Ditch fees on foreign purchases

Hands holding fanned-out credit cards

Credit cards used to be the cheapest way to buy things abroad.

Cardholders could count on a great exchange rate when the total was converted into dollars, and they avoided all the fees involved in trading currencies.

Unfortunately, that's no longer the case.

Most banks that issue Visa and MasterCard credit cards now assess a "foreign transaction fee" -- 3% is pretty typical -- on purchases made outside the United States.

It usually includes the 1% fee MasterCard and Visa have begun charging to convert purchases made in foreign currencies into dollars.

Most galling is that many banks even impose a foreign transaction fee on purchases made in U.S. dollars when no foreign currency is involved (a common occurrence in the Caribbean).

You'll have to read the fine print in your credit card's disclosure statement to find out exactly how much you're being charged -- unless it's from Capital One.

None of its cards impose foreign transaction fees. Capital One doesn't even pass the 1% fee charged by Visa and MasterCard on to its customers.

That deserves some big-time kudos.

If you're planning an overseas trip, it might pay to get a Capital One credit card just to avoid the costly fees other issuers assess.

We also think the Capital One No Hassle Miles Rewards card is one of the best deals around.

It offers no annual fee, 0% APR on purchases for one year, no fee for balance transfers and a generous system for earning one of the fastest ways to build up miles toward airline tickets.

Other notable exceptions to the foreign-transaction-fee club are American Express and Citigroup.

American Express recently announced it would eliminate foreign transaction fees on its Platinum and Centurian cards.

Annual membership fees for the Platinum card are $450. For the invitation-only Centurion card, you pay a very pricey initiation fee (reportedly $5,000), plus $2,500 in annual dues.

Citigroup recently launched two more-affordable cards that waive foreign transaction fees, the ThankYou Premier and Prestige cards.

The Premier card waives the annual fee of $125 for the first year; the Prestige card will set you back $500 annually. These offerings replace a number of existing Citi rewards cards, which are being discontinued.

Chase waives foreign transaction fees on its Hyatt card and its British Airways Visa Signature, both of which carry a $75 annual fee, and its Priority Club card, whose $49 annual fee is waived the first year.

If you're a member of a credit union -- or are thinking of joining -- it's also worth checking on its foreign transaction fee policy, since a number of them offer fee-free cards.

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