Pick a card, any card... @monzo a winner

I have blogged a few times on issues with banks, and indeed, only yesterday, had the fun with Barclays wanting me to text a short code after they authorised a card payment.

So I thought it time to give a bit of a review of a couple of cards for personal use, Monzo and Starling, and how my views have changed slightly.

For my non techie friends and relatives - download the Monzo app on your smart phone and follow the instructions to get one now... Just do it!


I prefer Monzo now, they are a proper bank now, and less hassle. I am recommending Monzo to my friends.

Both Monzo and Starling accounts have a number of key features:-
  • Instant set up using a smart phone - you need photo of ID and short video clip and your details, and sorted.
  • Both have "account switch" systems to move DDs and payments from another bank, but you don't need to close your existing bank account - nothing stops you having more than one bank!
  • The account does all the usual things like direct debits, faster payments, and so on. You can have you salary paid in to them. They are proper bank accounts.
  • Both offer overdrafts.
  • Both do Apple pay.
  • Both do live updates of spending on the phone app.
  • Both allow third parties to send money using a debit card! i.e. charge someone's debit card to put money in to your account. That is cool, you can send someone a link to pay you money!
  • Both allow API integration with your own systems so you can see transaction details live on your own computer system if you are geeky enough to want that. It is cool for geeks, honest.
  • Both allow you to disable and re-enable the card as you wish.
  • Both allow separate spending pots / savings pots to partition off your money.
There is not a lot to decide between them, but I have listed some of the key differences I have noted below and why I prefer Monzo now.

I feel they are especially good for anyone living on a budget and wanting to carefully manage their money.


I got a Monzo card when it was in beta (my son got one in alpha), and was a pre-payment Mastercard with quite a nice phone app. Back then there was a waiting list even. I used in UK and US and worked well.

It has moved on massively since then. It is a proper bank, and they have neat features like warning you of a Direct Debit the day before, and you have to love the "ka-ching" sound when using the card. They now have Apple pay as well.

Some key advantages to Monzo:-
  • The app clearly shows the limits on usage, e.g. daily card usage amounts and so on.
  • They have a warning of DD payments the day before.
  • They show declined card transactions and the reason why declined, very useful if there is some fraud, or you simply mistyped the expiry date!
  • The API (and app) has way more detail including sender bank sort code and account number and showing the proper reference on payments and Direct Debits.
  • The "ka-ching" sound effect when you spend money
  • Really simple means to send payments between Monzo card holders you know, or near you, and the reference allows lots of text and even emojis, and reaction emojis as well making easy to acknowledge a payment with a smiley face.
  • That really bright orange!


I got a Starling card later than Monzo, and one of the key things that impressed me was the instant set up. At the time Monzo had a waiting list which I am assuming they do not now. Also, not only did I have a working bank account in minutes, with sort code and account number, it was on Apple pay instantly even before I has the card. Next day it popped up offering an overdraft (though I don't use one). The day after the card arrived and it was in very cool packaging!

Whilst Apple pay is a bit gimmicky, I do like it, and use it, so I started using Starling for my day to day spending instead of Monzo. I also asked them about spending limits on the card as the app does not show it and they said there was no limit. With that I decide Starling was the card for me and pretty much stopped using Monzo at all. Indeed, a card that would just work for any amount I had on it, that was going to be my main bank account now. Finally a card that would do what I wonder, or so I thought.

I ran in to a few snags and basically they were not interested in fixing at all. One was that there were no details of sender sort code and account on payments, and another is the Direct Debits do not show the actual payment reference so you cannot relate to a specific DD notice for an individual invoice. Whilst both are minor issues, my concern was their reluctance to do anything or consider either an issue.

Then, recently, I found that they misled me over the spending limit on the card and actually it is £10,000. They also said that fast payments were £10,000 in 24 hours too, so having moved money to Starling to pay something more than £10,000 (only option was a single transaction for full amount as was on a web site) I could not move all the money back to a different account. It then turns out that this was also mis-information and that the £10,000 fast payment limit is per transaction! To this day I don't know if the £10,000 card limit is per transaction or per day...

To my surprise, even days after alerting them to these issues and misinformation a friend contacted me to ask about Starling limits as they too had multiple contradictory statements from Starling about limits, and they wanted to buy a £16,000 car but did not want embarrassment by having the card declined. They too were considering new banks like Starling because of the hassle of traditional banks and their over zealous and often misdirected "fraud protection" systems, and the appalling way you are treated once they are triggered. So it seems Starling have not learned. This is a real shame. Mistakes are one thing, not learning is another.

Now Monzo have Apple pay, I have basically stopped using Starling. Monzo have limits but they say what they are in the app, no ambiguity!

Their only possible saving grace is that Starling do business accounts now (in limited cases), and if that has a sane API (with sender sort code and account as well as full reference) that may be useful.

To be fair, some other features...
  • Pay interest on credit balances, which is nice.
  • Do some stuff with € it seems.
  • It seems foreign cash withdrawals may be better.


