Top current account & auto savings apps
There's now a wave of banking and savings apps which give you a helping hand with budgeting, saving and managing your cash in a way traditional banks don't – though the biggies are starting to catch up. If you're not smartphone-savvy or you prefer banking in a branch, see Best Bank Accounts instead.
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What is app-based banking?
Our focus in this guide is on the new app-only banks with all the gizmos, such as giving spending notifications and letting you ring-fence cash for savings etc. But some of the traditional high street banks have popular apps, and are catching up with their newer competitors, so we also feature them.
Digital banking is on the up – almost 22 million people regularly used a banking app in 2017, according to trade body UK Finance, with 174 app logins every second.
While the purely app-based banks don't have a high-street presence, most have in-app customer support, with dedicated teams on hand to offer assistance if you've any questions or issues.
All apps featured in this guide are free to download – though some have costs associated with running them, which we clearly explain in our best buys below.
The apps in this guide all work with Android and iOS phones, so you should be able to download them if you've one of those. Alternatively, several of the apps let you download them to an iPad or other tablet if it runs on Android or iOS.
Unfortunately, if you have a Windows Phone or other smartphone/tablet, you WON'T be able to get any of the new apps in this guide – though you can get traditional banks' apps (see Cheap Mobile Tips if you want a new phone).
Many apps, including Starling and Monzo, allow you to deposit cheques by mailing them to a physical address.
With cash deposits, Starling allows you to pay cash in for free at any Post Office branch. With Monzo, you can deposit cash anywhere with PayPoint – though it costs £1 per deposit, so is worth avoiding if you can. For apps from the big names, such as Barclays and NatWest, you can simply head into a branch.
Rather watch than read? This helpful little video gives you the app-based banking lowdown...
To get your head around app-based banking, read the following:
Although these apps aren't solely meant for budgeting, a lot of the ones we feature in this guide can also help with keeping your finances in check.
Many give real-time notifications when you spend or save – so for example, if you bought something for £5 in Boots, you'd get an instant pop-up on your phone telling you what you've spent.
Another feature they have is to give you insights into your spending habits. This means you'll easily be able to see how much you spend in one particular shop each month (coffee addicts beware!), or more generally how much you spend on entertainment or travel.
This should make it easier to budget and keep track of your money, allowing you to cut the cloth where needed.
When it comes to your finances, you want to be sure your money's safe – so it's important to understand how your money's protected. UK-regulated banks such as Barclays and NatWest have the full £85,000 Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) protection (see more on this in our Savings Safety guide).
Some of the apps below, including Starling and Monzo, also have FSCS coverage, but a few don't. Instead, many digital banking apps have an 'electronic money' licence. This means they have to hold your cash in a bank account ring-fenced from their operating cash – this is normally with a big bank such as Barclays or NatWest.
Should the digital bank go bust, assuming it's done things by the book, your money would be protected as it'd be in a separate account.
But there's an important caveat. If the bank or building society in which your money was ring-fenced went bust, your money may NOT be protected. 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 as clear-cut – the FSCS has told us that it would have to decide on a case-by-base basis whether or not it would cover your cash.
For providers in this guide, we tell you how your money's protected – it's up to you whether you want to take the risk of a big bank that's holding your money going under.
One thing that many financial technology firms – or fintechs – are trying to do is become fully-fledged banks, offering an alternative to the main high-street players. Like their high-street counterparts, they offer debit cards, overdrafts, direct debits, standing orders and more. These challenger banks sell themselves on their high-tech, easy-to-use features, but it's still worth being aware of the old-school brands.
Many high-street banks offer incentives of £100+ if you switch to them, or ongoing rewards such as in-credit interest or cashback on bills, something the challenger banks don't tend to do. For full options of these, see Best Bank Accounts.
It's also worth bearing in mind that you don't HAVE to switch to open an app-only account, you can simply open one as an extra. This might be a good option if you aren't convinced of the benefits of app banking but are keen to see what all the fuss is about.
Yes. If the provider's signed up to the Current Account Switch Service (CASS), this process is quick and seamless and works the same way as switching to a traditional bank. It takes seven working days, all payments going in, eg, salary, and out, eg, utility bill direct debits, are moved to your new account, and any wrongly applied charges will be refunded. For more on this, see Best Bank Accounts.
