Student bank accounts

Grab the top overdrafts and freebies in 2023/24

Free 0% overdrafts, free railcards and free cash – banks love to reel in new students with goodies, and this year's no different. This guide's about bagging the best deal.

What is a student account?

Student accounts are simply bank accounts made for those in higher education. They let you pay money in and out, and offer additional benefits such as an interest-free overdraft.

Usually you'll open one after your A-level or Scottish Highers results have come through and you have a confirmed place at university.

What ID do I need to open a student account?

As with all bank accounts, you'll need proof of address and identity. This can include your passport, birth certificate or current UK driving licence.

In addition, you'll need your UCAS code or confirmation letter with an unconditional offer or, if your offer's conditional, A-level results that meet that condition (or a letter from the university you'll be attending confirming your place). As soon as you've got these, you can open an account, allowing you extra time to make full use of its benefits before the start of term.

Student banking need-to-knows

Here are the main things you need to consider...

  • Most students need an overdraft, where the bank lets you spend more than you've got (at no extra cost) up to a set amount. The priority is to get the biggest and longest 0% overdraft you can – the only time this doesn't apply is if the freebie on offer is so valuable that it outweighs this.

    Some banks offer overdrafts that are 'guaranteed', whereas others offer 'up to' overdrafts. If it's guaranteed, you'll definitely get the stated limit if you've been accepted for the account (and asked for the max limit). If the account says you can get 'up to' an amount, you'll only get that amount if you have a good credit record.

    It's also worth noting that many student bank accounts offer tiered overdraft amounts, which increase with each year of study, meaning you could end up with a bigger overdraft limit after your first year. So factor this into your decision-making. However, you must usually ask for extensions each year, even on guaranteed limits – they're not applied automatically.

    Also be wary of applying for the maximum overdraft possible just because you can. If you budget well you may only need it as a buffer, and the smaller your overdraft, the less likely you are to get caught in a dangerous spending spiral.

    Remember the bank is just lending you this money. It'll need to be paid back, so don't get too comfortable. Always keep in your mind that it's not actually yours, it's the bank's.

    Always budget to stop you spending more than your overdraft limit

    The limit the bank agrees is known as an 'arranged overdraft', so is an amount it's happy for you to borrow. However, certain banks won't stop you from spending if you reach that, and you will instead then be borrowing from an 'unarranged overdraft'. 

    You won't usually be charged for using this, though it can wreak havoc with your credit rating and ability to get cheap credit in the future as it can appear you're unable to manage your account well. 

    If you're struggling for cash, always talk to your bank to see if it will agree an extension to your arranged overdraft first, though of course it's always far better to plan and budget to avoid this.

  • You need to be 18 or over to get an overdraft – UK law doesn't allow banks to lend to anyone younger.

    This particularly affects Scottish students, as you're more likely to finish Highers and start uni at 17. If this is the case, you CAN open a student account, but you'll need to wait until you're 18 to get an overdraft.

    Not all banks will open a student account for 17-year-olds, but a few do, including Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, NatWest, RBS and TSB.

  • When you apply for debt products, including a bank account with an overdraft, the bank will credit-check you to decide how desirable a customer you are. It predicts how you'll behave in future based on your financial past.

    As a student, it's likely there'll be very little data on you, which makes credit checking very difficult. Unfortunately this can leave some students rejected due to ridiculous anomalies, and there may be no rhyme, reason or solution to this. Read our Build your credit history and our main Credit scoring guides for more info.

  • Most banks only let first-year students apply for their current accounts, and some even put a time limit on when you can do that. 

    But a few banks do let you switch existing student accounts during your studies. So if you're going into your second, third or fourth year of study and you're not happy with your student account, check to see if you can switch. 

    You'll usually get the same terms as others in the same year of study – including any freebies. However, overdraft limits are not transferred, so be sure to check the new account at least matches what you already have.

    The opening and switching policies for our top three student accounts are  in this table (if you're switching to a different student account check the bank will allow it)...

