Credit & Debit Cards to Use Abroad


Are you traveling abroad this summer and unsure which of your "plastic" you should bring with you? Travel is already a luxury but it can get even more expensive when each purchase is racking up additional fees. Recently I went to Asia and did some research of my own. Hopefully, this will help you decide which of your cards you should bring, what fees you should know about, and when to use a debit card versus a credit card.

Credit Cards


Foreign Transaction Fees. This fee is a surcharge for making a purchase in a foreign currency. Most often the fee is about 3% of the total transaction. Foreign Transaction fees are very common on most regular credit cards, but many travel cards do not have this fee. The Chase Southwest credit card, for example, does not charge a foreign transaction fee.

Good To Know

Check your card benefits. Credit cards often offer nice benefits, such as included travel insurance or lost baggage reimbursement, when you book your travel with your card. Check your card benefits before you buy extra trip insurance when booking flights and hotels, as it might be double coverage you don't need. Easily dispute a wrong transaction. Keep all of your receipts until transactions are posted to the card, as this will give you proof against fraudulent transactions. Always choose the foreign currency. You might be asked if you want to charge in dollars or the foreign currency. Always choose foreign currency because your card issuer will give you a better exchange rate on foreign transactions than the vendor will. If you brought a card that does have a foreign transaction fee, it could be better to charge in USD to avoid the fee depending on the difference in rate.


Check if your provider is accepted where you are going. When going abroad, it is best to stick to Visa or Mastercard, as American Express and Discover are less widely accepted worldwide. Cash is king. In many countries, you will find that most places are cash dependent. Remember credit is not always accepted and you will need to have some cash on hand.

Debit Cards


ATM fees. This fee is often set as a dollar amount per withdrawal charge for using a non-affiliated ATM. The Wells Fargo preferred debit card, for example, has an ATM fee of $5 per withdrawal. Foreign Transaction Fees. On top of ATM fees, debit cards also have foreign transaction fees like credit cards. The Wells Fargo preferred debit card, for example, will also hit you with a 3% foreign transaction fee. Withdrawing $500 would cost you $20 - $5 ATM fee and $15 in foreign transaction fees.

Good To Know

Check if your bank is prevalent or has ATM partners abroad. Citibank, for example, partners with the ATMs in 7/11 stores. Anywhere there are 7/11's you can use an ATM with no fees. Many large banks have foreign counterparts. Get cash from ATMs only. Exchange rates are often best at large bank ATMs. The worst rates are at the exchange kiosks, especially the ones in the airports. ATM fee reimbursement. Some banks, mostly ones who are entirely online, with no brick and mortar ATMs, will offer a per-monthly-cycle reimbursement of ATM fees. For example, the Ally debit card gives a $10 per month reimbursement on ATM fees. This is nice, but when abroad and using an ATM multiple times in a short period, the $10 would not be sufficient.


Little to no protection. There is practically no protection against fraudulent money transactions on a debit card. Once money has been withdrawn, you do not have the same ability as you do with a credit card to refute the transaction. If your debit card and pin were stolen, the amount in your checking or savings might not be recovered. Do not use your debit card when you are out. It is best to leave it in the hotel room's safety deposit box or in a safe place. I keep my checking and savings account balance at a minimum when I travel as I find it is easier for me to transfer money when needed than take the risk. Daily ATM withdrawal limit. Debit cards can limit the dollar amount you can withdraw in a 24 hour period. I have seen this range per bank between $300-$2,500. Not every card does, but it’s something you want to know before you leave home so you can plan accordingly.

Security Abroad

Set Travel notifications for all cards you are bringing. Notify your cardholders of when and where you are going abroad. This can be done online usually under the travel section of the website, in the bank app or over the phone.

