If I were to add up the amount of money I have spent over the last decade of travel on ATM fees alone, it might be enough to buy a round the world plane ticket. My bank charges me $5 every time I use a foreign ATM. Every. Single. Time. And that doesn’t account for the fee the ATM itself charges, which is also usually about $5. This means that with my regular bank debit card, I would spend $10 every single time I withdraw money from an ATM. That’s bad news.
The other bad news is that you’re most likely a victim of these fees as well.
The good news is that there is a bank and a magic debit card that reimburses all ATM fees worldwide, and that is Charles Schwab. I decided to open an account with Charles Schwab, and since then I have been reimbursed for all of my ATM fees, which in the last year alone amounts to over $100.
In this post, I’ll walk you through the somewhat complicated process of setting up a Charles Schwab checking account for yourself, so you, too, can stop wasting money on ATM fees.
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Why Charles Schwab?
Charles Schwab is an online bank, which means they don’t have ATMs, which means rather than penalize us for using other bank’s ATMs, they reimburse us for all ATM fees at the end of every month. All of them, whether in the US or overseas, no fee for reimbursement.
Because Charles Schwab is an investment banking firm, there is a bit of a strict application process, including a credit check, and it honestly was the most tedious set up of a bank account that I’ve ever been through. I can testify that it is worth it, though, and I want to share those steps with you so you can join me in not paying for any more ATM fees.
How to Set up a Charles Schwab Checking Account
2. Apply, providing all necessary credit info. You can’t just get a checking account, you have to apply for a brokerage account too, which is an investing account, even if you don’t use it. This is why it’s a process and includes a credit check.
3. Once approved, they will do a test deposit into your pre-existing, linked bank account that you set up in the application process (with whatever bank you already have), and you’ll need to verify the amounts in your new Charles Schwab account online before proceeding. This is done by logging into your existing online bank account, checking the amounts of the deposits from Charles Schwab, and then going back to your account on Charles Schwab to enter the amounts in the spaces prompted.
To verify your trial deposits online, login to your account, go to Accounts > Transfers & Payments > External Accounts > select the correct CS account (probably the checking account) > and click Add External Account, which will then give you the option to either add a new account OR verify deposits. Select Verify Deposits and complete the process.
4. Once those are verified, you’ll need to deposit money from your linked external account into your new checking account. This is done via the Online Transfer tab.
5. Only after you’ve deposited money into your checking account can you then request a debit card, which you do online. When you get your debit card, you also set your pin, don’t forget what it is because you can’t call to get a new one. If you can’t remember it, you get locked out of the ATM after three tries. If this happens, you can call customer service and ask them to reset it so you can try three more times. If all else fails, you’ll have to request a new pin, which they have to mail to you, you can expedite it for $15. If you are leaving for a trip or already out of the country, this is not a good option for obvious reasons.
6. Receive your debit card in the mail, transfer money into your account so you can start using it, and you’re good to go.
7. Download the Charles Schwab mobile app to manage your accounts from your phone.
This may seem like a lot of steps for a bank account. The good news is, the customer service is all US-based and they are extremely kind and helpful, so if you have any questions whatsoever, do not hesitate to jump on the phone and let them walk you through any of the steps.
If you want a savings account attached to your checking account (because the brokerage account is not a savings account, it’s an investment account), you’ll have to apply for that one as well. This is a good idea if you have a large sum of money that you want to collect decent interest on.
The checking account is protected by the FDIC, so it’s safe to leave a decent amount of money in there. If you lose your debit card, simply contact the bank and they will issue you a new one, monitoring for any fraudulent charges in the meantime.
Once you have your magic debit card, you can pull money out of your account at any ATM in the world and Charles Schwab will reimburse you the fees. You could even designate this account as your travel account if you’d like a separate place to save for your trips. BOOM.
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