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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Currency Conversion Fees: Credit Union Debit Card Solution

I wrote a few days ago about my uncharacteristically cavalier attitude toward the much-hated currency conversion fees (2-3%) levied by credit card companies. My attitude was born out of the suspicion that however much time I put into researching the options (like the Capitol One card), I would be spending a lot of time for at best a small return.

Of course, if you are talking about larger amounts of cash--as Duchesse and Shelley pointed out in their comments--what to me might be a mosquito-size annoyance would be a rat-size irritation.

I took a look at Frugal Son's bank statement. Just by chance. He is, as you might know, in France. In addition to a credit card linked to my credit card, he uses his own credit union account, which comes with s debit card.

Withdrawal: $46.95
Multi-Currency Conversion Fee: $0.46

Withdrawal: $436.91
Multi-Currency Conversion Fee: $4.32.

After a gasp of horror (OMG 10%!!!!), I realized that the fee was around 1%.

Debit cards seem to be the way to go, or perhaps specifically debit cards issued by credit unions. Of course, debit cards carry their own risks, especially if someone gets a hold of your PIN#.

I have found that it is best to have multiple sources of cash when abroad. This after our ATM card did not work--at all. We called the bank in the U.S. only to be told "Oh yeah, a lot of people are having problems."

Or when we went to Italy and discovered that--even in Florence--almost no business took credit cards.

ANy other tips for avoiding those nasty fees?


Funny about Money said...

Does anyone still use traveler's cheques? Our credit union used to issue them for free; so did AAA.

They're kind of a nuisance, but I don't recall ever being gouged. You could convert them at a bank, and some retailers and hotels would just accept them like dollars.

Duchesse said...

You can get traveler's cheques, but they are not accepted in stores as they once were and a foreign bank can charge a hefty fee for cashing yours. (They set the fee, not the issuer.) Credit cards are better because of the insurance against loss or breakage.

As for debit cards, can FSon use them universally there?

SLF said...

@Duchesse: No, in fact my US issued debit card is normally only usable in ATMs (and not all ATMs). In France, all the cards have switched over to "chip" cards (harder to copy and harder to hack) so our ancient magnetic strip slide cards are basically useless. Fortunately, I started up a French bank account--to receive my scholarship--so I have a French chip card that I use 90% of the time.

--Frugal Son