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Cheapskate Debit Card Hunt

I have spent hours online checking out options and reading through Rick Steves forums. I am trying to find either a local credit union (Seattle area), bank or online bank were I can get a debit card with zero foreign exchange fee and no ATM transaction fee. I currently bank through Wells Fargo, they charge 3% plus $5 per ATM withdrawal.

I have tried to research my local credit unions as a good option, but their online information about fees seems to be lacking. I would rather not have to call and visit each if possible. My best option right now seems to be a Schwab online account. I wondered if anyone had good/bad experiences with them. Any advice is appreciated.

Posted by
21313 posts

No experience with Schwab, but Capital One (with whom I have both credit and debit cards) worked fine for me last year.

Posted by
14 posts

I searched Capital One on Rick's and it looked like they may have started charging fees similar to big banks on their online bank account debit card use. I don't know if this is a fact, but I stopped looking in to them for a bank account after I saw this. I did get their credit card though.

Posted by
21859 posts

What is the problem with calling and asking? Then you have accurate information. The vast majority of credit union do have lower fees but many not always be completely free. For example, my credit union charges 1% with free withdraws a month. After that it is a $1 charge per withdraw. My month ends around the 17th of each month so generally don't a problem with more than six withdraws in a monthly cycle. Just call - use the telephone. I know that is becoming an old fashion way of doing business, but try it. It might work.

Posted by
285 posts

A Capital One 360 debit Mastercard does not charge foreign transaction fees, but you do need to let them know when you are traveling out of the country

Posted by
2739 posts

Here's CapitalOne 360's policy from their website: "Foreign Transaction. There are no fees for using your Card internationally. Please remember to notify us if you are travelling overseas." If there is an ATM fee at the source, you'll be charged usage fee.

I've used their credit and debit cards on all out of US trips and don't ever remember a fee from them. Make sure when you are in Europe that you don't let a merchant have you pay in $US through dynamic conversion. You'll wind paying more than if you paid in €, £, francs, guilders or whatever.

Posted by
3493 posts

There are two different Capital One banks. The one you want to look at is Capital One 360 (formerly ING Direct).

There are NO FEES with Capital One 360. None. Zero. Nada. No fees for anything related to a standard checking account with debit card. It says so right on the front page of their website -- multiple times. Also no minimum balances required to open or maintain your account. Everything can be done online without ever stepping into a branch. They provide funds transfer to move money in or out of your accounts with them also with no fees. And they even pay interest on the money you keep in your checking account that is around 10 times the rate most larger banks pay.

I have used them every time I have gone to Europe with no issues and have been charged exactly zero fees for getting cash out of ATMs. And the exchange rate they use matches what you see when you Google the rate.

I also have their credit card and have used that multiple time in Europe without any fees being charged. But that is the OTHER Capital One.

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks so much! I will look into Capital One 360, sounds like my best option. I am not adverse to calling anyone(not trying to be lazy or anything), but I have literally barely been sleeping, pulled out most of my hair and chewed my poor nails off planning my first trip to Europe. I love that I have access to so many intelligent and well travelled brains on this site. After hours of research I think asking for others advice makes perfect sense. At least then I can nail down the few options that seem best and go from there. Thanks everyone!! Happy travels :)

Posted by
13215 posts

If that one doesn't work out as expected, try BECU. I just checked my statement from our last trip,to Italy ( last October) and the foreign transaction fees were less than 1%. They charged $1.37 for ATM withdrawal of $192 (I think that was €140). There were no ATM-use charges at all.

You will have to open a bank account at whatever institution you choose in order to get a debit card. So think about the total package of benefits offered with the account, not just the FTE's.

Posted by
6021 posts

I opened a Schwab account and used the card in Spain earlier this year with no issues. Setting up the account does take some time, you are actually opening an investment account with the Checking account being a benefit. You have no obligation to fund the brokerage account, and only need to deposit in the checking account what you need available for your purposes. You fill out an online application, send it in, in a couple of weeks you get the account, then over a weeks time you can move funds into it. I set up electronic transfer as well, so I can move money from my credit union checking account to the Schwab account.

