If You Don’t Have A No-Fee ATM Card, You’re Getting Ripped Off.

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If You Don't Have A No-Fee ATM Card, You're Getting Ripped Off.

If You Don’t Have A No-Fee ATM Card, You’re Getting Ripped Off.

As you prepare to start traveling again, you need to know this: if you don’t have a no-fee ATM card, you’re getting ripped off. Think about how much money you might throw away on that trip, due to ATM fees or foreign withdrawal fees. It’s YOUR money, so why are you paying to have access to it? Just because you’re not near home and need to use an ATM doesn’t justify paying a fee to access your own money. Here’s a look at how much money you could lose on a trip when your bank charges you to withdrawal at ATMs that aren’t theirs. Lastly, we’ll look at some options available for no-fee ATM cards, so you can save your hard-earned money for the future.

ATM Withdrawal Fee Examples

Let’s look at some common ATM withdrawal fees from big banks. What are they charging you for using some other bank’s ATMs? What are they charging you to access your own money?

Bank of America

Bank of America lists ATM-related information and fees here. If you have preferred relationships, you may pay less, but here are their standard ATM fees for non-Bank of America ATMs:

  • Domestic ATMs: $2.50 per transaction
  • International ATMs: $5.00 per transaction + 3% of the total value if in another currency

Chase

While Chase credit cards are a favorite in this hobby, their ATM fees are not very friendly when using non-Chase ATMs. Here are their rates:

  • Domestic ATMs: $2.50 per transaction
  • International ATMs: $5.00 per transaction + 3% of the total value if in another currency

Citi

Citi has a decent network of ATMs to choose from and lower international ATM fees than competitors. However, they’re still charging you for accessing your own money if you use someone else’s ATM. Here are the rates:

  • Domestic ATMs: $2.50 per transaction
  • International ATMs: $2.50 per transaction + 3% of the total value if in another currency

U.S. Bank

U.S. Bank has no ATM fees on its Platinum Checking account. It also waives the first 2 or first 4 ATM withdrawal fees for Gold and Student accounts, respectively. Here are their rates for anything outside this:

  • Domestic ATMs: $2.50 per transaction
  • International ATMs: $2.50 per transaction + 3% of the total value, even if in U.S. Dollars

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo also charges you for accessing your own money via other ATMs. Here are their rates:

  • Domestic ATMs: $2.50 per transaction
  • International ATMs: $5.00 per transaction + 3% of the total value if in another currency

Other Fees To Watch Out For

It’s not just your own bank that’s charging you, either. The ATM itself might ask you to agree to a fee before withdrawing your money. This could be anywhere from 99 cents to $10. It can be even higher, like 10% of the withdrawn value, at casinos in Las Vegas.

How much money you lose without a no-fee ATM card

How Much Money You’ll Lose — Hypothetical Trip

Assuming we have one of these banks and not a no-fee ATM card, how much money are we talking about? $2.50 doesn’t sound like much, right? By the end of a trip, it adds up. Let’s look at a theoretical trip in the U.S. and an international trip to see how much money we’re throwing away.

Domestic Trip

The country is opening up a bit, so you decide to take a road trip with the family. At the gas station, you grab some cash from the ATM before hitting the road. Most people don’t carry a ton of cash for safety’s sake, and ATMs will limit how much you can take out, anyway. We’ll get $100.

After a few days of tips at restaurants, paying for snacks, and giving your kids spending money, you need more cash. Take out another $100.

With our conservative estimate, we took out $200 in cash for a few days’ road trip in the U.S. That’s still US $. However, we spent $5 just to access our own money. Good thing we were taking our $100 at a time. If we’d done $50 at a time, we’d spend $10. $20 at a time? You threw away $25 of your own money in 4 days. Yikes. Conservatively, we’ve lost 2.5% of the value at each withdrawal.

International Trip

It gets even worse if you go to another country. Canada, the U.K., Mexico — wherever you are, if you’re banking with these major banks, you’re losing big time on ATM fees without a no-fee card.

If we repeat this idea of taking $100 out of the ATM and doing it twice, what are we losing? First, we’re losing 3% because of conversion fees. That’s $6. Depending on the bank, we’re losing $2.50-$5 per withdrawal, so that’s another $5-10 in our scenario. We’ve just lost $16. We’ve lost 7.4% of the money in these transactions, assuming we did big withdrawals and not a bunch of small ones.

