Saturday, November 23, 2013

International Banking

So my latest financial crisis is that on Monday, someone posted in a Mexpat group on Facebook about Bank of America changing their banking fees. The way it's been for as long as it's mattered to me is that if you swipe your card anywhere you would be charged a 3% fee. But, if you withdrew money from a Santander ATM there were no fees, no extra charges, and you got an up to the minute exchange rate. It was fabulous and made bill paying in Mexico a breeze, funds permitting. As of November 8th, you are now charged the 3% for ATM transactions as well.

When I heard about the change, all I could think was, "Thank God someone told me!" I never would have known if this little announcement hadn't been made. I was really irritated that B of A didn't notify their customers in some way because 3% is kind of a big deal. 3% more for rent, utilities, internet, security, groceries... Ugh, whatever. It makes me sick just thinking about it. I went about my business, was kind of pissed off, but well on my way to getting over it.

Then I woke up Wednesday morning to a text message from Bank of America, letting me know that my available balance was -$42.33. Fuck me. I am super careful with our money, and maintain my check register like a saint. People tease me about it. I'm that asshole at the grocery store, writing down the purchase that I just made. Then, I've got my phone out, using my XE app to see the exchange rate and calculating 3% of the purchase, so that whatever I subtract from my register is accurate.

I have to be anal like that because we truly do live check to check and use almost every penny. Actually, when I got that text from the bank that my account was overdrawn, I thought my balance was $.76. I immediately assumed that I had forgotten to write something down but I had trouble imagining that. I never forget! I was totally freaking out at this point because I had 3 more transactions processing, one of them being international, which meant I was headed for 3 or 4 more overdraft fees. $175 dollars out of my pocket, and I certainly do not have an extra $175 lying around.

So as I sat in line to cross into the US that morning, I began to go through each transaction and compare it to my register. Everything matched up. Until November 12th. I saw that when I withdrew our rent money from Santander, I was charged 3% for the new international ATM fee that I had heard about from other expats. #FacePalm.

I was livid. I called the bank and the gentleman told me that he would see what he could do about reversing the $35 overdraft fee but he couldn't do anything about any future fees and I would need to call back. He apologized and then he said it. "Well ma'am, all you have to do is deposit $11.00 into your account and then you wouldn't risk being hit with any additional fees." I lost it. I'm laughing as I type this but I really lost it then.

Mister, I thought I only had 76 cents in my fucking checking account, do you think I can just pull eleven fucking dollars out of my ass?!

As soon as I said it, I felt horrible and began apologizing profusely. It wasn't his fault. But shit, when you're stressed financially, sometimes it gets to you and you do or say things you wouldn't otherwise. This is what life is like for the exiled Americans, even those of us who are living on the border and earning half a normal household income. Ni modo. It is what it is, right?

The bank rep didn't really know how to respond at that point but after a long, awkward pause he said, "Let me see what I can do for you." At this point, I was crying, and it was so embarrassing. But you know, I've done countless customer service jobs over the years and I've had people get to that point with me before as well. When you're in a position where you have just enough to cover your bills, or maybe not enough to cover them, it's a constant stressor.

I hate to give money so much power, but it really does make the world go round. And no I don't think that money makes you happy but what does that notorious Someecard say? Money doesn't buy happiness but I'd sure feel better drinking a margarita outside my beach front mansion?

Money stresses people out! I felt bad for this poor guy because he had to listen to me. But, he was very nice and extremely professional. He ended up refunding the overdraft charge, and to prevent any future charges, he also refunded the $10.26 charge that started this whole mess. He didn't skip a beat or even put me on hold to speak with a supervisor.

I apologized again and let him know that I was just spread a bit thin and rambled on about keeping up with everything when you are banking in 2 countries and keeping all the fees straight. Clearly he could see our account and the position we're in and he told me that he completely understood and hoped that everything would work out for the best for us. It was quite sweet.

