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No fee, Chip with PIN priority cards now available from First Tech Credit Union

by on Tue September 1, 2015 • 19 Comments


If you’ve been looking for a true EMV Chip and PIN card that has PIN priority (so it always uses your PIN when available) AND has no foreign transaction or annual fees, you know the pickings are pretty slim.

Actually non existent.

The UN Federal Credit Union comes close with its Azure card, which has no annual fee and PIN priority, but charges a foreign transaction fee of 1%.

But there’s a new, better alternative.

First Tech Federal Credit Union is switching its credit cards from Visa to MasterCard, and in the process moved to offering PIN priority on the EMV chip of all of its cards.

Existing First Tech card members are gradually getting the new card, but if you’re a new applicant you’ll get one of the MasterCards which has PIN priority enabled right out of the gate.

Reader and First Tech Member JohnV reports: “have used it at Target and had to use my PIN in order to complete the transaction. Also used it at a local grocery store and had to use PIN”

So the cards being offered are true PIN priority.

And there are three card options with NO foreign transaction fees, and no annual fees.

The full trifecta.

How can you get the cards?

You can now apply for an EMV enabled MasterCard account on the First Tech website.

First Tech is a credit union, but anyone in the country can join by becoming a member of the Financial Fitness Association for a one-time $8 membership fee.

Your card choices with no fee are:


Choice Rewards World MasterCard

Earns 2 points per dollar on gas, grocery, household goods, electronics, and telecommunication purchases.

Platinum Rewards MasterCard

Earn 1 point for every $1 purchased

Platinum Secured MasterCard

Earn 1 point for every $1 purchased. You’ll need to put up a security deposit for this card as it’s designed for people with little or no credit history, but it’s a good option for college students looking for a safe Chip and PIN option.

There’s also an Odyssey Rewards card that earns 3x points on travel and 2x on dining, but it carries a $75 annual fee, so you’ll want to focus on the no annual fee options.

What else is out there?

If you don’t want to join a credit union, the Barclaycard Arrival with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees offers an EMV chip with PIN capability, but it has signature priority, which means it will try to ask for your signature first, but if a merchant doesn’t offer that option, it will let you use a PIN to complete the transaction. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus card is no longer available.

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19 thoughts on No fee, Chip with PIN priority cards now available from First Tech Credit Union

  1. Kerry

    Does anyone know what categories count as “Travel” for the First Tech Odyssey Rewards card? I can’t seem to find that detail on the First Tech web site. Thanks!

  2. Vinhsynd


    Paul previously mentioned cheap cash advances sound awesome but that is not the case in 2017. There is still no transaction fee from First Tech but interest for a cash advance is the same APR rate as a purchase except it starts immediately.


      @Vinhsynd – Indeed interest starts immediately, though if you are very active you could pay it all off the same / next day and have minimal interest charged. It’s a pain and manual process, but one way around it.

      1. Paul

        Hmmm … “pain and manual process”? Use First Tech phone app (or pc online) to transfer funds from checking to credit card within a day or 2 of ATM withdrawal. Always takes me about a minute and a dozen keystrokes, and interest cost is about 3 cents per $100 per day until paid – or about 10 cents per $100 for 3 days. In contrast, virtually all debit cards charge (including First Tech!, except Schwabb and a very few others) at least 100 cents (1% FTF) per $100 for that same 3 days! Even waiting a bit less than 30 days to pay the card off would cost less than using a debit card. Current rate is still below 12%, which is MUCH lower than interest rates for most credit cards. Because the Choice card also earns 2 points (1.5% CASH, min $10 redemption), on many normal expenses already mentioned AND including [not mentioned] MEDICAL (a potentially huge spend unfortunately) – which is very rare for any credit card), that can easily offset the minimal interest charge for cash advances. I have confirmed this ATM advance minimal cost feature on many trips to Europe. And yes, the exchange rate received remains about the same as the lowest published in most places abroad, at least where I traveled in Europe. I did find one place, Lisbon, that had ATM operators that bumped the exchange rate by about 3%, so a debit card would be cheaper there! Barclay card now requires $100 min travel transaction for redemption (10,000 points)! Now if I could only find a debit card that gave cash back or miles on estimated tax payments – darn!


          @Paul – Great it’s working out well for you. That’s about 11 more keystrokes than a lot of people can remember to do!

          1. Paul

            🙂 Even if they forget and simply pay the card off by the due date (which most folks SHOULD be able to remember to do, the interest should still be less (if paid within 30 days) than the 1% debit cards charge. Note that the WHOLE balance (not just the cash advance) must be paid off since the cash advance is paid last – after all other amounts owed are paid. If I wanted to avoid paying more than just the cash advance, I could use one of my FT cards for cash advances only, and the other for everything else. I just don’t bother because of the tiny amount of interest involved.

            Hope this helps.

  3. Ben

    I just wanted to post an update based on my recent experience in France with the First Tech platinum mastercard. I was able to use this card everywhere in Paris with no issues – including unmanned kiosks (the photo booth at CDG for your Navigo card!).

    I will admit, it was amusing to see the waiters always bringing a pen along, then being a bit surprised that the American had a PIN card. 🙂

  4. Paul

    Reminder: A very nice feature of FT MC cash advances (not true of most CCs) is no foreign transaction fee, no cash advance fees, and only 0.03% per day tiny interest charge, and the availability of the full credit line if needed (huge benefit if you are in a temporary cash bind, especially while traveling abroad). That’s 3 cents per $100 per day. Once the advance posts (up to a few days after withdrawal), a quick online transfer of funds to pay off the account balance (must pay off since cash advances are paid last) limits that interest to about 6 cents per $100 TOTAL. You’d have to wait a whole month and then pay off the card to rack up the 1% interest that most debit cards charge (to cover their cost to use the international card network).