Exchanging money is a losing endeavor

What About Exchanging Money?

Please don’t. OK, I’ll give you that some banks allow you to order money in advance, but they’re still banks. They still want to make money on this. Expect to pay 3% of your own money to your own bank for this ‘convenience’.

It can get even worse if you withdraw cash and then exchange at the airport or people on the street at your destination. Most of these exchange centers charge 3-5% of your exchange value or a flat $10 fee + 1% of the value. Exchanging $200? Feel free to throw $12 in the trash. It’s not for me.

Plus, you’ll always lose twice with money exchanges. First, you lose money exchanging from U.S. Dollars to another currency. At the end of the trip, if you’ve got that other currency remaining in your pocket, you have 2 choices. You can blow it on things you don’t need, just to get rid of it, or you can exchange it back. You’ll pay the fee again, of course! Lose money at the start; lose money at the end.

No-Fee ATM Card Options

The best option is having a no-fee ATM card, so you can withdraw cash at your destination. Remember that ATMs might still charge you their own fees, even if your bank isn’t hitting you with a fee. The best bet is an ATM card that won’t charge you fees AND will reimburse you if the ATM tacks on a fee. This way, you can withdraw just what you need, not pay conversion fees, and not have to burn extra money at the end because it’s “left over”. Here are some good options.

Charles Schwab

Mark previously described the Schwab debit card as the one card everyone should get. There are no ATM fees, no foreign transaction fees, AND they reimburse you for any fees tacked on by the ATM you used. It also gives you access to the Charles Schwab Amex Platinum Card.

SoFi

We’ve talked about SoFi a good bit on here, but that’s because it’s so easy to make free money with their accounts. They have a fee-free network of over 55,000 ATMs. That’s on top of their no-fee policy on foreign transactions. You even earn interest on top of all of this, though it varies depending on account balances and activity.

USAA

I’ve had USAA for almost 10 years. If you’re eligible for an account, I recommend it. They have a large range of preferred ATMs with no fee all over the U.S., and I can find these through the app with ‘ATM nearby’. If you do have to pay a fee at that ATM, USAA will reimburse you. The limit is $15 in reimbursements per month. I was sad to see this feature added a few years ago, since it was unlimited previously. USAA also lets me move money online from accounts we have at Bank of America, Chase, U.S. Bank & Discover. We pay no fees for any of those transfers, which is an easy way to earn checking account welcome bonuses from my couch.

Get an ATM card that doesn't charge fees, so you can save money

Final Thoughts — Get A No-Fee ATM Card

Most people don’t like throwing away money. That’s how I see paying fees to access your own money in your own bank account. Just because your bank doesn’t have locations where you’re traveling shouldn’t be your fault, and you shouldn’t have to pay them a fee for the fact they don’t have a bank there. Imagine you always shop at Wal-Mart but go on a holiday where there’s no Wal-Mart store. Would you pay a fee to Wal-Mart for the fact you had to shop at Target today? Not a chance.

Banks charge fees for everything these days. In my opinion, you shouldn’t pay them for access to your own money during a vacation. If you don’t have a no-fee ATM card, you’re getting ripped off.

Ryan S
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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18 COMMENTS

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18 COMMENTS

  1. FYI, SoFi no longer offers this benefit for new accounts. In fact, they seem to be slashing benefits in general (for instance, they have essentially stopped paying interest on Money accounts). Fortunately, people who already have the account are grandfathered in for the ATM benefit. Go to their website and take a look.

    • Uh oh…what happened? Sounds like there’s a story here.
      I have the Schwab card but have never used it at an ATM, to be honest, because USAA is so good to me.

  2. Looks like any one was using Sofi, they conversion rate is terrible. In Europe, its better bring cash and change it in “money store” if you have to (have a cash).

  3. We went Nov 2018. Although the process of obtaining a rental car was a process it was hands down worth it. Driving in Cuba was great hardly see any cars on the road outside of Havana and we put some real miles on the car driving the country. For our 4 nights stay in Havana I turned the car in as it was not need taxi were cheap but they did try to scam me 2 times but caught them at their little game. Prepaid SIM card was easy to get walked in to the shop 10 mins later it was loaded and I was up & running within my unlocked USA phone. Outside of Havana it was nice to have internet & phone on the roads, within Havana best to just buy Wi-Fi time cards there are cheap and soooo many Wi-Fi parks ever 3 blocks or so, super easy to find always tons of people standing with faces glued to their phones.

