What is a Foreign Transaction Fee and How Can You Avoid It?

Foreign transaction fees are irritating little charges that every traveler has faced, and most credit card users have questioned. They are the bane of a frequent flyer’s life and if not managed carefully, could result in some serious charges. But what are these charges, why do they exist, what’s the average fee, and how can you avoid them?

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee?

A foreign transaction fee is a surcharge levied every time you make a payment in a foreign currency or transfer money through a foreign bank. These fees are charged by credit card networks and issuers, often totaling around 3%.

For example, imagine that you’re on holiday in the United Kingdom, where all transactions occur in Pound Sterling. You go out for a meal and use your credit card to pay a bill of £150. Your credit card issuer first converts this sum into US Dollars and then charges a foreign transaction fee, after which the network (Visa, MasterCard, American Express) will do the same.

If we assume that £150 equates to exactly $200, this will show on your credit card statement first followed by a separate foreign transaction fee of $6.

When Will You Pay Foreign Transaction Fees?

If you’re moving money from a US bank account to an international account in a different currency, there’s a good chance you will be hit with foreign transaction fees and may also be charged additional transfer fees. More commonly, these fees are charged every time you make a payment in a foreign currency.

Many years ago, foreign transaction fees were limited to purchases made in other currencies, but they are now charged for online purchases as well. If the site you’re using is based in another country, there’s a good chance you’ll face these charges.

It isn’t always easy to know in advance whether these fees will be charged or not. Many foreign based sites use software that automatically detects your location and changes the currency as soon as you visit. To you, it seems like everything is listed in dollars, but you may actually be paying in a foreign currency.

Other Issues that American Travelers Face 

Foreign transaction fees aren’t the only issue you will encounter when trying to use American reward credit cards abroad. If we return to the previous example of a holiday in the UK, you may discover that the restaurant doesn’t accept your credit card at all.

In the UK, as in the US, Visa and MasterCard are the two most common credit card networks and are accepted anywhere you can use a credit or debit card. However, while Discover is the third most common network in the US, it’s all but non-existent in the UK. 

Discover has claimed that the card has “moderate” acceptance in the UK, but this is a generous description and unless you’re shopping in locations that tailor for many tourists and American tourists in particular, it likely won’t be accepted.

There are similar issues with American Express, albeit to a lesser extent. AMEX is the third most common provider in the UK, but finding a retailer that actually accepts this card is very hit and miss.

Do Foreign Transaction Fees Count Towards Credit Card Rewards?

Foreign transaction fees, and all other bank and credit card fees, do not count towards your rewards total but the initial charge does. If we return to the previous example of a $200 restaurant payment, you will earn reward points on that $200 but not on the additional $6 that you pay in fees.

How to Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees

The easiest way to avoid foreign transaction fees is to use a credit card that doesn’t charge them. Some premium cards and reward cards will absorb the fee charged for these transactions, which means you can take your credit card with you when you travel and don’t have to worry about extra charges.

This is key, because simply converting your dollars to your target currency isn’t the best way to avoid foreign transaction fees. A currency conversion will come with its own fees and it’s also very risky to carry large sums of cash with you when you’re on vacation. 

Credit Cards Without Foreign Transaction Fees

All credit card offers are required to clearly state a host of basic features, including interest rates, reward schemes, and annual fees. However, you may need to do a little digging to learn about foreign transaction fees. These fees can be found in the credit card’s terms and conditions, which should be listed in full on the provider’s website.

To get you started, here are a few credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees:

  1. Bank of America Travel Rewards Card: A high-reward and low-fee credit card backed by the Bank of America.
  2. Capital One: All Capital One cards are free of foreign transaction fees, including their reward cards, such as the Venture card.
  3. Chase Sapphire Preferred: A premium rewards card aimed at big spenders. There is an annual fee, but not foreign transaction fees.
  4. Citi Prestige: One of several Citi cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees, and the best one in terms of rewards. 
  5. Discover It: A solid all-round credit card with no foreign transaction fees. However, as noted above, the Discover network is rare outside of the United States.
  6. Wells Fargo Propel World: An American Express credit card with good rewards and low fees, including no foreign transaction fees.

Summary: One of Many Fees

Foreign transaction fees are just some of the many fees you could be paying every month. Credit cards work on a system of rewards and penalties; you’re rewarded when you make qualifying purchases and penalized when you make payments in foreign currencies and in casinos, and when you use your card to withdraw cash.

Many of these fees are fixed as a percentage of your total spend, but some also charge interest and you will pay this even if you clear your balance in full every month. To avoid being hit with these fees, pay attention to the terms and conditions and look for cards that won’t punish you for the things you do regularly.