However, if a bank isn't signed up to CASS, you'd have to switch using the older, manual process, which takes longer and doesn't offer the same guarantees. We note in our top digital bank accounts section whether or not each bank is signed up to CASS.
Most of the apps are designed with you in mind, with oodles of clever tech that makes managing your money as easy as pie.
In this guide we feature apps for saving, which have functions such as calculating how much you can afford to save each week and automatically sweeping money into a separate savings account – though you can always tell the app to save less if you're feeling the pinch, or move the money back into your current account if you need it.
This is intended to help you save without having to think about it, which should lead to higher savings building up.
While these apps can help you save more, they generally don't pay top rates – see our Top Savings Accounts guide to boost your returns.
If you bank with a traditional provider and misplace your debit card or can't remember your PIN, it used to involve calling to cancel the card or waiting for a new PIN to be posted.
But new banks are making it easier to manage if you lose your card or have a lapse of memory – they tend to let you freeze or unfreeze your debit card with the touch of a button, and can give you PIN reminders in-app. You'll still need to enter a passcode or use 'touch ID' fingerprint recognition to get into the app though, anyone can't just use your phone and steal your PIN.
Some of the big names have also started to adopt these newer technologies – we list which in our table below.
So no more cancelling your card and then finding it seconds later at the bottom of your bag...
All providers featured in this guide perform 'know your customer' (KYC) checks – this means they need to prove you are who you say you are when you apply, and will often ask for proof of identity and address.
These ID checks appear on your credit file as a 'soft search', which other lenders usually can't see, unlike a 'hard search' which is visible to other lenders searching your report and can lower your credit score (see Credit Scores for more).
But if you're applying for a bank account, you'll likely be subject to a credit check when you apply. These help providers assess if you're someone they want as a customer, and also let them see if they'd be willing to give you an overdraft. This is usually a 'hard' search – which can impact your credit score (exceptions are Starling Bank and Monzo, more on them below).
Banks use credit checks, plus data on your application form, to decide whether to accept or reject you. Sign up to our Credit Club to see your free Experian credit report and find out who's checked you, and what sort of search they've done.
Many apps, including the automatic savings apps below, require you to give them access to your existing online banking, so they can see your current account and credit card info. This is to give you insights into your spending habits, calculate how much you can afford to save, or combine multiple accounts in one place.
This sometimes means giving the app your login details so it can access your data. And because of a regulation snappily called 'the second Payment Services Directive' (PSD2) and reforms to the banking industry called Open Banking:
Banks now must share your banking data with authorised third parties if you've given permission.
By 'authorised' we mean those third parties, such as apps, which have special licences from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) or other European regulators – see our Open Banking explained guide for more. Banks may still share your info with unauthorised firms if they choose to. However, if you choose to do this with an unauthorised firm or app, you may be liable for any fraud affecting your bank account.
We note below if an app which connects to your bank account is authorised to provide these 'account information services' – if it's not yet, you need to decide whether or not you're happy to take on the extra risk.
If you use a third-party provider that's not authorised, you won't get the same levels of protection against fraud. So if you lose money through it, your bank may not pay out.
You should always check a provider before you give it access to your accounts – you can do so on the FCA Register. If it's not authorised, ask what security measures it has in place.
However, if you're happy with a provider, you can choose to give it access even if it's not authorised, but you need to be aware of extra risks.
That said, it'll take time for all new providers to gain authorisation, and there's also a transition period which means some don't have to be authorised until the end of 2019.
We asked the FCA what you should do if you have doubts about a provider. It said: "If you're unsure about whether a company is legitimate, you should ask them for more information, for example, who they are regulated by.
"If you don't know who you are talking to, or there is reason to suspect that the provider is not who they claim to be, don't disclose your banking security credentials or other personal or financial information."
Bear in mind too that using a firm that's yet to be authorised doesn't automatically mean you're not protected – some apps already adhere to other regulations, such as the e-money regulations, which means your money is safeguarded.
For the challenger banks below offering current accounts, you apply through their apps and the process is quick and easy, typically taking a couple of minutes.
