Category Archives: Finance

Overseas money transfers

Vincent Turner

Vincent Turner

The following is a guest post by Vincent Turner.

Vincent is an Aussie Founder now residing in Silicon Valley making waves. Click here to learn more about Vincent.

Vincent also blogs on innovation, design, technology, music & travel on his personal blog at www.vinae.com.au

Nightmare, has any one else had this nightmare? It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

The nightmare

I have a bank account here in the US and one in my country of origin, in my case Australia. I need to get some money into the US so I can pay for things in the local currency and avoid $4.00 and 2.5% every time I withdraw money or some exchange rate that I can’t even really see when I pay for things on debit/credit. So you think what anyone would think, I’ll just do one big transfer – that must be cheaper, that must avoid some cost. Try again.

Your options:

  1. Draw out one big amount – bank charges you flat fee + 2.5% > 3.0% of the amount withdrawn – this is huge, this is like paying about $200 a month in bank fees on withdrawals alone for the average person living on say $6,000 after tax.. and that before even looking at the exchange rate.
  2. Wire transfer once a month or once off to US bank account – no % fee, a flat fee of ~$30 but then you get murdered on the exchange rate, and I mean murdered. When I went to do a transfer of $10,000 recently you could buy $1.02 US for every $1.00 Australian .. so I should be expecting about $10,200, minus say a bit for the exchange rate and the wire fee, let’s call it an even $10,100. My bank, who shall remain nameless, came back with $9,800, before the wire fee! .. hold on, that looks remarkably like the 3% again!

Pile of money - overseas money transfer

It’s just business

So, why do they do this? Well, this is likely to protect their foreign exchange risk, i.e. the time between when they accept my request and process it most likely sees some fluctuation in the exchange rates. Forget that in the long-term this is probably just as likely to move up or down (for or against them or me) over the long-term and across all their customer flows in and out of the country. Banks are in the game of risk management, making money isn’t an issue, so long as you never lose money. So this exchange rate is their buffer against swings against them, to help mitigate any chance that they might lose any money in providing the service. Makes perfect business sense, but anyone who has spent even half a day looking at the forex markets knows that they could easily take the opposite position to your transfer the instant you place your order and thus hedge any currency risk they might have in providing the service. They can provide the service for the fee and close out their hedge once the transfer is complete. But most major banks (at least in Australia) systems probably aren’t this sophisticated.

The solution

Fortunately like a good efficient market people have seen this opportunity and created more intelligent transfer solutions where the risk is hedged as the order is placed and they can then complete the transfer in the next few days. And guess who benefits? you do. As you don’t have to pay for the inability of a major bank to provide this service So here is how it works, there is a number of providers but I signed up for xe.com so will talk about them.

  1. You sign up online tick
  2. You send supporting documents, typically PDFs of recent bank statements and a copy of your passport tick
  3. You take (or return) a verifying phone call tick
  4. You wait for final approval which comes via email tick

Note, none of the set up process involves printing or signing anything and as the forex markets are open from Monday morning in Australia to friday evening in the US 24 HOURS A DAY.. the call centre is also open these hours. Then the process is super simple – you simply login and register your sending and receiving bank accounts, request a quote for your transfer and hit confirm. Once you have got confirmation you have a few days to get them the money, this simply means a local transfer to their local account in your sending currency. I.e. I sent money from my Australian company to their Australian bank account. In fact, xe.com enables you to send the money via bpay! you have to request that bit (1 more email/call only – and on the virtually on the spot). A day later, an email arrives from xe.com – the funds are sitting in my US bank account.

The results

Net result? Well – in my case here this was a decent sized transfer of ~$100k. I saved over $2,000 for doing about an hours work. In my exchange rate example above my bank would have given me 0.9800 for every dollar, xe.com gave me 1.0040 – plus by using bpay for the local transfer I saved another $35 bank wire fee too! Now, that I’ve saved $2,000 I might go buy some kiting equipment – I promise to think of you bank every time I’m out there. Banks really do help you save for the things you want, just not always how you expect them to. Vincent

Links mentioned in this post

How to get an unsecured credit card

The following is an account of my experience with obtaining an unsecured credit card. I hope it helps you getting your credit card faster and a reasonable credit limit.

Credit history – guilty until proven innocent

You should get a credit card when you 1st arrive in America.

