Most of the major national US banks charge ridiculous fees for foreign ATM usage; typically a few bucks flat fee per transaction plus a percentage of whatever amount of money you take out. I discovered this the hard way back in my youth when I returned home from a multi-week trip, checked my bank account, and noticed several significant transaction fees. 8 bucks to get out $100 of my own cash? What the hell man? And that’s not even including the fee charged by the foreign bank who owns the ATM!
Uh, thanks, but no.
When I got back home from this trip, I did a ton of research on all the local banks in my area and found a credit union that offered a flat foreign ATM fee of $1 per transaction. Not bad. A dollar flat fee is quite low and manageable.
Well, that all changed sometime in the last year or two. The credit union increased their fees without bothering to tell me, and while still not as bad as the big name national bank I had experience with years earlier, it was still enough of an increase that I decided it was time to look for better options.
Well, I found one: the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account. This is an online-only bank, meaning there are no brick and mortar branches. They don’t even have their own ATMs. What they do offer is a debit card that allows you to use any ATM anywhere in the world, and the company reimburses all ATM fees at the end of each month.
Essentially, you get to use any ATM you want for free. No fees whatsoever.
The process of opening an account is easy:
1) Go to https://www.schwab.com. Click on “open an account” in the top right of the screen.
2) Next, in the listed options, choose “Schwab Bank Checking Account” and select either individual or joint account.
3) Click on continue. Go ahead and fill out all the information. It’s pretty self explanatory.
4) Once you’ve done all of that and have your account open, you’ll need to enter your routing number and bank account number in order to link your pre-existing bank account to the new Schwab account. At some point in the next few days, Schwab will make two test deposits into your old bank account (usually less than a dollar each). Once this shows up in your old bank account, log back onto Schwab and verify your test deposit amounts. (When you reach this stage of the application process, Schwab sends you an email walking you through exactly how to do this, so if there’s any confusion, just go back and read that email again.)
5) Now your old and new bank accounts are linked and you can move money in between the two. From the day I opened my Schwab checking account, I received my debit card in the mail exactly 5 business days later. In the past you had to place a request for a debit card to be sent to you after you deposited some cash in your account, but now it is done automatically.
And that’s it! Free ATM use anywhere in the world, and no more having to think about pesky fees adding up while you’re on holiday.
There’s one downside I’ve found with this company so far. You can make mobile deposits of physical checks using your smartphone, but the deposit limit per day is $1000. So if you have a paper check in an amount greater than a thousand dollars, you either have to mail it in to Schwab or deposit it into your regular bank and then transfer it over electronically. I called Schwab to request a temporary deposit limit increase, but I received an email a few hours later stating that the request was denied. For a bank that is online only, it seems odd that they have such a low limit amount for making a mobile deposit.
Despite this minor problem, I think it’s still well worth it to get this card for the ATM use benefits.