These accounts can be beaten if you're looking for free cash to switch or high interest, but if you're after snazzy features such as budgeting help and instant notifications, read on for our top picks.
App-based Starling Bank* offers a full current account that you can open in a couple of minutes. It gives you real-time notifications when you use your debit card, insights into your spending and lets you set up savings goals. You also earn a small amount of in-credit interest.
As an added boon, there are no fees for spending or cash withdrawals abroad, making it a top-pick debit card overseas, though it's possible this'll change in future. Starling is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and has the full £85,000 UK savings safety guarantee.
There are no branches, but you can still deposit cash and cheques – full info in the FAQs below.
As well as providing spending notifications and insights, the app lets you freeze and unfreeze your debit card at the touch of a button, report it lost or stolen or get a PIN reminder in-app. You can also turn off certain functions of your card such as online spending, contactless payments or ATM withdrawals if you want to control a specific type of spending.
Starling also has a 'marketplace', which lets you use other companies' services through its app. There are only a few companies featured at the moment, but in future it'll offer ISAs, savings accounts and insurance, among other products.
You can make up to six cash withdrawals a day, totalling a maximum of £300.
When applying for an account, Starling will run an initial credit check – this is a 'soft' search – which won't affect your creditworthiness. From this, it'll decide whether it'll accept you for the account, and how much it could offer you as an overdraft. If (and only if) you say 'yes' to the overdraft, Starling will then record a 'hard' credit application on your credit report, which could have a minor impact on your credit score.
You can deposit cash at any Post Office branch using your card and PIN if you've one of Starling's newer vertical cards. Alternatively, you can deposit cash at any NatWest branch using the following details – account number: 48588725, sort code: 600001. It'll appear in your Starling account within two working days.
If you want to deposit a cheque, you can mail it for free to 'Freepost STARLING'. If you want to track your cheque, you can post it to Starling Bank, PO Box 74352, London, EC2P 2QU. Ensure you include your last name and Starling account number.
If you have any problems or questions, you can contact Starling via the in-app messaging service. Alternatively, you can email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arranged overdraft cost: 15% EAR variable (waived if less than 10p in any month).
Unarranged overdraft cost: 15% EAR variable (waived if less than 10p in any month). Max £2/mth.
Monzo Bank, like Starling above, gives real-time notifications when you use your debit card and insights into your spending. You can also set money aside in 'pots' and choose to round up every purchase you make to the nearest pound, with the difference going into a pot.
Monzo has no fees for spending abroad, though overseas ATM withdrawals over a total of £200 in any 30-day period will incur a 3% charge. After the 30 days are up, your allowance resets and you can withdraw up to £200 again fee-free.
There are no branches, though you can deposit cash anywhere with PayPoint for a £1 fee and cheques by post – full info in the FAQs below.
Minimum monthly pay-in: None
In-credit interest: None
How to get the app: Download for iOS (rated 4.6/5) or Android (rated 4.3/5)
Member of CASS? Yes
Does it credit check? ID checks only, unless you apply for an overdraft
Overseas fees: No spending fees. Up to £200 fee-free overseas ATM withdrawals/30-day period, 3% after.
As well as providing spending notifications and insights, the app lets you freeze and unfreeze your debit card at the touch of a button, report it lost or stolen or get a PIN reminder in-app.
You can also set up 'pots', which let you assign money in your account to goals such as saving for a rainy day, or a specific purchase – you can move money back into your current account whenever you want, but be aware that any money you have in a pot won't be included in your main account balance.
You can open a 'regular pot' or, if you've at least £500, a 'savings pot'. Cash in a savings pot is held by one of Monzo's partners (with full UK savings safety protection) – these are OakNorth, Shawbrook and Investec. The interest you can earn with them isn't the best, so it's worth looking at Top Savings Accounts too.
Monzo also has a feature called 'Bill Tracker' which alerts you if a regular direct debit leaving your account is higher or lower than usual – helpful if, for example, you've been moved onto a higher energy tariff or racked up a big phone bill without realising.
You can withdraw up to £400/day from ATMs, up to a maximum of £5,500/mth.
