We visited our bank yesterday, to prepare our accounts for traveling. There ended up being quite a few things to consider, and the whole appointment took us about 1 hour. Even at that, I felt a bit like we were rushed out the door. Probably because we were referred to a 1-800 number for the remainder of our questions, and the lady helping us was glancing repeatedly at her watch.
Important Update:We have not been able to access our funds using our TD bank cards at any of the ATM's we've come across in Guatemala. The ATM's all have appropriate symbols indicating both Plus and Visa, but still they do not work. Be warned.
Avoiding FeesThe first thing brought up by the bank staff, after we explained our travel plans, was ATM fees. Outside of Canada our bank charges $3 for each bank card transaction in the U.S.A. and Mexico. This price increases to $5 for transactions anywhere else. This foreign access fee is on top of the $1.50 fee for withdrawing from an ATM not owned by TD, and whatever the ATM owner decides to charge, so we would have to pay $6.50 per transaction in most countries plus an ATM convenience fee. Now if we were to upgrade to their premium account (called the Select Service account) the bank promises to allow us unlimited transactions, anywhere in the world, without charging us access fees. To get an idea of what this could add up to, let's assume that we will use this card approximately once a week for the next year to withdrawal cash. At the end of 52 transactions the fee total comes to $338! That was enough to convince us to upgrade. Best of all, the monthly charge on this new account is $0 per month, sort of. We have to keep a minimum balance of $5,000 to waive the normal $24.95 monthly service fee, but we'll be reserving that minimum amount as a safety net anyways, so not a problem.
More SavingsThis premium account comes with a free travel visa. Normally, there would be a charge of $120 + $50 for an extra card annually for this card if you did not have the upgraded bank account to go with it. This card offers us some improvements over our existing no fee visas that give us 1% cash back dividends.
- Earn points that can be cashed in for any travel expense. The rate works out to 1.5% of all purchases and we should have no trouble finding eligible expenses to cash in our points.
- Delayed and lost baggage insurance.
- Car rental insurance.
- Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance. No need to buy that as an extra.
Safety Deposit BoxFree safety deposit box. Yeah, how cool is that. Now we have a place to leave things like our birth certificates, copies of our passports, and our Last Will and Testament (when we get around to writing one up). It took almost no time at all to set this up, and you are allowed to designate a deputy to have access. That's perfect for us, allowing someone at home to access our documentation just in case we run into some trouble abroad. This normally costs $42.50 per year without the account upgrade.
What else did we learn?Anyone can deposit checks into your account without a signature from you. Handy if you have relatives mailing you checks for your birthday. You simply instruct whoever is collecting your mail to write the following on the back of the check then deliver it to your branch. In the case of TD, you can also mail the check to the branch and it will be deposited.
For Deposit Only:
If you need to pay a bill while you are away you can grant Power of Attorney to someone you trust. This enables them to look after your finances while you are away. They can cut checks from your account, request loans on your behalf, etc. I'm not sure if we are going to go this route yet or not. If you have a need for it, you'll want to find someone you really trust. Once you've given out Power of Attorney they can do pretty much anything they want with your bank account. We were also told that we would have to physically come into the branch to remove the Power of Attorney if we had problems.
USD$ Account. Our fancy new account gives us a free USD$ checking account. It sounded like a good idea to be able to take advantage of good exchange rates now, by converting some of our CAD$ into USD$. There is one big problem with this plan. You can not associate a $USD account with your Canadian bank card. At least you can't at TD. This leaves us with no way to access our funds from our USD$ account while on the road.
Copies of Cards. It's a good idea to have access to the numbers printed on your access cards. If a card becomes lost or stolen, you will need these numbers to deactivate your account and reverse any unlawful charges. This also requires:
International Calling Numbers. Both our Bank Card and Visa have 1-800 #'s to call if your card is lost, or stolen. Unfortunately these numbers don't work outside of Canada, so we needed to find out the international numbers to call and bring them with us on our trip.
Putting It All TogetherHere's our general plan for accessing funds while on the road. The bulk of our funds will be stored with the online bank ING Direct and earning a small amount of interest (currently 1.5%). If you are interested in opening your own ING Direct account, feel free to use my Orange Key: 14780906S1 and we can each earn a sign-up bonus. As required, we will electronically transfer funds from ING Direct into our TD Canada Trust account to maintain a balance somewhat higher than the $5,000 minimum to avoid account fees. When we need to make a purchase, we will use our new travel VISA wherever possible and earn our 1.5% reward. We will set up our bank account to automatically pay off the balance of the VISA each month, so if we do not have access to internet banking we won't be charged any interest fees. If VISA is not an option, we'll use local currency. To get at it, we'll use our ATM card in ATM machines to withdrawal from our fee free account.
Do you have advice for us? Please leave a comment.