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. Plus, you can set spending limits and monitor what your child is spending on, giving peace of mind too.

This guide helps you understand the two main alternatives – prepaid cards and cards that come with children's bank accounts – plus the advantages and disadvantages of each, and why a card could be useful for your kids (and for you!).

This is the first incarnation of this guide. Please suggest any changes or questions in the Cards for under-18s discussion.

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 77% of all UK sales made by cards in 2016 (according to the UK Cards Association), 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 money and banking.

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:

You can get a prepaid card or a card that you get alongside a kid's bank account.

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 nitty-gritty of how both options work, here is an at-a-glance summary of the main features of each to help you make the decision.

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.

Children have to be at least eight to get one (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.

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

our 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.

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.

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

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

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.

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 cards for under-18s

Here we've picked the top prepaid cards for under-18s and children's bank accounts on the market, available to all and free or cheap to get.

Prepaid cards

At the moment there are only three cards on the market aimed at kids and teenagers, so we've weighed up their costs and ease of use. All cards can be topped up at very low cost, or for no charge.

All three have fees – so decide what it is you want from a card before picking one.

The top card as long as you make infrequent withdrawals

New kid on the block Nimbl has a one month free trial and the lowest fee of all the cards we looked at (£15/year). As with all our prepaid card picks, a parent (or an adult over the age of 18) must open an account, NOT the child. Once you've opened an account, you'll get a card which will be in your child's name.

You can then also download an app (or use the website) which'll allow you to set spending limits, and restrict whether the card can be used in store, online or for withdrawing cash.

It's worth noting that with this card Nimbl charges 49p for every cash withdrawal in a 30-day period after the first (which is free). If your child is likely to be making lots of cash withdrawals, this is NOT the card for you – see below for alternatives.

Need-to-knows
  • Costs £15/year per card (after the one-month free-trial period). Each adult can apply for up to four cards.
  • Can't be used in betting shops, off-licences or retailers with age limits.
  • Has a 'micro-savings' feature allowing small amounts to be drip-fed into a separate account on the card. No interest is paid on the 'savings'.
  • Don't let your kid use this card to spend abroad – it charges a horrible 2.95% foreign exchange fee and £1.50 cash withdrawal fee.
  • Your kid's money is ring-fenced. See key info for what this means.
  • We've rated this card top as it's the cheapest and offers the most features, but has limited feedback. Let us know what you think about it in our forum.

Yearly fee: £15 per card
Top-up fee: Free by all methods
ATM fee: First withdrawal each month is free; 49p thereafter
Transaction fee: Free
Card issuer: Mastercard
Overseas fees: 2.95% load fee, plus £1.50 to withdraw cash
Account termination fee: £5

  • Nimbl's cards are issued by a company called PrePay Technologies Ltd, which operates under a Mastercard licence.

    If Nimbl or PrePay were to go bust, Mastercard legally has to return any funds that customers have deposited on their Nimbl cards.

    Plus, any money you or your kid deposits on a Nimbl card is also held in a ring-fenced bank account that Nimbl cannot access – good news if Nimbl is struggling or goes bust.

    Although this means you or your kid's funds have a certain level of protection, we cannot say how quickly you'd be able to get your money back in the worst case scenario. For this reason, it's probably not a good idea to deposit large sums of money onto the card.

More expensive annual fee but free withdrawals

Although you'll need a smartphone to operate its (required) app, the Osper* prepaid card is fee-free for the first month. After that, it's £2.50/mth (so £30/year). Osper is also more established than the Nimbl card above, having been around for a couple of years.

Like the Nimbl and GoHenry cards above and below, parents can order up to four cards for their children, who must be between 8 and 18. Then, using the Osper app (iOS and Android), parents can load money and set monthly or weekly allowances. The app also allows parents and kids to budget and see how money is being spent.

Need-to-knows
  • Costs £30/year per card (paid as £2.50 monthly). Each adult can apply for up to four cards.
  • Can't be used in betting shops, off-licences or for dating services.
  • Don't let your kid use this card to spend abroad – it charges a horrible 3% foreign exchange fee and £2 cash withdrawal fee.
  • Your kid's money is ring-fenced. See key info for what this means.
  • Let us know what you think about this card in our forum.

Monthly fee: £2.50 per card
Top-up fee: Free by debit card only ('instant' loads cost 50p)
ATM fee: Free
Transaction fee: Free
Card issuer: Mastercard
Overseas fees: 3% transaction fee, plus £1 to withdraw cash
Account termination fee: Free (to close and get funds off account)

  • Osper's cards are issued by a company called IDT Financial Services Limited, which operates under a Mastercard licence (as well as a Visa licence).

    Any money you or your kid deposits on an Osper card is also held in a ring-fenced bank account with NatWest that Osper cannot access – good news if Osper is struggling or goes bust.

