4 Ways to Exchange Money This Summer When You Travel Abroad

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After my plane landed in Hungary, I quickly learned three important lessons.

The first was that Uber is banned in Hungary, so I’d have to take a taxi into Budapest. The second was that I’d have to pay for the taxi in cash. And the third was that Hungary doesn’t use euros (which I had plenty of) but rather Hungarian forints (which I had none of).

Fortunately, I knew that airport currency exchange kiosks tend to have bad rates and high fees, so I withdrew forints from an ATM.

Using an ATM upon arrival is a good way to obtain foreign currency, but it’s not the only approach. Here are your best options for exchanging money before or during a trip abroad (so you never feel stranded in a Hungarian airport).

1. Take out cash from an ATM

Accessing an ATM can be one of the most cost-effective ways to get your hands on local money.

“It will cost you to change your money no matter how you do it, but the best way to do it is to withdraw cash from an ATM in your destination country,” said Peter Koch, financial blogger at Seller at Heart.

It’s a particularly savvy move if you have a bank with low or no foreign transaction fees. Charles Schwab, for instance, doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee, and Ally Bank charges a low foreign transaction fee of up to 1%.

Charles Schwab is an especially smart option for frequent travelers, as it has locations around the globe and reimburses you for ATM fees worldwide.

That said, not all banks have such friendly terms. Santander Bank, for instance, charges the following fees:

  • $6 for an international ATM cash withdrawal
  • 4% of any transaction you make outside the U.S using your debit card
  • 3% of any transaction you make in foreign currency using an ATM card

Plus, some ATM networks charge high fees, which can be hard to predict. You typically will be able to review the fee on screen before completing your transaction, though, so you can cancel if it’s outrageous.

It’s also a smart idea to take out cash at once instead of making lots of small withdrawals to prevent fees from adding up. On the other hand, don’t withdraw too much, as you’ll want to guard against the risks of pickpockets or lost handbags.

Finally, make sure to tell your bank you’ll be out of the country so you don’t get locked out of your account.

2. Buy foreign currency from your bank or credit union

Not everyone wants to wait until they arrive to get local currency. When traveling to a new country, you might feel more confident if you already have a few euros, pesos, or forints in your pocket.

If that’s the case, consider purchasing foreign currency from your bank or credit union before you depart. Banking institutions typically have decent exchange rates, but you might have to pay a fee for the transaction.

Bank of America, for instance, offered a British pound exchange rate of GBP 0.71 (meaning 71 pence — or 0.71 pounds — per U.S. dollar) on July 10, 2018. According to Google, the market rate that same day was only slightly higher at GBP 0.75, so Bank of America’s exchange rate wasn’t bad.

Note that the bank also charges a flat fee of $7.50 for all foreign currency orders under $1,000. But by getting cash in advance, you won’t have to worry about tracking down an ATM upon arrival.

“One of the best ways to exchange money into foreign currency is by exchanging money at your local bank or credit union before your trip,” said Danielle Desir, founder of travel and personal finance blog The Thought Card. “The only catch is that oftentimes your local bank might not carry foreign currency, so it may take a few days to order the currency. If this is the case, plan ahead.”

3. Order cash through a currency conversion website

Banks aren’t the only places to exchange money. You also can conduct this transaction online through a currency conversion website, such as Travelex or OFX.

That said, you might find worse rates at these websites. For example, Travelex offered an exchange rate of GBP 0.68 on July 10, 2018 — a less competitive rate than Bank of America’s.

Travelex also charges a delivery fee on orders under $1,000. For example, 100 euros will cost an extra $9.99 for standard delivery. You can, however, opt for in-store pickup.

Before you choose an exchange website, call your bank or credit union to compare offers. Then, you can choose the option with the lowest overall cost.

Whatever approach you take, make sure to start the process well in advance of your trip, as Desir suggested. You don’t want the money to arrive at your home address when you’re already halfway across the Atlantic.

4. Use an airport exchange kiosk (but only if you have to)

When you get to the airport, you’ll likely see one or more exchange kiosks offering a variety of foreign currency. Despite what their signs might advertise, these exchanges typically have the worst rates and the highest fees.

“Definitely avoid airport currency exchange because you’ll likely get an even lower exchange rate,” said Nick Brennan, world traveler and founder of My UK SIM Card. “They know that they have a captive audience who may have left it to the last minute [and] are in a rush (but also excited about their vacation), and so [they] can get away with offering an even lower rate.”

By planning in advance, you won’t be that worried traveler who’s susceptible to high fees because you didn’t get currency in advance. You also can arm yourself with knowledge by researching current exchange rates before you leave. That way, you’ll have a good sense of what’s a fair rate and what’s not.

Pro tip: Rely on a no-foreign-transaction-fee credit card when you can

Unless you belong to a traveler-friendly bank, chances are you’ll lose money during the exchange from U.S. dollars to another currency.

Fortunately, there are lots of travel destinations where you barely have to use cash at all. When I traveled in England a few years ago, for instance, I never had to take out pounds. Instead, I relied entirely on my credit card and racked up rewards points along the way.