He certainly represents the bank well and types like him are the exact reason I have stuck with Bank of America since I was a teenager waiting tables and babysitting on the side. I know a lot of people have had issues with their mortgages and B of A but I have always had a positive experience with them.

In the end it all worked out but UGH. Fucking 3%



24 comments:

  1. I use First Light FCU - they only charge 1% on international transactions, but I think there's a $1 atm fee plus whatever the Mexican bank charges for international atms. I just stop at an atm in El Paso after work or on my lunch break and exchange it when I cross the bridge. First Light has atms at several Wal-Marts and almost every 7-11, so I never pay atm fees. They're a really great bank, the few times I ever overdrafted by accident, they waived the fee for me - they have great customer service. I recommend them to everyone :)

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    1. Thanks Emma. My biggest concern is the fees for ATM withdrawls at Mexican banks. I have to pay rent, utilities, internet, etc in pesos so I am trying to figure out how I can do that for as little as possible. Do you know how much Mexico ATM fees are with First Light?

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    2. First Light's Mexico ATM fee is only $1 plus 1%, but the Mexican banks charge different amounts - it ranges from 15 pesos to 60 depending on which ATM you use, so I try to avoid it at all costs. I pay rent and utilities in pesos too, and for me, I feel like I save the most money by getting dollars when I'm in El Paso and exchanging it in Juarez. I just use my debit card wherever I can though, S-mart and Soriana and stuff, and it's just 1%.

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    3. That's really good to know. 1% is certainly better than 3!

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  2. Emily, I had Bank of America after they bought out the bank that bought out the bank that I had in my mid-teens (so about 30 years of what started as a savings account, and because an interest-bearing checking account several years later). I loved when they had "SafeSend" as a cost-free way to send money to my wife in Mexico. But then they climbed on the "overdraft" wagon (changing SafeSend and eventually killing the program as well).

    The class-action suit a few years back showed that BoA "stacked" transactions against the accounts, the highest charges first, so that there would be more overdraft fees. I got a few fees removed out of several overdrafts, often for small amounts under ten dollars, where I was able to add funds within a day. The last straw was an overdraft fee when there was not an overdraft (I added money in the wee hours before transactions against the account).

    I've switched to Capital One, back to an interest-bearing checking account. It's not the answer in an international situation like you have, but I've had the few potential overdraft fees waived every time, without intervention. They know that I will put money in when I have it.

    Find another bank that will provide the most for your situation. Leave BoA. You won't regret it in the end.

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    1. I have heard about Capital One 360, which seems to take care of most of my issues, but I am still not convinced. I was also advised by a Facebook follower to check out Charles Shwab. I am going to look into both. BTW, do you have Facebook? I'd love to keep in touch more than once a week. Feel free to email me. Link is on the top, right.

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    2. I do have Facebook - locked down as tight as I can - but have recently 'friended' Kathy Amaya (the mother that has been reunited with her son after 35 years). It's easy enough for me to provide a link, I've been trying to comment once a week here, and only glance over I2US infrequently (which I should look at more, and want my wife to naturalize soon). Other than family, I try to spice it up with having Ruben Navarrette (the journalist) and Mark Potok (of the Southern Poverty Law Center) as friends.

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  3. I wish I could help you! I live in Germany and have a credit card that is free and offers free withdrawls worldwide. Maybe there's something similar available in Mexico or the US?? I'm sorry, I really don't know anything about banks in Mexico and very little about banks in the US....

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    1. I'm keeping my eye out. Thanks for the support Yasmin!

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  4. I have Regions, and had forgotten about the international fee and ATM fees. It had been so long since being in Mexico. Right now, my account is -200 more or less. I am scared to even check it right now. My next check is unfortunately only 350 so I am screwed until Dec 15th. Thank God Miguel is working and I have already bought Christmas presents. Stupid banks fees!

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    1. Ugh, that stinks! Seeing a negative balance is horrible. I'm so careful I don't think it's happened in several years or so. Hope things start to look up for you girl.

