Ah, the dreaded ATM fee — the price the bank charges you to access your own money. Is there anyone who doesn’t get angry when they think about ATM fees? They’re like the “service charge” you get whacked with whenever you buy a ticket online to an event or a movie. You’re actually doing the company a favor by serving yourself, and then they have the nerve to charge you extra for it!
With banks, it can be hard to win. Many will charge you a fee to use a live teller to do your banking, but you also pay a fee if you use the wrong machine — or the right machine, too many times. The worst is if you have your account at Bank X and you use the ATM at Bank Y, you’re assessed an ATM fee by both banks!
USA Today quotes a survey done in the fourth quarter of 2017 that says ATM fees are almost $5 per transaction now. So if you hit the ATM two times each week, you may be spending over $500 annually on ATM fees! You’d probably be better off putting your money in a slot machine than an ATM.
Is it too much to ask to be granted the privilege of getting some of your own money when you want it?
Sadly, the answer is often yes. But there are ways to get around the fees — if you know what they are.
1. Plan ahead
Some people remember the days before ATMs and bank cards when you had to go into the bank to get your money. It was considered high-tech to go to a drive-thru and put your bank slips into the magic drawer and get cash back.
You can laugh, but no one paid any ATM fees back then. What customers did have to do, however, was plan to go to the bank when it was open. Yes, they had to think ahead. Now, any time of the day or night in any city on the planet, you have the ability to walk up to an ATM, push a few buttons and get money. This privilege can cost you.
This is what going to the bank looked like before ATMs.
You don’t necessarily have to give yourself an allowance each week, although this would be a good idea because it would help you control your spending. You could just count your money before you went out for the evening, and if you thought you didn’t have enough, you could go to one of your bank’s ATMs and get more.
You would technically avoid a fee this way unless you had exceeded the daily or monthly number of transactions your bank allows. Exactly how the number of times you use the ATM costs the bank money remains to be seen, but many banks do set an ATM transaction limit. This can change based on your balance and other factors, so don’t ever think you know the rules.
2. Resist the urge to use out-of-network ATMs
If it’s an emergency, you would likely be happy for the opportunity to pay a few dollars to get the cash you need. But how often is your desire for cash really an emergency? Need to bail your ex out of jail? Again? OK, maybe that’s an emergency (but maybe you should just leave him or her there this time).
What do you even need the cash for? Heading out to a bar with a date or buddies? Use a credit card. If the merchant does not accept credit cards, which is unlikely, then you will have to have cash with you.
A survey by CreditCards.com says that most cash purchases are for items under $5. That’s the same as the out-of-network fee you’ll have to pay, so ask yourself if you really need the money right now.
3. Use your debit card
ABC News recommends avoiding ATM fees by hitting a store quickly, such as a grocery or drug store, and making a purchase with your debit card to get cash back.
4. Search for an in-network ATM
If you sorely need cash, use your phone to search for nearby ATMs in your bank’s network. Choosing a bank a block away or across the street instead of the one in front of you could save you $10 in fees.
A CreditCards.com survey warns, however, that your search may turn up machines that aren’t free. Why are they on there? Who knows? Just be wary when you search. And even if the ATM you search and locate is free, your bank may still charge you a fee to use it.
Switch banks. Many smaller banks and credit unions offer free use of ATMs at participating branches across the U.S. or in locations such as Costco or 7-Eleven.
ATMs abroad sometimes charge much higher fees than domestic machines.
6. Beware of foreign transactions
It is not entirely impossible to avoid fees with ATMs abroad, but it’s close. CreditCards.com explains that different banks have different charges when you’re overseas. Some have flat fees, some charge a percentage and some do both.
There is such a thing as the Global ATM Alliance, and a machine in this network won’t charge you, but depending on where you are planning to travel, these might be hard to find.
As it happens, it’s probably unsafe to travel in a foreign country with your pockets stuffed with cash, so avoiding using an ATM is probably best. Call your bank before you go, however, and check their rules in the country you are visiting so you are not surprised by steep fees if you end up needing to use a machine on your trip.
Avoiding ATM fees — including at ATMs abroad — saves you money every time you do it. If you make just one withdrawal a week from an out-of-network provider and it costs you $5, that’s $260 a year going out of your pocket and into the pockets of bankers. Don’t let it happen.
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