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College Students and Recent Grads, Eliminating Fees, Life Events

When to Avoid a Company 401k

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Gone are the days of workers depending upon pensions when they retire. Today, instead of offering defined benefit pensions guaranteeing an employee a monthly payment for the rest of his or her life, employers are moving to more employee-managed retirement savings plans.

Today, more employers offer a 401k plan – if they have an employer-based plan at all. With a 401k, employees make a defined contribution from their income each year. With a pension plan, employees knew exactly how much income they could depend on each month during retirement. Now, it is up to the employees to determine how much they need to save in order to reach their retirement savings goals.

A 401k allows employees to make defined contributions, pre-tax (or post-tax), towards retirement. If you contribute to a traditional 401k, contributions are automatically deducted from your paychecks each pay period, pre-tax. As a result, you don’t pay taxes until money is withdrawn from the account and you cannot withdraw money before 58 ½ without penalties. Some employees offer the option to contribute post-tax in a Roth IRA, so money withdrawn in retirement will not be taxed.

With this change toward employee-directed retirement, rather than retirement guaranteed by the employer, it is up to you to make the best decisions regarding your retirement savings. This could mean it’s best to avoid a company 401k.

Take a look at these situations in which you should not pay into your employer’s 401K, and see if any of them apply to you.

No Employer Match

Many employers provide a match to their employees’ 401k contributions. Employer matches vary greatly by employer, but a common example of this is $0.50 per $1.00, up to 6% of employees’ pay.

Let’s say you earn 40,000 per year at your current job, and your employer provides a $0.50 per $1.00 match, up to 6% of your pay. If you were to contribute the full 6% of your pay annually, you would contribute a total of $2,400 to your 401K over the course of a year. Your employer would then contribute $0.50 for every dollar you contributed, for a total of $1,200 for the year.

In total, over the course of the year your 401K would contain $3,600, and you only would have contributed $2,400 of the balance.

But if your employer does not provide a match, it may be time to reconsider contributing to its 401K plan. Never walk away from an employer match, as it is basically free money, but if your employer does not provide a contribution match, it may be time to consider other options like saving for retirement in a traditional or Roth IRA.

You Have Reached The Contribution Limit

Effective January 1, 2015, the 401k contribution limits are $18,000 if you are age 49 and under. If you are 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $6,000 above and beyond the $18,000 regular contribution, for a total of $24,000. Of course, you are free to contribute less to a 401K, but saving as much as possible for retirement is always best.

Once you have reached the contribution limit on your 401k, you cannot make any more contributions pre-tax, and it is time to consider alternative investments.

One good alternative is a Traditional IRA. Contributions are made to a traditional IRA after tax, meaning that you pay taxes, and then make contributions out of your paycheck. For 2015, individuals can contribute up to $5,500 per year to a traditional IRA if they are 49 and under. You can contribute up to $6,500 per year if you are 50 or older.

Another solution for aggressive savers is a taxable account such as stock index funds or tax-free municipal bonds. When using taxable accounts such as these, you can expect to pay 15% on long-term gains and qualified dividends. Additionally, contributions to these plans are made after-tax. However, the benefits of using accounts such as these include being able to withdraw from them for things such as children’s college expenses before age 59 ½ without additional penalties and fees.

You Qualify For a Roth IRA

If you employer does not offer a 401k match – or a 401k plan at all – and you meet income thresholds, then a Roth IRA may be an excellent option for your retirement savings.

A Roth IRA allows individuals whose modified adjusted gross income, which you can calculate at the IRS website, is less than $135,000, or married couples whose income does not exceed $195,000 to contribute to their retirement.

