A bank account, also called a transaction account, is the main way that Australians receive payments, withdraw cash and make purchases.

Just about everyone in Australia, from children to adults to businesses, has a bank account with a financial institution, credit union or building society.

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Learn more about bank accounts

What's new in bank accounts for December 2020

Bank accounts in Australia have remained a steady constant in an otherwise volatile year. As savings account and term deposit interest rates plummet, the humble bank account may be one of the most reliable places to store your money.

Not only that, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic many financial institutions and digital wallet providers across Australia have set out to make accessing your money even safer, as contactless payments become a favourable option. Samsung announced it was partnering with Eftpos to allow contactless transactions to be made through Samsung Pay, via the eftpos network.

Fintech has led to Aussies paying for goods and services without relying on money, according to the latest Reserve Bank of Australia data. Mobile device ‘tap and go’ payments grew significantly in 2019, and this number is expected to increase as we turn to cashless payments to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

But it’s not just contactless payments that make bank accounts stand out in 2020. RateCity research found that there are currently 6 bank account providers offering cashback deals for new customers, including Westpac and St. George. These offers are typically reserved for new home loan or credit card customers, so it’s worth considering what a financial institution may offer you when comparing your options.

Updated by Georgia Brown on December 3, 2020

What is a bank account?

A bank account, also known as a transaction account, is an everyday account used to manage your finances. Everything from paying bills to depositing your income to withdrawing cash is managed through a bank account. 

Bank accounts allow you to make payments in a number of ways:

  • Online shopping
  • Electronic payments (including paywave)
  • Digital wallet (e.g. Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Pay)
  • ATMs
  • Direct debit
  • Bpay
  • Branch access
  • Cheques

Are there different types of bank accounts?

The main deposit accounts you can open in Australia include:

  • Transaction accounts. Your classic banking account. A transaction account allows you easy access to funds deposited by yourself or others via online banking, mobile banking or Mastercard or Visa debit cards. Money can be withdrawn via ATM or in branch. 
  • Savings accounts. A savings account is a bank account that allows you to accrue interest on your regular deposits. They may come with bonus interest rates that can only be earned from meeting conditions, such as not making withdrawals, or for an introductory period. These accounts are designed to help you meet your savings goals.
  • Term deposit. A term deposit is a type of depositing account in which you lock away your savings at a set interest rate for an agreed upon period of time. They are different to savings accounts, in that once the money is deposited, it's much more difficult to access until the account has reached maturity. This is designed to help you not dip into your funds. 

What's the difference between bank accounts and savings accounts?

Bank accounts are different from savings accounts in that they’re not designed to accumulate money. Instead, this is the account which you use for your everyday banking, while savers can earn interest on the money in their savings account.

Many savings accounts offer a base interest rate and a bonus interest rate. Fulfilling the bonus rate's terms and conditions is often the key to benefiting from a high interest savings account. Sometimes a saver account offers a high introductory rate, where you only earn extra interest on your savings for a limited time.

Another saving option for Australians wanting to earn interest towards their savings goals is a term deposit, where you agree to deposit a sum of money for a pre-set term, and receive a fixed amount of interest on these savings. Generally, the more money you deposit, and the longer the term you choose, the more likely you are to benefit from a high interest rate.

What fees apply to bank accounts?

Fees can differ from one bank account to another, but the main fees you may encounter include: 

  • Monthly account-keeping fees
  • ATM withdrawal fees
  • Phone banking fees
  • EFTPOS fees
  • Internet banking fees
  • Branch fees
  • Paper statement fees
  • Overdraft fees (if you withdraw more than what is available in your account)
  • International transaction fees

Yes, this sounds like a lot of fees. But the good news is that most banks offer a basic everyday bank account that has:

  • No account-keeping fees
  • Free monthly statements
  • No minimum deposit amounts
  • For more information around which fees a bank account may charge, check out the product disclosure statement (PDS) and T&Cs, generally located on the provider's website.

What are some tips to get the most out of a bank account?

