Five of the best current accounts

Published by Nathalie Bonney on 29 July 2009.
Last updated on 03 May 2011

Five eggs

While we’re quite happy to chase the best interest rates on savings accounts or individual savings accounts, or look for the most competitive credit card on the market, when it comes to current accounts few of us can be bothered.

Last year, the Office of Fair Trading released a market report on personal current accounts in the UK, which revealed that over a fifth of us are unaware we will be charged for going overdrawn until it actually happens, and over three-quarters of us don’t know what the credit interest rate on our account is. This explains why 47% of the report’s respondents said they had never considered switching current accounts.

Add to this the fact that personal current accounts generate more revenue for banks than savings accounts and credit cards combined, and it’s little wonder that the banks themselves are happy to leave their customers in the dark.

Yet in a survey, 74% of respondents who did switch found the experience “easy” and 32% of those found it “very easy”.

If you belong to the large majority who has never considered whether your current account is the best one for you, here is our guide to the best current accounts on the market, what  lies behind the headline rates, and how to switch accounts.

But first, the winners...

Account Interest rate


Alliance & Leicester
Premier Direct
6% (balances
under £2,500)

0% for year then 50p day/ £5 day

Current Account

6% (credit)
0.1% (debit) option

0% four months (credit)
0% 12 months (debit) then 12.9% / 28.7% EAR

Lloyds TSB
Classic Plus
2.5% 18.9% / 18.9% EAR £1,000
Coventry BS
1.1% £250 interest-free overdraft. Larger amounts not allowed £1,000
Current Account
1.1% 11.8% / 21.9% EAR n/a

Interest rates

If your current account is in the black most of the time, it’s worth looking at what interest rate you can get. Given the meagre rates on some savings accounts and ISAs, the 6% offered by Alliance & Leicester’s Premier direct account and Abbey’s current account seems extraordinary. So what’s the catch?

Technically, none. Provided you pay the correct level of funding into these accounts each month (£500 for Alliance & Leicester and £1,000 for Abbey), you’ll get 6% interest paid on your balance. However, the rate reverts back to 0.1% on balances over £2,500 in both cases, and the 6% interest is only a bonus rate for the first year, after which interest reverts to a more standard 1% AER.

“If you have quite a bit in your current account, it’s worth searching out a competitive savings account for your money instead,” advises Michelle Slade, spokesperson for price comparison website

Most people’s current account balances tend to fluctuate over the month, so the interest you receive will also suffer. If you’re always in credit, then it’s OK to flirt with the interest rates – otherwise, don’t get caught up in the figures.

Overdraft charges

The recession is taking its toll on our bank balances, and for those of us unable to stay in the black for a whole month, it’s overdraft charges that should have our full attention, rather than interest rates.

Over half of the UK workforce was overdrawn at least once in the past 12 months, according to, with 17% continually in the red, compared with only 10% in 2007. Working people are now going into their overdrafts 20 days after payday – a whole week earlier than in 2007.

However, it isn’t as straightforward to compare different overdraft facilities as it is credit interest rates. Some providers display their authorised overdraft charges as equivalent annual rates, or EARs, but others display charges in money terms. So how do you know, for example, if an overdraft charging 14.4% will cost you more or less than an overdraft that costs you 50p a day for a maximum of 10 days a month?

Knowing which is the most competitive requires a few calculations. An average overdrawn balance of £1,000 would cost you £47.34 a year based on 10 days’ interest each month at the average rate of 14.4%, according to, whereas the same £1,000 overdrawn balance would cost you £60 a year based on the 50p-a-day charge.

“People find it hard to know how much they will be charged with overdrafts,” warns David Black, head of banking at Defaqto. “You can see the headline rates, but they are horrendously difficult to compare on overdrafts, what with things like unpaid direct debit and cheque fees to take into account.”

Instead of getting too bogged down with numbers, provided you are prepared to switch accounts, opt for one of the current accounts that has a one-year free overdraft. 

An excellent all-rounder, the Premier Direct account from Alliance & Leicester offers a 0% overdraft to its customers for the first year. Alternatively, if you opt for the debit option of the Abbey current account, you’ll also benefit from free overdraft facilities for the first year (if you stay within the authorised amount). After this time, Alliance & Leicester reverts to a 50p a day charge, capped to a maximum of £5 a month, and Abbey charges 12.9% EAR. 

Going over your authorised overdraft limit is never a good idea, and Moneywise would never advise readers to base their choice of account on unauthorised overdraft fees; nonetheless, you should still look out for these, particularly if you’ve chosen a current account with minimal overdraft facilities. All it takes is one big purchase to tip you into the red and you could be paying £5 a day for going over your authorised limit.

