Banks, credit and debit cards I use
The European countries don’t have the nice credit cards offers the US has. Still, there are some good deals to find even in Europe.
Below is the list of all cards I’m using, and for each of them, advantages and disadvantages.
I do have a traditional bank account where I receive monthly paychecks from my employer. There’s not much to like about it, it has an ugly website and a limited mobile app to do internet banking.
It lets me deposit money with lousy interest rates: 0.4% per year on EUR deposits and 2.5% per year on RON (Romanian Leu) deposits. If I’ll ever need credit from them, they’ll charge me around 10% interest, so the scales are a bit unbalanced.
Although it does offer me 2 perks I really enjoy.
Credit card with cashback points
A few years back I realized it’s better for me to pay for everything with my credit card, instead of my debit one.
At first, I used it only for paying for electronics in instalments with 0% interest rate. My logic was why would I pay a large sum at once when I can do it in smaller amounts over the next 6 to 12 months? Of course, this escalated quickly and at some point, one-third of my paycheck was going on instalments for various things I bought online. But kept under control, this was a good way to free up money that I could put it to better use.
The best thing I liked about my credit card was the cashback points. I would get from 0.2% to 1% cash back every time I purchased something with my credit card. To date, I received around 250 EUR cashback from the card payments. Given that I only pay for it an annual commission of less than 5 EUR, this was a good deal for me.
It also has some discounts at various stores, but except for a few movie tickets I bought at the cinema mall, they’re all discounts in stores I never step in.
I have to mention that I never ran late with my payments, and also my credit card limit is less than my paycheck, so I can cover it easily at the end of the month and not pay that ugly 20% interest rate the card has when you keep your credit for more than 1 month.
Debit card with access to airport business lounge
I have a Mastercard Gold debit card because 5 years ago some bank representative wouldn’t stop calling me explaining why I should have that card and how I could get all sorts of advantages and great discounts at expensive stores I would never use. After the 5th or 6th call, I eventually caved in and asked him to give me that card and leave me alone.
For the almost 20 EUR I pay annually for that card, the only benefit I’m using from that guy’s list is that I have unlimited free withdrawals from any ATM in the country. So, if an ATM has a queue, I can jump to the next one from a different bank and I don’t pay any fee. I’m currently using less than 50 EUR cash per month, so this is not really a benefit for me.
The benefit I actually use and enjoy is the free access to the airport business lounge for me and my partner. Instead of waiting for an hour in the crowded airport waiting room, I’m having free booze, snacks and coffee at the lounge. Sometimes we even arrive at the airport a bit earlier, to get in the vacation mood sooner. On average, I fly from home around 5 times a year, so these little pitstops before flying make up for the 20 EUR annual fee I’m paying for the card.
Bunq – the bank of the free
Bunq is a Dutch digital-only bank that lets anyone from the European Economic Area (EEA) to open an account. They have the ugliest possible website and a pretty good mobile application.
I’ve started to use it because I wanted to open an account on Degiro, and those guys wouldn’t let me use my bank account from Romania or my Revolut account. Bunq being a real bank, and also Dutch like Degiro, I thought they’ll be a good fit. And they were. Degiro finally let me open an account with them by using my Bunq account.
I’m only using the free layer of Bunq, which only provides me with an EUR IBAN account and the ability to receive payments through a link.
For the paid version (8 EUR per month), they have some cool features
- Apple pay and Android pay
- 3 Maestro or Mastercard cards
- 10 free ATM cash withdrawals per month
- International non-euro card payments and cash withdrawals with no fee (they’re using Transferwise to get better currency conversion rates than typical banks offer)
- A cool API that lets you build reports or make payments from 3rd party applications
This might actually be a good card to use when travelling abroad. I could top up my account with EUR, and then use the card to pay or withdraw money with no fees and at a good exchange rate.
I’ve ordered a card for free while using the trial premium version and then went back to the free subscription. If I ever need it, I could reactivate my premium subscription and use the card I already have. Unfortunately, I had the great idea to only order a Maestro card, so I’m not sure where around the world I’ll actually be able to use it.
Unlike Revolut, these guys are a proper bank, so your funds (up to 100.000 EUR) are protected by the Deposit Guarantee scheme of the Dutch National Bank. I know, Revolut recently received a banking license, but they’re just becoming a bank, they’re not a bank yet.
