Pleasanton Weekly

- February 28, 2014

Foreign money transfers just got safer

New rules protect consumers better

by Jason Alderman

If you're among the millions of U.S. residents who each year send tens of billions of dollars to family, friends or foreign businesses overseas, here's good news: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently instituted new rules governing international electronic money transfers to better protect consumers against hidden fees and improve dispute resolution policies.

CFPB was given oversight of international money transfers as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Up until then, federal consumer protection rules did not apply to most "remittance transfers," whose exchange rates, processing fees and taxes often vary widely and can be hard to decipher.

Here's an overview of the new remittance transfer rules:

In general, most foreign money transfers for more than $15 sent by money transmitters (such as Western Union and MoneyGram), banks, credit unions and other financial services companies that consistently send more than 100 international money transfers annually are covered.

These institutions now must fully disclose their fees, taxes and foreign currency exchange rates so consumers will have a clearer picture of the true cost of transactions and be able to more easily comparison-shop. Also, once a transaction concludes, the company now must provide a receipt that repeats this same information, as well as shows the date when the money will arrive and directions for reporting any problems with the transfer.

The new regulations include several additional protections:

* Consumers are allowed 30 minutes (and sometimes longer) to cancel a transfer after they've paid -- in which case, they're entitled to a full refund. (However, if the recipient has already picked up the funds or had them deposited into their account before 30 minutes have passed, the refund guarantee is voided.)

* If the wire was scheduled in advance, you can cancel it up to three business days before the transmission and receive a full refund.

* Senders have 180 days to report any errors they later uncover. By law, the company must investigate such reports within 90 days. For certain errors (e.g., if the money never arrived), you can ask for a full refund or have the money resent.

While the new regulations are certainly welcome, they don't go far enough when it comes to helping customers compare the net costs of making money transfers at different vendors. You'll still need to carefully weigh each company's exchange rate (which fluctuates frequently) and fees (which vary depending on how much you're sending, how quickly you want the money to arrive and the funding method) to determine which one provides the best value -- the so-called "effective exchange rate."

One company may have a more favorable exchange rate than another but charge higher fees. Depending on how much money you're trying to transfer and by what method, however, the balance could shift over which transaction is more cost-effective.

To calculate various effective exchange rates, add the amount you're sending (in U.S. dollars) plus all fees and then divide that into the amount of foreign currency to be delivered. The company with the highest result provides the best value.

If you don't trust your math skills, Viamericas has a handy comparison tool that lets you plug in fees and exchange rates for up to three additional vendors and it will calculate their effective exchange rates. Visit www.viamericas.com and use the tool's manual comparison option to allow for more choices.

For more information on the new remittance transfer rule, visit www.cfpb.gov.

Jason Alderman directs Visa's financial education programs.

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