Starling Bank review: The best place to put your money?

25 min Read Published: 13 Oct 2021

starling bank review

In this independent review, we look at Starling Bank including how it works, Starling Bank's fees and how it compares to alternative app-only banks such as Monzo and Revolut. We recommend you read the review in full however you can jump to specific sections of the review using the following links:

What is Starling Bank?

Banking is gradually being dragged into the 21st century thanks to a swathe of app-only challenger brands. Starling Bank* is among the best-known new brands. It received its banking licence in 2016 and unveiled the UK's first mobile-only current account in 2017.

Starling Bank's founder, Anne Boden brings a strong banking pedigree, having helped create the UK’s CHAPS real-time payment system and she has worked for big brands such as Lloyds and Allied Irish Bank.

Starling Bank has a different approach to old-school banking. The idea is to provide everything you want from a full UK bank account but none of the stuff you don’t. They have decided this means you don’t need bank branches but you do get money management tools, a MasterCard contactless debit card and 24/7 support.

So is it worth carrying your bank around in your pocket?

Starling Bank key features

  • Freeze your card - freeze your card in-app if lost or stolen
  • Disable/Restrict and block payments - disable chip and pin or contactless payments, restrict online spending and block transactions such as gambling
  • Set up savings goals - earn interest whilst saving towards personal goals
  • Nearby payments - send payments securely to Starling customers nearby
  • Settle up - Easily split payments with a 'settle up' link
  • Instant spending notifications - receive instant real-time notifications when spending
  • Categorised spending - Have your transactions sorted into categories automatically
  • Paperless statements - easily access your statements within the app
  • Roundup spending - round up transactions to the nearest pound to save money
  • Free cash withdrawals abroad - (some cash machines charge their own fee)
  • International money transfers - The app can also be used for international money transfers. Users pay a 0.4% transaction fee & can pay a flat rate delivery fee of £5.50 for faster payment. This is much cheaper than many banks that can charge up to 5% for international money transfers.
  • No foreign transaction fees - spend abroad for free with no additional charges added or an exchange rate mark up fee
  • Marketplace - integrate your Starling Bank account with other financial products
  • Mobile cheque deposits - Deposit cheques up to £500 from your mobile phone
  • Additional 'Connected' card - Users can order an additional card and give it to those who they trust to make purchases on their behalf. Everything can be controlled from the app
  • Log in via desktop - Users can log in via a laptop, mac or computer

How does Starling Bank work?

Starling Bank offers personal and joint accounts as well as business accounts.

Starling Bank personal accounts

You don’t have to phone to make an appointment to visit a branch to open an account, instead, all you need to do is download the app on your smartphone.

You must be aged 16 and a UK resident to get a Starling Bank personal or joint account*. Applicants need to download the app on a smartphone and provide a valid photo ID such as a UK passport or driving licence. Starling promises that this process will take around five minutes, which is quicker than having to go into a bank branch during opening hours. There is also an account dedicated to 16-17 year-olds wanting to manage their money.

Similar to traditional bank accounts, you will get a contactless Mastercard debit card and will be able to set up standing orders and manage direct debits in the app. You can also connect it to your digital wallet such as Apple Pay.

You can make up to six cash withdrawals with a maximum £300 withdrawal limit per day. You can deposit cash at more than 11,500 Post Office branches nationwide up to a maximum of £5,000 each year. If you have more than one Starling personal account, such as a personal and joint account, then this limit is shared across both accounts.

Starling Bank provides an optional overdraft that you can turn on or off within the app, however, this is not currently available on joint accounts. You can reduce the amount you need and you are only charged for the amount you borrow. The overdraft fee is an equivalent annual rate (EAR) of 15%, 25% or 35% based on your credit score.

Having everything on the app means you can access your account wherever you are. But this is more than just a current account. Starling Bank will show you real-time balances and send instant payment notifications so you can track your spending.

You can access spending insights that give you a breakdown of your spending habits so you can budget better and understand exactly where your money goes. There is a goals section that rounds up your spending so any change can be put towards a big purchase such as a holiday or car. Additionally, any money left in your current account earns 0.05% on balances up to £85,000.

Starling Connected Card

Starling's 'Connected' card allows someone you trust to spend money on your behalf. The card is designed to be given to trusted friends, family and carers and saves the hassle of transferring money or splitting a bill. The card is capped at £200 but the money is held in a separate 'space' in your Starling app and is therefore separate from the money in your main account.

The person who has access to the Connected card is not able to see your personal account information. The Connected card cannot be used at ATMs or for any gambling transactions and you have to have a Starling Bank personal account to be able to request a Connected card.