But guess what, no large bank will give you an unsecured credit card since you have no credit history. In comparison to Australia, American credit rating system works backwards. In Australia you are innocent until proven guilty and in America you are guilty until proven innocent. Which means that in America you start with 0 credit history and you must build credit up from nothing. Chicken and egg scenario. How can you borrow to build credit when they wont let you since you are viewed as a high risk borrower. Read my prior blog post on this topic here.

Secured credit card – your money

The only option you will have is to obtain a “secured” credit card. This is you putting your money down (say $2,000) into your bank of choice and using that line of credit as though it’s a credit card. Basically you lock away $2,000 of your money and use your money as though it was the banks and you pay it off. On time! Else you will not get good credit rating. What’s important to remember here is that the bank records (keeps tracks) your credit behavior and reports it back to the credit bureau. It feels like being ripped off because it’s your money and the bank treats you as though they are doing you a favor. They are actually. Read on.

This process has to go on for 13 months. By the end of the 13 month period the bank will let you know whether you are eligible for an “unsecured” credit card and if you are what is it’s credit limit. Read my prior blog post on building credit history to make sure you do not break any of the credit card rules like maxing out your credit card (yes I know it’s your money but..) or that you pay on-time (yes, it’s your money but Uncle Bob is looking over your shoulder).

Patience young Aussie.. patience..

Getting a secured credit card faster (before the 13 months)

Yes, there is a faster method to get that unsecured credit card. Actually you can get it 5-6 months faster.

So the major banks have that 13 month policy (mentioned above) of watching your behaviour and reporting back to the credit bureau on your credit behavior. If you get a car loan with TechCU (see prior post here) then this would have been building your credit history ALOT faster then a secured credit card. A car loan is by far the best way to build credit history because it is a sizeable investment which you are responsible for servicing. This is a big plus (if managed properly) at the folks in the credit bureau.

So after 6 months of servicing your car loan with TechCU, approach them for an unsecured credit card. I did this after 8 months and they impressed me with an approval for a substantial amount (4x more then my secured credit card at Wells Fargo) the following day. Not only that, I also received a nice warm fluffy blanket (it is winter here after all) becuase I applied for a credit card with TechCU.

Next steps

I’m curious to see what will Wells Fargo come back with after the 13 months process is up. Are they going to match TechCU’s credit offer or come back with something lousey. I’m disappointed with their risk assessment of my account since I have kept all my American income in their bank and have great history with the secured credit card being paid on time. While TechCU using only my car loan payment history, credit rating and my professional history was able to see that I am a low risk customer and offer me an outstanding credit card product with maximum rewards.

Let’s see how things go. I will update this blog post with the outcome from Wells Fargo in the next few months.

~ Ernest

Links mentioned in this post

Expats guide on building Credit History in America
http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/finance/building-credit-history-america/

Choice of Banks
http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/finance/choice-banks/

Build credit history superfast – get a car loan
http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/finance/car-loan-credit-history/

Credit history: Expats guide on building credit history in America

I have an awesome credit history in Australia. With property & stock investments behind my name over a number of good years and credit cards with limits I’d never hit you’d think I have it easy on the credit history front in America. I mean America and Australia already have a tax treaty which stops me from getting taxed twice and includes nice tax breaks for all Aussie ex-pats.

Well that’s where things change. American financial institutions, and uncle Bob, don’t care about your good credit history in Australia. They say you have to start from scratch here and prove to them you are capable of managing your money on the American soil. If you intend to stay in America for only a few years to earn some cash and go back home then getting credit history in America will not be your priority. However if you think there is a slight chance you may stay I recommend you get familiar with how credit works in America… so read on.

How does credit work in America

So let’s look at this:

  • You start with 0 credit score in the USA.
  • Your prior credit history in Australia means nothing, even if you are a good investor.
  • 0 credit score means you can’t get a car loan (sort of, I will explain this later), a credit card (there is a way though which I will explain later), buy anything which requires bank’s leverage (money) like a house, car, shares etc…

In the U.S. credit scores are broken down into 5 categories each contributing to a percentage of your credit score:

35% – Payment History: This is whether you have paid on time or not
30% – Debt To Credit Limit Ratio: This is your total debt compared to your total credit limit
15% – Length Of Credit History: This is how long you have had credit
10% – Types Of Credit Accounts: This is the different types of credit you have
10% – Inquiries (hard): This is when a creditor checks your credit report

Most important factors in your credit score:

  • Whether you pay your bills on time and
  • How much of your available credit you actually use.

