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Running an account

Keeping your account details safe
It is very important to keep details of any accounts you have safe because if they fall into the wrong hands, you could end up having your money stolen or becoming the victim of certain sorts of fraud, particularly identity fraud. This is where criminals get their hands on money, for example from loans, credit cards or benefits, by pretending to be you. To find out more see

  • If you lose a plastic card or chequebook, report it to your bank or building society straight away.  They will cancel these and give you new ones to use. Plastic cards have a telephone number on the back of them for you to call if you lose your cards. Of course, if you lose your card, you’ll lose the number so make sure you write it down somewhere else.  
  • Don’t leave account statements lying around. The same goes for all other paperwork with your name and account details on. If you do want to throw something away, don’t just chuck it in the recycling or dustbin. Shred it up so that no one can read your personal details.
  • If you have any PIN numbers for plastic cards or passwords for telephone or Internet banking, never tell these to anyone else.
    • See our page on plastic cards for more information on PIN numbers

    • For more on online banking security, see our section on online banking

When it is ok to give account details to others
There are times when you may need to give certain account details such as your account number to others. Examples include:

  • your employer, if they are going to pay your wages straight into your account
  • a benefits agency so they can pay benefits straight into your account
  • any time you arrange to pay for anything by direct debt, eg utility bills, magazine subscriptions, gym membership
  • if you need somebody to transfer money into your account
  • if you use a plastic card to buy things by phone
  • When you use plastic cards to buy online. See our Online shopping section for more information.

Always make sure you know who you are giving your personal details to and remember that no one should ever ask you for a PIN number or password. If they do, don’t give it to them.

How much money have I got in my account?
This might sound like quite a simple question but these days most of us spend our money in lots of different ways and have complicated finances. 
For example, on a typical day, we might withdraw some money from a cash point machine, shop using a debit card and write a cheque to someone. On the same day, money may come directly out of our bank account to pay a regular bill and we may be charged some interest on our overdraft.

There are a number of different ways you can keep track of your spending.

  • Statements

Banks and building societies usually provide regular statements showing the money that has been paid into your account, the money that has been withdrawn and your balance, which means the money you have available to spend. It is common to get monthly statements but depending on your account you may get more or less frequent statements. These can be sent to you or you can often view them online if you use online banking. We have more information on statements in our Financial records and information section.

  • Cash machine balances and mini statements

You can usually use a cash point machine to check the balance that you have in your account and some cash points will provide you with a mini statement showing recent transactions.

  • Telephone and Internet banking

If your account provides telephone or Internet banking, you can phone up your bank or building society or use the Internet to find out your balance and check on recent transactions.

  • Mobile phone balances and statements

With some accounts you can have details of your balance and recent transactions sent to your mobile phone by text message.

It is important to remember that most of these services don’t give you ‘real time’ information on your account so if, for example, you pay for something using a card, there is likely to be a time lag before the transaction appears on your account. This can make managing money even more tricky.

What happens if there isn’t enough money in my account?
If you try to withdraw money or pay for something when there isn’t enough money in your account, a number of things can happen. These depend on the sort of account you have and the agreements you have with your bank or building society.

Basic accounts and others without overdraft facilities
With a basic bank account or another account without an overdraft facility, you can’t take out more money than you have in your account.

  • The cash point machine won’t give you any money
  • If you try to buy something with a card, the card will probably be turned down
  • If you write a cheque, your bank or building society may bounce it. This means that the person you wrote the cheque to won’t get their money and your bank or building society will probably charge you a fee for bouncing the cheque
  •  Your bank or building society probably won’t pay any direct debits or standing orders you have set up to pay bills. This means you’ll have to pay your bills some other way and you may have to pay a charge to the bank for any direct debit or standing order transactions that don’t go through.

Accounts with overdraft facilities
If you have an overdraft facility set up on your account it is possible for you to spend more money than you have in your account up to a certain amount. Your bank or building society will agree this amount with you.

  • When your account is overdrawn, any money you spend is borrowed from your bank or building society so they will charge you interest. See our section on interest for more information.
  • If you spend more than your agreed overdraft limit, your bank or building society may let you continue spending but charge you extra fees. Alternatively, they may stop you withdrawing money from cash point machines or using your cards. They may also bounce any cheques you have written and prevent direct debits or standing orders from going through and charge you fees for these transactions.

Account charges can add up quickly. Try to keep track of how much money you have in account to help you manage your money.

Dealing with problems
Most of the time our accounts run smoothly and we don’t really give them much thought. However, things do go wrong occasionally so it is important to keep a close eye on any accounts you have and act quickly if you notice anything unusual or suspicious, for example transactions that you don’t recognise.

  • If plastic cards or chequebooks are lost or stolen you must tell your bank or building society immediately.
  • If you think someone is using any of your cards or has found out PIN numbers or passwords, tell your bank or building society immediately.
  • Check your statements regularly and if you spot anything suspicious or unusual report it to your bank or building society immediately.

If you follow these steps and haven’t acted fraudulently, you won’t be liable for any unauthorised transactions.

If you have a complaint about the service you have received from your bank or building society, you should contact them.  They should reply to you within eight weeks. If you are not happy with their response, you may be able to turn to the Financial Ombudsman Service for further help. This is a free service.

Getting into financial difficulty
People’s circumstances change and there are a lot of reasons we may find ourselves getting into financial difficulty. If you are concerned about money, speak to your bank or building society and explain your situation. We have a section on Dealing debt with information to help you.

Lost accounts
A lot of us have had various accounts during our lives that we don’t use any more and may have lost the paperwork for. In fact, it is estimated that there are millions of pounds sitting around in these accounts. If you think you may have one, you can try to track it down through My Lost Account, which is a free online tracing service.


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