Clearly neither Monzo nor Starling will help with any larger transactions. Monzo is great for day to day spending, but if and when I want to spend more, I cannot trust them to work because of usage limits. Also, I am wary of Barclays or Lloyds or other banks because of the hassle and attitude the second you trip their fraud systems. To be honest the attitude is perhaps the worst part.

So, it seems, the best way forward is an Amex card. They have a reputation for not dicking people about. I hope it is well founded. Early days (1st month) but we will see. So far only hassle is pizza hut don't seem to take Amex. Otherwise no problems at all. I'll blog more on this if/when I really put them to the test but that may be some time. It is almost sad that I am deliberately putting everything I do through Amex to make sure they build up my credit rather than using Monzo.

The good news is they do have an app and it has real time alerts. It is a bit odd, in fact, as the alerts flag up in the Apple Wallet in real time, and the Amex app lags behind by minutes. But the end result is I can see spending in real time just the same Monzo or Starling, which is nice. It also means any fraud can be sorted really quickly.

I hope that has been useful - I appreciate an Amex card is not for everyone - I have a wide range of readers and friends and I know some have used Amex Platinum for years (and have more money than sense, some of them), but some have almost no income and struggle, so it is a tad hard making a blog post that works for that range of people - maybe I have succeeded this time. I know that, thinking back to when I was really broke, a Monzo card would have been perfect.


  1. Monzo allow you to ask for temporary limit increases for one-off purchases, with a bit of notice. I haven't tried this yet, but I'm going to test it in the next few weeks when I buy a house...

    1. Oh, do post details, if that is the case they are streets ahead of Starling!

    2. https://monzo.com/blog/2018/05/22/making-monzo-better/

      "If you need to withdraw large amounts of cash or send a large bank transfer, just drop us a message through in-app chat. Please do this in advance of your transaction to give us time to review your account!"

    3. Ok that is cool, and well done Monzo

    4. Monzo have had a process for ages. Starling also have had a process for large FPS for months now (at least), but at the moment they send the money on your behalf (and will produce a proof-of-funds letter if required) rather than raising your limit.

    5. Ok, it's done.

      In the end I had to ask Monzo to allow me to make a large Faster Payment on short notice: the sellers of the house I'm buying suddenly got things sorted out and proposed a completion date in the near future, so I had to get a move on!

      I contacted Monzo through in-app chat on Tuesday, saying I wanted to pay $large_amount on Wednesday by Faster Payment for a deposit on a house purchase. I was initially disappointed by their response, which was a cut-and-paste job asking for all the details I'd just given them, but after a short while someone else took over the chat from there and was very helpful.

      There was also an issue that the sort code of the payee had changed unexpectedly, which Monzo were understandably worried about because there's a possible scam there! At the end of Tuesday they left it as "we've recorded that you want to do the transfer on Wednesday, but please contact your solicitors to confirm the destination sort code as early on Wednesday as possible". All very responsible.

      It turns out the destination sort code had indeed changed due to Barclays renumbering some of their branches. There was a bit of back-and-forward in in-app chat to confirm this, Monzo phoned me up to confirm by voice, and finally they raised my outbound Faster Payments limit by $large_amount+500 for the next 24 hours so I could make the payment in the app.

      Apart from the initial cut-and-paste-and-no-reading-comprehension response on in-app chat, I'm very happy with the way the payment was handled.

      Next week: going to HSBC to send the balance in-person by CHAPS!

  2. Monzo still have a waiting list, though enough people one might know will have a golden ticket to donate to you to bypass it that it's fairly moot. (When I requested an account I was number 52,200ish in the waiting list, but a friend came through with a "golden ticket" referall code that bypassed the whole list for me)

    1. Wow, did not know that, and surprising to be honest.

    2. I have a golden ticket if anyone needs one...

    3. https://monzo.com/blog/2018/05/24/no-more-monzo-waiting-list/

    4. (not the same anonymous) Yes, that just appeared today - I was surprised when I signed up with them this morning and they said they're sending a card straight away!

  3. I have monzo and it’s been great but for travel the Revolut card has been better. It has a lot of the monzo features like card freezing and push notifications but you can pre buy currency when it’s at a good rate (interbank rate with no fees) and spend later when it’s dropped. They will even alert you at the threshold you want to buy or sell out. It’s also a Visa card so accepted in more places. Only downside is the lack of Apple Pay but to be fair monzo only added that last week.

    1. I have revolut, although I mostly use it for SEPA payments to and from Coinbase to cash out bitcoin mining profits etc.

      I do have a card (they were free recently) and I do like the ability to create 'virtual cards' for online spending.

  4. I was about 19,000 in the beta period whan it was moving at just hundreds a day but got chatting to one of their networks team at a dc4420 event about the issues they were having with Office365 rejecting their emails and two days later I was bumped to the top. :-)

  5. My ideal card would have no foreign loading, no foreign use fee, no monthly fee, and the bank would happily let you have a non-contactless version. Even better would be a contactless card where I could enable the contactless facility only on the rare occasions when I want to use it, e.g. rail travel to Gatwick (splitting at East Croydon, of course !).

    I'd also prefer online baking via a website, not an app that spies on me, tracks my location and slurps my data.