I’ve started to use Revolut 6 months ago and so far, it’s been a lifesaver for me. I never realized how much money I was losing when spending abroad until I met Revolut.
The things I liked most and made me open an account with them are here.
Cheap currency exchange rate
I get better rates when exchanging money on Revolut. The difference is about 1% from what I was getting from my normal bank account. As a plus, I get good exchange rates for about 150 currencies around the world, and I can hold around 24 currencies in my account. Even during weekends, when Revolut adds a 0.5% fee to currency transactions, the rate is still better than the one I had from my bank.
Free ATM withdrawals in 24 currencies
I don’t know the exact numbers, but I suspect I lose around 2% of my funds when I withdraw money or even pay with my normal card in some exotic currency. Whatever I’m withdrawing is converted to EUR first and then from EUR to RON, my account currency.
Revolut lets me withdraw cash with no fees for up to the equivalent of 200 EUR in any of the 24 currencies they support. That covers most of the countries I intend to visit in the near future and some more.
Instant money transfer
Admittedly, it’s only instant if you transfer money to other Revolut users. Even so, it’s a lot faster to transfer money from my Revolut account to another bank account that it would be to do the same thing from my bank account. Also, there’s no fee. My bank charges me 15 EUR for every transfer I make. Revolut charges me nothing.
Unlike my normal bank cards, if I lose my card I can log in to the app and freeze it. I can unfreeze it at any time I want or order a new one. There’s no need to search on the internet what’s the support phone number of my bank, wait until somebody picks up, explain what happened and hope they actually froze my card.
I got tricked into using the premium subscription so, instead of using the free version of Revolut, I’m paying 7 EUR per month. When I registered, it told me it would cost me 7 EUR shipping fees to deliver my card, or I could enable the premium subscription for the same amount and get the card for free. I said why not, I can test the premium features and if I don’t like them, I would switch back to the free level. Of course, Revolut didn’t tell me that the 7 EUR subscription is for 1 year, and I’ll need to pay some fees in order to cancel it sooner. The tactics are a bit shady, but I can get past that because Revolut is still a great product.
With the premium subscription, I got a few new features I like.
Bigger amounts of free ATM withdrawals
The limits for ATM withdrawals in any of their 24 supported currencies are at 400 EUR per month. I intend to use that next year when I’ll travel around the world for six months.
Disposable virtual cards
This is the one feature I love the most on Revolut. These disposable virtual cards can only be used once. Each time you use them, new card details are getting generated, and the old ones don’t work anymore. So, if I’m paying for stuff online, I’m using these disposable cards from now on. It doesn’t matter if my card details get stolen, they’re not valid anymore.
I’m also using these disposable cards when paying for subscriptions on websites I’m not sure I’m going to use anymore in the future. If the promotion says “try it out with 2 EUR for one month, cancel anytime”, I’m using a disposable card. It happened to me more than once to forget to cancel a subscription and get billed another month even though I didn’t want the product anymore. Also, there are all sorts of websites (like WSJ) that use shady tactics and ask you to call a support line in order to cancel your subscription, even though you didn’t need to call any number in order to create one. So, for these websites, cards that can only be used once are the best.
I don’t put too much hope into the rise of cryptocurrencies. I have some small amounts (they were bigger) across the web from last year, but I don’t want to put any energy and time into actively trading cryptos.
I fiddle with it from time to time and buy small amounts of BTC, XRP and ETF on Revolut. By small amounts I mean 5 to 10 EUR at a time, nothing I would miss in a month. They cost around 2% more than what they cost on Coinbase, and I assume they’ll also cost around 2% less when I’ll try to sell them, but that’s fine. I’m planning to sell them back if they double or triple their price, not if they rise by 10%.
Since I’m still receiving my paychecks in my normal bank account, in order to use Revolut, I need to transfer money to it from my bank account. I don’t want to wait for 2 days until a bank transfer is executed, and I don’t want to pay a fee if I transfer money from my debit card. So, I use my credit card to transfer money to Revolut. And I get cash back points on my credit card each time I transfer money. It’s small amounts, around 0.1% cash back, but I can say adding funds to Revolut actually generates money instead of costing me anything.
Issues I’ve had with Revolut
I’ve read a few stories on Reddit about Revolut’s customer support and how slow it is to respond and how hard it is to fix any issues you’d have. I’ve also had a few issues with them, but given the reputation they have on the internet, solving my problems went a lot better than I expected.