    Bank When can first-year students apply? When can second-year or higher students apply?
    NatWest / RBS Up to six months before the course starts and at any point in their first year At any point, though you'll need to switch from another account – you can't just apply
    Santander At any point in their first year At any point, provided you've 2+ years of study remaining. Though you'll need to switch from another account – you can't just apply
    HSBC At any point in their first year They can't. Only first-year students can apply or switch

    Most banks that offer student accounts are part of the Current Account Switch Service. This means you can easily switch your existing bank account – or even another student account – as part of this process.

    Just open a new account with your chosen bank, then request a switch through it – the process is straightforward and takes just seven working days. The switching service will automatically close your old account and move your money, direct debits, standing orders and so on across.

  • Your aim straight after uni should be to pay down your 0% overdraft. If that's not possible, for at least a year after finishing your course, you're still eligible for preferential terms, including 0% interest overdrafts, allowing you to gradually pay off the debt.

    Switch to a top graduate account to continue getting the benefits. Many of these accounts operate by reducing your 0% overdraft limit each year, allowing you to gradually pay it off before the interest-free period ends.

Top student accounts 2023/24

With all these accounts you'll usually need to be a first-year student (or about to be one) and have proof of acceptance to a university or further education course, often defined as one lasting at least two years.

Important. All accounts below automatically turn into a graduate account once your course ends, which continues the 0% interest overdraft for a further two or three years – though the interest-free limit drops each year. Remember to check at this point if another top graduate account may beat it.

Top student accounts 2023/24 



Santander Edge Student*

Service rating: 55% 'great'

 

0% overdraft: 
- £1,500 in years 1 to 3

- £1,800 in year 4

- £2,000 in year 5

A guaranteed 0% overdraft each year, plus a FREE four-year railcard (worth £100).

The Santander Edge* student account gives a definite £1,500 0% overdraft in years one to three, provided you pay in £500+ every four months. You can also claim a free four-year 16-25 Railcard (worth £100) which gets you a third off many rail tickets – though it's not valid in Northern Ireland.

 

How to get the free railcard:

Open the account and register for online banking – you'll be sent a railcard code via online banking within five days (must use it within 60 days).

 

Who can open the account?

First-year students and those starting a level 4-7 apprenticeship.

Not in your first year?
 You can switch in from another bank account if you've still 2+ years of study. 

 

NatWest Student

Service rating: 44% 'great'


 

RBS Student

Service rating: 38% 'great'

 

0% overdraft:

- £500 in the first term

- Up to £2,000 from the second term until the end of year 2

- Up to £3,250 in years 3+

A 0% overdraft that can beat Santander after the first term – though limits aren't guaranteed – plus a four-year Tastecard.

The NatWest and RBS student accounts start with a definite £500 0% overdraft (as long as you're approved for an overdraft) – after the first term you can request for it to be increased to £2,000, then after your second year to £3,250. The higher limits are subject to approval and, while you're likely to get them if your account's in good standing, it's not guaranteed.

 

How to get the free perks:

Just open the account – you'll be emailed a code to redeem the Tastecard within five days.

 

Who can open the account?

You must be on a UCAS-accredited undergraduate course of 2+ years, a full-time post-graduate course, or training to be a nurse.

 

Not in your first year? You can switch in from another bank account at any point during your studies. 

HSBC's webpage where you can open its student account

HSBC Student

Service rating: 37% 'great'

 

0% overdraft:

- £1,000 in year 1

- Up to £2,000 in year 2

- Up to £3,000 in years 3+

Similar to NatWest/RBS above but with a higher definite initial 0% overdraft.

The HSBC student account gives a guaranteed £1,000 0% overdraft in the first year, though how much you'll get in later years depends on your credit record and you'll need to ask for the increases.

 

Who can open the account?

First-year undergraduates and postgraduates, plus those on certain BTEC courses.

 

Nationwide FlexStudent

Service rating: 78% 'great' 

 

0% overdraft:

- £1,000 in year 1

- Up to £2,000 in year 2

- Up to £3,000 in years 3+

Identical overdraft structure to HSBC above.
The Nationwide's FlexStudent account also gives a guaranteed £1,000 0% overdraft in the first year and, again, how much you'll get in later years depends on your credit record.

