Spring Cleaning Week: Sweep Out ATM Fees!

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Spring starts next month and it is a perfect time to look at areas of your financial life that could use a little dusting. One bank statement-cluttering culprit that can be easily swept away? Excessive ATM fees.

Many people consider ATM fees a small inconvenience. Actually, they can be a huge drain: people spent some $4.4 billion on ATM fees in 2007, according to a study by Bankrate.com, using numbers provided by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. That's a lot of dough!

A big chunk of the money collected comes from convenience fees, or surcharges, put in place when someone uses an ATM that is not within their bank’s network.  Some banks and ATM owners also charge a transaction fee when one of their members uses a non-network ATM. These transaction fees generally run between $1 to $1.50, while surcharges are generally between $1.50 and $2.50. “The charges are in place to support the networks,” says Steve Kenneally, vice president of the American Bankers’ Association. "It is expensive to maintain ATM machines.”

Maybe so, but let someone else pay for the machine's maintenance by following these relatively simple ways to avoid, or at the very least minimize, racking up ATM fees. Christine Holevas, a spokesperson for Chase Bank (CCF) says that frequent ATM users should ensure that their branch has an extensive network of ATM locations.  Also, if someone needs to use an ATM that is not within their bank’s network, make a large withdrawal.  “If you withdraw more money once rather than take out smaller amounts more than once, you will save money by only paying one surcharge fee,” says Holevas. 

Another way to get around paying fees is to ask for cash back when using a MasterCard (MA) or Visa check card at a store.  Or, shoppers  can write a check for more than the price of what they are purchasing and get the difference back in cash. 

Surcharge reimbursement can also help you to clean out ATM fees. According to Kenneally, people should shop for a bank or credit union that doesn’t charge ATM fees, as well as one that reimburses for surcharges from other banks, a practice which is becoming more common. Specifically, Kenneally suggests looking for banks that are part of the Allpoint Network.  The Allpoint Network is surcharge-free ATM system with more than 32,000 ATMS nationwide.  According to Kenneally, banks pay Allpoint to be a part of their system, but do not charge customers to use the machines.

In addition, some banks reward preferred customers with free withdrawals from non-network ATMs.  Holevas says that at Chase, once a customer qualifies for the Premier checking package, which requires a minimum $15,000 combined accounts balance, they are given four non-Chase withdrawals per statement cycle and when they reach the Premier Platinum level, which requires a minimum $75,000 combined accounts balance, they are given unlimited free non-Chase ATM withdrawals.  Many other major banks offer similar features to their customers.

Ultimately, Kenneally says that saving money on ATMs fees is a choice that people have to make for themselves.  “A lot of it comes to convenience,” he says.  “People have to make the choice whether they want to run across the street in the rain or pay a surcharge at a closer machine.”

 

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