Money Saving Credit Card and ATM Tips

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I hate wasting money. Like…..really hate it. I don’t mind spending money on things I need or want but when I get charged just to use my own money, that’s when I get annoyed.

When traveling internationally, you can lose a lot of money to fees, ATM charges, and bad exchange rates.

FEES:

Most credit card companies (speaking to Americans here) charge Foreign Transaction Fees every time you use your card internationally. These fees range from around 2-3%. This might not seem like much, but when $10-$30 in charges per every $1000 in charges pop up on your credit card statement, it’s perturbing. Especially if you don’t have extra money to waste.

Click here for a list of credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees.

ATM CHARGES:

If the credit card transaction fees don’t get you, then the ATM fees normally do.  Pulling money out of an ATM in Europe, for instance, will cost you. You’ll get dinged with multiple charges and/or a % of the $ you pull out.  Unless you have  a credit union that allows fee free withdrawals at international ATM’s, or unless you have a bank like Charles Schwab that refunds ATM withdrawal fees.

Bank of American for instance, has an approx $5 fee  (often more, as you get charged two times) or a percentage of the transaction every time you pull cash out of a non B of A or non B of A affiliate ATM. If, like me, you travel for long periods at a time and travel between many different countries, this is a BITCH and can add up to a lot of lost/wasted money.

This upcoming year while I’m traveling, I will waste somewhere in the neighborhood of $300-$400 on ATM withdrawal fees or % charges (and that’s even with using my 1% fee credit card 70% of the time! Some things have to be paid for in cash) if I don’t switch banks or stick to countries that have partner ATM’s and plan my cash use carefully. Someone who has more money than I do (which is the majority of people traveling) will waste far more.

How do you get around paying ATM withdrawal fees?  Only pull money from ATM’s within your bank’s alliance.

How do you know what ATM’s you can use? Call your bank (can easily get a list when you call to let them know you are traveling internationally which you’ll have to do anyways) or look online.  With a Google search you can typically find the list of ATM’s your bank allows you to use free of charge in other countries.

Or, click here for a list of the ATM’s you can use if you are a Bank America customer like I am (though I will be changing to Charles Schwab now that I’m abroad long term!)

BAD EXCHANGE RATES:

  1. Don’t exchange cash money for cash money. You will lose money on bad exchange rates and fees.
  2. Don’t buy $ at airports
  3. Don’t let vendors or websites charge you in your own currency when given the option (they will charge you a conversion fee and then possibly also apply their own exchange rate which is not as good as your bank’s). Example: If you are asked ‘Would you like to be charged in dollars?’ when you are in a country that uses Euros or Kroner or Pesos just say ‘No’. Both businesses and machines will occasionally ask you this (especially in touristy places and airports/train stations).  When you do the math you’ll see it’s never a good deal. Just pay in the local currency.

EMERGENCY CASH:

Shit happens. If you find yourself in a situation while traveling where you need to get some emergency cash because your ATM card is lost/stolen or not working in that country there are a few options. None are cheap and you should be aware of all the fees that correspond to utilizing the different methods

Credit Cards: This is the easiest/fastest/cheapest way to get emergency cash while abroad.  Pull cash out of a machine (if you were smart enough to keep your ATM and credit cards separate so in case one was stolen you’d have access to the other).

BEWARE: You must have had a PIN set up for your credit card in order to use it to get cash out of an ATM that dispenses cash advances to Visa/Mastercard holders.  This might seem obvious to those outside the U.S but for most of us in the U.S we don’t use our credit cards for cash advances and we can use our credit cards for regular purchases every day without a PIN. A PIN is something, we as customers, have to request if we plan on using our credit cards at any point, to get cash.

The fees involved in using your credit card to withdraw cash, vary depending on the bank/company you have your card with, but there will normally be, at minimum, an international fee in the form of a % and an immediately accruing higher % APR. However, when using ATM’s the exchange rate is typically very good compared with other options.

I have both a Capital One Venture Visa Card and a British Airways Visa Card I’m using right now while traveling because they are my two cards that don’t charge international fees to use them while abroad. But, when I called both companies to find out exactly what the fees were associated with taking a cash advance, both had different %s and policies. Chase Bank (With whom I have my Brit Airways Visa) charge me a fee of 5% of the amount I pull in cash plus 22% APR that starts accruing immediately on the same day the cash is pulled and accrues daily.

Capital One, similarly charges a % fee and has an immediate higher and daily accruing APR attached to cash advances.  However, their % fee is smaller (3%) and, when I got sticky about the immediate accruing interest (because they start it accruing before it’s physically possible to pay the bill online) and said I wanted to overpay $ (basically pay them $ I don’t yet owe, to avoid the interest accruing once I pull the cash), the man at Capital One said they could waive the % fees for a small grace period, in the form of a credit to my statement, once I’m charged.

Wire Transfers:

This is the only way to get cash immediately, almost anywhere, when you don’t have a credit card available, using services like Money Gram or Western Union.  This method usually requires that someone else goes and pays cash inside one of these company’s locations and has it directly wired to you (you can do this online these days in many cases, but not with every recipient country so beware). Then, you go and pick it up at a location (you can look up lists of where these places are in whatever city you’re in) near you.

The fees: There is a flat fee for using these services and it varies depending on the amount of $ you’re pulling. For instance, through Money Gram it costs $10 to send $200.  It’s similar with Western Union. However, the ‘fee’ is not the only cost. You are also losing $ during the exchange of one currency for another. The exchange rates given for these transactions are among the worst available. So, if you normally would be able to get .91 Euros for $1 USD (current exchange rate as I write this post), you will be getting something more like .75-.80 Euro per $1USD.

So, if we do the math. Sending $200 in actuality costs $10 in fees plus about $20-$30 in lost money due to the poor exchange rate. A total of $30-$40.