Brennan has had similar experiences, and he advised against taking out a large sum of foreign currency, particularly if you’re traveling in Europe.

“My advice is to forget about exchanging money, other than for a small amount to start you off and have in your wallet,” he said. “In the U.K. and Europe, you can use your debit or credit card for purchasing almost anything.”

You’ll save the most if you use a credit card with no foreign transaction fee, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Capital One Venture Card, or Uber Visa Card. Some cards also have extra perks for travelers, such as rental car insurance or trip cancellation reimbursement. Terms may apply.

Note that certain credit cards charge an annual fee, so make sure the benefits outweigh the cost.

Plus, you have to be careful about staying within budget and not charging more than you can afford to pay off each month. Credit cards come with high interest rates, so carrying a revolving balance from a vacation could end up costing you more in interest than currency exchange fees would.

Track your spending while you travel

Although it’s easy to give in to the “treat yourself” mindset while you’re on vacation, be careful not to throw your budget out the window.

Travel often comes with unexpected costs, from foreign transaction fees to an expensive Hungarian taxi ride you didn’t see coming (whoops).

But there are ways to prepare for the unexpected and save more of your hard-earned money. Check out this guide for surprising ways you’re busting your budget when you travel — and advice on how to save instead.

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Here are the top personal loan lenders of 2018!
LenderAPR RangeLoan Amount 
1 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Personal Loans: Fixed rates from 6.990% APR to 14.865% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 6.255% APR to 12.555% APR (with AutoPay). SoFi rate ranges are current as of September 1, 2018 and are subject to change without notice. Not all rates and amounts available in all states. See Personal Loan eligibility details. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, to qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including evaluation of your credit worthiness, years of professional experience, income and other factors. See APR examples and terms. Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at 14.95%. Lowest variable rate of 6.255% APR assumes current index rate derived from the 1-month LIBOR of 2.08% plus 4.425% margin minus 0.25% AutoPay discount. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.

    To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull.See Consumer Licenses.
  2. Minimum Credit Score: Not all applicants who meet SoFi’s minimum credit score requirements are approved for a personal loan. In addition to meeting SoFi’s minimum eligibility criteria, applicants must also meet other credit and underwriting requirements to qualify.
  3. SoFi Personal Loans are not available to residents of MS. Maximum interest rate on loans for residents of AK and WY is 9.99% APR, for residents of IL with loans over $40,000 is 8.99% APR, for residents of TX is 9.99% APR on terms greater than 5 years, for residents of CO, CT, HI, VA, SC is 11.99% APR, and for residents of ME is 12.24% APR. Personal loans not available to residents of MI who already have a student loan with SoFi. Personal Loans minimum loan amount is $5,000. Residents of AZ, MA, and NH have a minimum loan amount of $10,001. Residents of KY have a minimum loan amount of $15,001. Residents of PA have a minimum loan amount of $25,001. Variable rates not available to residents of AK, TX, VA, WY, or for residents of IL for loans greater than $40,000.
  4. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

2 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for Payoff.

Payoff Disclosures

  1. All loans are subject to credit review and approval. Your actual rate depends upon credit score, loan amount, loan term, credit usage and history. Currently loans are not offered in: MA, MS, NE, NV, OH, and WV.

3 Important Disclosures for FreedomPlus.

FreedomPlus Disclosures

  1. All loans available through FreedomPlus.com are made by Cross River Bank, a New Jersey State Chartered Commercial Bank, Member FDIC, Equal Housing Lender. All loan and rate terms are subject to eligibility restrictions, application review, credit score, loan amount, loan term, lender approval, and credit usage and history. Eligibility for a loan is not guaranteed. Loans are not available to residents of all states – please call a FreedomPlus representative for further details. The following limitations, in addition to others, shall apply: FreedomPlus does not arrange loans in: (i) Arizona under $10,500; (ii) Massachusetts under $6,500, (iii) Ohio under $5,500, and (iv) Georgia under $3,500. Repayment periods range from 24 to 60 months. The range of APRs on loans made available through FreedomPlus is 4.99% to a maximum of 29.99%. APR. The APR calculation includes all applicable fees, including the loan origination fee. For Example, a four year $20,000 loan with an interest rate of 15.49% and corresponding APR of 18.34% would have an estimated monthly payment of $561.60 and a total cost payable of $7,948.13. To qualify for a 4.99% APR loan, a borrower will need excellent credit on a loan of $15,000 with a term of 24 months, and qualify for at least two of the following discounts: (1) add a co-borrower who has sufficient income; (2) use at least fifty percent of the loan proceeds to directly pay off existing debt; or (3) show proof of having at least forty-thousand dollars in retirement savings – contact FreedomPlus for further details.

4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Personal Loan Rate DisclosureFixed interest rates from 6.49% – 19.49% (6.49% – 19.49% APR) based on applicable terms. Lowest rates range from 5.99%-18.99% (5.99%-18.99% APR), are for eligible applicants, require a 3-year repayment term, and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
  2. Loyalty Discount: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower has submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, student loans or other personal loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI and VT. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) disclosed in the Truth-In-Lending Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan, and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  3. Automatic Payment Discount: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their Citizens Bank Personal Loan during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account two or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.

