A note from Sarah Page: Scott originally wrote this post about the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account debit card in March of 2014. I am re-posting it now as a reminder to all of you who haven’t jumped on this train yet–get one now! I have saved so much in ATM fees over the years, especially the last few weeks traveling around Europe when I’ve needed more cash for small transactions. I’ve also never had trouble withdrawing money from any ATM, no matter what country I’m visiting! Notes added on the original post by me are scattered throughout in bold font.
During my recent trip to New York, Macau, Singapore, Cambodia, England, Slovenia, and Germany, I had a wallet full of six currencies. For my several stops at ATMs, I paid zero ATM fees.
I didn’t pay a fee to the bank that owned the ATM. I didn’t pay a fee to my bank for using some other bank’s ATM. And I didn’t pay a transaction fee for taking out foreign currency.
With all that fee avoiding, I saved at least $50. If I save $50 per trip for the foreseeable future, that will add up to quite a lot more money in my pocket.
The secret to the savings was opening a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account. The account is free to open, has no account minimum, and no monthly service fees. Once you have the account, Schwab will never charge you an ATM fee no matter what ATM you use to access your money, and it will cover any fee that the ATM owner charges you.
The opening of the account may require a hard pull on your credit report. I don’t see one on my credit report, but other people do report seeing a credit pull.
How do you open one? What is my experience with the account and ATM card?
How Do You Open a Schwab Checking Account?
To open a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account, start here. As you open the account, you are actually opening two linked accounts: a brokerage account and a checking account.
Neither the brokerage nor checking account has a minimum account balance, so I leave my brokerage account balance at zero because I am only planning on using the checking account for its ATM benefits (Sarah Page: I’ve also done the same in the past, but a reader commented on this post on 6/27 that his account was closed for lack of a balance over a significant period of time, so you may want to maintain a small balance). Here’s a little more info about the two linked accounts:
Once the new Schwab account is open, initiate Moneylink to fund the Schwab account from an existing bank account. It’s the standard process for linking bank accounts online:
Two random micro-deposits are made into your funding account to test whether you are the real owner of the account. Once you see those deposits, you input their amounts inside your Schwab account.
Once an external bank account is linked to your Schwab account, you can send some money to the Schwab account.
Remember how I noted that opening the Schwab account really opens two linked accounts, a brokerage account and a checking account? The incoming money will show up in the brokerage account. It’s a simple, instant, online transfer to send it on to the checking account.
About five days after the checking account is funded, you will get an ATM card in the mail.
(Sarah Page: When I applied for a Schwab Investor Checking Account I was in Argentina at the time. Due to the foreign IP address on the application, Schwab required that I bring in various forms of identification to a brick and mortar bank when I returned stateside before approving my application. I recommend not applying from abroad if you want to make the process as easy as possible.)
My Experience with Schwab
Last year, I read a post on Frequent Flyer University about the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account and decided to apply.
I transferred $2,000 to the checking account in anticipation of ATM needs during three weeks abroad.
My first international stop was Macau. I tried to take out a few hundred Hong Kong Dollars, and I got an error message. I called the number on the back of the card, and it turns out I had never set the card’s PIN. On the same call, I inquired about my daily ATM withdrawal limit and was told that it was $1,000.
Later that night, I tried to withdraw 7,000 HKD (~$901) and the transaction was rejected. I didn’t bother to attempt a lower withdrawal amount.
My next stop was Singapore and I successfully used the card to withdraw 200 SGD (~$158) from an ATM.
I can only assume that the transaction in Macau was rejected because of its size, which is confusing because I confirmed a daily withdrawal limit of $1,000 before and after the failed withdrawal in Macau.
Singapore turned out to be more expensive than I anticipated, so I later took out 100 SGD (~$79) and 60 SGD (~$47) in later ATM trips. These small ATM transactions being fee-free is a huge draw of the card for me. With my previous ATM card, I would have paid a $5 fee for using an ATM abroad plus whatever fee the ATM’s owner levied. That would have worked out to about 20% of the value of the cash I was taking out on a $50 withdrawal!
But with the Schwab checking account, if I under-budget, I can take out small amounts of cash without having to pay punitive fees.
Later in London, I took out 100 GBP (~$167) and in Slovenia, I took out 200 EUR (~$278).
When I looked into my account at the transactions today, I can confirm that all of them priced at the exchange rate between the local currency and dollars without any ATM fees or any percentage fee for the currency conversion.
If each ATM visit would have cost me $10 between my bank’s and the ATM’s bank’s fees, I saved $50 on my five ATM visits. I saved even more compared to checking accounts that charge a percentage fee for foreign currency withdrawals.
Over the course of this year, I expect the Schwab ATM card to save me over $100. If I travel as much as I’d like in the coming years, I’m sure I’ll reach over $1,000 in savings before the world becomes cash-less, our credit card info is embedded in our retinas, and this blog is downloaded directly into your brain.
But what about a hard credit pull?
When you open a credit card, you get a hard credit pull on your credit report that tends to slightly lower your credit score briefly.
When you open a checking account, some banks initiate a hard pull and others do not.
I did not receive a credit pull from opening the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account that I can see on any of my credit reports. But folks in the comments of this thread (Sarah Page: and more currently, in this Flyertalk thread) reported a credit pull on their Equifax reports.
For me, this was an account worth opening even if there was a credit pull. Think about what a credit pull is worth to you and what you’ll save from having free ATM withdrawals worldwide, and decide whether the account is worth opening even if you get a credit pull.
I finally got serious about saving on ATM fees while abroad by opening a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account.
After taking my first trip abroad with the ATM card, I see that none of my five ATM visits included any fees. This fee-free access to foreign cash makes traveling a lot easier and cheaper for me.
Unfortunately opening the Schwab account might trigger a hard pull of your credit report. For this reason, opening the account isn’t for everyone. Only people who use foreign ATMs frequently will get enough value to put up with the inconvenience of opening a new account and possibly getting hit with a credit pull.