A Roth IRA is different from other accounts, though, because of the way taxes are handled. Contributions are made after tax. However, once the initial contribution is made, you enjoy tax-free growth as long as you follow the rules:

  • 49 and under can contribute a maximum of $5,500
  • 50 and over can contribute up to $6,500
  • You can withdraw your contributions (not growth) at any time without penalty

How much can a Roth IRA save in taxes? If you contribute $5,500 per year to a Roth IRA for 40 years (and increase your contributions to $6,500 per year once your age allows), and your marginal rate is 15%, this is what your account’s growth could look like over the course of 40 years:

401k_1

In this scenario, you would have only paid in $230,000 during the entire 40 years you worked. You would have paid $34,500 in taxes from your paychecks.

However, your relatively small investment could grow to $1,189,636 – and you will not have to pay taxes on any of that balance when you withdraw it. If your marginal tax rate stayed at 15% when withdrawing money from your Roth IRA, you could save more than $143,000 in taxes alone.

See how much money you can save with a Roth IRA, and how much money it can save you in taxes here, with Bankrate’s Roth IRA calculator.

High Fees

If your employer offers a 401k without a match, a good way to gauge whether it is a good investment vehicle for your retirement savings is to take a look at the fees. Many times both employees and employers are unaware of just how much fees are costing them. After all, 3% seems like such a small number, doesn’t it?

3% may feel like a very small amount to pay in fees, but this example will show you just how much a small percentage can affect your retirement savings.

401k_2

In this example, the investor is a 29 year old, contributing $18,000 per year to her company’s 401k, and her retirement age will be 65. The current balance of their 401K is $100,000, and fees are 3%.

Just by switching to a plan that cuts fees in half, 1.5%, she could save $801,819.03. Instead of having $1.8 million upon retirement, she could have more than $2.6 million – making for a much better retirement.

You can check out a fee calculator here and find out just how much your fees are costing you!

Even if your 401k has high fees, be sure to consider the employer match. Many times the match will more than cover the fees, making the 401k a good investment vehicle in spite of the high fees.

If You Need Flexibility

401k’s, while they offer tax advantages, and often free money through the form of an employer match, do not offer any sort of flexibility. Contributions are automatically deducted pre-tax from an employee’s paycheck in pre-set amounts, and cannot be withdrawn without serious penalties until age 59 ½.

For many families, saving and investing money is not just about retirement. It is about college, medical expenses, large purchase, and even vacations. Always contribute to your 401k up to the maximum amount that your employer will match, but if no match is available and you need flexibility for other savings priorities, check out some of these options:

A 529 Plan: An education savings plan operated through your state or an educational institution to help families set aside income for education costs. Although contributions are not deductible on your federal income tax return, the investment grows tax-deferred, and distributions used to pay the beneficiary’s college costs come out tax-free. Some states offer tax breaks for 529 contributions, you can find yours here. In addition, there are very few income and contribution limitations, making the 529 plan a great, flexible way to save for college.

A Health Savings Account: An HSA offers individuals and families the opportunity to save money exclusively for medical expenses, and contributions are 100% tax deductible from gross income. For 2015, individuals can contribute up to $3,350, and families are allowed to contribute up to $6,650. HSA accounts holders age 55 and older can contribute an extra $1,000. If using savings for medical expenses if a priority, talk to your employer about an HSA. Not all insurance plans are eligible.

Taxable Investment Accounts: When saving for large purchases or vacations, more flexible accounts are better. As explained above, index funds, mutual funds, or even traditional savings accounts leave the account holder with more of a tax burden, but far greater flexibility for withdrawals. These accounts do not need to be opened through your employer, but can be opened and managed on your own, or with the help of a financial planner.

If your employer offers a contribution match, they are essentially offering you free money, so go ahead a take advantage of the 401k, regardless of high fees or a low income. However, if your employer offers no match, high fees, or you have reached the yearly contribution limit, then it is a good idea to avoid that 401k plan and look into other retirement savings options.

At the end of the day, saving for retirement or other goals is all about you. How much flexibility you need, how much you need to save, and your tax situation. Be sure to weigh all of your options to guarantee that you are making the best decision for you and your family.

