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08 February 2019Banking Basics

Banking Basics: getting started

Seemingly simple banking tasks like opening an account can sometimes turn into a mountain of paperwork, difficult-sounding questions and weird acronyms. If you don’t already know all the answers, it can be tricky to tell what’s really going on.

That’s why we’re going back to basics, and clearing up some key questions about the whole process of getting started and managing your money. How does a bank work? What does a bank need from you? And what cards and other features should you get with your bank account? Read on for our guide...

What documents do I need to open a bank account?

Different banks have different rules, but any bank will require you to prove you are who you say you are. You’ll often be asked for:

  • Proof of identity: A passport, national ID card or driving license often works here.
  • Proof of address: Not every bank requires this, but some ask you to prove where you live – with a utilities bill or tenancy agreement, for example.

The exact process may depend on which country you’re in. You might have to take these documents into a branch, or verify them online. The rules for opening an account differ slightly in Germany and France, for instance.

It also depends on the bank. N26 customers will need a passport or national ID card, which we verify online with a quick video call or by asking you to take photos.

How much money do I need to open a bank account?

Again it depends on the region. Opening a bank account in the UK, for instance, typically doesn’t cost a thing. But in other countries, such as Germany, the traditional banks there may charge a small fee on each withdrawal or payment you make, or set a monthly/annual price for your card and account. Similarly, many high-street banks ask you to pay in a minimum amount to get your account started. If you’re looking for a normal bank account, you shouldn’t have to pay in very much.

How old do I have to be to open a bank account?

Again, it depends on where you live! In the UK there are many options for children’s bank accounts – often for children over 11 – but they come with slightly different rules from adult bank accounts. These children’s accounts often upgrade to an adult account automatically.

For most part of the world, a fully-fledged adult account is usually offered to those aged 18 or older.

What is a bank card?

A bank card is any card that your bank gives you so that you can access or spend your money. There are several different types, but the two most common and most important are:

  • Debit card: A debit card takes money directly out of your bank account, so you can’t spend more money than you have available. They can generally be used widely around the world – and online.
  • Credit card: They look similar to debit cards, and you can use them just as widely – but there’s a big difference. If you pay with a credit card, you’re borrowing the money from your bank. You then have to pay the bank back once a month – at least, in part. Late payments mean you also have to pay interest. Plus, you might have to pay a monthly fee.

So it’s a good idea to keep an eye on spending so you don’t end up in debt.

Read more about the different types of card if you’re not sure which one to get.

How do I withdraw money from a bank?

If you use a traditional high-street bank, one way to get cash out is to go into a branch with some ID and speak to someone over the counter. Of course, this takes time and – more often than not – plenty of standing in line.

But the more common and efficient method which works for most of us, is to go to a cash machine (ATM) and insert a debit card. Key in your PIN, and you should be able to withdraw cash straight away.

How do I transfer money?

Transferring money means sending money from your account to another account. That could be someone else’s account, or it can be another one of your own – a savings or secondary account, for example.

Step 1 is to get the bank details of the person you’re sending money to. Then, your bank might offer various options. You should be able to transfer money if you go into a branch in person, or possibly by calling up on the phone. The easiest option is probably to use online banking, where you can type in all the details yourself and hit send.

What is a bank statement?

A bank statement is the monthly postal letter you receive from the bank that tells you the amount of money in your account, along with a break down of all your transactions that month.

Bank statements on paper are less common these days – these days you might get them by email instead, or through your online banking in PDF form.
What is an overdraft? An overdraft is a limited amount of negative credit that allows you to continue spending after your account balance dips below zero.

Some bank accounts have an agreed overdraft limit that allows you to overspend by a certain amount. There is usually a fee for this, and there will probably be interest to pay – in other words, you’ll have to pay more back, depending on for how long your balance remains in negative.

If you go into overdraft (below zero) without an agreed overdraft limit, or if you go beyond your agreed limit – you could face higher fees and rates of interest.

What is a PIN?

PIN stands for “personal identification number”. It’s a short code, typically four numbers, which you use with your bank card – for instance, when you’re withdrawing cash from a cash machine, or making a card payment in a shop.

A PIN is a security measure, so never write it down anywhere.

Your money at N26

It’s free to open a standard account with N26. There’s no minimum deposit, no monthly account fees, no charge on card payments worldwide and five free cash withdrawals per month for European customers in their country of residence (or unlimited free withdrawals for UK customers). Signing up for an account is easy and paperless. Once your ID has been verified online, you’re ready to start banking.

All our everyday banking services are available in the N26 app, which you can access from your phone, computer or other device. Log in to check your transaction history, choose and change your PIN, set spending limits and transfer money. You can even send money to any of your phone contacts using our Moneybeam service, regardless of whether you know their bank details. They’ll be notified via email or text and simply need to provide their bank details to receive the money.

Access your money using an N26 Mastercard debit card to withdraw cash from any ATM and pay securely online and in stores.


We want to simplify banking for everyone. We’ll be bringing you more articles to shine a light on the basics of money, finance and all things banking related – it’s often a lot simpler than you might think.

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