Yes, if you apply for an overdraft. If you don't apply for an overdraft, it'll just run an ID check on you, which will appear as a 'soft' check on your credit report and won't affect your creditworthiness.
You can pay in cash anywhere that has PayPoint (find your nearest), though it costs £1 per deposit. You can pay in £5-£300 (max £1,000 every six months).
To deposit a cheque, you must write your account number on the back and send it to 'Freepost Monzo'.
If you have any problems or questions, you can contact Monzo via the in-app messaging service. Alternatively, you can email: email@example.com or call 0800 802 1281.
Unarranged overdraft cost: £20 buffer, then 50p/day (max £15.50/mth).
You may want a slick app, but from a banking name you know. We ran a banking apps poll to ask which apps are best – and while Starling and Monzo (above) came out on top for features and ease of use, the two below were the best-rated big names.
For now, neither of these apps offer the same budgeting help as the newer players, but they're decent options if you want to stick with a name you know and normally do a lot of internet banking.
- Barclays – 57% said the app's 'great to use and has lots of features'. As well as letting you check your balance, see transactions and manage payees and recurring payments, the Barclays app lets you temporarily freeze your card and get PIN reminders. Download for iOS (rated 4.8/5), Android (rated 4.4/5) or Windows Phone (rated 4.5/5).
If you've got the Barclays Bank Account (or Premier) you can also apply for the Barclays Blue Rewards scheme. It's an add-on to Barclays' current accounts which, for a £4 monthly fee, will pay you at least £7/month back – plus if you switch, you can currently get double rewards for a year (triple for Premier).
- Lloyds – 49% of people in our poll said the app's 'great to use and has lots of features'. Lloyds current accounts don't currently feature in our top picks, but if you want the app it's well-rated by Moneysavers. It lets you check your balance, see transactions (including pending ones), manage payees and temporarily freeze your debit card. Download for iOS (rated 4.8/5) or Android (rated 4.6/5).
What can other bank's apps do?
In addition, we wanted to know what other banks are doing in terms of offering budgeting help and letting you freeze your card.
Bank of Scotland Yes, debit and credit cards No No Yes Future spending predictions Barclays Yes, debit and credit cards No Yes Yes Account aggregation, letting you view current accounts with other banks in app. Co-op No No No No - First Direct No No No No - Halifax Yes, debit and credit cards No No Yes - HSBC Yes, debit and credit cards No No No - Lloyds Yes, debit cards No No Yes - Metro Bank Yes, debit and credit cards No Yes No In-app alerts when there isn't enough money in your account for a likely spend or when there has been a change in the amount of money paid to a regular supplier. Monzo Yes, debit cards Yes Yes Yes Set spending budgets Nationwide Yes, debit cards No - but looking at for future No No Set savings goals and see how they are doing against their goal NatWest Credit cards only TBC TBC TBC - RBS Credit cards only TBC TBC TBC - Santander No No No No - Sainsbury's Bank No No No No - Starling Yes, debit cards Yes Yes Yes - Tesco Bank Yes, debit and credit cards TBC TBC TBC - TSB No No No No Merchant logos to see where you spend. Last updated June 2019
As well as current accounts, there are other apps that focus on offering savings products, whether it's top rates for locking your cash away, or using tech to automate your savings. It's important to note that some of them may NOT be FSCS-protected, but we'll let you know if that's the case. Here are our top picks...
Plum* is a savings tool that lives in Facebook Messenger and uses a smart algorithm to work out how much you can afford to save, moving it automatically into a savings account. Apply via our link and keep your account active (don't pause savings) and you'll get a £5 bonus added to your account within 30 days of Plum making your first automatic save.
Plum doesn't pay interest on money saved, but you can choose to invest through it with a choice of six tracker funds managed by Vanguard – though you need to be aware of the risks, and it's not necessarily the cheapest way to invest. See our Investment for beginners guide for more information if you're new to investing.
Got Plum and not earning interest? Don't get rid if it's helping you to save, but it's worth considering moving your money to a Top Savings Account to boost your returns.
Important: It stores your money in an 'e-wallet' and DOESN'T have the usual £85,000 per person protection via the FSCS. But the real risk is if Barclays went bust, which is where your money is held (see FAQs for more).