Gretchen Lindow
Gretchen Lindow |

Gretchen Lindow is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Gretchen at gretchen@magnifymoney.com

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Regions Bank Fined $7.5 Million For Overdraft Abuse

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) fined Regions Bank $7.5 million for unlawful overdraft practices. In addition to the fine, Regions Bank has refunded approximately $49 million of fees to customers. Regions Bank is based in Alabama and has more than $119 billion in assets, making it one of the largest banks in the country.

Regions Bank was fined because it failed to receive the necessary opt-in from consumers, delayed fixing the problem for a year and mis-represented certain fees to its consumers. The CFPB has been looking closely at the overdraft practices of banks. Director Cordray has made it clear that he is not a fan of the way banks treat overdrafts, and bigger reforms are expected later this year. In the interim, we can expect more fines of banks that are violating existing rules and guidelines.

Regions Bank earned $218 million during the first three months of 2015. The CFPB fine does not represent a significant portion of the bank’s earnings.

Abusive Overdraft Practices

Overdrafts in the United States are incredibly expensive for consumers, and unimaginably lucrative for banks. During 2014, banks generated over $30 billion of overdraft fees. When you look at how banks charge overdraft fees, you can see how easy it is for banks to generate so much revenue.

If you make a transaction in your checking account without having sufficient funds in your account to cover the transaction, you are at risk of being charged an overdraft fee. Imagine you have $100 in your bank account, and you try to write a check for $120. The bank has two choices: it can approve the transaction, or decline the transaction. If the bank declines the transaction, it will charge a non-sufficient funds (“NSF”) fee. The average NSF fee is $35. If the bank approves the transaction, it will allow the account balance to go negative. In effect, the bank gives you a loan. Banks charge, on average, $35 for an approved overdraft. So, you will pay $35 if you are approved, and $35 if you are declined.

Even worse, most banks have an extended overdraft fee. For example, Bank of America will charge an additional $35 if you do not bring your balance positive within 5 business days. Some banks even have a per day charge.

Some banks offer “overdraft protection.” That means you can link your checking account to a savings account or credit card. If you spend money that is not available in your checking account, the bank will sweep the money from the linked savings or checking account. However, most banks will charge a transfer fee, which averages $10. Given that most savings accounts only pay 0.01%, you would need to have $100,000 in your savings account in order to earn $10 in one year.

Even worse, if you link your credit card for overdraft protection, the sweep will be treated as a cash advance on your credit card. In most cases, that means you would be subject to an additional cash advance fee and interest would stat accumulating immediately at high double-digit rates.

As if the overdraft process wasn’t complicated enough, many banks reorder transactions to increase the overdraft fees. According to Pew, nearly 50% of banks engage in high-to-low transaction processing. Imagine you have a balance of $100. You make a purchase at 9AM for $10 (your new balance is $90). At 10AM you make another purchase for $10 (and your new balance is now $80). And then at 1PM you make a purchase for $100. The last transaction would cause you to go overdraft, resulting in a $35 charge.

50% of banks would reorder the charges, from highest to lowest. In this example, they would process the $100 transaction first, reducing your balance to $0. The other two charges would each cause the account to go overdraft. As a result, your fee would be $70 instead of $35. And that is all perfectly legal.

Consumer Protection

You do have certain rights. You can opt out of overdraft protection for ATM and debit card transactions. That means that if you use your debit card to make a purchase, and there is not sufficient money in the account, the transaction would be declined and you would not have to pay an overdraft or NSF fee.

However, you cannot protect yourself against checks and other electronic (bill pay) or recurring transactions.

Are There Cheaper Options?

Overdrafts can be incredibly expensive. The best way to avoid high cost overdraft protection fees is to consider an internet-only, branch-free bank. Many of the new start-up banks charge no overdraft fees and offer free overdraft protection from linked savings accounts. You can see some of these new providers here.