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  5. Probably not useful in your situation, but I've been using http://onlinefx.westernunion.ca/ to transfer money to my Mexican account. It's part of western union but with much better exchange rates, around 1.5% + $2.50 per transaction. To register with them you need to send some scanned documents, and once your login is setup it takes a few steps to do each transaction: First you log into their website and initiate a transaction specifying the account where you want to send the money to; Then they give you an account where you transfer to them the money in dollars and 2-3 days later it shows up in the Mexican account. Once you have all the accounts configured it really only takes around 10 minutes per transaction.

    I suppose you or your husband have a Mexican bank account, so if you could manage to do just one transfer per month it could be worth the trouble. Just an idea...

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    1. Thanks for the suggestions Miguel! I'm still trying to figure out what I'd like to do but I'm leaning toward Schwab.

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  6. I don't know what's up with the banks but suddenly they want to start charge $45 to wire money to Mexico.. I don't mean a lot of money, just a couple hundred bucks~

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  7. for what it's worth - we're currently looking into using google wallet for our international banking. it's new, so we haven't actually tried yet, but i'll report back once we do.

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    1. Ooh, interesting! Definitely let me know how it goes.

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  8. I bank with Banamex USA in Los Angeles...it's a Citicorp bank...then withdraw in Mexico at Banamex with no fees...

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    1. Interesting! I will check it out. Thank you!

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  9. InterNational Bank in El Paso lets you conduct ATM transactions free at Banorte ATM's in Juarez. A free checking account is $5 a month if your balance is less than $1000 average. They're the best deal that I've found in El Paso.

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    1. Ooooh, I've never heard of that bank. Thank you. I will have to check it out!

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  10. Hi Emily,

    This might be old news, but you can set up CapitalOne360 if you also have a USA address and a brick-and-mortar bank. There are no foreign transaction fees and it looks like if you withdraw from any Banorte ATM you can get the ATM fees refunded as soon as they show up on your account. Banorte and CapitalOne have just partnered so the automatic deduction isn't in place yet. Double check that before you trust me completely, but I'm pretty sure that's correct. It's funny to hear that you had such great experiences with Bank of America after the new charges went into place, because it was the opposite experience for me. They basically didn't notify us of the 3% charges so, just like you, I overdrew my account because of the fees we didn't know were coming. I called and asked for them to make an exception just this once since I didn't feel we were notified properly, was on the phone for probably 30 minutes, and was told that I was notified well enough and there was nothing that could be done. Glad to hear they were more sympathetic in your case.

    I'm hoping CapitalOne will work just as well as BoA has in Mexico.

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    1. Did you cry? Haha, next time cry. I'm pretty sure that's why they refunded me for the fees. ;)

      I have heard about Capital One 360 and it seems like it would be the solution. That or Charles Schwab. For now, out of pure laziness, I have resorted to withdrawing cash in El Paso and then going to a currency exchange house in Juarez and buying pesos. Eventually I will make the switch, but for now the idea of changing all my auto-payments, etc, just feels too overwhelming.

      Thanks for the suggestion!

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  11. OK, with Capital One 360 (which I just started banking with) I'm still not sure about the possibility of withdrawing money from Banorte ATMs for free (that seems to be solely a Capital One thing, which for now is still separate from Capital One 360), but you can definitely withdraw from any Allpoint ATM without fees. Unfortunately, the Allpoint ATM App/map online is highly inaccurate, showing ATMs that don't exist and addresses in the wrong locations (in DF, it shows an ATM in the center of the Revolution monument with an address in a different neighborhood). I've contacted Allpoint about this and they don't really get it; they say the locations are updated every day. Anyway, I've found one reliable Allpoint ATM in Mexico City that is relatively accessible from my location, so it's working out quite nicely for me. I also love being able to carry my Capital One 360 debit card and use it without fees for little Oxxo purchases if I don't have cash.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to eventually do :) I totally get that changing all of your auto-payments is too overwhelming. I feel like I go through something like this every 6 months because of the Mexico life.

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