Use a debit card over a credit card

Bank accounts usually come with Mastercard or Visa debit cards, which can be used similarly to a credit card, both online and in-store. When you use a debit card, you’re spending your own money rather than credit. If you don’t want to be hit with interest on your purchases, it may be a good idea to use your debit card instead of your credit card.

Be careful with security

Once someone has your bank account details, they could use it to spend your money. When it comes to your physical cards and online banking, it’s worthwhile changing your codes and passwords often, and avoiding using predictable passwords or PINs (like your name or date of birth). Always check your bank statements to make sure you’ve been charged correctly, and that there aren’t any charges that weren’t authorised by you. If there is a suspicious transaction, contact your financial institution immediately. 

Keep essential funds in your bank account

Australians sometimes save large amounts of money in their everyday transaction accounts, which can be a mistake. It may be better to keep only the money you need for your everyday banking in your transaction account, and to move the rest to a savings account, where you can earn interest at a higher interest rate. You generally don’t need to access large amounts day-to-day, so always budget and designate funds to where you think they best belong. 

Check out online and mobile platforms

Most banks, credit unions or building societies have apps or websites for mobile banking or internet banking. These online banking platforms allow savers to view their balance, pay bills or transfer money on the go.

What are the pros and cons of having multiple bank accounts?

Pros

  • Different accounts for different purposes - If you like to be organised, then you may prefer using different bank accounts for different purposes. For example, you could have one bank account for day-to-day expenses (such as petrol and food), another account for rent or mortgage repayments, and a third account for your child’s pocket money. For some people, this level of organisation could be one way to budget effectively.
  • Access special features and bonuses - Often, a bank, credit union or building society will offer special rewards, bonuses or benefits for opening a bank account, such as a lower introductory fee, waived account-keeping fees, or even a fee free deal. Opening up more than one bank account could increase these benefits. Banks also sometimes offer package deals. For example, the bank could offer you perks if you take out multiple banking products (including a bank account). It’s important to do your research on any financial product before signing up and make sure you’re signing up to one that best suits your financial situation, not the one with the most attractive perks.

Cons

  • Multiple bank accounts can just be plain confusing – If you’re not overly organised or lose track of things easily, then multiple bank accounts might not be for you. Constantly moving and sorting funds can be complicated and time-consuming. If you prefer a more hands-off approach to your money, then one bank account may be the way to go.
  • You can be hit with multiple fees – Bank accounts often come with a mixed bag of fees, from monthly account fees and overdraft fees to ATM withdrawal fees. So, having multiple bank accounts could increase your risk of paying more fees. If you’re opening multiple accounts to take advantage of features and benefits, then be aware that once you add up the fees across multiple bank accounts, the benefits may not be worth it in the end.

Which bank account is the best?

Bank accounts are offered by basically every bank, credit union and building society in Australia, from ANZ to Citibank, NAB, HSBC, Westpac, Bankwest, Commonwealth Bank, ING, Suncorp and UBank, to name just a few. 

Many everyday banking accounts from different institutions are fairly similar to one another, though a few offer special features and benefits that could benefit certain Australians, depending on their financial situation.

There is no single “best” bank account for everyone, so always do your research to make sure you’re getting one that suits your individual needs.

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Frequently asked questions

Can you open another account at the same bank?

Yes, you can open another account at the same bank if you already have an account there, but some banks place a limit on how many specific accounts you can open.

Generally, though, it is possible to have more than one everyday account, one personal account and one joint account, or have different types of accounts – such as a transaction account and a savings account.

Keep in mind that some bank accounts come with fees, so you could be charged twice for having two types of the same account at the same bank.

Also, if you have more than one high-interest transaction account at the same bank, only one account will be able to earn the highest rate of interest.

Can you deposit money into somebody else's bank account?

One of the easiest banking tasks in the world is depositing money. You can even deposit money into someone else’s bank account if you wish.

The basic information you need to deposit money into a third-party bank account is:

  • Payee’s name
  • Bank, building society or credit union (though this isn’t necessary)
  • BSB (or bank code, which is the branch identifier)
  • Account number

Including the name of the financial institution isn’t necessary – particularly with online banking – because the BSB will identify this for you.

