Free £125 in time for Christmas

Check out these top banking tips from Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis.

FREE £125 in time for Christmas. Banks are (legally) bribing you to switch again, so snaffle it ASAP if you need the cash

Free bank switching cash was pulled in the pandemic, but now it's back. Four banks currently pay, and two of them pay quickly enough for you to get it in plenty of time to boost your Christmas coffers.

The switching process, via banks' dedicated switching services, is very easy these days. It only takes seven working days and the banks do it all - switching your direct debit and standing orders over, closing your old account, and making sure any payments are forwarded. The bonuses are usually available to anyone who's not an existing customer. Full eligibility details in our Best Bank Accounts guide, here are the top deals...

  • Don't earn enough to meet the minimum pay-in? First remember if you've a joint account it's the combined pay-in that matters. If not, there's usually a way to cheat it. Say the pay-in is £1,250, but you only have £850 coming in, then pay in the £850, withdraw £400 to an account at another bank (or in cash) and then pay it back in, and BINGO - you'd qualify.

  • Not sure which to pick? Here's a quick rundown. Want the biggest upfront cash in time for Christmas? HSBC is your winner (though you'll need to switch 2+ direct debits or standing orders to get it). Plus, you won't be eligible if you've had an HSBC account or opened a First Direct or M&S Bank account since Jan 2017. See our HSBC review.

For the max total cash, if time isn't key, NatWest Reward gives the same £125 upfront cash. Then it has cashback on top - bizarrely, it charges a £2/mth fee but pays £4/mth cashback if you've 2+ direct debits going out, and £1 each month you log in to mobile banking. So qualify it all and that's £5/mth minus the £2/mth, or an extra £36/yr. RBS Reward is similar. See NatWest Reward and RBS Reward for full info.

You can also get also get the £125/£100 bribe by switching to the fee-free NatWest Select or RBS Select accounts, but there's no monthly cashback.

  • None of these are close to table-topping for customer service. They're not dire, but are far from top (one of the reasons they likely pay bribes for your custom), though Lloyds just pips the others. If it's service you want, see our latest banking customer service poll.

  • Struggling with your overdraft? Get help. Until 31 Oct, if your finances are stretched due to coronavirus, you can ask for overdraft help and many will get up to £500 interest free. Plus if you're looking to pay down your debt, our Cut Overdraft Costs guide will take you through how to do this, step by step.

The top perks you DON'T need to switch for

All of the accounts above require you to use their switching services to get the cash, meaning your old account is closed down. Yet there are other perks available without needing to do that, which means these can be great not just as primary accounts, but as secondary ones too.

Get PAID to pay your bills. Santander 123 Lite* pays you cashback on bills you pay from it via direct debit, inc 1% on council tax, 2% on energy etc.

It has a £2/mth fee, but those with mid-to-large household bills can still make around £40-£90/yr from this account after the fee. You'll also need to pay in £500/mth to qualify. For other cashback options, see Best Bank Accounts.

  • Santander 123 main account (not Lite) customer? Your interest dropped (again) in August, so read our Ditch Santander 123? guide for what to do now.

Got a strong APP-etite? The deals above are all about the free cash and perks - if you're looking for the bank accounts with the highest-rated apps, see our Digital Banking guide.

£500+ of annual travel, phone and breakdown insurance for £156 with a packaged bank account. If you need insurance, packaged bank accounts - where you pay a monthly fee and lots of cover is thrown in - can be a big winner.

Our top pick is Nationwide FlexPlus at £13/mth. Its biggest perk for many is covering all the family's mobiles, which could be £100/yr per phone done separately, plus it gives worldwide family travel insurance and UK & Europe breakdown cover. See more options in Packaged Bank Accounts.

Current accounts that pay more interest than top savings. Top easy-access savings now pay just 0.96% interest. Yet you can double that in a bank account, though only on smaller sums. Our top picks...

  • Virgin Money* pays 2.02% AER variable on up to £1,000.

  • Nationwide pays 2% AER fixed on up to £1,500 in year 1, 0.25% after. Yet you need to pay in £1,000+/mth to get the interest.

Don't put more in than the max, as that won't earn any interest. More options and full eligibility criteria in interest-paying current accounts.

How to add £100s to your pocket - The Martin Lewis Money Show LIVE, 8.30pm Thu, ITV

"This week, I'll be focusing on putting cash in your pockets, incl the new big working-from-home tax back news, free cash switching as above and lots more. Frankly, as we're live even I don't know what's in it yet - as it's up to the very second news-you-can-use. And of course, you can tweet suggested questions to @MartinSLewis, but you must use the show's hashtag #MartinLewis. Do tune in or get a friend to transcribe it."

DON'T believe the fake 'Martin Lewis' or 'MSE' ads Lots of scam ads litter social media and even newspaper websites - some of these lie that we or Martin promote Bitcoin, binary trading etc. See Fake ads warning

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