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Robert Mitchell provided this useful information 8 years, 9 months ago:

How to save money while paying your Euro bills - The Final Solution by rmitchell248 and JOFTAA


  • There is new, updated info, available here.
  • The info below in the second post is still current.




For the past couple years JOFTAA and I have been running through the best avenues available to save as much money as possible while paying our Euro bills while in Germany. This also includes converting U.S. Dollars into Euro for rent, utilities, spending money, etc.

We have tested many methods, from using the automatic payment service available from Service Credit Union (SCU) or Community Bank (CB), to opening a German bank account and funding that account using a USAA and/or Capital One ATM card at a German ATM.

While we were able to save money at first with USAA Bank since they waived the ISA (International Service Assessment) fee while on active duty, the waiver of this fee is only available for 1 year and only for Active Duty that holds an account balance before PCSing overseas. After that, USAA accounts levy a 1% ISA for transactions at non-U.S. ATM locations. Although Capital One does not charge this 1% ISA fee, their $600.00 daily ATM Limit has been a hindrance while attempting to pay 2,000-3000€ a month in bills, because getting this much Euro requires a trip to the German bank ATM every day for up to a week. While this method will work, it is not at all convenient. And, because you are going to the bank many times over several days, your Dollar to Euro exchange rate will change every day making it more difficult to calculate your savings against the DoD exchange rate.

These issues lead us to the next solution, and what will be our final solution, for paying our Euro bills in Germany unless SCU changes their policies. Please keep in mind that the DoD pays us 2.5% higher than the current Euro to U.S. Dollar exchange rate in our paychecks. SCU and Community in turn charge us 2.5% more for the Euro that they sell us on base than the current market rate. The whole idea behind what we are telling you is to keep this 2.5% for yourselves and not give it to SCU or Community Bank. While 2.5% doesn’t sound like a lot, it really adds up fast!


If you were to withdraw 2,500€ a month for your bills and another 500€ a month for spending money (not including any vacations or heavier than usual Euro spending) the savings are great.

Let’s say you require 3000€ that gets converted from dollars. For sake of argument I am going to use today’s DoD exchange rate of .6755 for my calculations. (August 28, 2011)
To get 3,000€ from SCU or CB on base it will cost you $4,441.15.

If you use your SCU debit card or ATM card (this does not work for CB!) at a German ATM, it will cost you roughly $4,330.13 to get the same 3,000€. This is a savings of $111.02. This is money that you get to keep each month my not using DoD exchange rates.


You can see why it is well worth these small steps to get your bills paid using this method. Using the numbers above, you have the potential to save about $1,332 per year! These numbers will fluctuate as the exchange rate changes, but regardless, you will save money monthly by not using a DoD ATM on base. The following information will spell out how to save your money step by step.

1. Open a Service Credit Union "Plus Checking" account

In order to save the ISA fee, you must do the following:


  • Use direct deposit (you can direct deposit your paycheck)
  • Use E-statements


December 13, 2011 update: SCU removed the 1500 minimum balance stipulation and has now have capped the rebate to1% of the first $2000 withdrawn. There is no minimum balance required, anymore. In other words, they will refund up to $20 worth of ISA fees per month. Aside from saving the ISA fee, you will also get up to $20 of ATM fees refunded at the end of each month. Here is a document with all of the changes.

Ask SCU to give you and your spouse one ATM and one debit card each. Your spouse will need to be present to get the debit card. Between the two of you, you will have four cards. Each card will have a daily ATM limit of $1,000.00, for a total limit of $4,000 per day. Of course, if you are single, you will be limited to one ATM card and one debit card, giving you a limit of $2,000 per day using the two cards.
Please check with SCU to make sure the above info is still current.

2. Open a German bank account

All decent size villages have a bank. There is bound to be at least one bank within a few minutes of your house no matter where you live. In order to open a bank account at the German bank, you will need your U.S. passport. Request an ATM card and it will be sent to your house in the mail. There is a small annual fee for having the card, but it is too small to even care about. One word of advice is not to deposit or transfer U.S. Dollars into your German bank account. The Dollar to Euro exchange rate at the German banks is not as good as at DoD banks. The German bank is only for taking Euro from the ATM, depositing Euro, and paying Euro bills.

3. Get ALL Euro at an OFF BASE ATM

SCU has an on-base rate and an off-base rate. The on-base rate is set by DOD, and is 2.5 percent above market rate. The off-base rate is set by VISA and is often slightly less (.2%) than the most current foreign exchange rate. When you use your SCU ATM card at the German ATM you get the better VISA rate.

If you use the ATM at the German bank that has your account, you can withdraw your Euro using your SVU ATM card(s) and then either deposit the Euro into that same ATM using your German bank ATM card, or you can walk the money over to the service counter and have the teller help you.