A handy tip is to record yourself (or add a personal message) in the transaction description or reference. This will show up on the recipients account, letting them know who’s paid them the money.

Can you find your bank account number online?

If your bank offers online services, you should be able to find your bank account number online by logging into your account on your bank’s website and checking your details there.

Keep in mind that each type of account you have with a bank comes with a unique account number. This means if you have a bank account as well as a savings account, for example, your bank account number and your savings account number will be different.

If you don’t have access to your bank account online or can’t login, you should be able to find your account number on a mailed bank statement, if you have one.

Alternatively, you can call your bank’s customer service number or visit a branch to retrieve your account number.

How do I close a bank account?

Closing a bank account is one of those tasks that’s easy to put in the too-hard basket. There are quite a few steps involved, some which may require you to hang on the phone for a while.  

Here’s a handy checklist of items to tick off, so the job gets done quicker. If you don’t do your banking online, the following steps can also be done at a branch.   

  • Cancel any scheduled or recurring payments
  • Update your direct debit details (such as loan repayments) with creditors
  • Export your payee address book (to keep a record of saved third-party bank account details)
  • Transfer the balance of your account (to the new bank account)
  • Close your account online, or by calling the bank or visiting a branch

How do I open a new bank account?

There are a number of ways to open a new bank account – online, over the phone or in the branch. The trick is to decide what type of bank account you want beforehand.

It might sound like a simple enough task, but there are literally hundreds of bank accounts to choose from. And each offer their own banking features and benefits.

A comparison site like RateCity can help you work out what bank account product matches your needs.

Once you’ve made up your mind what you want, it’s advisable to have the following information ready for the application process.

  • A couple of forms of identification (such as driver’s licence, Medicare card, passport)
  • Tax file number
  • Residential address, contact phone number and email (though email is not essential)

Can I link a bank account to Paypal?

Paypal is a safe and convenient way to pay online without the need to share your financial details. You can send and receive money or accept credit and debit cards as a seller using Paypal.

It’s easy to link your bank account to a Paypal account and start making transactions within minutes.

To start, you first need a Paypal account (it’s free to join). When setting up your Paypal account, you will be prompted to link a credit card or bank account (or both if you wish).

PayPal works without a balance; you can use Paypal to shop or send money when your balance is zero.

When your Paypal balance is zero, Paypal will ask you to choose your preferred payment method at the checkout.

This could be either your linked bank account or credit card. Your bank details can be updated if you change banks or credit cards.

Which bank is best for business accounts?

Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer to the question of which bank is best for business accounts. That’s because ‘best’ will differ from customer to customer, depending on their unique circumstances. These include not only your company’s financial position, but also its size, its age and the sector in which it operates. Another factor to consider is what features you want in a bank account. Your business may require different features than another business; and your business may require different features tomorrow than it does today.

The best thing to do is to thoroughly research the market before opening a business account. And when you do open an account, you should reassess your options every year or two, because the market moves quickly. A particular bank might offer the best account today, but be surpassed by one or several rivals tomorrow.

Can I start a bank account online?

Yes, most lenders that operate in Australia will let you set up a bank account online. The process is usually simple and takes five to 10 minutes. You will probably need to provide a passport or birth certificate, as well as a driver’s licence, Medicare card or another form of secondary identification. Requirements differ from lender to lender, so some institutions might ask for more or different forms of ID.

Can foreigners open bank accounts in Australia?

Many Australian lenders allow foreigners to open bank accounts in Australia. Often, this can be done before you arrive in the country – with no Australian address required. When you get to Australia, you can pick up your debit card, using your passport as identification.

Can debt collectors take money out of your bank account?

Many people find themselves struggling to cope with debt at one time or another. In these cases, a debt collector could contact you to demand payment for a debt, to explain the consequences of you failing to pay a debt, or to organise alternative payment arrangements.

If you’re contacted by a debt collector, you may be wondering what their rights are and whether they can take money out of your bank account.

Creditors cannot access money in your bank account unless a court order (also known as a ‘garnishee order’) is made to allow creditors to recover debt by taking money from your bank account or salary.