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee and How Can You Avoid It? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

How to Use Your Cable Bill to Build Credit

Cable companies aren’t in the habit of reporting your payments to the credit bureaus, at least when it comes to your traditional credit reports. But if that’s something you want, there is a way to get those monthly bills to help your credit score.

Simply put, consider paying for cable with your credit card.

Unlike cable providers, credit card issuers do generally report to the major credit reporting agencies, so using your plastic to pay for a bill that you’re already in the habit of covering from month to month can help you build a payment history, the single biggest factor in establishing credit scores.

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Of course, for this strategy to work, you have to pay that credit card off on time and, ideally, in full. Otherwise, it will have the opposite effect on your score and you’ll wind up paying interest just to watch your favorite television shows.

To make sure you don’t miss a payment, sign up for alerts or, even, set your credit card bill to auto-pay. You could also pay the charge off via a linked debit card account as soon as it’s processed if you’re worried about winding up with a big balance (which could affect your credit utilization, another major factor of credit scores) at the end of the month.

A Few More Tips & Tricks

There’s a chance that your provider will charge a fee for paying by credit card, so be sure to check that there’s no extra charge before using this method. And, if you do set that credit card to auto-pay, monitor your monthly cable statements. You don’t want to miss a new fee or billing error and wind up paying more than you owe or intended.

Rewards credit cards can earn you some points, miles or cash back, so if you have one in your wallet, you might want to use that particular piece of plastic to pay your cable bill. If your credit is on the brink and you don’t have any credit cards, you can consider applying for (and then using) a secured credit card, which is designed specifically to help people build credit. (You can learn more about the best secured credit cards in America here.)

A Quick Reminder

Unpaid cable bills can damage your credit, even when they’re not being covered by a credit card. Accounts that go unpaid long enough can wind up in collections, which will hurt your scores. (You can see how any collections accounts may be affecting your credit by viewing your free credit score, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

If your credit is in rough shape, due to an collection account or other payment history troubles, you may be able to improve your scores by paying delinquent accounts, addressing high credit card balances and disputing any errors that may be weighing them down. And remember, you can build good credit in the long term by making all loan payments on time, keeping debt levels low and adding to the mix of accounts you have, as your score and wallet can handle it.

More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:

  • The Credit.com Credit Reports Learning Center
  • How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report
  • How Credit Impacts Your Day-to-Day Life

Image: Ivanko_Brnjakovic

The post How to Use Your Cable Bill to Build Credit appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

The “Cashless” Cash Envelope System

The post The “Cashless” Cash Envelope System appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

You have probably heard people talk about how to use a cash envelope budget to save money and help you get out of debt. But, what if you don’t want to use cash? Does that mean you can’t use envelopes? Nope. Not if you follow one of the cashless cash envelope methods available.

Cash Envelope system without cash

If you follow any money advice, you are usually taught about using cash and implementing the cash envelope system.  That is what I recommend here on our site.

As much as this is the perfect solution for our family (and one of the catalysts to help us kick-start our debt pay-off plan), I also understand this is not an option for everyone.  Even if you don’t use cash, you still should budget and spend as if you do.

If you are just learning about budgeting, you will want to check out our page — How to Budget. There, you will learn everything you want to know about budgets and budgeting.

The way to do this is by using a cashless envelope system.  It is how to use cash envelopes without using cash.  The idea is simple, but there different ways to track it.

 

HOW DOES A CASHLESS CASH ENVELOPE SYSTEM WORK?

The idea is the same as the regular cash envelope method.  You have a budget and need to ensure you don’t spend more than what you should.

Each pay period, you record the amount budgeted for each category onto your “envelope.”  As you spend, you keep track of it.  When you are out of money, you can’t spend anything else.

Using the cash envelope system without using cash can work – if you want it to.

 

WHY IS THIS METHOD BETTER?

When you are trying to get control of your finances, you need to know where you spend.  The best way to do this is to track your spending.  Not tracking after you spend – but as you purchase.

Most of the time, you swipe your card without worry.  This action can easily throw your budget out of balance.

While using cash has emotion attached to it, tracking every purchase requires awareness.  You are always watching what you spend and where.  There are no surprises that you spent $250 on groceries when the budget was $200.  You see it happening right in front of you.

The cashless envelope system works because:

  1. You don’t have to worry about carrying or getting cash.
  2. It forces you to track of your spending in real time.
  3. You can see exactly where your money goes and make budget adjustments as needed.

The cashless envelope system forces you to be more responsible for your spending without the hassle of carrying money.

 

CASHLESS CASH ENVELOPE SYSTEMS TO TRY

When you are ready to try a cashless system, you need to determine which is the best for you.  You can find one on your phone, or there is also a printable option.