Starling Kite account

Starling Bank has launched a pocket money account for children aged between 6 - 16 years old but as it sits as a 'Space' within the adult account you must have a personal or joint account with Starling if you want to create one. As it sits within a Starling personal account, it is easy to set up regular payments and instantly transfer money into a Starling Kite account. A Starling Kite* account costs £2 a month per card with no additional charges for transferring or withdrawing money.

Children can set savings goals within their Starling Kite account and can work towards achieving their goals with the spending analytics. Adults can set spending limits, get instant spending notifications and control where their child spends money on their card e.g only in shops or online. An additional bonus is if you have a Starling Bank Joint account the other account holder will get the same information regarding the Kite account. Just like a regular Starling account, there are also no overseas spending fees. Children can also download the Starling app on their phone to manage their Starling Kite account and receive spending notifications and check their Starling Kite card balance.

Starling Bank Business accounts

Starling Bank’s business and sole trader account* is similar to its personal account. Starling Bank says the application process for its business account is slightly longer than the personal one at around 10 minutes, but in comparison, many banks will require you to make an appointment and sit in a branch for a couple of hours to get approval. Instead, you need to download the app, enter your personal details and information about your business, verify who you are by sending a video and ID documents and wait for credit checks to come through. The bank may have extra queries though so this process may not be as instant as getting the personal account.

There are no fees for a Starling business account unless you opt to sign up to the Business Toolkit which costs £7 a month for extra bookkeeping, invoicing and VAT features. Starling's Business account offers a similar service to the personal account such as payment alerts and transaction categorisation. Unlike some other business accounts, Starling Bank doesn’t charge monthly fees or for ATM withdrawals. Popular accountancy software tool Xero can also be used in the app and several financial products are currently being added to a business version of its Marketplace. For more information on the accountancy software Xero, read our Xero review.

Business users can deposit money at more than 11,500 Post Office branches if they are paid in cash. Depositing cash at a Post Office has a 0.3% charge with a minimum of £3 (Personal account holders can deposit money at the Post Office free of charge). There are no fees for ATM withdrawals but it will cost £0.50 to withdraw up to £300 a day over the counter at the Post Office.

If you have both a personal and business account you will be able to switch between both within the app.

Both personal and business accounts are part of the Current Account Switching Service so should take a maximum of seven days to switch and the whole process is managed for you, meaning you don’t have to worry about cancelling old payments as all your direct debits should automatically be transferred.

For more information on Starling Bank's business account and how it compares to other business accounts, read our Starling Business bank account review.

Starling Bank Euro accounts

Starling Bank has launched a Euro account for both its personal and business account holders. The account allows users to hold, send and receive money in both pounds and euros. For more information on the Starling Bank Euro account see our article, 'Starling Bank Euro account-  who should get it?'

Starling Bank personal loans

Starling Bank is not currently offering personal loans with its website only showing the option of an overdraft under its personal lending section. Previously, if you needed extra funds, Starling Bank users could apply for personal loans between £500 to £5,000 but you could only do this if you had an active overdraft. The amount you could borrow was linked to the unused portion of your agreed overdraft, so if you had £2,000 left out of a £4,000 overdraft, you could have turned up to £2,000 of the unused overdraft into a loan. This, in turn, reduced your overall agreed overdraft allowance. You could previously borrow money with a Starling loan over a period of 12 - 60 months.

Starling Bank previously offered two types of personal loan, 'Spread the cost' and 'Apply beforehand'. The 'Apply beforehand' loan worked like any regular bank loan and you applied for the amount you needed before you made a purchase. The 'Spread the cost' loan worked slightly differently in that you purchased an item and chose to spread the cost once you had bought it.

Rates for a Starling Bank personal loan varied based on your personal financial situation. The rate you were offered could be found in the app before you applied.

While personal loans are not currently being offered by Starling, you can still apply for a Starling Bank overdraft within the app. The interest rates are 15%, 25% and 35% EAR and the interest rate you will be offered may vary depending on your credit score.

Is it easy to close my Starling Bank account?

Closing your account is pretty simple, especially as there are no monthly fees. You just need to contact customer services through the app. If you have a positive balance on your account you need to transfer this or Starling Bank can send a cheque for the outstanding balance. You will need to cancel all payment instructions, debit debits and standing orders you have on your account. Your account will remain open if you are still overdrawn and you will be expected to repay any funds.

How much does Starling Bank cost?

There are no fees for a Starling Bank account, plus no charges when travelling abroad. Remember you will still need to pay the exchange rate on international withdrawals or transactions though. This will be set by MasterCard if you pay in the local currency or will be applied by the business if you are paying in sterling.

