Martin Lewis: Stop bitching and start switching

Statement of intent: You don't have to stay with a bank for life ' there are some pretty good offers out there right now to 'encourage' you  to change to another provider. PICTURE: GETTY IMAGES
Statement of intent: You don't have to stay with a bank for life ' there are some pretty good offers out there right now to 'encourage' you to change to another provider. PICTURE: GETTY IMAGES
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There are laws against bribery. Luckily they don’t apply to banks wanting to bung you free money in return for your custom.

There’s a banking price war on right now which means you can earn up to £200 for switching account. So take a bribe, and get some extra cash in the kitty before Christmas. 

And don’t just do this for the money. I get more complaints about banks than any other sector apart from energy, yet people loyally stick with the perpetrators for years. If that’s you – stop bitching and start switching. Many of the accounts that pay have decent service too.

But before I get to the best-buys, let me deal with the “isn’t switching bank a nightmare?” question. I’m sure you’ve heard stories. Yet do ask people, when, this happened. For five years now we’ve had the switching guarantee in place, and that changed everything - for the better.

To get the free cash you’ll be credit scored (it’s not too harsh) and will need to go through banks official switching services. The switching guarantee means you’re switched within seven working days. Your new bank moves direct debits and standing orders for you (some require at least two to be moved), and closes your old account. All payments to your old account are automatically forwarded.

In a recent twitter poll I did on this, 76 per cent said switching was hassle-free and easy, like Sophie who says:“I’ve switched two accounts in the last few years. Was so easy I persuaded my parents to do the same”.Most of the rest only had minor issues.

The top current account give-aways change regularly, for full daily updated details and all the tips and eligibility criteria see my full guide at www.moneysavingexpert.com/bestbankaccounts.

Here’s a quick summary of the top deals at the time of writing . . . 

l Free £200 (£150 upfront, £50 if you stay) plus 5 per cent fixed savings. Switch to the hsbc.co.uk Advance account and you can get £150 free cash. Stay with it for a year and you’ll get another £50. It also lets you save up to £250 per month in its linked 5 per cent fixed regular savings account.

With HSBC like most banks there’s a minimum monthly pay-in. Here it’s a relatively large £1,750 a month – equivalent to £25,900 a year. This is effectively just a way to get you to pay in your salary. Yet if you don’t earn enough to meet this, there’s a way around the rule.  If you earn £1,000 a month, then just withdraw £750 and pay it straight back in and you will qualify.

When do you get the money? Within 30 calendar days of switching, so do it now and it should be in time for Christmas.

l Free £125 plus 2 per cent cashback on bills. Switch to most NatWest.co.uk current accounts and you’ll get £125. Among those is the NatWest Reward account where for a monthly £2 fee you get 2 per cent cashback on household bills that you pay via direct debit from it, including council tax, water, energy and broadband – many can earn £100 a year from this. Its minimum monthly pay-in is £1,500 (equal to an annual salary of £21,500).

The money gets paid in February – so way after Christmas – and you’ll need to keep your account until then.

l Free gadgets plus top service. Though not free cash, switch to FirstDirect.com and you can choose a free gift from choice of gadgets (for example, £120 Amazon Echo or £120 Fitbit), or a £150 Expedia voucher. Plus it’s won every customer service polls I’ve done for the past eight years – 89 per cent rate it “great’”. You’ll also get a £250 0 per cent overdraft, and can open a linked 5 per cent regular saver. The minimum monthly pay in is £1,000(equal to a £12,675 salary).

Within two weeks of paying in your first £1,000 you’re emailed instructions on how to get the freebie which can then take up to a month or so to arrive.

l Free £125 M&S vouchers with no monthly pay in.  Switch to bank.marksandspencer.com and you get a £125 M&S gift card with no-minimum monthly pay-in, though if you do pay in £1,250 a month (equal to a £17,080 salary) you can earn an additional £5 a month voucher for a year. It also has a linked 5 per cent fixed regular savings account. You’ll get the vouchers within a month of switching – again plenty of time for Christmas.

Being overdrawn doesn’t stop you switching, though you may not get the same overdraft limit as your current account.

For those with smaller overdrafts, the First Direct account above is useful as well as the free gadgets it offers an interest-free £250 overdraft – an easy way to avoid costs. Alternatively, Nationwide.co.uk’s FlexDirect gives a year’s 0% overdraft. Yet there’s no set limit – it depends on your credit score. Though as after the year you pay 50p a day if you’re overdrawn, do use the time to try and ditch the debt.

Martin Lewis is the Founder and Chair of MoneySavingExpert.com. To join the 13 million people who get his free Money Tips weekly email, go to 
www.moneysavingexpert.com/latesttip.