 

CASHLESS CASH ENVELOPE APP

There are several apps that claim they can help you keep track of your spending with virtual envelopes. If you have found one that works well for you, then I say keep using it!  But, if you are new to this idea – or want something new – the one I recommend is Mvelopes.

Mvelopes has three different plan levels, starting as low as $4 a month.  You can use the one that best suits your needs.  If you are new to the platform, I recommend starting out with the basic plan.

To start, you will add the app to your phone  — or you can use their online site (which I love).  Once you do that, you sync your various accounts.  Make certain to include the cards you will use for your various categories.

For example, you may charge every purchase to your credit card to earn rewards or cash back.  If this is you, you will connect your credit card.  Some may use the debit card for some purchases and a credit card for others.  Those of you who do this will connect both cards to your account.

Once that is done, you set up your online envelopes and add budgeted amounts to each.  Then, you just swipe as usual.  Every time you make a purchase, the purchase amount is deducted from your online envelope.  With a couple of swipes, you see not only how much you have left to spend, but even where you spent your money.  There is no guessing.

This system helps you give every dollar a job.  You know where it will go even before you spend it.  Using Mvelopes puts you back in control.

If you want or need even more help, Mvelopes has other plans that you can purchase.  They offer the Mvelopes PLUS plan for $19 per month.  This service includes all of the services available under the basic plan but also helps you tackle your debt.  You even receive you a personal finance trainer who will visit with you once per quarter.  This plan helps you set and achieve your financial goals.

Should you need more one-on-one help, you may want to consider the Mvelopes Complete package instead.  You get all of the benefits of the Plus plan but receive your own, one-on-one finance trainer.  This coach works with you to help you achieve your financial goals.  You aren’t left alone to figure things out as there is someone right there, guiding you along the way.

As I said you don’t need to purchase one of the larger plans as the basic plan will meet most people’s needs. However, it is great to have these options available at your fingertips.

Related:   The Best Apps for Your Budget

 

CASHLESS ENVELOPE PRINTABLE

Apps are great, but there are times when you would rather have the simplicity of writing something down rather than having to pull it up on your phone.  That’s where the printable cashless envelopes come in handy.

These work in the same way as regular envelopes — just without cash.  Print them off and keep them handy.  Record the budgeted amount for that category at the top.  Then, as you spend, keep track of it.  Jot down every purchase and keep a running total of how much you have left to spend.

I get that it is a pain to keep track of “cents”, so I recommend you round up.  For example, if your grocery budget is $200 and you spend $105.74, record that you spend $106 and have $94 left to spend.  That is MUCH easier than keeping track down to the penny.  (Truth be told, this is what I do with our cash envelopes too).

Once you reach your spending limit, then you are done with that category!  If you budget $100 for dining out and there is just $5 left, don’t pick up that coffee and cake for $7 – or you will have just busted your budget!  If you find that you are always out of money for select categories, or often have money left over for others, then it may be time to make adjustments to your budget.

printable cashless cash envelopes

Grab your cashless envelope printables.  Now, I don’t recommend you print this onto regular paper, as that is really thin and will tear easily. Purchase card stock to use to print out your cashless envelopes as they will be more durable.

Related:  How to Figure Out How Much Money to Budget For Groceries

 

Even if you don’t want to use cash, it is still essential that you continue to track your spending, so you never exceed your budget.

cashless envelope system

The post The “Cashless” Cash Envelope System appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

Source: pennypinchinmom.com

Mint Money Audit: Affording Life After Grad School

With a brand new PhD under her belt, our latest Mint audit recruit, Renee, is ready to take on the real world with gusto. The 34-year-old is eager to buy a home and ramp up her retirement savings. She currently lives in San Francisco and has just started a full-time earning $87,000 a year (before taxes).

Renee also received a sizeable inheritance, totaling about $200,000 of which she used $30,000 to pay off her student loans.

So, why does Renee want an audit, exactly? Her finances seem perfectly in order, it seems.

As Renee explains, she wants advice around the best ways to plan for big goals like home ownership and retirement. “I’m especially eager to buy my own apartment, but it is extremely daunting (and expensive) in the Bay area,” she says. As a result, she’s leaning to move to New York City (Brooklyn, specifically, where she thinks may offer more bang for her buck in some neighborhoods.)

She wants to know how much of a down payment she can reasonably afford and how to budget for monthly housing costs.