When using, they charge no fees, domestic or foreign. There are network transaction fees that hit any international transaction that total about 1%, but due to normal fluctuation in exchange rates, these are almost not detectable. The nice thing about the Schwab card over my credit union is that there is no daily limit.

Posted by
18380 posts

If you get an entirely "feeless" card, the bank is probably absorbing the fees as a service. US banks don't physically pay the European bank or merchant. This is handled by something called the "Network" (Visa, MasterCard, Plus, Cirrus, et al) in Europe, who pay the bank or merchant in Europe and charge your bank in the US. The standard fee they charge your bank is 1%, approximately ½% for handling the transaction and ½% for currency exchange. Large US bank that deal in foreign currency pay the ½% transaction fee but pay the network in euro (or pound) and charge you 3% (plus $5, which is about another 1%). Smaller local banks and credit union pay the Network 1%. So if you don't pay the 1%, your bank is absorbing it as a customer service.

If you contract with a credit card company that offers 0%, be sure to read the small print. I remember reading about a company, I think it was Cap. One, that included in the mouse print the right to purchase all or your debt from other companies and put it on your card at their interest rates.

Posted by
248 posts

I'm a member of a very large, highly advertised CU in Washington state whose name is very familiar to anyone in the Seattle area. On our first foreign trips using ATMs (Ireland, Canada) I saw 1% foreign transactions fees for every use - even though I withdrew money from "in network" CUs in Canada. That did it, I got an account and debit card at Schwab. Used it all over Italy, a variety of banks. No fees of any kind. On our last US but out-of-state trip, I used the CU debit card and still got hit for local bank fees. No more. I plan to use the Schwab card for every out-of-state trip from now on.

Posted by
2 posts

I have a Schwab checking account with a debit card. It was easy to set up and I have used it in US and in Europe. No fees. I have it set up for transfers from my main checking account. My brother told me about it and he has used his in Asia and Central America. No fees. Very easy to use.

Posted by
2491 posts

We have been finding that the Network surcharge on our CapOne and Schwab ATM withdrawals has been running from .1 to .5 of 1% of the published daily exchange rates. On our CapOne Mastercard charges have been posting converted to the daily exchange rate, no excess. Which means that if we are dealing with places that take cards without a problem for them (i.e.., card usage similar to what we do at home), that it is more beneficial to us to use the card rather than cash as we get 1.25% cashback, and no extra cost.

Posted by
6021 posts

I think some are confusing the ~1% network charges with fees charged by the card. All ATM and Credit Cards will incur the ~1% charges when used internationally (even in Canada and Mexico for US residents). These are charged by the financial networks and since all cards, credit unions, banks, and other card issuers use these networks, someone pays that fee. I cannot recall the exact amounts of the fees, I could dig it up, but it is actually two separate fees, a transaction fee for handling the transaction and a currency conversion fee (not to be confused with the exchange rate). The transaction fee is actually a fixed fee, the Currency conversion a % of the transaction. They are very small, totalling no more than 1% on a typical transaction of a couple hundred dollars, less if you take out a larger amount.

My credit union at one time broke these fees out on my statement, now they just give a total cost (this fee plus the Exchange rate) for the transaction...doesn't mean they no longer charge me the fee, just that they do not itemize it. The fee is small enough that when mixed in with the exchange rate and given that the exchange rate varies over the day and you do not know what rate you were charged, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what the breakdown is.

Point being, if a card or bank charges "no fees", they except this fee, you still pay it whether you know it or not, they mean that they charge no fees of their own for transactions. Schwab, my Credit Union, many other Credit Unions, small banks, some credit cards, and others fall into this category. Banks that hit you with a 3% Foreign Transaction fee Plus a $5 ATM fee do not (For 8% on $100, you might consider a cash advance on a credit card!)

Posted by
2491 posts

FWIW, I am not "confusing" charges on my ATM withdrawals on our ATM cards.