For those of us who are sometimes in credit and sometimes not, Michelle Slade recommends a cautious approach. Overdraft fees, authorised or not, will do more damage to your bank balance than any interest you accumulate. “Even if you only occasionally go into your overdraft, that’s going to be your most significant charge,” she says.

Online banking

Once you know which type of account to go for, you need to decide how you want to access your current account. “Make sure the transaction facilities suit you,” says Black. “Can you get to the branch easily? Is the account internet-only or are you able to access it through the Post Office?”

A lot of the market-leading current accounts are internet-only, as are the Moneywise top in-credit and overdraft accounts. Both Alliance & Leicester’s Premier direct account and Abbey’s debit and credit options are only available to online users, though account holders can also use telephone and postal services, and with Alliance & Leicester you can also use the Post Office.

For a lot of us, banking online is now an everyday thing, but for those without a computer or who feel uncomfortable banking online, choosing one of these accounts could be a big headache. So sometimes a current account offering less perks but with branch access could be the best option for you.

Customer service

When choosing a current account provider, never underestimate the importance of good customer service. Helpful staff whom you can rely on to help you in a financial fix are invaluable. This was subscriber T Davis’s experience. Originally banking with Alliance & Leicester, T Davis found the bank’s service erratic and inefficient, so he decided to switch to First Direct’s account: “If you want real people at the end of the telephone line who answer within seconds, go for it.”

Although not featured in any of the Moneywise best buy tables, First Direct managed to scoop all the top prizes for its current account at the inaugural Moneywise Customer Service Awards. As well as being the most trusted current account provider, it was also the winner of best customer service for online and call services on its current account.

These awards aimed to highlight the importance of being able to trust financial organisations, and most of the top current accounts featured in the tables in this article (apart from the Co-operative Bank, Coventry Building Society and Cahoot) were shortlisted in either the ‘most trusted’ or ‘best customer service’ categories for current accounts. For more details, see our special awards supplement, free with this issue.

Added extras

Another question to consider when choosing a current account is whether or not you want the additional perks of a ‘packaged account’, which could include anything from travel insurance to car breakdown cover. Providers are increasingly tailoring their packaged-account extras to individual needs, but it’s still necessary to work out the costs and conditions of the extras to see if the additional £144 to £156 a year you are forking out could be better spent elsewhere.

Only three of the accounts in the Moneywise tables are packaged accounts. Lloyds TSB’s Gold account costs £7.95 a month for the first two months and £12 thereafter; Halifax’s Reward current account, £12.50; and the Co-operative Bank’s Privilege Premier account, £13.

Both Lloyds and the Co-operative offer motor breakdown cover and travel insurance, but Lloyds’ travel insurance doesn’t include family or winter sports cover.

“It’s worth checking the conditions to see if you could you get these benefits cheaper elsewhere,” advises Black.

Funding your account

Finally, bear in mind how much you have to put into your account each month. Alliance & Leicester’s account only requires £500 a month funding, while the other current accounts in our tables require £1,000, but there are some on the market that demand balance top-ups of £1,500 a month.

Some providers encourage customers to switch current accounts with cash bonuses – First Direct, for example, offers new customers £100. However, in order to receive the money, you have to keep a certain amount (£1,500) in your current account.

“With no in-credit interest or overdraft facility, the terms on First Direct’s account are not great. So is the £100 worth it in the long term? You could make up the savings elsewhere with a different account,” says Slade.

“The providers would prefer to be your primary current account holder, with all your direct debits, as secondary accounts mean lots of administration and effort,” adds Black, pointing to the Alliance & Leicester’s ‘under-funding’ fees. The bank now charges £5 for each month you fail to put the minimum required amount into your account.

How to switch

1. Choose an appropriate provider and account for your needs.

2. Ask your new bank to contact your old bank for a list of all your direct debits and standing orders. It has to send this over within three days of the request.

3. Decide which ones you want moved over, and if there are any you would rather cancel, and inform your new bank of this.

4. It can take four weeks to move over direct debits and standing orders so if possible keep some money in both accounts during this period, or see if your new provider can arrange a special overdraft facility in the interim.

5. Give your new account details to your employer, pension provider and anyone else who pays money regularly into your current account.

6. Notify any companies that take direct debits from your old account of your new details.

7. Once you are happy that everything is running smoothly, close your old account.

The methodology for the tables

We started with the top accounts by interest rate, filtering these for any that are totally unacceptable in any other aspect, such as monthly account charges, access or qualifying criteria.

With the best accounts for overdrafts, we gave top priority to authorised overdrafts, and then considered unauthorised overdrafts, which we filtered as above.

Finally, for the best-of-the-best table, we discounted accounts with particularly poor interest rates for either overdrafts or in-credit interest, and applied the same filtering process once again.

first direct 1st Account

  • £100 signup fee - and £100 if you choose to leave after six months*
  • First £250 overdraft is interest and fee free
  • Multi award winning customer service


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