Today I wanted to provide a recommendation for Internet banking. Every expat ought to have an Internet bank in the USA (remember my article on not keeping money in Argentina banks) to use as their primary bank account. A reader today provided me with several recommendations which I will share here:
Internet banks are perfect for expats, since they let you maintain your account by mail, fax, and, of course, by Internet. They don't expect to you to come walking into the branch to fill out wire transfer paperwork, for example.
I'd like to add one more bank to this list -- USAA Federal Savings Bank. Now, as some of you may already be aware, USAA only provides insurance for military families. Their bank and investment products are therefore also geared towards military customers who are already buying USAA insurance. However, they do provide banking services to all US citizens and residents. FDIC insured banks cannot discriminate or exclude classes of people, so they are forced to provide banking services to anyone who asks.
I can say with certainty that USAA is the best bank I've ever used, and I've used a lot. Over the years, I've been a customer of Bank One, Wells Fargo, Compass Bank, CitiBank, NetBank, Bank of America, and various credit unions. I've moved around a lot, run/started several businesses, and needed plenty of bank accounts. USAA tops them all. I only wish they did business accounts, because I'd be using them for all my business banking needs as well.
What Makes USAA Bank So Great For Expats?
Sorry if this is sounding like a commercial, but when I find a service that truly deserves it, I'm happy to heap on the praise. Expats especially need to know about great services like these. Consider this -- USAA has an 80+ year history serving military families who move a lot and frequently live abroad. Its part of the company culture there.
Let's get down to specifics, though:
- No ATM Fees - You won't ever get charged by USAA, no matter who's ATM you use.
- ATM Rebates - They pay you back those pesky fees other ATMs charge.
- Free ACH Bank Transfers - Easily transfer money in/out of any other US bank account (even if not with USAA). I use this feature to transfer money from my business account (which is with a different bank) to my USAA account, so I don't have to pay myself with a check. You can even set-up these transfers to recur so that you don't have to think about it.
- Free Online Bill Pay - Issue checks to any business (even friends and family) back in the US for free. No need to mail checks from Argentina.
- Easy Wire Transfers - Just make a call, give them the wire info, and they do your transfer. The cost is minimal $10 or so. If its for a large amount, they'll ask you to fax in the wire instructions. Most banks require you to be at the branch in-person to make wires, so this is a great feature for expats.
- Cash-back Debit Card - Get 1% cash back each time you use your USAA Visa Debit Card
- Prime Rate Credit Card - Interest Rate of just 5.75% for people with perfect credit. Even with less than perfect credit, USAA's credit card rates are much lower than almost everyone else.
- Hold Times - I've never waited on hold more than a minute or two, even during peak hours.
- Friendly and Helpful Customer Service - I've never had a complaint about USAA customer service. They were always polite, helpful, and willing to spend the time it takes to accomplish your request. And unlike some other banks I've used, **cough** CitiBank **cough**, they never send your call to an overseas Indian call center.* Sorry, but I just have a problem with some subcontractor who is not subject to US law having access to my financial information.
* This is not a knock on Indians, just the practice of bank customer service outsourcing. On the contrary, I co-founded an software outsourcing consultancy based in Hyderabad, India. However, I can tell you from experience that companies only outsource functions they deem unimportant to their business, so that really tells you about a bank's commitment to their customers when they outsource customer service.
Well, that's about all I can think of right now. One very important note. Argentina is currently listed as a restricted country with USAA, meaning they cannot establish any new accounts if you list your address in Argentina. Try to open your account before you leave. After you open the account, you can change the address listed to Argentina, but you can't open a new account with an Argentina address. Best bet would be for you to use one of the many mail-forwarding services I covered in a previous post. For some reason US financial institutions get very nervous dealing with people who live outside the country, so it would be better to be on the safe side and just list your US forwarding address.