Starling bank is one of a new breed of challenger banks promising to digitally revolutionise the traditional banking experience. If you’re an aspiring avocado-eating, hipster millennial putting all your traditional banking friends to shame, then read on. Fantastic for budgeting, couples and travelling, our Starling Bank review sees what all the fuss is about and why millions have signed up.
Starling Bank aims to shake up the traditional banking system by promising “banking built for mobile living with insightful money management tools”. Catchy.
Starling was founded by experienced banking veteran Anne Boden. At 60 years old and with over 30 years of experience, Anne has broken the traditional banking mould and is setting new standards with a digital banking revolution.
Starling was founded in 2014 and was granted a banking license in 2016, going on to win multiple awards for innovation and banking, including Best British Bank (2018,2019 & 2020) and Best Current Account (2019 & 2020).
What does this really mean for you and me? Well, like promised, you control your account via your mobile and there are no branches. Mobile apps are not new of course and every bank has one, but this is one that takes things to the next level. So let’s look at what’s different.
What do you get with Starling Bank?
Instant mobile notifications – when you receive or spend money
Spending insights – budget better and understand exactly where your money goes
Savings goals – set short term or long term savings goals by using a digital change ‘jar’
Google Pay supported
Apple Pay supported
Card lock – no more calling the 24/7 helpline. Simply and instantly lock your card via your app if it’s lost, then unlock it instantly again when you’ve found it down the back of the sofa.
Round-ups – automatically round up your spending and put the change towards a savings goal
Split the bill – easily split the cost of meals out with friends & family
Spending abroad – no pesky changes for foreign transaction fees
Free cash withdrawals abroad – Starling won’t charge you (but some ATMs still might)
Card Protection – put controls in place to stop your card being used for gambling or online shopping and block contact-less payments if required.
Marketplace – integrate financial products such as mortgages, pensions and investments from other providers
Connected card – a handy alternative to joint accounts (see Joint Account section)
Photo cheque deposits – if your gran is still sending you a birthday cheque in the post, you no longer need to stroll to the bank!
Moving to Starling will give you new tools to manage your money better. If you are using a traditional high street bank, you may already get some of these tools, but they are usually ugly, clunky and difficult to use, so not many people use them.
Starling greatly improves the mobile app experience. It puts you in control of a new set of tools traditionally only held by bank staff. The Starling Bank app feels modern and clean, looks great and has been designed to be intuitive and easy to navigate.
Starling provides extremely cost-competitive banking services. There is no day to day charges (unless you use your overdraft) and if you are travelling abroad you can withdraw cash and only incur the MasterCard exchange rate.
Firstly, the slick app generates instant notifications when a transaction takes place. Direct debits, standing orders and transfers all activate alerts that allow you to see in real-time what’s happening with your money. It’s spookily quick, too.
Secondly, you can also instantly lock and unlock your card directly from the app stopping others from using your card details. If you have ever been the victim of fraud and had money taken from your account only to be notified a few days later, this is a significant win and greatly reduces any potential exposure.
Next, the spending Insights feature automatically tracks and categorise your spending, making budgeting and financial planning much easier.
And finally, ‘Goals’ allow you to create separate savings pots inside your current account. You can add images and deposit money into each Goal, segregated from your main spending money.
Opening a Starling Bank account
Firstly, it’s important to emphasise quite how quick and easy this, and all without needing to step foot in a bank.
You can open a Starling account from your mobile using this link and you will need to be 16 or over and be a UK resident. Starling will ask you to take a photo of your ID, such as a driving licence or passport. And the contract process is a selfie video reciting text on the screen.
It really couldn’t be easier and only takes 5 – 10 minutes. You can do it all from the comfort from your own home at any time, so there’s no need to worry about using up your precious lunch hour or Saturday morning going to the bank.
Starling Bank Reviews
Independent ratings and reviews site Trustpilot rates Starling Bank as ‘excellent’. Nearly 12,000 people have left a review leaving Starling with a great score of 4.5 out of 5 stars, which is pretty good going.
We had a dig around the negative comments and a lot of them was where people or businesses were having financial difficulty or not qualifying for overdrafts. These may be dragging the scores down a fraction, so to make things simpler, here’s how their review stacks up against the competition.
Starling Bank Reviews vs the competition
Using Starling Bank account
You can use your Starling account just like any other high street bank, via a unique-looking MasterCard debit card for day to day spending.
Additionally, direct debits and standing orders can all be set up and managed from the app. You can either have your salary paid directly into the account or move money in from another account.
Plus, your account number and sort code can all be found in the app.
However, if you lose it and need a replacement, beware the £60 surcharge!
The Starling Bank card
With Starling, you get a cool looking ‘portrait’ card. It functions exactly the same as a normal card, but you’re now an avocado-eating, hipster- millennial – or at least you look like one. It is a challenger bank after all, so the card has to stand out a little!