First, though, I wanted to learn more about Renee’s finances. Here’s what the quick audit revealed:

  • Retirement savings: $40,000 in a 403(b) and Roth IRA. She allocates $200 month from her paycheck to the 403(b).
  • Rent: $1,850 per month
  • Groceries: $400 per month
  • Where is all that savings parked? $100,000 in index and mutual funds, another $50,000 in an 11-month CD earning 1.5%, and remaining $20,000 in checking.

My Advice…

Play Retirement Catch-Up

For a 35-year-old worker, one rule of thumb is that you should have an amount equal to your salary in retirement savings. For Renee, who is nearing age 35, that means $80,000 to $90,000. She’s only about halfway there, so my recommendation is to play some retirement catch up. While it’s not realistic to think that she can invest another $40,000 this year, she can do better.

For starters, what about taking advantage of her company’s 403(b) match? She believes her company offers one, but wasn’t sure about the details. I suggested she learn the specifics and try to capitalize on that offer by contributing at least enough to earn the full match. Allocating closer to 10% of her salary would be ideal. (And PS. that contribution is tax deductible!)

Worried that this would stretch her paycheck too thin, I reminded Renee that she can always adjust her retirement contributions each month, but urged her to give it a try. (My bet is that it won’t be as painful as she suspects.)

Pad the Rainy Day Account?

I wasn’t sure how far her $20,000 in checking would last her. She said it would be about a 6-month reserve, which I feel is adequate. No need to make adjustments there. One thought: She may want to move that $20,000 to a savings account that’s a little less accessible (like an online account without a debit card), so that she isn’t tempted to cash it out on a whim.

Protect Your Down Payment

Renee has $100,000 in a brokerage account, which she plans to use towards a down payment in the near future. But here’s something to consider: What if the market plunges six months before you want to make a bid for a home? And you suddenly lose 15 or 20% of your investments? It would take time to recover, more time than you want.

I would personally never risk money in the stock market if I anticipated needing that money in the next five years. And according to Renee, she hopes to buy a home in the next two years. My advice: Protect the down payment from market fluctuations by moving 50% of that money over to a short-term CD and with the other $50,000 she’s got saved in an 11-month CD, use all that savings towards a future down payment.

Know How Much House You Can Really Afford

To buy in NYC or San Francisco, a 20% down payment is standard. With $100,000 to put down, that means that she’s looking at homes valued at around $500,000. With today’s current mortgage rates nearing 4% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, she’s looking at close to $2,000 a month in payments. But we’ve yet to get to taxes, maintenance and home insurance.

Instead, consider a starter apartment, a studio or junior one-bedroom closer to $400,000. A 20% down payment would be $80,000, leaving her with another $20,000 for closing costs. Her monthly payments would come to around $1,500 per month, close to 30% of her take-home pay, which is a smart cap for housing payments.

 

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

The post Mint Money Audit: Affording Life After Grad School appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Build Credit with Fingerhut

If you’ve been wanting to make a big purchase, but your credit is less than spectacular, you might have looked into Fingerhut as an option. 

Fingerhut is an online catalog and retailer that showcases a multitude of products. On this website, customers can shop for anything from electronics to home décor to auto parts. Fingerhut offers financing through their own line of credit, making it appealing to shoppers with poor credit or a nonexistent credit history. Many consumers have a better chance of getting approved by Fingerhut, than they might have of getting approved through most other credit card companies. It’s an option worth looking into if you want to improve your credit score through credit utilization.  

The major difference between Fingerhut and credit cards that cater to low credit scores is that Fingerhut credit is exclusively available for use with its own company’s products and authorized partners. You’ll also find that the company’s products are pricier than they would be through most other retailers, while also bearing the weight of higher interest rates. While it might seem like a good idea if you don’t have good credit, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of the company beforehand so that you know what you’re signing up for. 

How Fingerhut credit works

When you apply for a Fingerhut credit account, you can get approved by one of two accounts:

  • WebBank/Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account.
  • Fingerhut FreshStart Installment Loan issued by WebBank.

As it happens, by submitting your application, you are applying for both credit accounts. Applicants will be considered for the Fingerhut FreshStart Installment Loan issued by WebBank as a direct result of being denied for the WebBank/Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account. In other words, you won’t have a way of knowing which one you will be approved for prior to applying. Both credit accounts are issued by WebBank and are set up so that customers can purchase merchandise by paying for them on an installment plan with a 29.99% Annual Percentage Rate (APR). These are the only things that the different Fingerhut credit accounts have in common.

The WebBank/Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account

The WebBank/Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account works very much like an unsecured credit card, except that it’s an account that you can only use it to shop on Fingerhut or through its authorized partners. 

This credit account features:

  •  No annual fee.
  • A 29.99% interest rate.
  • A $38 fee on late or returned payments.
  • A possible down payment; it may or may not be required. You won’t know prior to applying. 