Use your cellular data. Cellular data on your mobile phone (LTE, 3G, etc.) is a private channel and can not be accessed by others (unless allowed by opening your personal hotspot). If you must access bank and credit card information over public wifi, do so on your personal laptop and use a VPN service like encryptme to make sure your internet connection is private. Never use a public computer, especially with public wifi, to access any private information or anything requiring you to enter a username and password.

Download phone apps before you go and use fingerprints to log in. Fingerprint login's, like on the iPhone, are safer. Your fingerprint cannot be copied or stolen over the web, unlike a typed password. By downloading apps before you go and setting up a fingerprint login, you can do most all your web searching abroad without ever having to type in a password.

Make sure your phone and all apps are locked with a code. This ensures that if someone steals your phone, they can't access your personal data.

In Summary

It is better to use credit cards for purchases and debit cards to get cash. If you have multiple debit and credit cards, make a list of their fees and decide which is best to use and only bring a few cards. Don't forget to keep your research handy and somewhere easy to locate to remind yourself for your next trip!


Get the Gift of a Financial Plan

Are you interested in a financial plan but not sure if it is in your budget? Ask for a Financial Plan as a gift. Here is why, when, and how to get it.

4 Reasons Why

1. It is a great investment - The ROI (return on investment) for a financial plan can be huge. Setting up a plan for the future can be life-changing. 2. Even your stingy relatives would want to contribute to this gift for you - People will be surprised by your desire for this educational gift and think it is an honorable and worthy cause to support. 3. You can use what you learn not just for you, but everyone you know - In turn, you can help the people who helped you pay for it! 4. Most importantly, you can set yourself up for financial success - By laying out a strategic plan on paper, you are more likely to reach your goals. With the help of a professional, you will reduce the number of mistakes you might have made along the way.

4 Occasions When

1. College or high school graduation 🎓- Graduating from school is a milestone that also comes with large responsibilities. Whether it is taking out student loans to pay for college or learning how to manage your first real paycheck and work benefits, young professionals and students in debt benefit from learning about their finances early on. Family or friends will wish they had the opportunity to have this education when they went through the milestone themselves. 2. Wedding 👰– Getting married comes with many new financial responsibilities most don’t even realize, like combining health and property insurance to name just a few. Money can be a strain on a relationship if money values are not discussed early on. Get a 3rd party opinion and have the discussion with a professional to take the emotion out of it. By having a plan in place from the beginning of a marriage, it keeps both spouses on the same page. This is very important when two people are now sharing the responsibility of paying and saving for a joint life. 3. Baby shower 🍼 - Getting ready to bring a small bundle of joy into the world? Now is the time for a financial plan. All of your friends and family who have already had children would agree. Instead of toys and clothes for your baby, that they will grow out of in what seems like 5 seconds, ask for a donation to a financial plan instead. Learn about the costs of this bundle of joy and how it is going to change the rest of your financial life. 4. Buying your first house 🏠 – Buying a home is usually the largest purchase any one person could make. This purchase also comes with many ongoing and one-time expenses most people don’t want to think about. A financial plan before buying a home can help you determine how much house you can really afford. Also, what your cash flow would look like and how it affects your other goals when things like roof replacements or leaks happen. Throw a “Welcome Home” or “Bye Apartment” party. Instead of people bringing art, wine, or kitchen supplies ask for cash instead to purchase a financial plan.

4 Ways How

1. Go fund me or another crowdfunding site - Start a page and plead your case for why you want, or deserve, a financial plan. Share this on social media and spread the word. You don’t just have to get money from family and friends. Society can be generous if you are passionate about what you are asking for. 2. Wedding registry website – Nowadays on most wedding registry websites they let you add a “cash goal.” This option is most often used for honeymoon flights and hotels, but you can use it for a financial plan instead. All you have to do is describe what you want, a financial plan, and write out the dollar amount you need to pay for it. Your wedding attendees can decide how much they want to contribute to your gift and make the transaction online. It couldn't be easier.