4. Set up automatic payments (optional)

You can have your German bank pay your monthly bills automatically. There is no fee for this service at the time of this writing. If you’d rather pay your bills manually each month, you can go into the bank and do this by filling out the appropriate transfer form. The bank teller can help you with this until you get the swing of it. Just be sure to fill out the form with the teller a few days in advance of the payment being due. Most of your bills will be paid via a bank to bank transfer. You can also make one time payments with the banks online banking as well as set up scheduled payments. German banks do not charge for one time transfers, but the DoD financial institutions do.
Your utility companies (electric, gas, oil, phone, etc.) will automatically deduct from your German account, so this is the time for you to give your new German account number to all of your utility companies.

Make sure you put enough money into your German account to cover all of your bills. One suggestion is to keep 1,000€ in your account and call that amount "zero" so that if your cell phone bill is higher than usual, or if you need to put something on your German debit card, you can. So, if your bills are 2,000€ monthly, you’ll deposit that 2,000€ on top of the “1,000€ Zero amount,” for a total of at least 3,000€ in your account at any given time during the month.

The only downside to this method is that you must remember to deposit your money into your German account monthly. If you are not able to do this one month, maybe due to a vacation, you can simply sign into SCU online banking and wire the money to your German account and pay the 2.5% for that month. To avoid this, you can put the funds into your bank before leaving. If you’re on a paycheck to paycheck program you may want to resort to the online bill pay while on vacation or TDY, etc.

The positive side is that you should be spending at least a couple of hours a month on your finances and going over your debits anyhow. This takes no longer than one stop to the ATM and it will not add to your accounting time in the least. The best part is that it saves you over $100 per month.

It is not complicated and will probably get you to have a better handle on your finances.

This money belongs to you. Regardless of if you are Active Duty or Civilian, this method can save you money. The DoD sets its rate to be flexible with the changing exchange rates. We have verified the reasoning for these increased rates with many sources. As long as you fill out your reconciliation forms honestly and accurately stating how many Euro you spent each month, there is no problem with the method being outlined.

Good luck! If you have any questions, please feel free to post them here at EverythingKMC. We will try to answer your questions as quickly and as accurately as possible.

Important update: It appears that SCU no longer allows their ATM card to be used at non-U.S. bank machines. However, you can still use the above method, exactly as written using the debit card. The only change is the amount of Euro you can take from the ATM each day. Even with this change, you should be able to get enough Euro daily to take care of most anything you need.



4 years ago

I have found a German Bank everyone should check out. It's called Number26. I was a bit skeptical at first but if you can imagine Ally or Schwab online banking, that's what Number26 is. There is no fees for having an account, no fees for a Maestro or Mastercard and no fees for transactions. The only fee they do charge is for cash deposits over 100 euro. Deposits are taken at most grocery stores. They have a great webpage and phone app. The best thing about it is everything is in english. I signed up and it took less than 15 minutes. When they conduct the online skype-like interview, they will ask to see your passport. Once they see that you are a real person, you have your account and your card will show up a few days later. I wish I had known about this bank years ago. I closed my Sparkasse account immediately.

https://number26.eu/

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4 years ago

Why would deposits over 100 have a fee? And what is the fee? My sparkasse costs me 3.50 a month and everything is free.

4 years ago

Good point. I should of mentioned it only makes sense to use Number26 if you utilize direct deposit. There is no fees for direct deposit.

3 years, 10 months ago

Quote by JDArg:
Hey everyone, it's been awhile since this thread has been active (and I do see the other, more recent threads regarding Euro/USD stuff), but my wife and I just arrive and I wanted to ask specifically about the most recent thing mentioned here (currencyfair)

AD AF here, so I don't know if the ITS thing works for AD AF yet, but currencyfair seems easier anyway. So, my wife and I opened a bank account at Community Bank on base because we needed an IBAN number to give to the German bank that's processing our home loan (we're buying - should find out if we were approved in a few days), but there's $1 in the account and I'm not sure I plan on using it at all.

Currently, our primary bank is USAA, and based on this thread (I sifted through the 7 pages in 2 hours today and did a little independent research; all the posts and information were much appreciated), Currencyfair still seems the best option, as the effective rate of transfer based on 2014 rates came out to 0.29%

It seems that Currencyfair is still a flat 3 euro fee plus 0.35% now, so the effective rate now becomes 0.49% (ex: $2500/month would be $8.75 + $3.43 (3 eur to usd), so $12.18 on a $2500 transfer), but that's still twice as good as the 1% that mastercard may charge you even if you have free atm withdrawals, so I just want to check and make sure people here, in general, still use and enjoy currencyfair? Then, specifically, people with USAA as their primary bank?

Also, by using the above method, I think I'd be able to avoid getting the Capital One Online Banking and Capital One Credit card methods that were recommended above, since USAA offers free transfers to currencyfair, right? My wife and I already have a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card that we use for our credit purchases here in Germany (0% foreign transaction fees), so if I use currencyfair, would there be any reason for me to use my Community Bank account, or need a Capital One Online checking account, or Capital One card? At the moment, pay is direct deposited into the USAA account, and there doesn't seem to be a reason to change that if I use currencyfair.