If you do not want to switch banks, you should consider opting out of overdraft protection, which will protect you from high fees on debit and ATM charges. You should consider linking your savings account or credit card, because the charges would still be less than standard overdraft fees. Finally, you should consider taking advantage of balance alerts to ensure that you are on top of your balance.

However, many people go overdraft because they have a short-term borrowing need. You should consider opening a low interest rate line of credit with your local credit union, or a personal loan from a marketplace lender. Credit unions and marketplace lenders offer significantly lower interest rates.

 

 

Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at nick@magnifymoney.com

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Eliminating Fees, Reviews

Bank5 Connect High-Interest Checking Review

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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When I initially signed onto Bank5 Connect to check out account options, I was met with a pleasant surprise. In big bold font right next to “High-Interest Checking” was a nice number- 0.76 percent APY. I figured I must’ve been reading it wrong. An interest rate of 0.76 percent seemed like an impossibly good deal. Surely there had to be a catch.

CheckingBut Bank5 Connect’s High-Interest Checking holds up to its advertisement. The only requirement is to keep a $100 balance, but no stress if you fall below that amount – with no minimum balance requirements or sneaky fees, Bank5 Connect High-Interest Checking is a safe bet.

Like other online only banks Bank5 Connect doesn’t have to shoulder the expense of pricey real estate, live teller salaries, and other brick and mortar banking expenses – which means more savings and perks passed on to you, the user.

You can open a High-Interest Checking account through the Bank5 Connect website or by calling the customer service number, 1-855-522-2655. The minimum opening deposit requirement is just $10 and can be funded through an online transfer from an external checking account, direct deposit, mobile deposit, check, or credit card.

Pros

Though you need $10 to open account you will not be penalized if your balance falls below. Bank5 Connect’s High-Interest Checking is among the top fee-free accounts.

  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • No fees at domestic SUM Network ATMs
  • Reimbursement up to $15 for out of network ATM fees
  • No minimum balance requirements
  • No early closure fee
  • Free first order of checks
  • Free cashiers checks
  • Free incoming wires

The account also comes with a debit card with a sweet perk of its own- a debit rewards program. Earn 1 point for every $2 spent using Bank5’s UChoose debit card and redeem points for various items online- vacation packages, gift cards, electronics, etc. The daily purchase limit on the card is $1,000.

Finally, the Bank5 Connect High-Interest Checking account comes with all the staples of online banking convenience- online bill pay, e-statements, e-check deposit, mobile banking, and quick person-to-person payment options.

Bank5 Connect also earned an “A” Transparency Score for creating a simple product with partial ATM reimbursement, disclosure of fees, no minimum requirements and real overdraft protection.

Cons

While you can avoid ATM charges by using your UChoose debit card at any ATM within the SUM Network, you are responsible for fees charged by ATMs outside that network should you exceed the $15 monthly fee reimbursement allowance. The bonus reimbursement ATM coverage is also limited to domestic ATMs. Travel internationally and you’ll be on the hook for all fees.

In addition to checking, Bank5 Connect offers a savings account that can be linked for free overdraft protection. If you find yourself in a position of non-sufficient funds however, you’ll be responsible for the $15 overdraft fee.

High interest and low fees make Bank5 Connect’s High-Interest checking account a top option. Thanks to those features, it is consistently ranked among the best accounts. But further research into the customer experience suggests reason for concern.

Despite an absence of physical branches, many online only banks have exceptionally high rated customer service. I had a hard time finding similarly complimentary reviews of Bank5 Connect, so I called in to customer service to check it out for myself.

While the wait time was minimal, my representative wasn’t particularly well informed. She had a hard time recounting some of the most basic account features I had been reading about online. Her responses to my questions were so dubious and unsure that I actually called back later with the hope of being connected to a more authoritative source. My second representative proved a better experience, but I can still see why Bank5 Connect might not be winning a people’s choice award winner any time soon.

