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It is said people are more likely to get divorced than break up with their bank. Just over 1m Britons switched accounts in the year to March, according to payments group Bacs — representing 1.6 per cent of active personal current accounts.
The Competition and Markets Authority believes this is wrong, and that we should be shopping for better deals. But like people who fear leaving their lover because they lack confidence about finding anyone better, UK bank customers are paralysed by inertia.
“Bank charges are complicated and opaque and many customers think it is difficult and risky to change banks,” the CMA said in a lengthy paper published on Tuesday.
If you are befuddled by banking, here is a guide to knowing when to switch.
Understand your overdraft habit
Banks made £1.2bn last year in overdraft fees. And more than a quarter of Britons fall into overdraft territory by the 17th day after payday, according to a 2014 survey of 2,000 current account holders by budgeting website Thinkmoney.
Even wealthy people can slip into the red, particularly if they have several large payments going out each month for mortgages, car leases, school fees, pensions or club memberships.
So before shopping around for current accounts, first scrutinise whether you are ever overdrawn, and by how much. The fees on overdrafts can outweigh most current account benefits or rewards. According to the CMA, more than half of overdraft users underestimate their usage.
Work out what your overdrawn days cost
If you have an overdraft facility arranged with your bank, you may be paying more than £100 a year to use it, as the table below shows.
If you go into debit without any such arrangement, fees can be much higher — sometimes up to £100 per month.
“If you are going overdrawn a lot, the way to reduce the charges is to agree a monthly facility with your bank, which can often be done online,” says Andrew Hagger, an independent personal finance expert who carries out research for the banking industry.
Look for the best interest rates
If you are always in credit, take advantage of this. Banks need your money so they can lend it to other people, so make sure you are earning as much as you can from them.
Interest rates may be at record lows, but some institutions are better than others at paying you for the use of your cash. TSB’s Classic Plus account, for example, pays 4.9 per cent interest on credit balances up to £2,000.
Santander’s 123 account pays 3 per cent interest on balances of up to £20,000, and offers cashback on utility bills and credit card purchases. If you keep a credit balance of at least £3,000 and spend £250 a month on household bills, you will earn £88 a year in interest and cashback.
Weigh up all benefits against potential costs
Higher interest-paying accounts can be punitive if you do go into debit. Santander charges £1 a day for use of its authorised overdraft, for example, capped at £20 per month. So someone who is overdrawn for one week every month would pay £84 in annual fees.
The TSB account has a similar downside. According to Mr Hagger, someone who is £400 overdrawn on average for four days a month would pay £81 a year in fees. That compares to just £2.93 with First Direct.
And if you do switch . . .
Make sure your new bank is signed up to the Current Account Switch Service, a joint initiative between the industry and government that enables people to switch banks within seven working days. The process should be painless, but to minimise potential problems try not to arrange the switch for a day when you know most of your direct debits are going out.