5 Important Disclosures for LendingPoint.

LendingPoint Disclosures

  • Loan approval is not guaranteed. Actual loan offers and loan amounts, terms and annual percentage rates (“APR”) may vary based upon LendingPoint’s proprietary scoring and underwriting system’s review of your credit, financial condition, other factors, and supporting documents or information you provide. Origination or other fees from 0% to 6% may apply depending upon your state of residence. Upon LendingPoint’s final underwriting approval to fund a loan, said funds are often sent via ACH the next non-holiday business day. LendingPoint makes loan offers from $2,000 to $25,000, at rates ranging from a low of 15.49% APR to a high of 34.49% APR, with terms from 24 to 48 months. The loan offer(s) shown reflect a 28 day payment cycle which is being offered as a courtesy as many of our customers are paid on a biweekly schedule and thus this may better align the loan payment dates with your actual income receipt schedule.

6 Important Disclosures for LendingClub.

LendingClub Disclosures

All loans made by WebBank, Member FDIC. Your actual rate depends upon credit score, loan amount, loan term, and credit usage & history. The APR ranges from 6.95% to 35.89%*. The origination fee ranges from 1% to 6% of the original principal balance and is deducted from your loan proceeds. For example, you could receive a loan of $6,000 with an interest rate of 7.99% and a 5.00% origination fee of $300 for an APR of 11.51%. In this example, you will receive $5,700 and will make 36 monthly payments of $187.99. The total amount repayable will be $6,767.64. Your APR will be determined based on your credit at the time of application. The average origination fee is 5.49% as of Q1 2017. In Georgia, the minimum loan amount is $3,025. In Massachusetts, the minimum loan amount is $6,025 if your APR is greater than 12%. There is no down payment and there is never a prepayment penalty. Closing of your loan is contingent upon your agreement of all the required agreements and disclosures on the www.lendingclub.com website. All loans via LendingClub have a minimum repayment term of 36 months. Borrower must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or be in the United States on a valid long term visa and at least 18 years old. Valid bank account and Social Security number are required. Equal Housing Lender. All loans are subject to credit approval. LendingClub’s physical address is: LendingClub, 71 Stevenson Street, Suite 1000, San Francisco, CA 94105.

†Per reviews collected and authenticated by Bazaarvoice in compliance with the Bazaarvoice Authentication Requirements, supported by anti-fraud technology and human analysis. All reviews can be reviewed at reviews.lendingclub.com

**Based on approximately 60% of borrowers who received offers through LendingClub’s marketing partners between January 1, 2018 to July 20,2018. The time it will take to fund your loan may vary.


7 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Earnest does not lend in Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Nevada, or Rhode Island.

8 Important Disclosures for Avant.

Avant Disclosures

* The actual rate and loan amount that a customer qualifies for may vary based on credit determination and other factors. Funds are generally deposited via ACH for delivery next business day if approved by 4:30pm CT Monday-Friday. Avant branded credit products are issued by WebBank, member FDIC.

** Example: A $5,700 loan with an administration fee of 4.75% and an amount financed of $5,429.25, repayable in 36 monthly installments, would have an APR of 29.95% and monthly payments of $230.33


* Important Disclosures for Upgrade Bank.

Upgrade Bank Disclosures

* Your loan terms are not guaranteed and are subject to our verification and review process. You may be asked to provide additional documents to enable us to verify your income and your identity. This rate includes an Autopay APR reduction of 0.5%. By enrolling in Autopay your payments will be automatically deducted from you bank account. Selecting Autopay is optional. Annual Percentage Rate is inclusive of a loan origination fee, which is deducted from the loan proceeds. Late payments or subsequent charges and fees may increase the cost of your fixed rate loan. All loans made by WebBank, member FDIC. Please refer to Upgrade’s Terms of Use and Borrower Agreement for all terms, conditions and requirements.

** Accept your loan offer and your funds will be sent to your bank via ACH within one (1) business day of clearing necessary verifications. Availability of the funds is dependent on how quickly your bank processes this transaction. From the time of approval, funds should be available within four (4) business days.

7.73% – 29.99%$1,000 - $50,000

Visit Upstart

6.26% – 14.87%1$5,000 - $100,000

Visit SoFi

6.99% – 35.97%*$1,000 - $50,000

Visit Upgrade

5.99% – 24.99%2$5,000 - $35,000

Visit Payoff

4.99% – 29.99%3$10,000 - $35,000

Visit FreedomPlus

5.99% – 18.99%4$5,000 - $50,000

Visit Citizens

15.49% – 34.49%5$2,000 - $25,000

Visit LendingPoint

6.95% – 35.89%6$1,000 - $40,000

Visit LendingClub

6.99% – 18.24%7$5,000 - $75,000

Visit Earnest

9.95% – 35.99%8$2,000 - $35,000

Visit Avant

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.