Money: Cashing in abroad

READERS' LIVES

We signed up for a Frizzell Mastercard after reading in the Independent on Sunday that it was a "best buy" for spending abroad because, unlike other cards, it carries no currency conversion charges. We were annoyed therefore that our statement detailed "cash handling charges" starting at pounds 1.50 and reaching as much as pounds 3.04 for a transaction of pounds 203.18. Has Frizzell moved the goalposts?

PG, Plymouth

No, the charges are as they should be. The big benefit of Frizzell's Mastercard is its good exchange rates - up to 3 per cent better than on other cards, both when you use it as a credit card or when you withdraw cash at a foreign cashpoint. These favourable rates reflect the lack of currency conversion charges.

However, on foreign cash withdrawals there is an administration charge of 1.5 per cent with a minimum of pounds 1.50. This sort of charge is fairly standard for withdrawals on cashpoint cards and many other credit cards. Some credit cards charge interest instead on these "cash advances" (some actually charge both) which usually will amount to the same sort of cost.

Because of this admin/interest charge, you are generally better off putting as much of your holiday spending on credit cards as possible, instead of using plastic to draw cash for spending. Moreover, minimum admin charges mean that if you are going to use plastic to withdraw local currency, it is worth withdrawing cash in bigger rather than smaller sums.

Some other points. Mastercards will often give a better exchange rate than Visa (this is true of Frizzell as well as some other issuers) so if you have the choice you will often be better off with a Mastercard. That said, Frizzell charges an annual fee of pounds 11. Its parent company, the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society, has a no-fee credit card - the Visa PhotoCard - which gives slightly worse exchange rates than Frizzell's Mastercard (0.25 per cent worse in Europe, 1 per cent worse in the rest of the world) but it is still a "best buy" for holidaymakers whose foreign spending doesn't justify the pounds 11 Frizzell fee.

Finally, even with the withdrawal fees, you will still have got a better deal overall than changing your money in virtually any bureau de change or using travellers' cheques.

q Contacts: Frizzell 01202 765739; Liverpool Victoria 0800 134134.

I have come across details of a long-lost account I had with Gateway building society. The last deposit I made was in 1983, but now I can find no record of the society. What should I do?

WH, East Lothian

Good news - not only is your money almost certainly locate-able, but you may even qualify for free shares in the Woolwich worth pounds 1,400 or more.

The Gateway was a fair-sized society in the Midlands and southern England which sold out to the Woolwich in 1988. Your Gateway savings should have been transferred to a similar account with the Woolwich after the takeover.

Assuming you had an account that gave you membership of the Gateway and that your savings were worth pounds 100 or more (including accumulated interest) by the end of 1995, you should qualify for at least the basic distribution of free shares in the Woolwich, worth around pounds 1,400. Depending on your savings balance you may qualify for even more shares. If, however, you were in a Gateway account that didn't carry membership rights, you are unlikely to have been given membership of the Woolwich and you would not be eligible for the free shares.

You should take your Gateway passbook or whatever account records you have to your local Woolwich branch. It may be possible to update your balance there and then. The branch should also be able to provide you with the documentation for claiming the free shares, assuming that you do qualify.

You will, of course, also be able to withdraw your savings, subject to establishing your identity and subject to the terms of the new Woolwich account. However, it is probably worth waiting until you have received your free shares, assuming that your Woolwich account qualifies, before touching your money.

q Write to Steve Lodge, Personal Finance Editor, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, and include a phone number, or fax 0171-293 2096 or e-mail s.lodge@ independent.co.uk. Do not enclose SAEs or any documents you wish returned. We cannot give personal replies or guarantee to answer every letter. We accept no legal responsibility for advice given.

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