There are no surcharges on cash taken/withdrawn from ATMs with our Schwab or CapOne ATM cards. When I say there is a charge of .1 to .5 of 1%, what I mean is that the amount of USD debited from our account is at that minimal amount of a premium over the conversion of the cash calculated at the interbank exchange rate for the day, the friction that the network we used is taking for use of the ATM service. And it's always been well under a one percent premium going back to 2010 when we first opened a CapOne account. The Schwab card has always had less friction. This has also held the same when using the Schwab card in its debit function for tickets.

NO other fees have ever been taken by these two banks. I don't see any way to post the screen shots of our statements to show this. This has held for 13 countries and 8 different currencies.

Posted by
6021 posts

I am not disagreeing with you. I too have a Schwab card, and on withdrawal, there are no fees listed on the transaction, but if I do the math, the cost of the transaction will be slightly more than the Interbank Exchange rate, if the exchange rates were not that volatile that day, and this is the Network Fees of less than 1%. My comment about confusing with fees is that some posters will say that their Credit Union charges them ~1% because they see the fees delineated on their statement...but if they use another card...like Schwab, they have "No Fees", so Scwab is a better deal. My first point is that in both cases you are paying the fee, just in one case they list it. My Second point is that since it affects all cards and banks, and is a very small amount, it is not worth considering in which card to use or select. Be concerned about the excessive fees charged by some cards well above and beyond.

Posted by
2491 posts

Here is the difference as I see it, straight from our records. I'll use CapOne, since we have both an ATM card for their moneymarket account, and also a separate Mastercard account from them.

Neither one ever lists a fee. Our Mastercard purchases report as a direct conversion (as such since rates vary during the day) to USD based in that day's published rate. Our cash withdrawals always cost that .1-.5% over the day's rate, which we view as the cost of getting cash through the network. But not the 1% (or higher) fee that many banks charge.

(I'll also note that, especially as we come from the homeland of Comcast and Wells Fargo, the customer service of both CapOne and Schwab has always been exemplary and wonderful to deal with!)

Posted by
5530 posts

I have the Charles Schwab online account and my experiences have only been good. No foreign transaction fees, no ATM fees, and good customer service when I have had a question. I used my card in Europe last summer without any difficulties or charges. I like having the separate account and put my monthly "travel savings" directly into this account. This way I really keep the money just for traveling.

Posted by
18380 posts

"my credit union charges 1% with free withdraws a month. "

Frank, "free" or "three"? Or both, ie, three free withdrawals a month?

I had a Wells Fargo PMA account, and every time I came back, I checked what I was debited vs what the Interbank rate (Oanda) was for that date, and they were within pennies (the difference probably due to the timing of the transaction) of each other. So Wells Fargo is eating the Network charge. They only do this for 2 ATM withdrawals per calendar month, but I did my trip over two calendar months and increased my max to $1000, and I was fine.

Posted by
6879 posts

This is an excellent resource for comparison shopping:
http://www.bankrate.com/

I have a credit union checking account linked to a debit/ ATM card that charges 1% of total amount for each withdrawal. No other separate fees. For credit cards, I use Capital One with no foreign exchange fees (I pay off balance each month).

I find it very surprising that information on credit union fees "seems to be lacking". Every credit union is very transparent about fees on their websites - they want you to join so they have no reason to hide fees. Remember that credit unions are non-for-profits so they have no incentive to rip you off, unlike banks. The only downside of credit unions is you can't call them 24/7 and expect to reach a person. On the other hand, I know my credit union rep by name when I do call (which I can't say about Citi or Capital One's overseas call center folks).

Posted by
2526 posts

The Schwab VISA branded debit card is great. There are no extra fees charged by Schwab. To see the current cost to withdraw money use the online VISA exchange rate calculator. Enter what currency your card is issued and then enter the currency your transaction is involving. Enter 0% in the bank fee box. Checking moments ago, the US dollars to euro rate was $1.133287. Easy.