    • Wow, sounds almost like a different place than I visited! I took a shared taxi from Havana to Trinidad and the same back, so for me I didn’t really need the internet connection. It was pretty nice to go off grid for a while, actually.

  4. I’ve had a Fidelity cash account for years, and it has no minimum balance to open and no ATM fees ever anywhere on the planet. All ATM fees are reimbursed back into the account in a day or two, and it even earns a tiny bit of interest. You can also trade stocks with the account commission free. The only downside I’ve seen is you have to call Fidelity to put in a travel notice, but it’s always been a 5 minute call because they answer quickly. You really should add it to your article.

    • It does sound like a great card. The purpose isn’t to name every single option, because there are many. I just want people to think about the money they could be throwing away and then see that there are better options right at their fingertips.

  5. Ryan, sending money to yourself via WU sounds very intriguing, even if as a backup method and rarely used. That would be a very interesting topic for a post, especially because many of us only have experience with WU, via purchasing money orders in store. Enjoy reading your content. Obrigado

  6. Unless my road trip was driving wayyyyy out into the sticks of West Virginia where there is no wi-fi or cell service my GPS is not working, I’m lost & starving just happen to find that 1 pump gas station run by the guy with no teeth or shoes I may be forced to use cash :)) other then that those $.95 snacks and restaurant tips are all going on the card. Hell these days I would even give my kids their allowance on a GC that I purchased from the Grocery store earning x12 Hilton points no cash for them train them early I wish someone taught me this game at a young age :))

    • That’s fair. Most people don’t use cash often these days, especially in this hobby. However, there are instances where people need cash (like the previous comment about markets when visiting other countries), and paying to use your own money is a scam. Thanks for the laugh 🙂

  7. I agree if you must use and ATM why pay extra fees, I also have USAA with reimbursement but I can count on 1 hand how many times I actually used an ATM to withdraw cash in the past 3 years as I hardly carry cash. 99.99% of purchases are on a CC. I actually visit the bank more to deposit cash then using an ATM. I end up with cash in hand sometimes from returning items in which I purchased with a CC (many lowes and Home depot returns under a dollar limit) or time to time ill sell some personal items on one of the many selling apps and buyers pay in cash, also tried food delivery received cash tips, When I travel overseas I do normally carry a larger amount of cash for times I’m unable to use CC like markets & street food etc.. But normally before I travel I always withdraw from the bank in clean $100 bills. Carrying $1,000 as 10 x $100’s. is way easier then stack of 50 x $20’s withdrawn from the ATM, additionally many overseas money exchanges will actually give better rates when exchanging $100 bill Vs small bills. I normally exchange as I go and try to bring back USD to put back in the bank. If I don’t carry enough cash ending up needing more, then I use an ATM overseas to withdraw local currency directly. Of course the amount of cash I bring overseas also depend on the country of travel and ability to use CC or not. When I travel to Korea I carry no more then $100 USD, when I traveled to Cuba I carried few thousand USD other then hotels booked through airBNB mostly everything was paid in cash only to including the rental car.

    • Yes, it’s definitely location dependent. I avoid exchanging money whenever possible, except for situations like Cuba or other countries where you can’t use the ATMs there. I’ve also sent money to myself via Western Union in those situations, if I’m in another country first and won’t have a chance to come with US Dollars. You do lose the 3%, but it works when needed.

      • Yes I agree and great emergency tip for the kit bag, I never thought to send myself WU that can probally be done through the app using a CC if your in great need although best to just have a no-fee ATM. Actually in Cuba I was able to find many ATM that accepted my debit card, used once thanks to the casino!! But I planned for the worst and traveled with more cash then I’m comfortable with stashing $100’s in many different hiding spots. Biggest shock was having to pay the 2 week rental car in cash as it was the biggest unexpected dent in my cash funds. I also ran into to a good # of eateries that accepted CC, as well as cell phone shops as I bought prepaid SIM cards to have phone & internet on the go. If I did it again next time I would carry less cash.

        • When did you go to Cuba? When I went, the foreigners getting a SIM card thing wasn’t possible. They had just installed the first wifi point in Havana at one hotel, and people were flocking there. I also didn’t have a rental car, so that makes a big difference. Agreed that $100s had better trading rates, and the cleaner the bill the better the rate, also.

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