There are three main reasons why you might want to choose a bank account for your child.

They're free, there's recognisable brand security and there's a bonus savings element. Let's break down what we mean for each...

1. Free to get and use

piggybank

Children's bank accounts are fee-free so they won't cost you anything, unlike prepaid cards that come with a monthly or annual fee. But don't forget big banks offer these accounts for free because they know if they can create a sense of brand loyalty, your child may become a customer for life.

A few accounts also offer freebies such as discounts on driving lessons. However, never let a freebie sway you from choosing the best account for your child.

2. Recognisable brand security

When it comes to banking, many people prefer to stick to names they know rather than trying something new. Let's face it, before you read this guide it's unlikely you would have heard of Nimbl, Osper or GoHenry (all prepaid card providers). But you would almost certainly have heard of Santander or TSB.

This is not us saying that you should choose a bank account over a prepaid card, just because they're run by big and well-known brands. But if you'd prefer to put your kid's cash into a recognisable bank brand, we've listed a couple of options below.

3. Learn how real banking works

As above, another perk is that these are just like 'adult' bank accounts – while they have no fees or charges and don't offer an overdraft facility, these accounts allow your child to transfer money to other accounts and set up direct debits and standing orders. It's a great way for your child to learn how a 'real' bank account works.

Also, many children's bank accounts offer interest on money held in them (all three of the prepaid cards allow your child to set up a 'savings account' within their apps, but your child won't earn interest in these).

These accounts could be a good opportunity for you to show your child how to save, and how they can earn money on those savings.

While these accounts may beat or equal many of the top children's savings accounts out there, as you can't set spending limits on a kid's bank account it's best to decide whether you want it for spending or saving.

The drawback – lack of control

can't set control on child's account

If you treat these accounts like mini adult bank accounts (which essentially is what they are – minus fees and overdraft facilities) then you won't go wrong. However, if you're expecting to be able to set controls on your child's account, you'll be sorely disappointed.

Both accounts below allow your child to download a mobile banking app when they're aged 13+. But unlike for a prepaid card, its uses are limited for you: you'll only have access to it if your child shows you and there's no way for you to set any kind of controls on it.

You'll also not be able to restrict how your child uses the card. For example, there's no way to temporarily stop the card (you can of course cancel it if it's stolen), you can't set spending limits and you can't restrict where the card is spent.

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 of £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).

So this may be a better option for an older or more mature child – as the lack of parental controls forces your child to be more independent in their budgeting and spending habits.

child becomes more independent
Quick questions

Here are a few other points to consider with children's bank accounts:

  • 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, the maximum liability (that is, the most you could owe in this scenario) is £50. So if your child had £100 on their card and that was withdrawn before you had time to deactivate the card, the bank would refund you £50.

    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.

  • Most accounts turn into an adult account when your child reaches 18 – but it's worth checking with the bank to confirm as the account may also just close (with notice), or change to a student account if your child plans to go to university.

  • Very. 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.

    Of course, it's unlikely that your child has £85,000 to stash (we're jealous if they do!). If you want to know more, you can read up on the savings safety scheme.

  • Because there's no overdraft facility on a children's bank account your child won't be credit-checked. They will need to provide ID and proof of address however.

  • You won't be able to set limits on your child's spending like with a prepaid card. Yet you could get round this by only depositing small amounts of money in the account. They won't come with an overdraft – meaning your child cannot spend more than is in the account.

  • 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.

Best children's bank accounts

A number of major banks offer special accounts for kids aged 11+. We've picked out two accounts as our top picks as they offer the most in-credit interest and are available across the UK. We're not saying you should pick an account based on interest alone, rather that there's not much between children's bank accounts, other than that some offer more interest than others.

They're also a good way to give a more mature child independence in their spending and saving habits, as they operate like 'adult' bank accounts. Your kids will be able to make bank transfers, set up direct debits and standing orders - and of course, use their debit card in stores and online.

There's much less parental control with these accounts. Kids will be able to operate the accounts online and - once they reach 13 - via a mobile app. However, if you want to view their account activity, you'll need to ask them.

Note: Some of the accounts below can only be opened in a branch, and while we know many don't want to go to one now, decent alternatives are scarce (and tend to be opened in branch anyway).

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.

best of the rest for kids

Best of the rest

We picked the two accounts above primarily because they offer the highest interest rates. If that's not important to you, but you'd still prefer a bank account for your child instead of a prepaid card, most of the big names offer an account for under-18s (and may have more convenient local branches).

Here's a table showing some of the 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

BANK ACCOUNT INTEREST OFFERED (AER) OTHER DETAILS
Bank of Scotland Under-19s 0.5% on up to £2,500 Apply from 11 to 17
BarclayPlus 0.25% on any balance Apply from 11 to 15
Danske Discovery None Apply from 11 to 17
Halifax Expresscash 0.5% on up to £2,500
Apply from 11 to 17
HSBC MyMoney None Apply from 11 to 17
Lloyds Under-19s 0.5% on up to £2,500 Apply from 11 to 17
Metro Bank Cash None Apply from 11. No upper age limit.
NatWest Adapt 1% on any balance Apply from 11 to 17
Nationwide FlexOne 0.1% on up to £1,000 Apply from 11 to 17
RBS Revolve 0.55% on any balance Apply from 11 to 17
Check full terms and conditions before applying.

And before going for any prepaid card or children's bank account, check it offers everything you want. Please share your experience of using any of these or others in our forum.

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