App based bank accounts: Track and save

22 February 2021

Living on a student budget can be tough. With technology changing the way we both spend and manage our money Student Funding Adviser Katy explains some of the most popular app-based bank accounts and how you can utilise their features to keep on top of things.

man sitting using phone

Technology has changed the way we do a lot of everyday things, and managing our money is no exception. Living on a student budget can be tough, but with the explosion of open banking, there are now more apps than ever that can give us useful insights into our money habits and help us take care of our financial wellbeing.

The last couple of years have seen a particular rise in app-based bank accounts – bank accounts that offer the traditional features that we’re used to (direct debits, money transfers etc) but with the added bonus of cutting-edge technology and easy to understand visualisations that can help us monitor our spending, save for the things we want and even invest our money to make it grow. Being more accountable for our spending is a step in the right direction to making better financial decisions for now and for the future.

The first thing to note is that most of the apps have quite similar features, although they may call them by different names. The common features that these apps provide are:

  • Instant notifications that tell you when you’ve spent money
  • Useful visualisations that help you see where your money is going
  • The ability to set and monitor savings goals
  • The ability to lock and unlock card in app
  • ‘Split the bill’ functions making it easy to split bills and pay friends
  • Free transactions abroad

With that in mind, if you’re thinking about using an app-based bank account to manage your finances, it will mostly be about finding the one you think works best for you, and perhaps offers those extra features that appeal to you. Many people use these apps in conjunction with their more traditional student bank account, transferring money over each month and using the apps to track their spending and manage their budget - but you can certainly use these as your main account too. These accounts are fully regulated and protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

One of the other things to remember about these banks is that they don’t have branches, but do tend to have speedy and responsive customer service contactable via the apps to respond to any queries or problems that you come across. The accounts are typically quick to open and are all free.

When opening a new bank account, always make sure you read the small print. App-based banks may have different rules on cash withdrawals, including those in foreign currencies, for example. Many of them now offer overdrafts, and even loans, but make sure you understand what you are signing up for, the charges you may be liable for, and make sure you will be able to pay this back.


With over 5 million users, Monzo is well established and is perhaps the most well-known, and indeed, trusted, of all app-based banks. Monzo is well-regarded for its ability to help you save, budget and manage your money. With an easy to use and understand interface, Monzo can be a great tool to get your finances on track and realise that you accidentally spend £20 at Pret each week – turns out those coffees add up.

Monzo is probably best known for its Pots, where you can set up different savings goals, assigning each an image to keep you motivated. You can also easily open savings accounts, which have some interest-earning even with current low interest rates. Use Monzo’s rounding up function to round up each transaction to the nearest pound, and the difference gets saved into a pot of your choice. It has literally never been so easy to save your money.

You can also set budgets within Monzo for each spending category (think bills, groceries, eating out, shopping, etc) and keep an eye on how those transactions add up through the month.

If you pay your salary into Monzo, you can get the money a day early, giving you more time with your money.


Starling offers a similar offering to Monzo with a different look and feel. Also offering a fully online service, Starling also helps you with your budgeting by showing insights into your categorised spending. Instead of Pots, you can create Spaces in Starling to save up for that special something, work towards a holiday or round up your transactions to pay for your next Pret splurge.

Starling even gives you an interest rate of 0.05% AER on balances up to £85,000. You can deposit cash in Post Office branches to make it easy to pop that leftover cash from a birthday gift into your account.


Revolut has established itself on its international credentials – unlike many banks which will charge you for transferring money abroad, Revolut used the wholesale Interbank Exchange Rate (which banks use to trade between themselves) allowing you to access up to 26 currencies using the app for free. It works in many of the same ways as Monzo and Starling and with lots of similar features.

What makes Revolut stand out are its opportunities to invest easily and quickly in cryptocurrencies, trade commodities and invest in stocks. Remember that all these investments are at risk and be careful not to overextend yourself.

Katy Foster, Student Funding Adviser

Updated by Student Support and Wellbeing, February 2020