It's also worth noting that banks could say you're liable for fraud on your account if you've shared your details with apps such as Plum, though it's in the process of becoming FCA-authorised to stop you being liable.
To sign up to Plum, you need to connect it to your Facebook Messenger. Then you link it to your current account, giving it read-only access so it can see your transactions.
It uses its algorithm to analyse your spending and build a 'unique saver profile' for you, and then – through a direct debit – it siphons off a few pounds every three to four days into your Plum savings account. You can tell it to save more or less, or pause automatic saving, and you can also move money into your Plum account manually.
You keep money saved in your Plum account or you can invest it in a choice of six tracker funds managed by Vanguard – this comes with a £1 monthly fee, a 0.15% annual management fee plus underlying fund fees.
Plum currently works with Bank of Ireland, Bank of Scotland, Barclays, Citibank, Citibank, Clydesdale Bank, Co-op Bank, Danske Bank, First Direct, First Trust Bank, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds, M&S Bank, Metro Bank, Nationwide, NatWest, Post Office Bank, RBS, Santander, Smile Bank, Tesco Bank, Think Money, TSB, Ulster Bank and Yorkshire Bank.
Plum deposits your money into a 'wallet' operated by MangoPay, an EU-regulated financial institution. Any money saved with Plum is held in a Barclays instant-access savings account. This means that if Plum were to go bust, you'd be able to recover your money from Barclays.
However, if Barclays were to go under, your money may not be FSCS-protected, so you could lose your cash – you need to decide if you're happy to take the risk.
It's also important to note the risks involved if you decide to go down the investing route with Plum: returns aren't guaranteed and you could lose your cash. For more on this, see our Investment for beginners guide.
The Chip app* doesn't currently pay interest, but is a good tool to use if you struggle to put money aside. It's a savings app that you connect to your current account, which uses an algorithm to work out how much you can afford to save, moving it automatically into a savings account. You can also choose to manually move money into it up to six times a month. Interest accrues weekly, is paid quarterly, and you can withdraw money whenever you want.
Got Chip and not earning interest? Don't get rid if it's helping you to save, but it's worth considering moving your money to a Top Savings Account to boost your returns.
Important: It stores your money in an 'e-wallet' and DOESN'T have the usual £85,000 per person protection via the FSCS (it's working on partnering with banks to offer FSCS-protected interest-paying savings). However, the real risk is if Barclays went bust, which is where your money is held (see FAQs for more).
It's also worth noting that banks could say you're liable for fraud on your account if you've shared your details with apps such as Chip, though it's in the process of becoming FCA-authorised to stop you being liable.
You give Chip 'read-only' access to your current account. It analyses your income and spending, then every four to seven days calculates what you can afford to save. You need to give it your card details, and it uses a 'continuous payment authority' to move your money to a separate 'savings' account, without you noticing. The money normally amounts to about £10-£25 five times monthly, the max is £100 (so £500/month).
You can also manually move a max £100/day up to six times a month, tell it to save more or less, and pause automatic saving.
The app works with most of the big banks, including Bank of Scotland, Barclays, Co-op Bank, First Direct, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds, Metro Bank, Nationwide, NatWest, RBS, Santander, Tesco Bank, TSB and Ulster Bank.
It'll cover your fees and pay £10 compensation – though you can choose to allow it to take you overdrawn (for example, if you had a 0% overdraft).
Chip isn't a bank. It stores your money in an 'e-wallet' provided by 'e-money provider' Prepaid Financial Services (PFS), which is FCA-regulated. Your money is held in a ring-fenced Barclays account. Under e-money regs, if Chip or PFS went bust your money remains in Barclays together with any interest already paid to you, though you may end up paying insolvency fees (likely small).
In the unlikely event Barclays went bust, your money ISN'T protected by the usual £85,000 FSCS savings safety guarantee, so you'd lose it.
This app currently has no way of making money – the interest comes from its marketing fund. Its aim is to build a customer base then offer users other services it profits from in future, such as overdrafts and credit cards. Of course it may change its savings offering in the future too. We've done all the checks we can, but you need to accept there are always unknowns with a new concept such as this, so you might want to consider how much you keep in there.