Your card should arrive in a few days and mine only took 2 days to be in my hands. From the time your new Starling card arrives, you have complete control. You simply activate your new card via the app and if you ever lose your card you can deactivate (lock) it here too.
Starling Bank Joint Accounts
Starling even allows you to set up joint accounts from the app, too. You both need to hold a Starling current account and then setting up a joint account is done in a matter of minutes. Make sure you’re next to each other, as the app searches for nearby users to validate your relationship. Having already both passed Starling’s security checks ensures there are no further ID requirements. Nice and simple.
Once set up, you can use it to pay for joint expenses like housing and bills. Both of you can pay money in and you’ll both get notifications when money goes out.
Furthermore, a joint account can be a great tool for helping you share and manage joint bills. Starling’s Spending Insights can help you work together to see where you may be spending too much on bills or food and help you set better budgets. You can also set savings goals like holidays or the new kitchen you’ve always wanted.
Importantly, if you are not sure about a joint account, there is also the option to have a ‘Connected Card‘. A Connected Card is an extra bank card that you can give to someone you trust so they can shop on your behalf. You’ll stay in control with the ability to top up, track and cap spending.
If you are setting up a joint account with friends, remember you do have the option to split bills from the app, so make sure a joint account is really necessary as it creates a financial link between the two account holders which you may not want.
Using your Starling Bank card abroad
Handily, Starling bank cards have been designed with travel in mind. When you spend money abroad, Starling doesn’t add any commission, so you only pay the MasterCard exchange rate.
In addition, Starling doesn’t charge ATM fees for withdrawing your cash abroad, making Starling one of the top-rated debit cards for travelling.
Plus, you can send money to accounts in over 37 countries and 19 different currencies directly from within the app.
Is Starling Bank safe?
Starling received its official banking licences in July 2016 from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). It is protected, like all other financial institutions, by the FSCS (Financial Services Compensation Scheme) which guarantees to protect £85,000 of your money deposited with an institution. The FSCS has a specific page on Starling if you would like to know more.
In addition, Starling has built its banking services from the ground up and so hasn’t had to deal with historical legacy systems to upgrade and modernise for the digital era. Traditional banks like TSB have struggled with these types of upgrades and lost swathes of customers as a result.
On top of that, real-time notifications for when transactions take place mean you can quickly disable your card if you detect some suspicious activity. With most other accounts there are numbers to call and customer service teams to deal with. All of which can be frustrating when you think someone is out there having a good time with your money!
Starling Bank Business Accounts
Starling also offers business accounts for business owners, limited companies, contractors or freelancers. If your business turns over less than £1.7 million and has fewer than 10 employees, the service is free.
Furthermore, the business bank account has won Best Business Bank Account 2020, so they must be doing something right!
Meanwhile, the look and feel of the business account is exactly the same as your personal account. You get instant notifications when you spend or receive money and all your transactions are categorised.
Moreover, Starling business accounts also integrate with Xero accountancy software via the Starling Business Marketplace and other integrations are in progress. This makes things for your or your accountant a darn site quicker and easier.
However, one drawback might be if you have to deposit cash. This has to be done via a Post Office and will cost you £3.00 for up to £1,000 and anything above this costs 0.3%. While you may consider this a drawback, with the speed that most banks are closing branches, you might actually have a better chance of finding a local Post Office.
On a side note, if you are in the property business it’s worth noting that Starling business accounts do not support segregated ring-fenced ‘client accounts’.
Being a digital-only bank, Starling has no physical branches.
This is no matter, however, as there are many Post Offices throughout the country (though we may wonder for how long) where you can deposit your cash. There are now even pop-up stores that open in your local village hall every Tuesday morning, for example.
It’s a free service for personal account holders and you can even withdraw cash here, too (as well as the usual ATMs). Nice.
See your receipts with Starling & Flux
Thanks to a recent new partnership with Flux, you can now see your full receipts in your Starling app from selected retailers. Currently, though, there are only a few retailers using Flux.
Simply activate Flux in your Starling app via the 30-second process. Once complete you will be able to see a full breakdown of what you spent. Paper receipts could be a thing of the past!
Starling Bank Marketplace
Starling Bank marketplace allows you to hook in products and services from other financial providers. This allows you to manage separate accounts within the Starling app.
At the moment there are around 20 integrations from providers such as PensionBee, Wealthify and WealthSimple.
Other interesting integrations include CreditLadder, a way to build a better credit score and Tail, a cashback service to replace loyalty cards. This is exactly what Starling had in mind when they build the Marketplace and could be a real game-changer.
For businesses, there are integrations into Xero, QuickBooks and FreeAgent to name just a few.
Starling Bank Overdraft
Starling offers overdraft facilities on current accounts and business accounts, but sadly not on joint accounts (which you may consider a good thing).
If you have a good credit rating you’ll get the 15% EAR rate, but if not, you’ll fall into the 25% or 35% EAR tier.