Credit score

As I mentioned above you start with 0 credit score. Once you start building credit history your score will increase.

The range:

  • Credit scores range from 300-850, with 723 being the medium FICO score of Americans.
  • Scores below 600 are considered high risk borrowers,
  • 620 being the dividing line between good and bad,
  • 640 or above being “pretty good”,
  • 650 as average general credit-use behavior, and
  • above 690 or 720 being excellent

More on credit score can be located here.

Building a super-duper credit score

  • Since best method is to get a car loan. Even if you don’t need a loan get one at least for 50% of the vehicle’s value. Make sure it’s not lower than $5K. This is what I did with my wife. It was tricky because no financial institute will give you a “car loan” since you have no credit history but you need credit history to get a car loan. A chicken or egg scenario. However there is a way! I found this small hole the hard way and will explain it in my next post on purchasing a car using a loan.
  • Get a secured credit card. Note, a “secured” credit card not an unsecured one. No one will give you an unsecured credit card. With a secured credit card you pay the institute (bank) a sum of money ($2K in my case) and they use that as security for your $2K limit credit card. You do get this money back once they approve you for an unsecured credit card but for now budget around $2K out-of-pocket. An unsecured one is your typical bank credit card where you use the banks money. This means you will need to recharge (pay credit card dept) on your money every month. Remember you are “proving” to your bank you can pay off the “dept” in a reasonable amount of time and know how to handle it. You will be able to convert to a regular, unsecured credit card after 12 to 18 months of on-time payments.
  • Do not max out any of your credit cards, or even get close. Keeping your credit use to less than 30% of your credit limits (10% is better) will help you get the best possible credit score – and should help keep you from getting over your head in debt, as well.
  • Pay utilities (power, gas & electricity) and property rental in your name and set up automatic payments or reminder systems so that you’re never, ever late. All it takes is a single missed payment to trash your credit scores – and it can take seven years for the effects to completely disappear.
  • Get a store card like Macy’s Credit Card. Macy’s is one of America’s largest chain of mid-to-high range department stores. Department stores like Macy use finance companies, rather than major banks, to handle the transactions. These cards don’t do as much for your credit scores as a bank card (Visa, MasterCard, Discover, etc.), but they’re usually easier to get. Again, don’t go overboard. One or two of these cards is enough.

Your credit score

Finally, you’re also entitled to a free annual look at your reports from AnnualCreditReport.com or CreditSesame.com. This is known as a “soft inquiry” (thanks Brian P. Hamachek). It is ok to use these systems to frequently check your credit score since they are not recorded on your credit report. Hard inquiries (when buying a house or car) remain on your credit report for 24 months and an impact for only first 12 months. A good rule of thumb is to only apply for credit when you really need it.

CreditSesame is a nice free online tool which also advises you how to improve your credit score and show you what causes it to fluctuate. I use this one regularly.

I believe I covered most of what’s needed (stuff I did and am doing) but if you know of more stuff I can do or have missed here feel free to share it in the comments section below.

Update Sep 10, 2011 – Thanks to Brian P. Hamachek and Philip Tellis for contributing to this post in the comments sections below. Some updates were made to the body of this post. You guys rock!

Here’s to building a fantastic credit history in America.

Ernest

Build credit history superfast – get a car loan

Yes it’s true. If you want to build credit history in America you should consider getting a car loan. There is no better or faster way to building credit history then through a car loan. Here’s why.

Why a car loan?

Remember my last post on building credit history? If not then click here to read about building credit history in America. In a nutshell, getting a car loan is the BEST way to quickly building your credit history. You need to have a listing on your credit history that you are capable of paying off a sustainable large dept, like a car loan. This loan must be no smaller than $5K.

Get a loan from Technology Credit Union (TechCU)

TechCU were the only folks who would even consider giving me a car loan. And remember I came to America with 0 credit history. TechCU caters for technology folks in Silicon Valley with no credit history. The downside is you will be on a higher interest rate – around 15%.

No big American bank will lend you money on good rates because you are a liability, someone without credit history. I have a personal account with Wells Fargo Bank (one of the largest in the US) with plenty of money in it sitting in a special high yield checking & savings account and they they still thought I was a liability when I wanted to get a loan through them. Again, because I had no credit history.