 

Who can open the account?

Those on a full-time UCAS registered course of 2+ years. You can apply up to five months before – or up to one year after – your course starts.

Important. You'll need to stay within your overdraft limit. If you exceed it, all these accounts will restrict access until you get the balance back under your limit – so no debit card spending or cash withdrawals. All accounts have full Financial Services Compensation Scheme up-to-£85,000 savings protection, though note Santander's is shared with Cahoot, HSBC's with First Direct, and NatWest's with Ulster Bank – so don't hold more than £85,000 across brands that share this protection.

Other student accounts

These accounts aren't our top picks as the 0% overdrafts are not as generous as the ones above and/or the perks as lucrative.

Next best student accounts

Provider 0% overdraft amount Main perks
Co-op £1,400 in year one, up to £1,700 in year two and then up to £2,000 for the rest of your time at uni None
Lloyds Bank £500 for the first six months, up to £1,000 for months seven to nine, up to £1,500 until the end of year three, and then up to £2,000 from year four 2% interest on balances up to £5,000 + cashback at certain retailers
Bank of Scotland Up to £1,500 in years one to three, then up to £2,000 Cashback at certain retailers
Halifax Up to £1,500 0.5% interest + cashback at certain retailers
Barclays £500 in term one, then up to £1,000 in the rest of year one; then up to £1,500 for the rest of your time at uni A 12-month subscription to Perlego (an online library of textbooks)
TSB £500 for the first six months, up to £1,000 for months seven to nine, then up to £1,500 until the end of year three 5% interest on balances up to £500
Ulster Bank Up to £1,000, or up to £3,000 if you study medicine, dentistry, law, accountancy, pharmacy, optometry, physiotherapy or veterinary science None

Table ranked by biggest overdrafts in years one to three. Last updated July 2023.

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Don't need an overdraft? Maybe try 'stoozing'...

For that rare student breed: the ones who are always in credit, there aren't many choices (even if you're only occasionally overdrawn, go for the top overdraft deal).

If you don't need your overdraft for the long term, it's worth considering putting your everyday spending on a credit card and repaying it IN FULL every month. Doing so, can help build your credit rating which should mean future borrowing (such as a mortgage) will be easier and cheaper to get. See Student credit cards for full help.

Alternatively (or additionally), if you're super organised and financially disciplined, there is a way to make your 0% overdraft pay you...

  • How to 'stooze' your student account

    Please don't even read this unless you're an anally retentive financial superhero. The consequences of getting it wrong can be a real problem.

    Those always in credit could PROFIT (provided they're financially disciplined) by opting for the account with the biggest and longest-lasting interest-free overdraft, then using a budgeting technique we call 'current account stoozing' (see our Stoozing guide for a full definition of the word).

    Once you get your student account and overdraft, take cash out of it and plop it into a top-paying easy-access savings account (see our Top savings and Cash ISA guides) leaving yourself reasonably near, but never over, your overdraft limit. Make sure you also manage any changes in limits and leave enough room to do your normal spending.

    As a result, you're earning interest on money the bank lends to you for free. Done right, this can add about £80 to a student's coffers over the length of a course. Similar tricks are possible with student loans (see our Student checklist guide). However, this isn't an excuse for spending or borrowing more. If you're not financially disciplined, please DON'T try it.

Do a budget the right way

It's a mantra parents push at their student offspring all the time. "You've got to do a budget young Johnny, it'll all go to hell if you don't, please do it Johnny, please..."

Yet "do a budget" is a meaningless phrase unless you understand your income.

 With people who work it's an easy message:

 You shouldn't spend more than you earn.

But when it comes to those going to university, you need to:

Add up student loan + employment earnings + money from family + any grants/sponsorship money, and that is your income.

While 0% overdrafts are very useful and should help with cash-flow issues while you're a student, they're never part of your income. Always remember, an overdraft is a LOAN and must be repaid (its rate will jump once you graduate).

If you're going to university next year or are currently studying, funding is key. Make sure you're aware of the loans and grants available to you and plan accordingly. See our Student loans guide for more on fees and funding.

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