Best and Worst USA Top Up Methods?


Let’s discuss the best and worst USA top up methods and any tips.

So far here’s my findings in using USA debit cards with Revolut:

  • Topping up in USD from USA cards result in Revolut taking a 1% to 4%(?) fee. The workaround is to request currency conversion to EUR/GBP when topping up. However, you’re at the mercy of your cards conversion fees. Some cards are better than others. See below. Gee, I hope I haven’t exposed a useful bug by letting people know how to circumvent USD fees?

  • Mastercard and Visa seem to fix a daily currency exchange rate. The conversion rates are really low, something like .1% to .6%. i.e. exchanging $100 might cost 50 cents. All cards closely follow this rate but some charge an additional percentage or flat fee.

  • Schwab Bank doesn’t charge any additional rate or fee. They even reimburse for any foreign ATM owner fees.

  • Ally Bank hasn’t charged me any additional fees when topping up. They do charge a modest additional 1% fee for foreign ATM withdrawals.

  • Chase and Bank of America heap on an additional 3% fee. Worse, you only find out about the fee days after the top up.

  • Capital One 360 isn’t tested yet but they claim to not have additional charges.

  • Using Apple Pay or Android Pay result in the same charges as using the underlying cards.


That’s very useful information @bsalita. Just to throw my hat into the ring - Visa and Amex exchange all of the currencies through USD, while Mastercard - through EUR. Therefore, if you exchange USD to GBP, you will generally be better off with Visa or Amex as this avoids the USD-EUR-GBP conversion


Charles Schwab, I guess, isn’t charging conversion/foreign fee. So, when you top up EUR from your Charles Shwab Debit card, it’ll be converted to USD at Visa or MasterCard rate.


This seems academic as I understood Revolut had withdrawn their service to American users completely.


@beeare Right. You can’t register with a USA phone number. Perhaps you can’t register a USA address either, I dunno. I’m a French resident who happens to have USA bank accounts. I assume that Revolut is interested in getting into the USA market but there are issues and issues.


@Ratamon I tried but so far I can’t verify your Mastercard USD -> EUR -> GBP conversion claim. My test transactions differ by a few pennies per $10. I just tried my Schwab Visa brokerage card. Preliminary tests show that Schwab Visa brokerage card is a couple pennies per $10 cheaper than Ally but it’s possibly just random. I hope to test Capital One 360 card and Schwab Bank card when they arrive in two weeks.


@bsalita An American friend registered, got a card, successfully verified (assisted through support) and had it working perfectly. Then tried to reinstall on a new phone…didnt work. Revolut said they had withrawn the service to American citizens until further notice. Topping up had not been a problem.


The difference is around 0.5% on average which you wouldn’t notice on a $10 spend. Obviously, you will not see USD-EUR-GBP conversion as this is done through cross-rates internally. What you get is the final rate. As both conversions include a small margin, your effective rate will be slightly higher. I can’t cite a specific resource at the moment but I am pretty sure you can find the rate mechanics on the web.


I’ve now repeatedly topped up using both MasterCard and Visa debit cards from various banks to see actual charges. I’ve also checked their websites against Revolut rates. There is NOT a 0.5% difference between the two for USD->EUR or USD-GBP. I see a 0.2% difference sometimes which I attribute to a difference in their daily rate fixing, rounding, bank grab or whatever. Check it out for yourself. Can you spot a 0.5% difference on a historical basis? Do you mean 0.05%?


I did this exercise a few months ago on 100 days worth of consecutive data and the average difference was around 0.5% (7 instances where the difference was more than 2%, 12 instances where it was more than 1%, 31 cases with more than 0.5%, 25 cases with more than 0% and for the remaining 25 data points the Mastercard rate was better). You can’t draw any meaningful conclusions from a few days of observations. hope that helps


The official exchange rate history for MasterCard and Visa is available for inspection. One only has to check the historical data.

One would think there’s a website that compares the rates but I haven’t found one yet.


You have to look up the rate for each day separately which is very inconvenient. If you’ve got time and inspiration, you can give it a go to prove (or deny) my claims :slight_smile:


The statistician in me thinks as few as 10 random observations are all that’s needed.

It would be much nicer if there was a website that showed a table of results. People could do a quick check of the website before topping up. Right now it’s a bit of a pain to use the official websites. There’s a Visa Tool app for iOS and Android which makes it easy to get Visa rates. MasterCard doesn’t seem to have an official app that shows rates. Maybe someone else will have more luck in finding one.


Here’s an article that compares American Express, MasterCard and Visa.

