Share this article

print logo

ATM fees continue to creep higher

You need money to pay the baby sitter, or to eat at that hole-in-the-wall restaurant that doesn't take plastic. But your bank's cash machine's nowhere in sight. Withdrawing money will cost you. How much?

It depends, but prepare to spend more than $3 to withdraw cash from a bank that's not your own, according to a Bankrate.com study.

Nationwide, the average is $3.74.

That figure is made up of two fees -- the fee your bank charges you for going out-of-network and the fee the bank that owns the ATM charges noncustomers. The majority of financial institutions charge both types.

These fees, often known as surcharges, have been rising for the past decade, and experts expect that trend to continue.

"Regulatory changes in the industry have really put a damper on banks' ability to make money on fees," Ron Shevlin, a retail banking analyst at Boston-based research firm Aite Group, said.

In recent years, new regulation has limited the fees banks charge on credit cards and debit card overdrafts. These days, financial institutions and retailers are sparring over how much banks can earn when a debit card is used at the register. The current Federal Reserve proposal is to cap these "swipe fees" at 12 cents per transaction, well below the average 44 cents currently earned by banks.

Why would that affect ATM fees?

"If you press down on one side of the balloon, it's going to pop up on the other. When you press down on overdraft fees and interchange revenue, banks are going to raise [other] fees," Shevlin said.

But instead of moaning about costs, take control. There are several ways to easily avoid ATM fees:

*Plan ahead. "Saturday night comes at the same time every week," said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com. Schedule a set time to get money out of your bank's ATM each week. This helps with budgeting too, if you vow not to take out any more cash until your next ATM appointment.

Or while you're in line at the store, think about whether you'll need money anytime soon, and opt for cash back with your PIN-based debit card transaction, if the store allows it.

*Scout out locations ahead of time. Check your bank's website or download a smartphone application that locates ATMs.

*Explore your alliances. Many financial institutions are part of a surcharge-free alliance that allows customers to take out money free of charge at partner ATMs.

Consider a financial institution that reimburses part or all of your ATM fee. One in four banks doesn't charge customers for using another bank's cash machine. Some banks reimburse you for the first few ATM fees and then charge you after that.

When you do have to use an ATM that's not affiliated with your bank, try to avoid the ones in bars and convenience stores, which are often owned by cash machine companies, not financial institutions, and tend to charge more.

Don't beat yourself up over a fee here or a fee there.

"The occasional $3 or $4 fee isn't going to put you in the poorhouse. What will is the habit of constantly going to another bank's ATM," McBride said.