UPDATE: This article was first published in 2015. Nationwide have now tightened up on this, and said that ‘business use’ would be reviewed on an individual basis. In the meantime, if you need a basic business account without any credit checks, take a look at Cashplus Go or Tide accounts. Both are free accounts with no credit checks and are the closet you’ll come to a basic business account. See the bottom of the page for more information.
Can you use a personal bank account for business transactions? This article we asked some of the main high street banks for their take on the situation, and also look at some of the alternatives.
In November 2014 the Government reached a deal with UK banks to ensure the provision of fee free personal banking in the form of basic bank accounts.
Unfortunately when it comes to business there’s no such thing as a basic bank account. Even the ‘no-frills’ Natwest Foundation account requires that the owner/directors undergo a credit check.
That’s a problem, since large numbers of entrepreneurs, freelancers, and would-be business owners are struggling to set up a dedicated business bank account for their business, whether due to previous bad credit or other reasons.
If you fall into this category then first see our guide on ‘How to open a business bank account with a poor credit history.‘
Self employed, sole traders, freelancers, contractors, small businesses
The difficulty in opening a business bank account leads many to continue to use their personal account. Let’s clear one thing up first and for all. HMRC requires business owners to separate business and personal transactions, but there is no requirement for separate bank accounts.
In fact HRMC doesn’t require you to have a bank account at all, though unless you’re a market trader, or other ‘all cash’ business, you’ll find it difficult to operate without one.
You see many posts across internet forums by doom-sayers and scaremongers. Saying things like “using a personal account for business purposes kills kittens.” And that’s terrible, kittens are cute. But in all seriousness, whilst legally you can use a personal account, your bank will have other ideas.
It all stems from the bank’s terms and conditions, which are likely to include a clause stating that ‘the account is for personal use, and should not be used for business.‘
By breaching these terms and conditions you are at risk of having your account closed, and where would that leave your fledgling business?
Perhaps it’s all that time spent studying contract law but I’m obsessed with semantics, and the phrases ‘used for business‘ or ‘business use‘ are certainly open to interpretation.
For clarification, I contacted a number of banks, and the results were (not that) surprising.
Now it’s a given that if you have a limited company, you’re not going to get away with using a personal bank account (see our guide on opening a business bank account). But what of all the sole traders out there? In my email to the banks I included a few scenarios:
A dance teacher working a number of schools in a local region being paid in either cash, cheque, or electronically, and all earnings being paid into a personal bank account.
A freelancer carrying out work for a single or multiple clients and being paid electronically, and paying for bills etc..
Here’s what the banks said:
I can confirm that you can use the current account as a self employed individual to receive your wages from your clients/customers. Hence all the examples you’ve sited are not in breach of the terms and conditions of the current account, however it’s your responsibility to declare your earnings to HMRC.
Any business transactions on an account are considered business use. For example; a dance teacher receiving money for services provided, a musician insuring his instruments or maybe paying a supplier. I hope this helps. Many thanks.
If you’re self employed, this would be considered business use.
HSBC wouldn’t comment directly. They said that they would need to discuss the specific merits of the business before being drawn on whether a business bank account would be required.
I actually know of number of people who’ve been using a Barclays personal account for their business for over 5 years. This was where the dance teacher scenario came from. Barclays however, were quite insistent to me that you’d need to open a business bank account under such circumstances.
In an update to this article we asked Starling Bank the same question. The response was similar to that of the traditional high street banks.
…thanks for reaching out 🙂 Our Terms do not allow the use of personal accounts to trade or do business. But you can check our Sole Trader accounts if it suits your current business.
It is well known that Starling has set its sights on overtaking Barclay’s in the business banking sector, so that could be part of the reason. Since the Starling sole trader business account is completely free, and doesn’t require a hard credit check, It could just be that Starling really does believe its self employed customers would be better served with a business account.
We have a winner
So while that’s not an exhaustive list, the answer is clear, that some banks don’t consider self employed earning as ‘business use.’ Nationwide seems the winner here, whilst the likes of TSB, Lloyds, and Barclays would all require a business bank account even for a babysitter.
There’s no Nationwide business account, so perhaps this is why the building society offers a little more leeway. For those wanting the easiest account with minimum fuss, then the Nationwide Cash Card account could be the ticket. This is a basic account with no credit check, though those who’s credit history is in order may prefer the benefits of the Flex Account.
A word of warning
It’s important to note that the scenarios I approached the banks with were quite specific to freelance time-based workers such as graphic designers, gardeners, web developers, teachers etc.. What they all have in common is that they are like to have less than 20 or so ‘business transactions’ per month since the transactions themselves are higher value.
This is in stark contrast to the owner of a corner shop, or an eBay/Amazon seller. These types of activities are likely to involve many if not hundreds of small transactions and would likely require a full business account. See our guide on business bank accounts for more information.
The drawbacks of using a personal account
While using a personal account basic business transactions might be quick and easy, it does have a number of drawbacks.
- Lack of professionalism
- account not in business name
- unable to cash cheques made out to the business
- lack of separation – personal funds mixed with business funds
Basic business bank accounts with no credit checks
Using a personal bank account whilst, doable isn’t going to be ideal for most people. You are limited in the type of transactions you can carry out, and of course it’s not in the business name. Add to that the time and inconvenience of identifying and separating your personal income/expenditure to that of your business, and you can see why even sole traders might seek out an alternative.
This article was original written before the onset of digital banking. Now in 2022 if you need a guaranteed business account as soon as possible then digital alternatives in the form of Cashplus, Card One Money, or Tide could be worth a look. The former now has a full banking licence. Whilst Tide and Card One Money are e-payment institutions, Tide has a partnership with ClearBank allowing it offer most of the features of a traditional account including FSCS protection. It’s low cost and low barriers to entry make it a good sole trader account for the self employed and micro-businesses, whilst Cashplus might be a better option for Limited companies.
These business accounts don’t require a credit check, making them perfect for those with either bad, poor or no credit history. What’s more, you could have an account up and running in as little as 24 hours. Bear in mind that both services have annual or monthly cover charges, and some basic transactions will cost. The good news is that all of these can be offset against profits thus reducing your tax liability. Also see our article ‘do I really need a business account?‘ or compare the top business current accounts no credit check