Simply apply for an overdraft within the app and adjust your limit instantly up to the maximum agreed amount. Remember, you can also adjust it down!
Starling Bank Loans
If you need to borrow some cash then Starling can help, too. As you would expect by now, you can apply for a loan through the app. Before you accept the loan, you’ll get confirmation of the rate offered.
At the time of writing, Starling only offers a comparison rate of 11.5%. These rates are lower than the overdraft facility, however, to be clear this isn’t a competitive rate compared to the current best buys. Make sure you compare the rate you are offered to other loans on the market to ensure you get a good deal.
Handily, there’s no paperwork and the loan can be monitored and paid back within the app. There are also no early repayment charges for clearing your loan ahead of schedule, which is good news.
What are the downsides?
In short, there is really one negative we can think of that some people may not like – perks, or lack of them!
Starling does not entice you by such trivial add-ons such as free insurance or breakdown cover. Because it doesn’t need to.
On the flip side though, this does mean you may have to source you’re own, and that may be a hassle for some. But remember, the cost of these are always bundled into the packages from traditional banks anyway and you get blind to that monthly fee.
In reality, most people rarely use these services which is why traditional banks offer them. Do the sums and you may find you’re better off without them and that pesky account fee.
Lastly, one other potential big drawback that you might not be used to is that there is a £60 charge if you were to ever lose your bank card and need a replacement. In comparison, most banks will provide this service free of charge. It’s a nice card…but not that nice.
Best of both worlds
If, however, you really value the perks from your traditional bank package and make good use of them, you can always keep your account and simply move your spending money into your Starling account.
This is a great way of budgeting and making sure you don’t overspend your disposable allowance.
Plus, you get access to all the fancy tools. It’s a win-win.
Starling vs Monzo
The most popular alternative to Starling is Monzo Bank; a rival digital challenger bank offering many of the same features, including push notifications and budgeting help.
Whilst there are many similarities, there are also a few difference too.
UK ATM Limit
Interest (current account)
0.05% AER up to £85k
Interest (saving account)
0.05% AER up to £85k
Saving Pots offer Easy access at 0.5% AER or Fixed Terms at up to 0.88%
Yes, into Goals
Yes, into pots
Yes, but not competitive
Yes, but not competitive
Yes, both must have a current account
Yes, both must have a current account
Yes via app or phone
Yes via app or phone
Funds up to £85k
Funds up to £85k
Yes, Free for businesses of 10 staff and under £1.7 million turnover
Yes, Free Lite account or £5 per month Pro Account
Whilst Starling has won awards for Best British Bank and Best British Current account, Monzo also won Best Banking App in 2020. The heated rivalry between the two has seen very similar features developed by both banks.
Also, Monzo recently launched business banking facilities, whereas Starling has been offering theirs for around two years longer.
As users of both Monzo and Starling, we feel you are really splitting hairs between the two. Both are great accounts and I’m sure you will be happy with either. Starling feels a little more grown-up and has also been first to support new tech like Apple Pay.
Monzo, on the other hand, has a more playful, less corporate feel. Both banks are constantly innovating and driving banking forward though, so we all can benefit.
In conclusion, both of these are bank accounts you can get excited about.
Check out our Monzo review here and decide for yourself.
Starling vs Revolut
Revolut is another competitor and is the most recent to pick up an official European banking licence (via Lithuania).
However, they had some issues with customers being locked out of their accounts in mid-2018 and we haven’t seen any such issues with Monzo & Starling. Remember though, Lloyds and TSB were also plagued with system issues in 2018 and both suffered humiliating numbers of customers as a result, so it’s not just the new kids that can have problems.
How to apply for a Starling account
Switching to Starling bank is simple and easy. You can apply within a few minutes directly from the app. When completed, your flashy portrait card should arrive within a few days.
If you want to try Starling you can set up an account here.
Conclusion – Should you switch to Starling Bank?
In summary, here at Eat Sleep Money we love embracing any technology that makes life better, simpler or quicker. And in this case, the slick app and great tools will make money management easier.
If you are worried about security, then Starling will give you the ability to see your transactions in real-time. Further to this, the ability to suspend your card if lost or stolen gives you real peace of mind.
Whilst Starling doesn’t offer paid account ‘perks’ typical of high street bank accounts, you can always keep your traditional high street account and simply move your spending money into Starling to get the best of both worlds.
And finally, there’s that sexy portrait avocado debit card, and what’s not to love about that? We think you’ll love Starling. If you’re not sure, you can always try out an account for free. Start using Starling Bank for free here.
I've spent years investing, saving and budgeting in order to build a better financial future for myself and my family. I bought and renovated my first home only to break even when I sold it. I've house hacked, been an accidental landlord and even considered living on a boat! All of this has led me to Eat Sleep Money, a site where I can share some of the tough lessons I’ve learnt over the years so you don't make the same mistakes.