If you're happy to up the risk, in theory it can be possible to earn bigger returns than those currently available from top cash savings or ISAs – and the player below is hoping to weave investing into your day-to-day life. Though always remember that with investing it's possible that you'll lose money, not make it.
Investing's not something you should dive into headfirst if you don't know at least the basics – so take a look at our top 10 investment tips for beginners if you're unsure where to start.
The greater return you want, the more risk you'll usually have to accept.
Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Try to diversify as much as you can to lower your risk exposure, ie, invest in different companies, industries and regions.
If you're saving over the short term, it's wise not to take too much of a risk. It's recommended you invest for at least five years. If you can't, it's often best to steer clear of investing and leave your money in a savings account.
Review your portfolio. A share might be a dud or you might not be willing to take as many risks as you did before. If you don't review your portfolio regularly, you could end up with a share account which loses money.
Don't panic. Investments can go down as well as up. Don't be tempted to sell or buy shares just because everyone else is.
Moneybox launched in 2016 and is an app that lets you invest from as little as £1. You can make weekly or one-off deposits into one of three investment options – cautious, balanced or adventurous. For more on the pros and cons of investment and the five golden rules of investing, see above.
There's also a feature called round-ups, where you connect your debit or credit card to it and it rounds up your purchases to the nearest pound, investing the difference (eg, buy a £2.20 coffee and it takes 80p to invest).
Any investments you make are taken once a week via direct debit and invested a few days later, and you can choose to hold a general account or a stocks & shares ISA. If you've children, there's a separate app if you want to open a junior ISA for them.
It's one option if you want to dip your toe into the world of investing but aren't sure where to start. However, be aware that the charges are relatively high – no surprise as all those payments will mean a lot of management. The app costs £1/month after the first three months, plus 0.45% a year of whatever you invest (and there are also associated fund charges of 0.22% to 0.24% a year, though you'd pay this anywhere). It can be cheaper to use an investment platform if you're happy to pick your own funds.
At sign-up you choose one of three options – cautious, balanced or adventurous. The option determines how your savings are split between cash, global shares and property shares, and Moneybox invests through what are known as 'tracker' funds. The splits are as follows:
- Cautious – 85% cash fund, 10% global shares fund, 5% property shares fund.
- Balanced – 30% cash fund, 45% global shares fund, 25% property shares fund.
- Adventurous – 5% cash fund, 60% global shares fund, 35% property shares fund.
The three funds that Moneybox invests in are with well-established names: the Henderson cash fund, the Vanguard global equities fund and the BlackRock global property securities fund.
Annual fees: £1/month per product (free for the first three months) + 0.45% a year. Fund manager charges (estimated): 0.12% to 0.30% a year
Min investment: £1 | Max investment: £20,000/week (but £20,000/year if in an ISA)
Transfer-out fee: None, though charges £25 per fund for 'in specie' transfers (where you transfer a fund/holding directly to a new provider without cashing it in first – these are rare)
How to get the app: Download for iOS (rated 3.8/5) or Android (rated 4/5)
Moneybox has FSCS protection, so up to £85,000 is safe when saved with it. It's important to know that FSCS investment protection applies if you lose money due to Moneybox going bust, not if the underlying investment goes bust.
In other words, if the funds Moneybox invests in for you perform poorly, you've no protection as that's the nature of investing.
Yes. Banks have security systems in place that ensure fraudsters can't hack into your account whether you're logged in online or on your phone. But still be careful – never send your online/mobile banking information to anyone.
If using a mobile app, make sure you download the official version from your app store, and make sure you update the app regularly with any new security features.
It's also worth keeping your computer up-to-date with free antivirus software, so you're protected from viruses and spyware.
Unless you've been avoiding the internet lately, you've probably heard of 'digital currency' or 'cryptocurrency'. The most well-known is Bitcoin, but there are others around such as Ethereum and Litecoin.
The apps we feature in this guide don't use this sort of currency, which can be EXTREMELY volatile, with prices fluctuating wildly. It's a risky investment and not our speciality. You should only get into it if you're aware of the risks and the fact you might lose all your money. You can read more about Bitcoin in Martin's blog.
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