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Out of pocket while abroad.

WITH the pound likely to slide against foreign currencies until well into the autumn, families who fail to plan holiday spending abroad could be pounds 100 or more out of pocket.

According to Sainsbury's Travel Money, it cost Britons a massive pounds 391 million in fees in the past year to withdraw pounds 14.2 billion from overseas ATMs on debit and credit cards.

Prepaid money cards, says Sainsbury's, can be a trap too: nearly two-thirds (65.3%) of them levy individual transaction fees when customers access money abroad, and 6.1% of prepaid cards charge customers for balance checks too.

At the International Currency Exchange, product manager Janet Johnson says: "Prepaid cards offer huge benefits, chief of which is the fact you don't get stung on credit and debit card transactions and their rate of exchange is competitive.

"But one barrier is the sheer choice of prepaid cards on offer. Benefits vary so check the exchange rate offered, see if there is a monthly or purchase fee, look at charges for transactions or ATM use, and see if you can load enough on the card to meet everyday spending needs."

In theory, travellers should be having a field day on their holiday money as competition is fierce between credit and debit card providers, specialist currency firms are going online to slash costs, and there's an avalanche of prepaid cards.

There are new entrants in the market too: Metro Bank, with eight branches in the London area, has euros and dollars available in stores at attractive rates for instant collection, with other currencies available the next day.

The choice is overwhelming, but the current issue of Which? Travel magazine claims that 39% of its sample survey used the Post Office to exchange money in the past year.

Only 1% used the Caxton FX prepaid card, but this, says Which? Travel, got the highest customer satisfaction score (89%). Caxton FX, in its own survey, reckons British travellers could waste pounds 1 billion on hidden charges this summer - on bank charges, ATM withdrawals and paying for food and activities with debit or credit cards while abroad.

It also fears more than 13 million Britons could be hit by hidden dynamic currency conversion (DCC) charges - adding another pounds 20 in hidden costs to the average pounds 500 spent on a two-week holiday.

An average holidaymaker takes out pounds 249 in up to five withdrawals from an ATM on a two-week holiday and spends an average of pounds 234 on their debit/credit cards on food and activities in up to five different transactions. That is likely to rack up charges of nearly pounds 27.

David Black, banking analyst at financial research firm Defaqto, says: "People must think about how they will manage money while abroad to avoid financial shocks later."

He says the average charge for a pounds 100 purchase overseas is pounds 2.87 on a credit card and pounds 3.06 on a debit card. Charges for a pounds 100 cash withdrawal by ATM are pounds 5.60 and pounds 3.96 respectively.

Regular travellers might open a bank account with a debit card that doesn't charge any foreign usage fees. Sainsbury's Gold Card allows an interest-free period on cash withdrawals if you pay off the transaction in full at the end of the month. The other key point to remember is buy back rates can be far below the selling rate.

SHARE TIPS Shares in water provider United Utilities are a buy, says the Sunday Telegraph. On Friday, United said current trading was in line with the group's expectations, adding it would pay a final dividend of 20p to bring the full-year payment to 30p a share.

United has confirmed that it plans to increase its dividend at 2% ahead of RPI inflation until 2015. The prospective yield at the current share price of 588p is 5.4%, rising to 5.7% next year. The shares are an income play for anyone wanting an above-inflation return.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 25, 2011
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