I had to pay $800 rent in cash for a cabin in Playa Santa Teresa, Costa Rica and it made it painfully obvious to me that I needed a new bank when I got back to the US. I had been taking out $200 at a time from Costa Rican banks for 10 months but it wasn’t until I had to do this 4 times in a row to take out rent that I realized I was not only paying the Costa Rican bank $5.25 each time, but that I was paying Bank of America $5 + 3% ($6) = $11 each time! So to pay rent for a month, I was also paying banks $65 in fees!
When I was back in the US, I started researching and asking friends on Facebook if they had any good advice for banks that do not offer “foreign transaction fees”. Nerd Wallet is a great resource for researching debit and credit cards. You can compare foreign transaction fees here, and you will see that Bank of America was one of the worst.
I ended up switching to Stanford Federal Credit Union which has no foreign transaction fee, no incoming wire fee, and no minimum account balance (most major banks are $1,500 or more minimum per month). Most credit unions offer similar structures so to me it is a no brainer to switch on financials alone (not too mention political issues…).
Two friends also recommended I check out Simple, which is an online-only bank that was built around the concept of not charging fees. I suppose it can do this since it doesn’t have to pay the expenses of having brick-and-mortar locations. I took out 2,500,000 Indonesian rupiah yesterday from a foreign ATM using my Simple card and the exchange rate was the same as the one on Google and Simple charged me a $1.88 “International Transaction Fee” – so it is not entirely free but it is much better than the $11 I was paying to Bank of America and I can keep the account empty if I like.
I also researched new credit cards that accumulate mileage points since I plan to be traveling more. Through the recommendations of friends and my research on Nerd Wallet, I narrowed it down to Chase’s Sapphire Preferred and Reserve cards. The Preferred gives you 2x points on dining and travel and you pay $0 the first year and $95 every year after that, while the Reserve gives you 3x for dining and travel but you pay $450 annually and get $300 per year in travel credit. They both give you a signing bonus of 100,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months.
I was going to go for the Reserve but I made a spreadsheet of my past year’s expenses as if I had used the two cards over the course of 3 years and even though I would net $700 more with the Reserve card, the ROI was under 2 whereas the Preferred card ROI was over 10. I also compared the Capital One Venture card which netted about half of the Preferred card and had an ROI around 9.
I plan on buying all of my plane tickets and big purchases with the Preferred card and use it at restaurants wherever they accept credit, but I am finding that most places only accept cash because credit card companies charge about 3% for businesses to use credit.
When I was leaving Bank of America, they made a good point that I had 12 years of good credit history on my credit card there and tried to get me to keep my account open. I asked him for some statistical evidence of what closing my old credit card there would do to my credit history and he recommended I check out Credit Karma, which I used and recommend. I still closed my Bank of America accounts as I don’t need a loan any time soon; my credit score has only dropped 17 points and I expect to build my credit score up quickly since I will be incentivized to use my new mileage card a lot more.