The Charles Schwab Debit Card and the new SoFi Money debit cards have become the gold standard for getting cheap access to cash and local currency when traveling internationally, and for good reason. They’re the best options out there for free ATMs anywhere in the world (though that has recently changed with SoFi Money), and also allow you to pay the cheapest currency exchange rates.
And while at the end of the day, both cards will help you accomplish the same thing, there are some differences between them that leave travelers asking: “Which travel debit card is right for me?”
We’ll break down all of the benefits provided by each card and assign a winner in each category to help you decide which is right for your travel goals.
Welcome Bonus Offer
Both of these travel-oriented debit cards do, in fact, offer some welcome bonuses. As you can see, if you start with an initial deposit of at least $1,000 into the account, you will receive $100 from Charles Schwab.
With SoFi Money, you can earn a $50 welcome bonus by using our personal referral link. So while you will only get a $50 bonus with SoFi currently, the deposit requirement only requires making a $500 direct deposit into your account. For that reason, we think SoFi takes this category.
And there is no restriction on either card for more than one person per household to earn the bonus. That means both you and a spouse or significant other are eligible to open either card and earn the welcome offer bonus.
Winner: SoFi Money
Applying for both accounts is relatively straightforward, but there are a few differences to be aware of. To start with, the name of the Charles Schwab account is technically the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor checking account. And when you apply for your Schwab High Yield Investor checking account, you will also be required to open a Schwab brokerage account if you don’t already have one.
This brokerage account is opened automatically when you open a Schwab checking account, but don’t worry: The brokerage account is free and has no minimum deposit or fees. That means you can use the checking account and never worry about the brokerage side. Additionally, Schwab does a hard credit pull to obtain your credit report in order to be approved for this account. However, the pull will not have an impact on your Chase 5/24 status.
With SoFi, there is no requirement to also open an investment account and they also don't do a hard credit pull. The application process is straightforward and takes about 5 to 10 minutes to complete. This makes it the clear winner in this category.
Winner: SoFi Money
ATM Fee Reimbursements
Perhaps the biggest benefit of both of these debit accounts was that they will waive ATM fees an unlimited number of times each month at any ATM anywhere in the world. However, SoFi Money no longer guarantees free withdrawal at any ATM across the globe.
New SoFi Money cardholders will only get fee-free withdrawals from Allpoint, an ATM network with 55,000 locations across the U.S. – plus some in the U.K., Australia, and Mexico.
With the Schwab debit card, the bank will reimburse your ATM fees at the end of each month.
If you have been a SoFi Money member prior to June 9, 2020, you will still get unlimited ATM fee reimbursements at all ATMs worldwide.
Always avoid the currency exchange counter at the airport. They exist for one reason and one reason only: to make money from you. They profit from the poor exchange, which is why you see them everywhere abroad.
Always take money out of an ATM with a debit card for the best exchange rate. The Charles Schwab card allows you to withdraw up to $1,000 each day with no cap on the amount of money you can withdraw fee-free.
Winner: Charles Schwab
Account Interest Rates
Just for keeping money in either account, you'll earn interest on the balance. Though the rate at which you earn interest will vary greatly. Currently, SoFi money earns an interest rate of .25% APY (subject to change) and the Charles Schwab account currently earns a 0.15% APY. That means if you had a $2,000 balance in either account, you would earn $5 on the SoFi account balance and only $3 on the Charles Schwab balance.
Of course, if you are only using either account as a travel account and not your primary checking account, this isn't significant. But because of the small difference, there is a clear winner in this category.
Winner: SoFi Money
Account Protection & Insurance
No fees, high-interest rates, plus $50!? You might be wondering what the catch is with SoFi money?
The one thing to potentially be concerned about, if you were thinking of making this your primary account, is that SoFi Money is not a banking institution in the traditional sense. Your money will not be FDIC insured until it is transferred to their banking partners, two days after deposit. So your money won't technically be FDIC insured while it is in transit, however, it will be protected by SoFi's clearinghouse while in transit. That means this account may be best used as a travel-only account, rather than for everyday use if full FDIC coverage at all times is a requirement for you.
Because the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account is fully FDIC insured on balances up to $250,000, this might be a better option for the traveler looking to make one of these options their primary checking account – not just a travel-only account.
Winner: Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking
If you take out more money than you have available in your Charles Schwab account, you will be hit with a $25 non-sufficient funds fee. However, they do give you the option to link the account to a Schwab brokerage account for fee-free overdraft protection.
SoFi Money, on the other hand, does not charge any overdraft fees. If you swipe the card or try to withdraw an amount that exceeds your balance, the transaction will not go through and SoFi will not charge a fee.
