Travel Advisory: Banks With High Fees

travel

by on June 17, 2013

Over the next few months, countless Americans will take to the road or the sky for summer vacations. For most, the cost of a flight or hotel is of primary concern, but there other important travel costs that travelers may not take into consideration: bank fees. Making a withdrawal at an out of network ATM (one that’s not owned by the bank) often results in a fee, on top of whatever the machine itself might charge. For globetrotting Americans, the fee can be even higher at international ATMs. Even swiping a card to make a purchase in a foreign country typically results in a debit card foreign transaction fee up to 3% of the amount.

Not all checking accounts are equally fee-laden. To help consumers determine which banks might charge the most on their trip, NerdWallet compiled data on 4 different factors for personal checking accounts at 20 of the largest U.S. banks. These factors include:

  • Fees: NerdWallet analyzed out of network ATM fees, international ATM fees, and foreign transaction fees at each bank
  • Access: NerdWallet analyzed the number of branches that each bank operates in the top 10 U.S. states by domestic travel expenditures (CA, FL, TX, NY, IL, NV, PA, VA, GA, NJ)

Which banks have the highest fees for summer travelers?

While these banks are not necessarily poor options in general, some of their fees and branch availability may make it difficult for travelers to avoid extra costs.

1. M&T Bank

As a Buffalo, NY headquartered bank, M&T primarily serves customers across New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and other east coast states. The bank’s out of network ATM fee is the highest NerdWallet measured, at $3.00 (which rises to $5.00 for international ATMs). M&T also charges a 3% foreign exchange fee. Finally, vacationers might find it difficult to find a branch at their destination, since there are a total of just 514 branches across the most traveled states. M&T does offer a checking account “add-on” that waives out of network ATM fees, but it will cost you an extra $4.95 per month.

2. Regions Bank

Regions is headquartered in Birmingham, AL and operates branches throughout the southeastern United States. The bank’s out of network ATM fee is above average for both domestic ($2.50) and international ($5.00) withdrawals. Like many of the other banks studied, they also levy a 3% foreign exchange fee on international travelers. Finally, with just 670 branches across top U.S. destinations, a Regions Bank location could be difficult to track down while on the road.

3. Citizens Bank

Citizens Bank, owned by British bank the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), is headquartered in Providence, RI and operates throughout most northeastern states as well as the Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland metro areas. Like M&T Bank, Citizens charges the most among the banks we measured for domestic out of network withdrawals ($3.00), but does not increase that fee for international withdrawals. They also charge the nearly ubiquitous 3% foreign transaction fee for transactions in a foreign currency. Finally, the bank had one of the lowest numbers of branches available in popular travel destination states, with just 230.

4. BB&T

BB&T serves customers in many parts of the southeastern United States and is headquartered in Winston-Salem, NC. Their $2.50 fee for using another bank’s ATM rises to $5.00 when outside the country, in which case travelers also face a 3% foreign exchange fee.  Though BB&T’s branch network is slightly stronger in popular travel destinations (Florida, for example), their 930 locations still places below average among the 20 banks measured.

5. PNC Bank

PNC is headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA and operates branches across much of the eastern United States. The bank charges $2.50 for domestic out of network ATM withdrawals, $5.00 for those in international locations and a 3% foreign transaction fee, all of which are above average. However, PNC does best the other banks highlighted here by offering over 1,400 branches across popular travel destination states, which was the 4th highest among the 20 banks studied.

How can consumers eliminate or reduce bank fees while traveling?

Just as some banks charge extra for services used often by travelers, other financial institutions are more lenient when it comes to fees. Some online checking accounts at banks like Charles Schwab and Capital One 360 don’t charge out of network ATM fees or foreign exchange fees.

Local institutions like credit unions and community banks may also be a good option, despite their limited geographic range. This is because many are part of surcharge-free ATM and branch networks like CO-OP, which offers thousands of free ATMs nationwide. Plus, when local banks and credit unions do charge an ATM or foreign exchange fee, they are typically lower than at the big banks.

Even big bank customers have some options to avoid or reduce bank fees while traveling. Bank of America participates in the Global ATM Alliance, which allows customers to withdraw from ATMs at partnering foreign banks such as Barclays and Deutshe Bank without incurring additional fees (though a 1% foreign exchange fee will still apply).  Some other banks, such as M&T Bank and Union Bank offer monthly “add-ons” for their checking accounts, which will waive some or all out of network fees for a flat monthly rate of around $3-$5. Finally, TD bank is the only one of the 20 banks analyzed that charges no foreign transaction fee.

Finally, college students and seniors may be able to take advantage of reduced or waived ATM fees when they sign up for a particular checking account. For example, BB&T’s Student Checking account allows 4 free non-BB&T ATM transactions per month.

Full data table

Bank Out of Network ATM Fee (Domestic) Out of Network ATM Fee (Intl) Foreign Transaction Fee Branches in Top Travel Destinations Overall Score
M&T Bank $3.00 $5.00* 3% 514 2
Regions Bank $2.50 $5.00 3% 670 16
Citizens Bank $3.00 $3.00 3% 267 17
BB&T $2.50 $5.00 3% 930 17
PNC Bank $2.50 $5.00 3% 1,429 21
Comerica Bank $2.00 $5.00 3% 253 25
Fifth Third Bank $2.00 $5.00 3% 387 26
SunTrust Bank $2.00 $5.00 3% 1,078 31
HSBC Bank USA $2.50 $2.50 3% 286 34
Union Bank $2.00 $5.00 2% 396 34
Wells Fargo $2.50 $5.00 3% 3,825 38
U.S. Bank $2.50 $2.50 3% 936 38
Bank of America $2.00 $5.00 3% 3,460 47
Chase Bank $2.00 $5.00 3% 3,616 49
KeyBank $2.50 $2.50 1% 230 50
BMO Harris Bank $2.00 $2.00 3% 256 50
BBVA Compass $2.00** $2.00** 3% 484 52
Capital One $2.00 $2.00 3% 596 53
Citibank $2.00 $2.00 3% 963 55
TD Bank $2.50 $2.50 N/A 791 62

*Greater of $5 or 3% of amount
**Fee is $1.75 in California
†Fee is 1% for ATM transactions, 3% for point-of-sale purchases
‡Data is for Capital One’s traditional bank accounts, rather than their online brand Capital One 360

Methodology

The overall score for each bank was derived from the following measures:

  1. Out of Network ATM Fee (Domestic): information available through each bank
  2. Out of Network ATM Fee (International): information available through each bank
  3. Foreign Exchange Fee): information available through each bank
  4. Branches in Top Travel Destinations: Branch locations via the FDIC, and domestic travel expenditures by state for 2009 via the Census Bureau
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  • Mike Francis

    Charles Schwab Bank reimburses customers for ATM fees incurred.