The first issue I had was in the first month of using Revolut. My credit card just expired, and I got a new one from the bank and was planning to top up my Revolut account with some funds.
I decided I wanted to see what warning Revolut would give me if I try to top up my account using my expired credit card. 2 seconds later, Revolut decided to lock me out of my account and told me to contact support, because the card I was trying to use was reported stolen. FML. I accessed the chat, engaged with Rita (their useless chatbot) in a conversation, and she told me to wait for a customer support person to contact me. 24 hours later, still no contact from anyone and my conversation with Rita was nowhere to be found. So, I approached Rita one more time, she told me the same thing, and this time I waited a bit before closing the chat window. In around 15 minutes somebody actually wrote to me, asked me what happened, I told them and then disappeared for a few hours. At some point later, he came back and told me everything’s ok and they’re going to unlock my account.
The second issue happened recently when my account “has been limited” because of suspicious transactions performed from my account. I could still use my card for payments and cash withdrawals, but I couldn’t transfer funds from and to my account anymore. They asked to provide proof of my funds and I uploaded a few payslips and bank statements from the last 3 months and everything was solved in a few hours.
Overall, these issues were solved relatively fast and my experience with the support staff was a lot better than advertised.
Transferwise borderless account
The Transferwise borderless account is similar to the Revolut one. It’s one account to rule them all. You can keep 40+ currencies in your account and convert them at real exchange rate fees, which is a lot cheaper than using your bank account.
It used to be a bit cheaper than Revolut, but lately, they added all sorts of small fees when transferring money from your Transferwise account and when converting from one currency to another.
It’s still cheaper than using banks, but it’s not the best deal in town anymore.
You also get account numbers and bank details for EUR, GBP, USD, AUD and NZD currencies.
I’m mainly using it as a backup to my Revolut account, in case something happens to it.
It also has a Mastercard debit card (with the ugliest green colour I’ve ever seen), which lets you withdraw up to 200 EUR funds in any currency with zero fees. That is going to be useful if I need more than the 400 EUR Revolut lets me withdraw without any fees.
Overall, it’s a good and cheap option for sending and receiving money in different currencies. I’m not using it on a current base, but it’s a good option to have around.
I heard about GlintPay during a crowdfunding campaign they were running on Crowdcube. They eventually closed the campaign without using the funds raised, but I’ve got interested in them. I’ve opened an account with them and ordered a card.
Now I have a Mastercard where my balance is kept in gold.
So, I top up my account with either EUR, GBP or USD, and I can convert it to gold with a 0.5% fee. Then, I can use my card and pay or withdraw cash. The same as with any normal card. Paying in other currencies is also done at the real exchange rate, as with Revolut and Transferwise, so this card is also a good option for spending money when travelling.
Safety wise, the gold is actually kept in some Swiss independent vault, and any cash funds in your account are kept in a bank account separated from Glint.
I’m mainly using my GlintPay account not for payments, but for hoarding gold. In the past 4 months, I’ve had it, the sum in my account is worth around 6% more than what I added.
Some other cards I’d be using if they were available in my country
There are good options around Europe for alternative banking but not all of them are available in my country.
This card is available in most of the European Economic Area, except Romania. They were supposed to accept users from my country at the end of 2018, but that’s approaching fast, and I don’t see this happen.
It has one app where you can link all the debit and credit cards you have and then it lets you use the Curve card for all the payments and cash withdrawals you want to do. It’s also useful for avoiding currency exchange fees, Curve uses the market rate for the currency exchange plus a 1% fee.
Monzo has free cash withdrawals up to 200 GBP, Mastercard currency exchange rate when travelling abroad, free account. The only problem is they only accept users from the UK. Their website says they’re planning to expand to other countries, but I have no idea if it’s next year or sometime in the next 100 years.
N26 is a German digital bank that also lets you spend money abroad with no fees and good exchange rates. They’re available in 22 countries across Europe, but not in my country.
Some final thoughts
I really love the alternative banking options that have become available in the last few years. All of these challenger banks offer solutions to a real problem: currency exchange fees and spending money in other currencies than your own.
In the same way that p2p lending and crowdfunding platforms are bypassing the traditional lending system, these new banking alternatives bypass the traditional banks. That’s a good thing for us. On the long run, it will force the banking system to offer better services to their customers.