    The best I have found is my Tandem credit card (which also gives 0.5% cashback, even abroad), but AFAIK they don't do web banking and they're as arrogant as traditional banks because the only way to disable contactless is to punch a hole in the card.

    How many of these desiderata do Monzo and Starling meet?

    1. I thought all banks had to offer non-contactless cards on request. Can't remember where I saw that so could be totally wrong...

    2. Some will grudgingly issue one if you really persist, but Barclaycard, Citi, Tesco Bank (credit), Tandem, Santander Select (and no doubt many other banksters) all insist it's contactless or get lost. The FCA just say 'Tough, find another bank if you don't like it'.

    3. Santander changed my debit card to non contactless with no problem at all, except I had to physically go into a branch to do it they wouldn't accept the request online or by phone. I don't have a santander credit card.

      I also had no trouble getting my Halifax Clarity and Nationwide Select credit cards changed to non contacless, did both over the phone. Both cards are good abroad too, especially Clarity.

    4. Santander were quite happy to change credit cards to non-contactless after a telephone call. Sounds as though they may be a little inconsistent in how they deal with such requests.

    5. With the better acceptance of mobile based contactless payments, I hope that contactless on cards will eventually be less needed.

      Hopefully some day a card company will put different card numbers on the different types of chip on the payment card, so that you can tell if the fraud came from the contactless, the chip, magnetic strip, or the card front.

  6. Another bonus with the Amex Plat - you'll earn Membership Reward points. You can turn those into BA Avios, Virgin Atlantic miles, a whole bunch of hotel chains and a few other bits like Eurostar. Coupled with the hotel status you get with the card, you can have some very nice nearly-free weekend breaks with the points earned on the card. Send some points to BA to book the flight, some to Starwood or Melia or Radisson for the hotel, then use the priority pass for the airport lounges!

  7. I use my AMEX for almost everything, with Visa Debit as a backup...

    I do have a Starling card, I've been debating for a while now how to use it. I don't really want to cut ties with the high street bank, as they offer loans, having a history and contact there helps (especially being self employed, without it computer says no allot).

    However I will probably use Starling whilst I'm abroad for foreign transactions.

    Regarding Pizza hut, do they accept PayPal? PayPal accepts American Express :D. Also if you add AMEX to Apple Pay, don't forget if the shop doesn't accept AMEX, it still won't work with Apple Pay.

    Most embarrassing moment trying to use AMEX was in a branch of KFC. They didn't know if they accepted the card or not, so we tried and it crashed their till! Instead of just using by Visa card, they rebooted the till and tried two further times!

    Trust me, people DO NOT like someone coming between them and their greasy chicken! After all that the crashing of the till must of somehow bypassed the food queue, as my food came out before the people who had been waiting quite some time (again weren't very happy and quite vocal, lol)!

  8. Pizza Hut certainly accepts Amex in the restaurant (at least, the Pizza Huts I've been to). Not sure about takeaway but I can't see why they wouldn't.

  9. I got myself a starling account mostly due to the complete and utter inability of both Nationwide and HSBC to deal with me being in south america for a few weeks without expecting me to make some expensive phonecalls to them - despite pre-notification. (And sometimes multiple calls "Oh yes, i can see they unblocked your card, but they didn't unblock verified by Visa which triggered when you used an unusual device)

    Anyway, so far very happy. Use it mostly for contactless payments, but also very handy when I manage to trip the nationwide fraud team, which seems to happen more often than it should, even if I'm just in the UK ordering things from my usual suppliers.
    It's also been handy when I need >300 out a cash machine in one go.

  10. I recently used Amex customer service for the first time and wasn't impressed. No email, just phone or online chat, and the people replying to online chat don't know what they're talking about. Then when I made a complaint they called me up and wanted me to give them security details. And their complaint response was useless and wrong (they claimed PSD2 didn't apply to them before 17th May).

  11. Right. I do anything up to £12,000 a month on AmEx Platinum and AmEx British Airways Premium cards. And both cards in good standing. Let's see if I get accepted for Monzo. I bet not. In fact, but sure why I want it but RevK's opinion is worth listening to. My bankers can handle a £60,000 debit card payment if I give them a shout first. Let's try out this firm.

  12. So, it seems I have been accepted for Monzo via their mobile sign-up app on Android. The tool seemed to have real trouble focusing on my photocard UK driving licence. But it appears they have accepted me. But AmEx throw a tantrum each time I do £10k or £12k in a month despite having am impeccable payment history. And I owe a lot in secured loans on 5 properties and a lot in unsecured loans. And all accounts are paid according to the terms agreed. I am still not sure why I want a Monzo card but Adrian does not talk shit so I will give it a shot. I think the attraction is being able to send someone a clickable link to pay me personally via debit card. Can they do that too for business/corporate Monzo accounts? Is it rock-solid reliable? Could I quote the card payment URL on £25k invoices with confidence? What is the discount rate? Visa/Mastercard only?

  13. Texting the shortcode back is fine, UNLESS you have premium SMS's disabled on your mobile account, so you CAN't actually do it! (Been there, done that, much hassle to get resolved)


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