credit cards

Currency conversion fees

Most credit card issuers charge currency conversion fees for foreign purchases made with their credit cards, debit and check cards, and ATM cash withdrawals.

Over the course of your travels, that can add up to a significant increase in the cost of your vacation -- money you could save by picking the right credit card.

For the most part, the fees are twofold: Visa and MasterCard have a standard 1 percent charge on foreign purchases and the issuing bank adds another fee.

Bankrate recently surveyed the top credit card issuers to find out what they charge for these transactions. The banks were: American Express, Bank of America, BB&T, Capital One, Chase, Citibank, Discover, Fifth Third Bank, HSBC, National City, PNC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Regions, Simmons, SunTrust, TD Bank, USAA, US Bancorp, Wachovia, Washington Mutual, Wells Fargo and Zions.

The percentage shown for each credit card issuer is the total of the fees: the amount charged by the issuer, plus the charge by Visa or MasterCard for a foreign purchase. For that 1 percent fee, Visa or MasterCard converts your foreign-currency purchase to U.S. dollars. All Visa or MasterCard cards carry that 1 percent charge, although some banks may not pass that fee on to customers.

The credit card issuer or bank often charges an additional fee, usually 2 percent, which adds up to a 3 percent total charge on foreign purchases.

The percentage posted under debit- and checking-card purchases is the charge assessed by both Visa or MasterCard and the credit card issuer or bank. A fee is also assessed by each card issuer and bank for ATM cash withdrawals. ATM charges vary for each card.

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The lowest conversion fees are from Capital One, at zero percent, and USAA, which charges 1 percent for its conversions.

The table of major credit card companies and their currency-conversion-fee policies was correct as of April 28, 2009. Write to editors@bankrate.com if you are aware of an update not shown here.

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