If this happens, the creditor can take money out of your bank account unless you pay the debt in full or make an alternative payment arrangement such as paying in instalments through the court.

How long does it take to open a bank account?

The length of time it takes to open a bank account varies, depending on whether you want to open it online or in person.

Online

Most banks and credit unions have simple online applications that usually take no more than 10 minutes to fill out. It can be especially fast if you have your identification documents like your driver’s licence and passport handy. Sometimes you will instantly be approved and the bank account opened. However, depending on the financial institution, it may take a day or so to be processed and your account number issued. Your account information and ATM or debit card will then be mailed to you, which usually takes between five to 10 days.

In person

If you decide to go into a branch or office to open a bank account, it may take about half an hour. Make sure you bring your identification documents with you. Also book an appointment if you can, otherwise you might be forced to wait in line. Sometimes your ATM or debit card will be issued on the spot, otherwise you’ll need to wait for one to arrive by mail, which usually takes between five to 10 days.

How do you deposit change into your bank account?

One way to deposit change into your bank account is to visit a branch. Many lenders will also allow you to deposit your change through one of their ATMs.

Can I open bank accounts for my children?

A common question for new parents is, ‘Can I open a bank account for my child?’

The short answer is yes – as a parent you can open a bank account for your child.

Once you’ve compared your options and found a bank account that suits your needs, the process is relatively simple.

As the bank account is for your child, you’ll need to provide some documentation such as proof of ID, including your tax file number.

You will also need a copy of your child’s birth certificate, and in some cases you may also need to sign a guarantee of indemnity.

Depending on the bank and whether you’re an existing customer, you may be able to open a bank account for your child online. However, you may still need to go into a branch to prove your identity.

How can I wire money to a bank account?

You can wire money to an Australian bank account either through your own bank or by using a money transfer company such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Either way, you’ll need the other person’s name, BSB number and account number. If you use a money transfer company, you might also need to provide the recipient’s address for large payments.

How do you find a bank account number by name?

For privacy reasons, Australian banks won’t hand out account numbers or other details about their customers. However, if you provide a bank with a BSB and account number, they should be able to confirm if those numbers belong to one of their customers.

How do I open a bank account for a baby?

If you’ve just welcome a new baby into the world, congratulations. Opening a bank account for your child can be a wonderful first gift.

Before you can open your child an account, you’ll need to have a birth certificate or passport for your baby.

As the parent or guardian, you’ll also be listed as a joint holder on the account. This means you’ll need to have proof of your identification and address (a driver’s licence, passport, birth certificate or Medicare Card).

Many banks and credit unions offer baby banks accounts. Usually, you can apply online; otherwise you can head into a local branch or office with your documents.

How can I find bank accounts in my name?

To find ‘live’ bank accounts in your name, you’ll have to ask individual lenders, which involves contacting them one by one and proving your identity each time. To find ‘unclaimed’ bank accounts (those that have been inactive for at least seven years), you can use this website.

Can the government take your money from your bank account?

There are some instances when the government can take money from your bank account. This generally occurs in situations where you have an outstanding government debt.

Before it can take money from your bank account, the government authority owed money would first need to issue a garnishee notice. 

A garnishee notice is issued by the government agency (such as Centrelink or the ATO) to a third party that holds money for you or owes you money.

To take money from your bank account, your bank would be issued with the garnishee notice requiring it to pay ‘your money’ to the requesting agency to satisfy the debt.

Can I set up a bank account online?

Most Australia-based lenders will allow you to set up a bank account online. Requirements vary from lender to lender, but you will probably need to provide a passport or birth certificate, as well as a driver’s licence, Medicare card or another form of secondary ID.

How can you cash a cheque without a bank account?

You can cash a cheque without a bank account if you visit the bank that issued the cheque. For example, if somebody sends you a cheque from Bank X (as written on the cheque) and you visit Bank X, it’s likely that Bank X will let you cash the cheque – provided the person who wrote the cheque has enough money in their account. Bank X would probably charge you a fee for the service.