The only fees personal users will see will be if they have an overdraft, which charges an EAR of 15%, 25% or 35% (dependent on your credit score). Interest is accrued daily, charged monthly and it’s all updated in your app. Starling announced that from April 2020 you will not be charged a fee or interest for accidentally entering your unauthorised overdraft.

Business users have to pay for Post Office withdrawals and deposits, as well as a £2 monthly fee for a Business Euro account or a £5 monthly fee for a Business US Dollar account should they wish to open one.

Is Starling Bank safe to use?

Starling Bank is regulated like any bank by the Financial Conduct Authority. This means it must adhere to strict rules on protecting client money and treating customers fairly. Users also receive protection under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, meaning up to £85,000 (£170,000 on joint accounts) of your cash will be secure if the bank goes bust. Being regulated also gives you the right to complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service if you are unhappy with how it has addressed any issues you raise.

Starling Bank says it uses advanced data encryption and storing technologies that ensure your personal information and transactions are sent and stored securely. It has acted fast in recent years to warn customers when there have been high profile data breaches of customer data at big brands such as British Airways and Marriott Hotels. But it did say it was reviewing its procedures at the end of 2018 after a customer expressed concern that a link Starling Bank sent to his photo ID could easily be accessed by others.

Can I use my Starling Bank card abroad?

You can take Starling Bank's debit card with you when you travel abroad and spend your money at no extra cost. When spending abroad, Starling Bank exchanges your money to the local currency using the Mastercard interbank exchange rate and does not charge any additional transaction fees. You can also withdraw cash from an ATM abroad with no additional fees, although some foreign ATMs may have separate charges not associated with Starling Bank.

When making a transaction whilst abroad your instant spending notification will tell you how much you have spent in both GBP and the local currency so you can always keep track of your spending. Starling's customer support team are also accessible 24/7 and your card can be easily locked within the app should it get lost or stolen whilst you are abroad.

Starling Bank Customer Reviews

Starling Bank has been voted Best British Bank in the British Bank Awards in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. It also won Best Current Account provider in 2019 & 2020.

Starling Bank uses Trustpilot for its customer reviews and displays them on its website. It has 4.3 out of 5.0 stars based on more than 24,000 reviews and is rated as 'Excellent'. Most users like the budgeting tools and free international transfers and withdrawals. A small proportion, 9% of reviews, described the bank’s service as bad, compared with 75% who deem it excellent. The main issues were concerns around payments being taken without permission and accounts not being closed when requested.

Starling Bank Alternatives

In the below comparison table we compare Starling Bank to alternative app-only bank accounts. The comparison is based on the most basic personal account with each of the providers. Some of the providers have other accounts that offer more benefits but these come at an additional cost. For more information on each of the providers mentioned in the below comparison table, read our reviews:

Starling Bank vs Monzo vs Revolut vs Monese

Starling Bank Monzo Revolut Monese
Monthly Cost (standard account) FREE FREE FREE FREE
UK registered bank account  tick tick cross cross
Personal account tick tick tick tick
Business account  tick tick tick tick
Direct debits/Standing orders tick tick tick tick
Overdraft tick tick cross cross
Loan  cross tick cross cross
Budgeting features  tick tick tick tick
Fee-free spending abroad  tick tick  tick* cross
Fee-free cash withdrawals abroad  tick tick* tick* cross
Current account interest tick cross cross cross

*limits apply

Pros and cons of Starling Bank

Pros of Starling Bank

  • Fast and easy to set up
  • 24/7 access
  • Spending alerts and categorisation
  • Fee-free spending abroad
  • No monthly fee for the services
  • Desktop version for those that wish to bank using a laptop, mac or computer
  • Safe and secure

Cons of Starling Bank

  • The Marketplace only offers deals with companies Starling works with so they may not be the best rate
  • Can only open an account if you are a UK resident

Summary

Starling Bank has built a bank fit for the 21st century that you can access whenever you want without having to find a bank branch. It is also doing its bit for the savings culture by encouraging users to save their spare change and introducing people to other financial services offerings such as investing and budgeting tools through its Marketplace that they may never have previously heard of. It also continues to innovate and even protects customers with gambling addictions by allowing them to block gambling transactions.

Starling Bank’s approach is innovative as it is providing both a bank that fits into your pocket but also an app that can boost your whole lifestyle. Its only limit may be that the innovation it has created becomes useless if you run out of battery or have no reception or wi-fi. But on the flip side, it is open 24hours a day unlike a high street bank. Overall it is not surprising Starling Bank has won so many plaudits.

 

 

 

If a link has an * beside it this means that it is an affiliated link. If you go via the link Money to the Masses may receive a small fee which helps keep Money to the Masses free to use. But as you can clearly see this has in no way influenced this independent and balanced review of the product. The following link can be used if you do not wish to help Money to the Masses - Starling