Bank5 Connect High Yield Checking vs. Simple

Though the interest rate on Bank5 Connect’s High Yield Checking Account blows Simple’s out of the water (with Simple coming in at a weak 0.01 percent), Simple has the top-notch money management tools and excellent customer service representatives noticeably absent at Bank5 Connect. Where Simple provides a user-friendly experience, Bank5 Connect provides yield. Both options are first-rate on the debatably most important checking account features though- freedom from fees and transparency.

Bank5 Connect High Yield Checking vs. Ally Bank Checking

Ally Bank is another online only option boasting low fees. Interest rates on checking start at 0.10 percent, an improvement from those at Simple but a far cry from those at Bank5 Connect. For users with a balance greater than $15,000, the rate jumps to 0.60 percent, but that’s a pretty major requirement considering the small $100 balance required at Bank5 Connect.

Ally customer service is also well rated. Though Ally’s money management tools are not as comprehensive as Simple’s, for basic checking account needs, Ally is consistently a top contender in ratings and customer reviews.

Should You Use Bank5 Connect High Yield Checking?

A minimal fee structure paired with shockingly high interest makes Bank5 Connect High Yield Checking an option worth considering, but I would recommend taking customer service for a test run before singing up. Even when you bank online, you need to feel secure in where and with whom you leave your money.

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Stefanie O
Stefanie O'Connell |

Stefanie O'Connell is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Stefanie at stefani@magnifymoney.com

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Capital One 360 Checking Account Review

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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If you’re searching for a checking account with minimal fees, you’ve likely considered depositing your money into an online bank. But with so many online banks vying for your business, you may wonder which account is best suited for your needs.

The Capital One 360 Checking Account boasts no fees and no minimum balance to open which is pretty standard in the online banking world. However, there are other unique features of this account that set it apart.

The Capital One 360 Checking Account At A Glance

Let’s start with the basics. To qualify for 360 Checking you must be 18 years or older and a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a social security number.

These are the perks of opening a 360 Checking Account:

  • No monthly fees
  • FDIC insurance coverage
  • A free MasterCard debit card
  • No minimum balance to open or earn interest. Rates are variable and account APY ranges from 0.20% to 0.90% depending on your balance.
  • Use of Bill Pay. Send bill payments directly from your checking account for free. And set up eBills to receive electronic bills from participating merchants.
  • Person2Person payments. Send money free of charge to people who bank with Capital One 360 and elsewhere. Transfers to Capital One 360 accounts occur instantaneously. Transfers outside of the bank take up to two business days to authorize once the recipient approves it.
  • Access to 38,000+ Allpoint and Capital One ATMs for free. Drawing cash from an online account or making a deposit is a breeze, just search for an in-network ATM on Capital One’s mobile app or website.
  • Use of CheckMate for check deposits. Take photos of your checks from your mobile phone to make deposits. No standing in line or locating an ATM necessary.
  • Turn your card on and off. You can deactivate a card yourself online which is helpful if it’s stolen or missing.
  • No overdraft fees. Instead of a fee they offer an Overdraft Line of Credit that charges you a competitive interest rate if your account falls below zero.

Depositing Cash and Checks

Before taking the leap to online banking you may feel apprehensive about giving up access to a live teller for bank deposits. Fortunately, 360 Checking offers several simple ways to fund your account.

You can transfer money from another bank or set up direct deposit from your employer. You can also deposit cash and checks at 360 Cafe and Capital One branch ATMs. Find deposit locations near you with its ATM locator map.

Avoid using an ATM altogether for deposits and take snaps of your checks and upload them using CheckMate. The 360 Checking website offers a short demo to show you exactly what’s involved with depositing remotely.

A Closer Look at Overdraft Protection

promo-checking-halfThe 360 Checking account has a pretty lenient overdraft policy. If you apply for the Overdraft Line of Credit the daily interest on overdrafts will cost you pennies. Though you should keep in mind that during the application process for the line of credit, Capital One will perform a “hard pull” and it can affect your credit score. However, this dip of 5 to 10 points is well worth the protection to avoid overdraft charges.