    Although this means you or your kid's funds have a certain level of protection, we cannot say how quickly you'd be able to get your money back in the worst case scenario. For this reason, it's probably not a good idea to deposit large sums of money onto the card.

Most expensive annual fee but free withdrawals and slickest app

Not the cheapest card, but GoHenry is the most established player on the market with arguably the slickest app and strongest tech behind it. It's also available to kids from the youngest age - your child can get one aged just 6.

For a limited time it's offering a one-month free-trial period. After that it charges a monthly fee of £2.99 per card.

You can then also download an app (or use the website) which'll allow you to set spending limits, and monitor what your kids are buying and where (it'll send you a text message every time your child uses the card). You can also limit how much your child can withdraw from a cash machine.

Need-to-knows
  • Costs £36/year per card (paid as £2.99 monthly). Each adult can apply for up to four cards.
  • Can't be used in betting shops, off-licences or retailers with age limits.
  • Don't let your kid use this card to spend abroad – it charges a horrible 2.75% foreign exchange fee and £2 cash withdrawal fee.
  • Your kid's money is ring-fenced. See key info for what this means.
  • Let us know what you think about this card in our forum.

Monthly fee: £2.99 per card
Top-up fee: One free top-up a month, then 50p for any consequent top-up.
ATM fee: Free
Transaction fee: Free
Card issuer: Visa
Overseas fees: 2.75% load fee, plus £2 to withdraw cash
Account termination fee: Free

  • GoHenry's cards are issued by a company called IDT Financial Services Limited, which operates under a Visa licence (as well as a Mastercard licence).

    Any money you or your kid deposits on a GoHenry card is also held in a ring-fenced bank account with NatWest that GoHenry cannot access – good news if GoHenry is struggling or goes bust.

    Although this means you or your kid's funds have a certain level of protection, we cannot say how quickly you'd be able to get your money back in the worst case scenario. For this reason, it's probably not a good idea to deposit large sums of money onto the card.

Children's bank accounts

A number of major banks offer special accounts for kids aged 11+. We've picked the following as our top bank accounts 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.

So it's always worth checking if your local bank, building society or credit union offers a current account for kids that would suit yours better.

The following have the option of a Visa debit or Cashpoint card (this only allows cash withdrawals and doesn't allow spending). They're also a good way to give a more mature child independence in their spending and saving habits, as there's no parental control.

Best if you want interest: get 2.5% on up to £2,500 - with no minimum balance

The TSB Under-19s' Account can be opened by 11 to 18-year-olds and pays interest of 2.5% on balances between £1 and £2,500.

Your child can learn how to use an 'adult' bank account, making bank transfers and setting up direct debits and standing orders.

While there's no app for parents, your kids can use its mobile banking app (from age 13). Its use is limited though, and parents won't have access to it unless your child shows you.

Warning. In April, TSB suffered a major IT meltdown, causing months of disruption which is still ongoing for some. We've still highlighted this account because it has a decent offering, but it's something to be aware of before applying.

Need-to-knows
  • Pays 2.5% interest on up to £2,500.
  • Your child can choose a cash card (only for withdrawing cash) or Visa debit card.
  • There's no overdraft, fees or charges.
  • Your child needs to apply for it – but can only do so in branch, and if they're 11-15 years old you have to go with them.
  • 17 to 18-year-olds also get a discount with the AA Driving School.
  • Access the account online, in branch or over the phone. And there's a mobile banking app.

In-credit interest: 2.5% AER variable if you've £1 to £2,500; 0.1% on £2,500+

Best for older children with more money: up to 3% interest on up to £2,000 - but nothing on less than £100

If your child's aged between 11 and 18, the Santander 123 Mini* pays 1% interest on balances of £100 or more. You get 2% interest on balances of £200+ and 3% interest if you've £300 to £2,000 in it.

That's a lot of money for an account designed for pocket money and money management. However, even if you don't reach the £100 threshold to start earning interest, the account is still free.

Like the TSB account, it's a good way for your kids to learn how to use an 'adult' bank account – they can make bank transfers and set up direct debits and standing orders.

There's no app for parents, but kids can use its mobile banking app from age 13. Yet its use is limited, and unless their child shows them, parents won't have access.

Need-to-knows
  • You only get 3% interest if you've £300-£2,000. If you've £200-£299 it's 2%, and for £100-£199 it's 1%. Rates apply to the entire balance.
  • You can choose a cash card or Visa debit card. Pick the Visa debit card if you want your child to be able to pay directly for goods.
  • There's no overdraft, fees or charges.
  • Access the account online, in branch or over the phone. And there's a mobile banking app.

In-credit interest: 3% AER variable on £300 to £2,000; 2% under £300; 1% under £200; nothing below £100

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 1.5% 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 1.51% on any balance Apply from 11 to 17
HSBC MyMoney None Apply from 11 to 17
Lloyds Under-19s 1.5% 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 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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