While SoFi Money prevents you from overdrawing in most cases, there may still be times when you could have a negative balance. This could happen if a transaction is approved for one amount, but the actual charge is more than the amount of money in your account. For example, when you use your SoFi Money Debit Card card for a meal and then add a tip. In this situation, the full payment may go through and result in a negative balance, but even then, SoFi will not charge you an overdraft fee. You will just need to deposit funds before the account can be used again.
Winner: SoFi Money
Account Transfer Times
Both SoFi Money and Charles Schwab accounts can be linked to external bank accounts to easily transfer funds in and out with a few clicks of a button. And because I currently have both accounts open, I did an experiment to see how fast the money would move in and out of both accounts.
Transfers to and from SoFi Money seem to take two full business days to complete. I initiated a transfer on a Thursday, and the money was available in my account the following Monday.
With Schwab, transfers to and from the account seem to take at least four or five full business days to complete. I initiated a transfer on that same Thursday and the money wasn't available in my account until the following Wednesday.
Winner: SoFi Money
Friends & Family Referrals
While both accounts will provide you with a welcome bonus for using a personal referral link, only one account will provide an incentive for the referer along with the referee. And that is the SoFi Money account.
For every person you refer who opens an account and deposits $500, you will also get $50. So you can open an account, deposit $500 and get a bonus of $50. You can then refer your friends and family and earn an additional $50 for each person you refer to. And you can earn up to $10,000 in referral bonuses in a calendar year.
While Schwab issues a bonus to the new account holder based on the amount of money they initially deposit, there is no bonus for the referring party.
Winner: SoFi Money
By the numbers, SoFi money takes seven categories while the Charles Schwab account takes just two. Each person will weigh these individual categories differently so it is important to understand what each account offers and how you will use them.
I have been using both since October and I can say that I am a huge fan of SoFi Money. Critically, I'm not using this account as my main checking account, so the window without FDIC insurance isn't a big deal for me. I shuffle money in and out of this account for my travels and it works wonderfully for that.
But if you are looking to use one of these accounts as your main debit account, the Charles Schwab option could be the right fit. It's more of a traditional banking account, as it will be fully insured like your existing account.
At the end of the day, both accounts are a great option to avoid ATM fees and get the best exchange rate for local currency when traveling abroad. You'll save yourself a ton of money and always have easy access to your cash. There simply isn't a better option for a debit account for international travelers than one of these two accounts.
Isn’t the Capital One 360 debit card a good option, too? In many ways, seems even better than these options. Easy to open online, no fees, no minimum balances, no need to open brokerage accounts. I’ve used it for years solely as my travel account, and have never been charged ATM fees. I’ve used it all over Europe, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, the caribbean, etc. Unless it’s changed recently, it’s a great choice, and no fees EVER.
It looks like the 360 debit card only offers free ATMs at Capital One or Allpoint ATMs. Others would have a fee.
The two cards listed above are free at any ATM
The article said Sofi only is free at Allpoint ATMs, which are only available in the U.S., U.K. Australia and Mexico. That’s a disappointing eal-breaker serious travelers.
I may have missed this but what about foreign transaction fees when using these cards.
Is there any?
None on either card. But outside of using the card to get access to cash, you should be using a credit card for other purchases. It will limit your liability should your card somehow get compromised.
I’m so mad I missed the bonus for setting up the direct deposit of $500 by 12/31/2019
Thanks for the breakdown. Perhaps since this was written the terms at Schwab have changed. I got this from the referral link’s FAQs. In a nutshell, the High Yield Investor Checking does NOT qualify for the referral bonus $.
Is a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking® Account an eligible account type for this offer?
No. Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking® (“HYIC”) accounts do not qualify for this promotion whether they are linked to a brokerage or are stand-alone. If you make a deposit in a HYIC account, you will not receive the award.
Thanks for the heads up Joshua – you’re right, looks like Schwab is no longer offering a referral bonus. We will update!
Charles Schwab took two categories not one, and one of those is no ATM fees anywhere. So if traveling abroad is your goal SoFi no longer competes, as this has changed since the article was first written. Thanks for updating, but these are no longer very similar travel cards.
I think you should also mention that Charles Schwab has much better customer service. SoFi seems to have really weird practices well below industry standards, like a really difficult to navigate customer service interface online and on the phone (you have to go through a very slow menu before you can speak to an actual person, wait times are often 10+ minutes, if it’s after 5pm PST you’re out of luck VS. Schwab where their customer service is 24/7 and wait times are only a minute or so). When my SoFi debit card was compromised, they said my new card would arrive in *10 DAYS*. When I needed a new debit card from Schwab, they sent it overnight.