Well Fargo would only give me a “secured loan” – a loan which was backed (locked up) with my own money. This is not good enough for me since:

  • it’s using my money and
  • it is not what the credit bureau considers a “car loan” – not good in building credit history.

Before you can get the loan approved by TechCU they will need from you:

  • Paper work from the dealer on the car you are purchasing inc. it’s Kelley Blue Book value. See my post of purchasing a car from a dealer located here.
  • See certificate of purchased for “car insurance”. Also the dealer won’t let you drive off the lot without one!,
  • See that you are a “software engineer” – basically you need to bring a letter from your company’s HR department showing your income and your position/title of a software engineer. The position/title is important since TechCU is for technology folks only.
  • A copy of your Californian Drivers license. Your International Drivers license will not do. It’s worthless. Read this post on getting your Californian Drivers license. All you need to do is pass the Theory exam to get your temporary drivers license number. But don’t forget to schedule your practical exam since your temporary drivers license expires in 3 months.

Sounds painful? it is! But it pays off in the end.

Links mentioned in this post

TechCU website: http://www.techcu.com/

Building credit history: http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/finance/building-credit-history-america/

Let me know if you found a quicker way to get around this by posting in the comments below.

Ernest

Choice of Banks in America

The following is a short list of Major Banks you can use in America. Last in this list I included a Credit Union which is not a major bank since those guys look after new engineers (with no credit history) in the bay area.

Wells Fargo

About: Wells Fargo is the fourth largest bank in the US by assets and the second largest bank by market capitalization. In 2007 it was the only bank in the United States to be rated AAA by S&P, though its rating has since been lowered to AA- in light of the financial crisis of 2007–2010. Wells Fargo is the fourth largest bank in the US by assets and the second largest bank by market capitalization.In 2007 it was the only bank in the United States to be rated AAA by S&P, though its rating has since been lowered to AA- in light of the financial crisis of 2007–2010.

Experience: This is the 1st bank I established my accounts with. As soon as I walked in I was greeted by one of their representatives and asked what help I needed. Once this is established, they directed me to the right bank associate. All Wells Fargo banks share this personal service. The atmosphere inside the bank feels warm and comforting eliminating any anxiety you may face regarding finances. Everyone is smiling.

In comparison to CitiBank and Bank of America branches (which I also visited), they both were very corporate, high booth everywhere, felt cold with no Wells Fargo like personal touch – just a line where to line up. Felt like a processing plant.

URL: https://www.wellsfargo.com/

Bank of America

About: Bank of America Corporation is a financial services company, the largest bank holding company in the United States, by assets, and the second largest bank by market capitalization. Also known as BOA – short for Bank of America.

Experience: Very corporate, high booth everywhere, felt cold with no Wells Fargo like personal touch – just a line where to line up. Felt like a processing plant.

URL: https://www.bankofamerica.com/

CitiBank

About: Citibank, a major international bank, is the consumer banking arm of financial services giant Citigroup. Citibank was founded in 1812 as the City Bank of New York, later First National City Bank of New York. As of March 2010, Citigroup is the third largest bank holding company in the United States by domestic deposits, after Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase.

Experience: Very corporate, high booth everywhere, felt cold with no Wells Fargo like personal touch – just a line where to line up. Felt like a processing plant. BOA must be their idol. I setup an account with CitiBank because I have a Credit Card in Australia with Citi. However as soon as I did I realized that their service is just as poor as the one in Australia – I’m surprised that for a bank this size the low understanding of what a good consumer experience is like both offline and online.

URL: http://www.citibank.com/

Technology Credit Union

About: Tech CU is now among the top 1% of the nation’s largest credit unions with ten full service branches in the Silicon Valley. Now with more than $1.3 billion in assets and still growing. Also know as TechCU – short for Technology Credit Union.

Experience: Best way to describe this is a very small-scale of Wells Fargo. There is the personal touch component and also the booths for fast service. They only work with folks in the technology space like software engineers / entrepreneurs. TechCU also takes risks and will give you a loan for a car so that you can start building credit history. This is the bank which I approached after Wells Fargo said no for a car loan.

URL: http://www.techcu.com

If you have any specific questions about these banks please use the comments section below. I typically respond within 48 hours to all questions. If you have other banks which you’ve had experience with or want to add to my experience above please feel free to do so by commenting below.

Happy Banking!

~ Ernest