Currencyfair seems to be the simplest (and most effective) means of saving money each month on mortgage and utility payments, but please correct me if I made a mistake above, or if there is something better now. Thanks in advance for the help

Does USAA transfer money to currencyfair for free? How has your experience with currencyfair been so far? We just arrived in Germany and were looking into this as well

3 years, 10 months ago

Quote by nrobert6:
Quote by JDArg:
Hey everyone, it's been awhile since this thread has been active (and I do see the other, more recent threads regarding Euro/USD stuff), but my wife and I just arrive and I wanted to ask specifically about the most recent thing mentioned here (currencyfair)

AD AF here, so I don't know if the ITS thing works for AD AF yet, but currencyfair seems easier anyway. So, my wife and I opened a bank account at Community Bank on base because we needed an IBAN number to give to the German bank that's processing our home loan (we're buying - should find out if we were approved in a few days), but there's $1 in the account and I'm not sure I plan on using it at all.

Currently, our primary bank is USAA, and based on this thread (I sifted through the 7 pages in 2 hours today and did a little independent research; all the posts and information were much appreciated), Currencyfair still seems the best option, as the effective rate of transfer based on 2014 rates came out to 0.29%

It seems that Currencyfair is still a flat 3 euro fee plus 0.35% now, so the effective rate now becomes 0.49% (ex: $2500/month would be $8.75 + $3.43 (3 eur to usd), so $12.18 on a $2500 transfer), but that's still twice as good as the 1% that mastercard may charge you even if you have free atm withdrawals, so I just want to check and make sure people here, in general, still use and enjoy currencyfair? Then, specifically, people with USAA as their primary bank?

Also, by using the above method, I think I'd be able to avoid getting the Capital One Online Banking and Capital One Credit card methods that were recommended above, since USAA offers free transfers to currencyfair, right? My wife and I already have a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card that we use for our credit purchases here in Germany (0% foreign transaction fees), so if I use currencyfair, would there be any reason for me to use my Community Bank account, or need a Capital One Online checking account, or Capital One card? At the moment, pay is direct deposited into the USAA account, and there doesn't seem to be a reason to change that if I use currencyfair.

Currencyfair seems to be the simplest (and most effective) means of saving money each month on mortgage and utility payments, but please correct me if I made a mistake above, or if there is something better now. Thanks in advance for the help

Does USAA transfer money to currencyfair for free? How has your experience with currencyfair been so far? We just arrived in Germany and were looking into this as well

I wish I could tell you.  The best I can do is give you a number for USAA, which I am sure you could find on your own, anyway.  <strong style="margin: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-left: 0px; font-size: 14px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, sans-serif; line-height: normal; padding-bottom: 0px !important;">210-531-USAA (8722).   </strong><span style="margin: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-left: 0px; font-size: 14px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, sans-serif; line-height: normal; padding-bottom: 0px !important;">I will pass your question on to a friend, who may be able to answer you.  Stand by.</span>

3 years, 10 months ago

What a helpful thread this is! I have a question...I currently use my USAA ATM card at my German Bank ATM to take out money and then place it directly in my German account after getting out the cash. The 1% that USAA charges stinks. My husband just heard about the International Direct Deposit Enrollment (form 1199I) through DOD. Someone from Belgium told him about it. Crazy enough - after 8 years of living here, we had never heard about it! They said that DOD will place whatever amount you choose from your paycheck directly into your German account (and it is coverted automatically). This sounds like the perfect answer to everything, but I wanted to ask if anyone knew about it? My biggest question is what is the exchange rate that DOD uses like compared to the ATM exchange rate?  *Also just wanted to mention that our Sparkasse Bank lets you take out 2000 euro at a time (it is a great way to avoid ATM usage fees). You actually have to go inside the bank though (not just on the street).

3 years, 10 months ago

Quote by arhodes:

What a helpful thread this is! I have a question...I currently use my USAA ATM card at my German Bank ATM to take out money and then place it directly in my German account after getting out the cash. The 1% that USAA charges stinks. My husband just heard about the International Direct Deposit Enrollment (form 1199I) through DOD. Someone from Belgium told him about it. Crazy enough - after 8 years of living here, we had never heard about it! They said that DOD will place whatever amount you choose from your paycheck directly into your German account (and it is coverted automatically). This sounds like the perfect answer to everything, but I wanted to ask if anyone knew about it? My biggest question is what is the exchange rate that DOD uses like compared to the ATM exchange rate?  *Also just wanted to mention that our Sparkasse Bank lets you take out 2000 euro at a time (it is a great way to avoid ATM usage fees). You actually have to go inside the bank though (not just on the street).

The DoD does not use any exchange rate, they send the money out in USD. The receiving bank does the conversion and they use the market rate at that time without a fee. 



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