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Most consumers are in the dark about foreign transaction fees

In a global economy, some credit card purchases may cost you extra

Photo (c) Jirapong Manustrong - Getty Images
In reviewing the terms of your credit card, you notice there’s a 3 percent foreign transaction fee. Not a problem, you think, since you don’t plan on any foreign travel in the future.

But you don’t have to leave the U.S. to get hit with this fee. It applies to any transaction with a business outside the U.S., and in this global economy, chances are you’ve paid a foreign transaction fee or two.

If you’ve purchased software from a company based in Dublin, for example, and paid with your credit card, you’ve paid the fee, unless you have a card that waives it. And the fee can be considerable. Many cards charge 3 percent of the purchase. If you’ve happened to subscribe to a foreign-based service of some type, you’re probably paying an extra 3 percent every month.

If you weren’t aware that you were paying that fee, you are hardly alone. A survey by personal finance site WalletHub found an estimated 80 percent of consumers aren’t aware they can be charged a foreign transaction fee if they never leave home. More than half of consumers don’t know whether or not their credit card charges a foreign transaction fee.

Passing it on to consumers

Sherrill L. Shaffer, an emeritus professor of banking and financial services at the University of Wyoming, says lenders get hit with the foreign transaction fee, so they pass it onto their customers.

“Foreign transactions impose extra costs on credit card companies, and they need to cover their costs via revenue,” Shaffer said. “They can choose either to fold that cost into their general fee structure or to cover it by a specific foreign transaction fee.”

Several credit card companies don’t charge their customers that specific fee. According to WalletHub, they include Capital One, Discover, USAA, and Barclays. Carrying one of these cards is especially helpful if you are planning to travel abroad because it minimizes the cost of currency conversion.

International travel can expose consumers to more than just a foreign transaction fee. Capital One warns travelers that a dynamic currency conversion, which converts the price of something in the local currency to dollars, can result in a fee of as much as 7 percent of the purchase price.

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