3. Baby registry website – Same idea as with the wedding registry! Add a "cash fund" gift like this:

4. All other holidays - Birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, Anniversary, Mothers' or Father’s Day, and a whole bunch of others! Ask people for cash instead of gifts to fund the purchase of a financial plan. There is a year’s worth of gift opportunities to collect the cash needed!

A financial plan is truly a gift that keeps on giving. Learn early and take the knowledge with you and share it with others. You will see this gift is worth so much more than the junk you will get and never remember. This gift will be remembered for a lifetime by you and those who helped gift it to you.

2017 Year-End Investment Checklist

This checklist is geared towards people already working with an advisor, therefore items like portfolio rebalancing, taking RMD's, and reviewing other essential planning pieces are intentionally excluded since those would be covered with your advisor during an Annual Review.

  • Freeze your credit if you haven't yet. We have been recommending this for months now, but in case you are procrastinating, here is how to do it.
  • Check to confirm minor children DON'T have a credit report. Children should not have credit reports since they don't have a credit history. If they do, they could be the victim of identity theft. Many states give you the option to open and immediately freeze the minor's credit. That being said, they require you to mail in copies of social security cards and birth certificates, which I don't want to do. As an alternative, my solution is to check annually to ensure that my children don't have credit reports on file.
  • Use up your old gift cards. The total estimated balance on unused gift cards is around $1 billion. Now is a good time to clean out your wallet or desk to find any forgotten cards. If you don't think you will use the cards, you can always sell them. Local grocery stores have gift card machines that will give you cash for unwanted cards. You can also sell them to companies online ( for example).
  • Continue to make progress on going paperless. Some ideas:
    • I take pictures of the children's artwork rather than letting it pile up. You can make a photo book or scrapbook of the pictures once a year.
    • Absolutely everything gets scanned and shredded. If it is an original document I need to keep, it goes in our fire-proof safe.
    • We have been using the OurGroceries app for years instead of writing out paper lists. Anything I need from Costco, Target or the garden store gets its own separate list. It sync's with my husband's app, so if he is on the way home and has to stop for milk, he can grab the other items on my list without me having to take a picture of a physical list. He can check things off rather than doing laps back and forth in the grocery store.
  • Tackle clutter and save on taxes. If you can't close a drawer or hang a shirt up in your closet without substantial effort, donate some items before the end of the year to get a tax deduction. This only applies if you itemize and meet the IRS requirements.
  • Use up your FSA savings account. Spend it down if you have an account with a balance. Most often you will lose the money left in your account if it is not used by the end of the year.
  • Update your home inventory. This is a great way to be prepared in the event of a burglary or natural disaster (or even before moving). Try an app, like Sortly, where you can walk around your house and take pictures to make the process easier.
  • Get set up on 1Password, or another encrypted, highly rated password software. My husband and I are sharing the family password vault so we can both easily access the electric bill while having a strong, challenging password that neither of us has to remember. Having 1Password makes it easy to change all of my passwords if my computer is lost or stolen.
  • Try a new way to budget for 2018. Have you been bad about updating your personal finance app? Guess what, you are not alone. Try a simpler approach where you don't have to manage bank downloads and worry about apps selling your data. We have a new Cash Flow Management Excel for clients that we are rolling out in 2018, but you can use any budget template and make it work for you. I set aside 30 minutes a month to document and analyze our finances. I am more mindful of the task than when it was an app on my phone. I was checking my finances as often as my email (which is too much!)
  • Find one new way to save money and reduce waste. There is new technology coming out all the time which makes this a good thing to review annually. We used to pay for a home delivery bottle water service for $50 / month. Then we found out about a new home water system that can take water from any source and make purified drinking water, filtering out viruses, hormones, heavy metals, etc. We got our money back in 5 months of the purchase and will have it for years to come.