If you get denied for this line of credit, your application will automatically be reviewed for the Fingerhut FreshStart Credit Account issued by WebBank, which is both structured and conditioned differently.

Fingerhut FreshStart Installment Loan issued by WebBank

If you get approved for the Fingerhut FreshStart Installment Loan, you must follow these three steps to activate it:

  • Make a one-time purchase of no less than $50.
  • Put a minimum payment of $30 down on your purchase, and your order will be shipped to you upon receipt of your payment. You may not use a credit card to make down payments, but you can use a debit card, check, or a money order. 
  • Make monthly payments on your balance within a span of six to eight months.

You can become eligible to upgrade to the Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account so long as you are able to pay off your balance during that time frame or sooner without having made any late payments. Keep in mind that paying for the entire balance in full at the time you make your down payment will result in you not qualifying for the loan as well as being ineligible for upgrade. 

How a Fingerhut credit account helps raise your credit score

The fact that it can help you improve your credit is one of the biggest advantages of using a Fingerhut credit account. 

When you make your payments to Fingerhut in full and on-time, the company will report that activity to the three major credit bureaus. This means that your good credit utilization won’t go unnoticed nor unrewarded. If you use Fingerhut to improve your credit score, you will eventually be able to apply for a credit card through a traditional credit card company—one where you can make purchases anywhere, not just at Fingerhut. 

Additional benefits of a Fingerhut credit account

Besides using it as a tool to repair your bad credit, there are a few other benefits to using a WebBank Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account such as:

  • No annual fee.
  • Fingerhut has partnerships with a handful of other retailers, which means you can use your Fingerhut credit line to make purchases through a variety of companies. Fingerhut is partnered with companies that specialize in everything from floral arrangements to insurance plans.
  • There are no penalties on the WebBank Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account when you pay off your balance early.

How to build credit with Fingerhut

Fingerhut credit works the same way as the loans from credit card companies work: in the form of a revolving loan. 

A revolving loan is when you are designated a maximum credit limit by your lender, in which you are allowed to spend. Whatever you spend, you are expected to pay back in full and on-time through a series of monthly payments. This act of borrowing money and paying off bills using your Fingerhut account causes your balances to revolve and fluctuate, hence, its name. 

Your credit activity, good or bad, gets reported to the three major credit bureaus and in turn, will have an effect on your credit report. Revolving loans play a large role in your credit score, affecting approximately 30% of your score through your credit utilization ratio. If your credit utilization ratio, the amount of available revolving credit divided by your amount owed, is too high then your credit score will plummet. 

When using a Fingerhut account, the goal is to try to keep your amounts owed as low as you possibly can so that you can maintain a low utilization ratio, and as a result, have a higher credit score.

Alternatives to Fingerhut

If you’ve done all your research and decided that Fingerhut isn’t the right choice for you, there are other options that might serve you better, even if you have bad credit. There are a variety of secured credit cards that you can apply for such as:

  • The OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card: You will need a $200 security deposit to qualify for this secured credit card, but you can most likely get approved without a credit check or even a bank account. It can also be used to improve your credit, as this card does report to the three major credit bureaus. While this card does come with an annual $35 fee, you can use it to shop anywhere that will accept a Visa. 
  • Discover it Secured:  For all those opposed to paying an annual fee of any sort, this card might just be the one for you. With a $0 annual fee and the ability to earn rewards through purchases, there’s not much to frown about with this secured credit card. One of the best perks, is that it allows you the chance to upgrade to an unsecured card after only eight months. 
  • Deserve Pro Mastercard: This card is a desirable option for those with a short credit history. There is no annual fee and no security deposit required and, if your credit history isn’t very long-winded, that’s okay. The issuers for this card may use their own process to decide whether or not you qualify for credit, by evaluating other factors such as income and employment. This card is especially nifty because you can get cash-back rewards such as 3% back on every dollar that you spend on travel and entertainment, 2% back on every dollar spent at restaurants, and 1% cash back on every dollar spent on anything else. 

Final Thoughts 

Fingerhut is an option worth looking into for those with bad credit or a short credit history. If you want to use a Fingerhunt credit account to improve your credit score, be sure to use it wisely and make all of your payments on time, just as you would with any other credit card.

Even though it might be easy to get approved, the prices and interest rates on items sold through Fingerhut are set higher than they would be at most other retailers, so it’s important to consider this before applying. 

There are a ton of options available, regardless of what your credit report looks like, if you are trying to improve your credit. If the prices of Fingerhut’s merchandise are enough to scare you away, you might want to consider applying for a secured credit card. 

How to Build Credit with Fingerhut is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com