    Being able to carry a single card for both purchases and cash advances while traveling is great. Only a single account to track. Also no need to deal with applying for one of the very rare debit cards that has no FTF and transferring cash to that separate bank to fund that card BEFORE being able to draw any cash. Some have suggested that relatives are a good backup for running out of cash on a debit account. Far too expensive in so many ways for me.

    1. Rob

      I want to confirm what Paul is saying because this feature is rare and we’ve been conditioned to be wary of cash advances because of the high fees.

      I initially picked up this card because of the convenience of chip+pin technology (with no annual fee) for when I travel abroad. However, I’ve come to rely on the no-fee cash advances at the ATM most of all.

      All I do is go to an ATM (foreign or domestic) and draw funds using my pin number like I would be when I use a debit card. Then after a few days the transaction posts to my credit card and I pay it off immediately by transferring money from my First Tech checking account. I end up paying very little in terms of fees and I’m confident knowing that my funds in my checking account are protected if I’m ever hit with fraud.

      An example of this is when I was in Martinique in February. I withdrew 80 euros from the ATM and it converted to $87.24. Four days later I pulled out another 80 euros and it converted to $88.88. I paid both balances as soon as I was able. I was ultimately charged 13 cents in interest charges.

  5. Paul

    Note that the FT Choice rewards card cash redemption is not a penny per point! It is only 3/4 of a cent. The other cards may have the same cash redemption rate. Thus the max rate is actually 1.5% (2 points x .75 / point). This detail is hidden pretty well in the disclosures. On the plus side, the minimum redemption level is $10 vs $25 (now increased to an amazing $100 for newly opened accounts!) for Arrival+ (which also restricts redemption to travel related expenses only).

  6. Paul

    Recent trip to Italy, Switzerland, and Paris, France experience with First Tech Cash back Mastercard: Worked with PIN (no signature EVER required – yeh!). Unfortunately, was 100% declined in Paris Monoprix, Monop’, and Starbucks at multiple locations. Always showed “Pin OK” immediately, and then a few seconds later “declined”. Back up signature (ugh!) card (Arrival+) worked every time at same places. Worked at other places in Paris so end result was about 50% success in Paris. First Tech reported that they have no indication of failed transaction, but did say they were having issues in France specifically. Darn! Even worked at Starbucks in Vevey, Switzerland.

    Happy to report that, despite nay sayers about gigantic cost predictions of using this credit for cash advances, after $800 in cash advances from ATMs in Italy and France, the final cost was $4.76, or about .4%, even after paying balance due, including those cash advances, only after I returned to the US weeks later. Had I used a typical debit card, the cost would have been $8 (1%) from day one. Had I paid the account balance off a day or two after withdrawing cash (simple online transfer from any Starbucks!), that interest would have been a few pennies (again, vs $8 using typical 1% fee debit card for cash withdrawals).

    No ATM fees at at least BNL (Italy) and BNP (Paris). I understand that most bank ATMs (vs private) don’t charge fees, at least to foreign card owners.

    Bottom line: the world did not end because I used a credit card to get cash vs a debit card. I was not charged any outrageous amount (fees or interest charge – it’s all the same green money!) which was, as expected, much less than the 1% typically charged to use a debit card!

    As a result of this experience, I’m leaving my debit cards home for future travel – less risk and fewer cards.

    Unfortunately, until First Tech solves the Paris connection, another card will have to cover those situations.

    And yes, pins are MUCH more secure than useless signature that NO one bothered to check ever anywhere anyhow! Might as well not have a signature at all.

  7. Brian

    The First Tech card also has no cash advance fee. The UN card has a cash advance fee which is the greater of 2% or $5. Does that mean that with the First Tech card, local currency may be withdrawn from a foreign ATM with no fees at all? If that’s the case, it seems the First Tech card is very hard to beat as one that covers all the bases needed for European travel.


      @Brian- First Tech won’t charge you any fee, but the host bank of the ATM will charge a fixed amount like any out of network ATM transaction. You’ll see that fee listed on the ATM or on the screen.

      1. Brian

        Thanks for the quick response. If the ATM surcharge applies to all cards on top of any cash advance and foreign transaction fees, then it would seem that the First Tech card still has the lowest possible fee. Unless there are “in network” ATMs to be found in Europe for some banks?

      2. Paul

        My experience in Italy and France was that there was NO separate ATM fees (made 3 withdrawals 2 at BNL, 1 at BNP) for cash advances using this FT MC, BUT the BNP in Paris exchange rate appeared to be 2-3% more $ per euro than the BNLs in Italy. This MAY have been due to that specific BNP maybe actually being owned by a local merchant despite the BNP logo – always try to draw from major bank at the ATMs near their walk-in bank branches to hopefully avoid this fee and be able to easily fix ATM issues if they arise. This 2-3% markup, if a markup, was not called out during the ATM transaction (unless it was in French and I just missed it?) and not separate on the bank statement.


      @Mark – Using a PIN whenever possible is more secure than swiping and using a signature, so if you’re really extra vigilant about that it’s the gold standard. Also when traveling there are some kiosks that only accept PIN enabled cards.


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