The rate for overdraft is currently 12.25% APR variable and Capital One offers a convenient overdraft calculator to show you how much you can expect to be charged if your account goes into the red. For example, an overdraft of $100 for 10 days will cost you just $0.31 based on its estimate.

What happens if you pass on the Overdraft Line of Credit and your account goes into the negative? There’s no mention of the repercussions on the 360 Checking website. However, customer service confirmed there’s still no fee, the transaction is simply declined. They do advise transferring funds into your account promptly, otherwise you run the risk of having your account shut down. Keep in mind that while it’s great you don’t have a fee levied against you, declining a charge could mean an important bill goes unpaid.

Additional Fees to Consider

Although 360 Checking has no monthly fee, it’s important to note that there are some other fees for extra services associated with the account. For instance, sending out overnight checks will cost you $20 and an overnight card replacement costs $25. Your first checks are free, but future checkbooks cost $5. Additionally, if a check is returned for insufficient funds you’ll incur a $9 Rejected Check Charge. And to place a stop payment on a check you’ll have to pay $25.

What Sets 360 Checking Apart From Other Online Accounts?

The ability to make cash deposits at select ATM machines is a key differentiator of this checking account. Other popular online banks like Ally, The Bank of Interest USA, EverBank and Charles Schwab don’t currently accept cash deposits.

In other areas like customer service and fees, 360 Checking has some stiff competition. The Ally Bank Interest Checking Account has no monthly fee or minimum balance requirement as well, but they offer 24/7 customer service. Capital One 360 provides customer service from 8 am to 8 pm.  Furthermore, miscellaneous fees for checkbooks, stop payments and expedited delivery services are higher with 360 Checking than Ally Interest Checking.

How does the Capital One 360 Stack Up With Interest?

This account is decent for earning interest if you can’t put more than $100 into it initially. If you have a little bit more money to deposit, there are other options that will earn you more interest.

For instance, the Bank 5 Connect High-Interest Checking Account currently offers APY of 0.76% for balances over $100 at opening. In order for you to make that type of interest with a 360 Checking account you need to maintain a balance over $50,000.

Just keep in mind that you shouldn’t be hoarding tons of cashing in your checking account. It’s much better to keep high amounts of cash in a savings account, which offers better fraud protection.

A Good Deal if You Value Convenience

Overall Capital 360 checking may not be your first choice if your primary goal is to find a checking account with the highest interest. But it should be at the top of your list if you value conveniences like easy access to your money at thousands of ATMs for free, the option to deposit cash, the ease of bank transfers and no overdraft fees.

Capital One

 

Taylor Gordon
Taylor Gordon |

Taylor Gordon is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Taylor at taylor@magnifymoney.com

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Best Bank Accounts for Foreign Travel & Expats

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Best Bank Accounts for Foreign Travel & Expats

My sister is studying abroad in New Zealand this semester, and yes, I am totally jealous. A few weeks before she left, our entire family was running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to make sure everything was in place for her departure- passport, visa, international phone, and my responsibility- appropriate bank accounts and financial tools for her time away.

Not only do I write about money for a living, I’ve spent my fair share of time traveling and working around the world- most notably on a cruise ship around South America and prior to that, touring through Asia for seven months. If only I’d known then what I know now about accessing basic financial services internationally, I’d have saved myself a whole lot of cash on simple things like accessing my own money.

My sister is lucky enough to have the benefit of my experience (and mistakes) to avoid any unnecessary headaches that could potentially arise from minor financial details, allowing her to enjoy her international journey without stressing over mundane money realities.

Banking abroad can be simple and affordable if you know before you go and prepare properly with these steps.