Bottom Line: “From my experience with ~150 transactions across four foreign currencies, no payment network consistently provided better exchange rates than others. MasterCard was directionally more favorable than VISA most of the time,but the difference was far lower than the rumored 1%. While I wouldn’t doubt anyone who have witnessed worse from time to time, the spread in my experience never exceeded 0.5% on any day, and averaged to about 0.1%.”

This is exactly consistent with my own observations. On any given day, one or the other card provides a better exchange but the differences are small and seemingly random.


Good news. I’ve now done some top ups (USD->EUR and USD->GBP) using Capital One 360 debit card. As they state, they do not charge foreign exchange fees and the exchange rates are exactly what MasterCard shows on their website. My tests verify that their claims are accurate. You know ahead of time exactly what the exchange rate will be. Actual FX rates change rapidly during the day but generally you’ll pay very little over the mid-market rates for MasterCard exchanges (although internal exchanges in Revolut are even better). I’ll be using this card to move/exchange USD into Revolut.


FYI. Capital One 360 debit card is accepted by Apple Pay but it is not accepted directly by Revolut as a top up card. Apparently there’s a few such cards that the app doesn’t accept but are accepted via Apple Pay. So just add the card to Apple Pay and use Apple Pay as the method to top up. Same difference.


Initial tests over several days shows Capital One 360 MasterCard is doing pennies better than Schwab Visa on USD->EUR and USD->GBP top offs (Apple Pay). There isn’t suppose to be a difference between Apple Pay vs direct card top off and I don’t see any so far. That said, best to test the exchange rate of the moment by testing small exchanges (10) before trying large amounts.

Today I found, for the first time, that MasterCard’s exchange calculator wasn’t showing the actual exchange rate charged. The rate was actually pennies BETTER than what they were showing and pennies better than the real-time rate shown by The Visa calculator continues to be spot on.


Mastercard publish their daily rates the next day only (after they aggregate their currency positions for the day). Therefore, you cannot know to the penny the amount you will be charged but you are right in that it shouldn’t be wildly different from the mid market rate on the day.


I’ve compiled additional exchange rate data for those wanting to top up using USA debit cards to perform the exchange (as opposed to paying Revolut 3% for a USD exchange). Capital One 360 (MasterCard) continues to provide the best foreign exchange rates. Schwab Bank (Visa) is second place. Ally Bank (MasterCard) is third. MasterCard rates consistently beats Visa’s but we are only talking about less than 60 cents per $100 dollars. Also the difference between the best and worst rates is almost always less than 1% ($1 per $100), not really that much unless you are exchanging thousands of dollars per year.

Capital One exchange rates are usually close to the rates shown by, and Revolut. Amazingly, Capital One rates are sometimes better than all of them, sometimes by as much as 30 cents per $100. Occasionally Capital One is worse by 60 cents per $100. Sometimes Capital One gives a bargain rate for one currency but not another. If you are exchanging big amounts, it actually pays to top up to the best currency and then use Revolut to perform a second exchange.

Capital One claims they use MasterCard rates but this seems false as the two rates don’t seem to track. Ally Bank also says they use MasterCard rates PLUS 1%. So one would think Capital One is always 1% better than Ally but in fact this doesn’t hold true. Capital One is usually .2% to .8% better than Ally, not 1%.

There’s other considerations in choosing a card besides exchange rates. Schwab and Ally reimburse for ATM fees. Schwab and Ally offer 24x7 customer service but Capital One is only 8AM EST to 8PM. If your Capital One card becomes blocked outside of customer service hours, you’re screwed.

Which card do I recommend? Well, actually I suggest two. Right now I’d suggest Capital One and either Schwab or Ally. Even though Ally claims to take an additional 1%, it’s actually more like .2% to .8% plus Ally gives really good service 24x7. Don’t rely on just one top up card because they sometimes get blocked by fraud prevention false positives. Same thing for Revolut card, always have a backup.

Before exchanging large amounts, always test the conversion rate using a small amount such as 10 Euros or 10 GBP. Then check the transaction on your bank site to see what the actual USD charges were and comparing against to judge rate fairness.

BTW, I top up Revolut with these cards through Apple Pay. Android Pay should give the same results.

Update 24-Dec-2016: I tested 10 Euro top ups followed by 100 Euro top ups. Capital One and Schwab cards became refused/blocked on 100 Euro top up but Ally did not. At 5AM ET, Capital One customer service was closed, Schwab was infinite hold so perhaps their debit card operations were simply closed. [7AM: Schwab now claims the delay was due to Christmas rush. They are open 24x7.] I was unable to get Ally to refuse/block. I called Ally at 5AM ET anyway to see if they could be reached. Not only did an agent answer but he said they have full access to unblock cards 24x7. Kudos to Ally customer service. Ally cost .65% more on USD-GBP and .75% more on USD-EUR. For most people, that’s a small price to pay for excellent service.