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Overseas card fees too high and too complicated

Which? reveals the banks that charge the most

Debit cards Some banks are charging exorbitant fees for overseas transactions

New research by Which? reveals that some banks are charging exorbitant fees for overseas transactions, with details of fees often hidden away on providers’ websites or undisclosed on statements.

Which? put the country’s seven biggest banks and building societies to test to see which offers its customers the best deal for transactions abroad.

Which? researchers went to Calais in December 2011 and compared the amount charged by each bank for the same €5.95 debit card purchase and a €20 ATM withdrawal. The results showed a huge difference in charges between the best and worst banks.

Overseas card charges increase by a third

Norwich and Peterborough’s (N&P) Gold Light current account came out on top. Account holders aren’t charged any fees for overseas use. In comparison, using a Halifax card, the supermarket purchase cost 33% more than for someone using the N&P debit card. 

Even when compared to its high street rivals, Halifax’s fees for overseas purchases were much higher, with the purchase costing 29% more than with either HSBC or Barclays. Lloyds TSB charged 15% more than N&P for the ATM withdrawal.

Card charges can make overseas purchases and withdrawals expensive

Additional fees can make card purchases incredibly expensive. For example 10 transactions of £50 made with a Halifax debit card would cost the cardholder £28.75. The same 10 transactions made with N&P would be free.

Which? is calling for all banks to be clearer about the fees they charge so that consumers can easily compare whether they are getting a good deal.

Which? experts also found it difficult to calculate how the foreign loading fees had been calculated using the bank statements alone. HSBC, Halifax and Lloyds TSB included their foreign loading fee as part of the exchange rate.

Banks must make charges clearer and fairer

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, says: ‘Banks are charging exorbitant fees for the most straightforward overseas transactions, pushing up the price of even the most basic purchases.

‘We are pleased that the Office of Fair Trading agrees with us that the industry needs to improve the way it displays charges online and in statements. We want to see overseas bank charges made clear to consumers when they sign up for their current account or credit card. Consumers must be able to easily see whether they are getting a good deal or not.

‘The issue of overseas charges is just one of the things that we want the new financial regulator to tackle. It must act as a watchdog for consumers to make sure they aren’t exposed to what we believe are unfair charges.’

More on this…

  • Debit card charges overseas – find out how much your bank charges for using your debit card abroad
  • Best credit cards for use abroad – the best 0%-commission cards for purchases and withdrawals overseas
  • Which? Money Helpline – if you’re having problems with your credit card, our experts can help
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