Use the Right Bank

Some checking accounts and debit cards are better suited toward international travel than others. The best way to get your hands on local currency abroad is not through currency exchange companies- that while convenient, charge huge transaction fees and inflated exchange rates- but through ATMs.

While ATMs are known for giving the best exchange rates, they can also come with hefty fees if you don’t use the right bank. Chase for example, charges a $5 withdrawal fee at ATMs outside the U.S. That’s a high price to pay for accessing your own money.

Some alternatives allow you to avoid international ATM fees, regardless of which ATM you use.

The Global ATM Alliance also provides an affordable cash access alternative. The alliance is a group of major international banks that allows customers to use their debit card at another bank within the alliance with no international withdrawal fees. Members include:

  • Bank of America (USA)
  • Barclays (UK)
  • BNP Paribas (France)
  • BNL (Italy)
  • UkrSibbank (Ukraine)
  • TEB (Turkey)
  • Scotiabank (Canada, Peru, Chile, and the Caribbean)
  • Deutsche Bank (Germany and Spain)
  • Westpac (Australia and New Zealand)

Other fees- like an international transaction or currency exchange fees- might still apply though.

Research your options and put appropriate accounts in place before leaving. Again, you’ll want to notify your bank of all your travel dates and locales prior to departure.

Set Up Online Access

Before leaving, make sure you’ve set up online access to whatever accounts and bills you’ll need to maintain or access abroad. You don’t want to hassle over basic set up or linking appropriate accounts when you’re already on the road. Have systems in place so that payments can be made quickly, easily, and hassle-free. Designating a trusted parent or sibling equipped with your passwords to serve as a back up stateside financial monitor can give you additional piece of mind should secure internet access prove more difficult than originally anticipated during your travels.

Get the Right Credit Card

I know a lot of college students are being introduced to credit for the first time, and throwing traveling abroad into the mix can make things even more complicated. Credit cards are a great resource to have though- not only for day-to-day purchases, but also as valuable “in case of emergency” tools and added layers of fraud protection when making purchases.

While roughly 90 percent of credit cards charge foreign transaction fees there are some fee free alternatives. Not having to pay an additional two to four percent per purchase can save you quite a bit over the course of a semester. Notable fee free options include:

As soon as you’ve committed to dates for your semester abroad, start researching credit options. If, as a student, your credit profile is thin or your score is low, you may have trouble qualifying for cards that carry perks like free foreign transactions. I added my sister as an authorized user on my credit card so that she could enjoy the benefits of my good credit history during her time abroad. Don’t worry, I laid out the ground rules before she left and I can monitor all her purchases should spending start getting out of control.

Regardless of what card you choose, be sure to notify your credit card company of the locations and dates of your travel. You don’t want your card to be flagged and deactivated, leaving you financially stranded.

Exchange Emergency Currency Prior to Departure

Banks don’t always have the best exchange rates, but changing over some money at your local branch prior to your international departure can be helpful in case of an emergency situation or snafu upon arrival in your host country.

When I traveled to Germany last year, I went directly to the airport ATM to withdraw some Euros. The ATM wasn’t accepting my debit card so I had to use my credit card to take out a cash advance. It cost me $35 in fees just to get enough cash out for a cab ride to another ATM outside the airport. Save yourself from last minute financial stress and fees by having local currency already on your person when you land.

Dealing with a different form of currency, ever changing exchange rates, and long lists of potential fees can be a bit overwhelming at first. Do your research well in advance of your departure to make sure your money is easily accessible in the country of your study while minimizing any fees from the banks and credit card companies. If you can set up all the appropriate accounts before your trip, you can enjoy the life of the Kiwis or the history of Europe or the culture of South America without stressing over banal money needs- like how you’re going to pay for your newly assigned textbook or that skydive you’ve been talking about with your new international friends.

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Stefanie O
Stefanie O'Connell |

Stefanie O'Connell is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Stefanie at stefani@magnifymoney.com

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