Fancy free cash in time for Christmas?

Christmas is a joy for kids, but a pain for purses. Yet our Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis says if you’re quick, you can make up to £175 free cash in time for Christmas, and you can likely grab a better bank account at the same time.

What’s this about?

Banks are willing to bribe you (legally) to switch. And this is likely your last chance to pocket their money just in time for the big day. Four bank accounts currently pay you to switch.

Switching only takes seven working days, and with three banks, you can get the bonus within a month of that. That's about 40 days, meaning it's still possible to bag the cash before 25 December, though even if you don't quite make that date, you'll have it to ease the January squeeze - when the gap between paydays is long.

OK, show us the money? For the full rundown of all the options and eligibility criteria see Martin’s full ‘Top Bank account’ guide, but in brief…

- Free £175 + 2.75% regular savings. Switch to HSBC’s Advance account and you can get £175 free cash. It also lets you save up to £250 per month in its linked 2.75% fixed regular savings account. You need to pay in a relatively large £1,750 per month (equivalent to £25,900 salary), and have at least two direct debits/standing orders switched over.

- Free £100 M&S gift card without paying anything in, plus possible £80 gift card.Switch to M&S Bank and you get a £100 M&S gift card even if you don’t pay anything in, though you do need to switch minimum four direct debits. Plus if you can pay in £1,250/mth (equal to £17,000/yr salary), keep at least four direct debits active, and register for online banking and statements, you can earn an additional £80 gift card at the end of the year.

You can also save up to £250 a month in its 5% fixed regular savings – now the only 5% regular saver on the market. Its customer service rating is good too – at 68% great.

- Free £50 plus top service.Switch to First Direct and pay in £1,000 within 3 months and you’ll get £50 cash bonus. Though it’s the smallest cash amount, if you want a bank with top service 85% rated it great in my last poll. You'll also get a £250 0% overdraft, and can open a linked 2.75% regular saver.

What do you need to do to switch?

First there are a few things needed to qualify. You’ll need to:

- Pass a not so harsh credit check

- Use the banks' official switching services to get the free cash

- For some accounts pay in a minimum monthly pay-in to get the cash - don't worry, it's just to get you to pay your salary. And a tip: if you don’t meet the minimum pay in, you can always withdraw some cash and pay it in again the next day to make it up to the total.

Switching is very easy, in my last twitter poll on it, 76% of you said switching was hassle-free and easy, like Clare who tweeted “@MartinSLewis I switched bank accounts a week ago! I got my £125 today, was a quick and easy process” and Jen tweeted “@MartinSLewis Just switched bank accounts for first time don’t know why I was so scared. Thanks Martin Lewis”.

Yet if people are telling you their bank switching nightmares, ask when they did it. As for the past six years we’ve had the switching guarantee in place which has made things far easier. In seven working days your new bank moves all your money across, and any payments in and out (including direct debits and standing orders) moves from your old bank to the new one. You old account then closes. You also get added protection where payments made to your old bank are auto-forwarded for at least three years.

What if someone is in their overdraft? Can they switch and get the money too?Yes, if you’re overdrawn don’t think you can’t switch to another account; you can. But you may just not get the same overdraft limit as your current account.

If you're only just in your overdraft, use the free cash to clear it, but if you often go into the red, focus on cutting overdraft costs instead. The First Direct deal above gives many a £250 0% overdraft as well as the £50 - a useful buffer if you slip over (you pay interest at 15.9% EAR variable above £250).

Alternatively, Nationwide's FlexDirect gives a year's 0% overdraft but no free cash. Yet there's no set limit - it depends on a credit check. If you get it, use the year to clear the overdraft as after you're charged a massive 39.9% APR interest with no buffer after.