A Meaningful Resolution

For most of us, the start of a new year is the signal of a new beginning and an opportunity to start fresh in different areas of our lives.  I heard someone on NPR say that it is not just the new year, but also at the start of a new month, a new week and even on days off that we take the opportunity to reflect on our lives and set goals for the future.   My resolution has been the same for the past few years: to slow down and remember to appreciate every day.  We really have no idea what the future holds, so it is important to find that balance between preparing for the future and living for today.  Here are some cases I saw in 2015 which re-inforce this:

I met a woman in her 60's.  She told me how her mother said there was no need to save when she was younger because she planned on leaving her a sizable inheritance.  The mother is now in her 90's and has paid an astronomical amount on end of life care (medical needs, home aids, etc).  There is no inheritance to speak of and the daughter is not able to retire anytime soon.  

An otherwise healthy person in their 60's died of a heart attack.  She was a meticulous planner and saver and expected to have another 30 years ahead of her.

A man in his 50's was laid off and unable to find a job, essentially pushing him into early retirement which his portfolio cannot sustain.  He is working to develop new skills and / or to start a business that can help offset some of his expenses.  It is not where he planned to be, but he is having fun with the new challenge.

One couple tried for baby #3 and ended up with twins!  They are very thankful and feel blessed, but they are now dealing with the reality of how 4 children is different financially than 3.  Priorities are shifting and they are taking one day at a time.  

A young woman developed symptoms of a chronic condition that will be putting her on disability.  Thankfully, she has insurance, but her income obviously won't be as much as her full-time salary.   

Year-End Checklist

December is too hectic a month to survive without a checklist. Here is a personal finance-themed year-end checklist: ☐ Spend down your flex spending account (FSA) if you have one with a balance.

☐ Donate old or rarely used clothing, toys or other items you have around the house. It will make room for holiday decorations and give you a tax deduction if you itemize and meet the IRS requirements.

☐ Check that you are on track with your retirement account contributions.

☐ Review your year-to-date spending. Pay particular attention to monthly subscriptions that are on auto-renewal. Consider any lifestyle changes that will save you money (for example, we dropped cable last year around this time).

☐ Review your financial affairs with a spouse or loved one. Create a digital inventory if you don't have one to make for easy updating next year.

☐ Google yourself and family members. I am starting to do this for clients at their Annual Review. The point is to see if there is any info out there on the web that you do not want publicly available (ex. your home address).

☐ Clean out the paper filing cabinet, if you still have one. Scan and organize files that can be moved to cloud storage.

Making the Most of your Holiday Budget

Holiday spending tends to be a budget buster. It is just like our tendency to overdo the dessert table, knowing we have the New Year around the corner to start over with a “blank slate”! Here are some tips to keep costs in check. Set a holiday budget for the year – This should include gifts, decorations, and extra babysitting time for the holiday parties. You do not want to rack up credit card debt. The goal is to spend within your means while not feeling deprived.

Break it down - List everyone you have to buy for and decide on gifts and amounts for each. Remember, it is not about the amount. I have a few friends who give $5 Starbucks cards for special occasions. It is perfect! I can treat myself to a cup of coffee and biscotti on them.

Save the list – Keep the list of gifts given so you don’t repeat gifts. Nobody wants to be the Aunt or Uncle who gives a scarf every year!

Go creative with wrapping – Use repurposed gift-wrapping or boxes. My husband is a pilot and has a lot of leftover aeronautical charts. We use them as wrapping paper. It sounds strange but it looks great and people love it! The dollar stores also have some great holiday boxes in different shapes and sizes.

Encourage wish lists – My family does this through Amazon but you can do it through many retailers. It is the same concept as a registry. It gives the gift giver the opportunity to choose something within his or her budget that the recipient would actually like.

Join in on big-ticket items – Dinners out, golf lessons and zoo or museum memberships for the family are all things people can chip in for and give as a group.

Bonus tip: I asked some of the best gift-givers I know how they always come up with such a thoughtful gift. Their response – they write down ideas throughout the year as they come to them! Try it. It is sure to make holiday shopping easier and more enjoyable.