How to pick the right bank account

Get yourself the right bank account and save hundreds of dollars a year.
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  • Updated:4 Jan 2006

01 .Introduction


Account options

When shopping for a bank account it’s difficult to know whether to go for one with up-front fees or take the risk that you won’t exceed your rebate or free transaction limit.

The main transaction account features available include:

  • Accounts with rebates or free transaction — with a number of free transactions or a rebate for fees often based generally on the amount of business you have with the institution. More...
  • Packaged deals— for one monthly fee, you get a transaction account and linked savings accounts. More...
  • Accounts with unlimited transactions for a set monthly fee. More...
  • Accounts with Visa/MasterCard debit facilities. More...

Please note: this information was current as of January 2006 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

Our analysis

Our analysis for this article involved recruiting real-life case studies, and using their banking patterns as 'scenarios' to work out what particular accounts would cost for each person over a year.

We've looked at what minimum monthly balance they maintain in their transaction account, what interst the account pays, and how many and of what types of transactions the person makes. We entered the information into a speadsheet with all Australian banks, the 10 largest credit unions and the 5 largest building societies transactions accounts and analysed what each account would cost. We took into account the free transactions or rebate the account offered, and any other features of the account that might impact on its cost.


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02.Packaged account deals


Packaged account deals are those where for one monthly fee you get a transaction account and multiple savings accounts. The savings accounts usually offer higher interest rates and the accounts usually come on one statement.

Accounts that we looked at (see Our analysis):

  • Suncorp Everyday Options for $5 a month provides unlimited Suncorp transactions and three sub accounts linked to the main account. The sub accounts offer good interest (currently 5.4% in Queensland; 5.55% in other states), and for an additional $75 a year, the sub accounts can be used as a 100% mortgage offset.
  • Westpac One for $5 a month offers free Westpac transactions and two attached accounts paying a ‘bonus’ interest rate. Similarly, for $15 a month, the Westpac One Premium, allows up to six accounts with bonus interest. The bonus interest is 4% and requires you to make at least one deposit and no withdrawals in a month to earn the ‘bonus’ rate. Westpac One Premium also pays you a tiered interest rate on top of the bonus rate; ranging from 0.25% for $5000, to 1.0% for $100,000.
  • Bank of Queensland Reverse Charges for $4 a month allows unlimited Bank of Queensland withdrawals. If you maintain a $2000 minimum monthly balance, the monthly account fee is waived and the account pays you a $2 monthly bonus.

While the deals aren't bad, you can generally get a fee free savings account with your own institution. Alternatively, online or other, high-yield accounts, such as ING Savings Maximiser, or the BankWest TeleNet Saver are fee free, and offer good rates of interest. Check your transaction account details to see if transfers to another financial institution will cost you in fees.

03.Debit accounts - the way to go!

The number of accounts with debit facilities (Visa or more recently MasterCard debit) is growing, and we recommend you take up the option if available.

With a debit card, selecting credit and signing when making purchases at retailers instead of using EFTPOS, your transaction will be a Visa or MasterCard transaction, and will be fee free.

If you can properly combine Visa or MasterCard debit with your free transactions or rebates, you can minimise or completely eliminate transaction fees.

Most credit union and building society accounts have Visa debit, and banks offering the facility on many accounts include: ANZ, Adelaide Bank, St George/ Bank SA, BankWest, Bendigo Bank, Elders Rural Bank, HSBC, Suncorp and Westpac. Check the debit facility is available with the account you want.

Some institutions offer MasterCard debit, they include BankWest and Westpac.

04.Unlimited transactions


In the analysis we did (see Our analysis), accounts offering unlimited free transactions for a set monthly fee as a group compared reasonably favorably in comparison to other accounts that have more flexible fee structures. They also provide the benefit of not having to worry about whether you’re exceeding your rebate or free transaction limit.

Included transactions are usually EFTPOS, ATM (not usually other bank ATMs or overseas transactions), direct debits, internet and BPAY transactions, credit transactions and in many cases cheque withdrawals.

Some accounts also waive the base fee if you maintain the minimum monthly balance, (although it can be worth keeping your money in a high interest account instead)

  • ANZ Access Advantage, $5 a month.
  • Bank of Queensland Reverse Charges, $4 a month.
  • BankWest Lite Transaction Account transaction option, $5 a month.
  • Elders Rural Bank Everyday Account, all access option, $7 a month includes ALL (Elders and non-Elders) ATM.
  • HSBC Online Savings, no monthly fee, it doesn’t have many of its own ATMs but five free non-HSBC ATM withdrawals are also included.
  • NAB Smart Access, $5 a month.
  • St George/Bank SA Freedom Plus, $6 a month.
  • Suncorp Everyday Options, $5 a month (includes non-Suncorp ATM withdrawals outside Qld).
  • Westpac One, $5 a month, and One Premium, $15 a month.

The following accounts offer unlimited electronic access, but not over the counter, or cheques:

  • BankWest Lite Transaction Account direct option, $2.99 a month.
  • Elders Rural Bank Everyday Account, electronic option, $5 a month, includes ALL (Elders and non-Elders) ATM.
  • NAB Smart Direct, $3 a month.

05.Free transactions or rebates


Don’t mind limited transactions?

If you’re not the sort of person who makes multiple transactions and you’re able to keep your banking to a few transactions per month, look for an account with no or a low account-keeping fee and a high number of free transactions or a rebate that’s likely to cover the cost of transaction fees.

Many of these accounts are structured to minimise over-the-counter access and to encourage you to bank online, over the phone, or via ATMs and EFTPOS.

Accounts that did reasonably well when we analysed them:

  • Greater Building Society Access, no account fee, a base rebate and rebate based on account balance and Visa debit.
  • Heritage Building Society Simply Access — no account fee, 15 or more free transactions plus the ability to earn a rebate and Visa debit.
  • Members Equity InterestME Savings Account no account fee and 15 free EFTPOS.
  • NSW Teachers Credit Union Access, no account fee, 12 or more free transactions and Visa debit.
  • Queensland Teachers Credit Union Current Account, no account fee, base rebate and rebate based on account balance and Visa debit.

Want free over-the-counter access?

If you don’t mind a limited number of free transactions but still want free over-the-counter access, accounts to consider include:

  • Arab Bank Statement Savings, $3 a month only if minimum monthly balance falls below $100 and no transactions for 12 months, 10 free EFTPOS and ATM transactions (branch access via NAB branches), no cheque facility.
  • Home Building Society One Account. $5 a month, charges only for ATM and giroPost withdrawals.