How to Steer Clear of the Dreaded ATM Fee

Wende Dahlsten
Greater Nevada Credit Union
Greater Nevada Credit Union We’ve all been there: you need access to some quick cash and the only ATM around has a $4 fee. It’s the worst! Banks charge on average $2.60 for using an ATM out of your network. Sometimes even your own financial institution charges an additional fee, an average of $1.53. At $4.13 a pop, these little fees can become a monster headache in a big hurry. Don’t worry; there are some easy ways to avoid ATM Fees.
Failing to plan = planning to pay

The first step in attacking any problem is becoming aware and then taking action! With a little bit of homework, you can become familiar with the ATMs within your network as well as those that do not incur fees regardless of where you bank. Most financial institutions have an ATM Lookup feature where you can discover where your networked ATMs are located. Some even have smart phone apps, so you can search for the nearest fee-free ATM using your phone’s GPS. Many community banks and credit unions join forces with other financial institutions to extend ATM availability without charging surcharges. For instance, some smaller banks and online banks work with the Allpoint or STAR ATM networks to provide more surcharge-free access to ATMs. Some credit unions, like GNCU, partner with the CO-OP ATM network, which doesn’t impose surcharges for members of partnered credit unions. Check with your financial institution, and then look for ATMs with Allpoint, STAR, or CO-OP logos. I’m pretty sure every 7-Eleven has a CO-OP ATM, and there’s always a 7-Eleven nearby, so if you’re a credit union member, chances are you’re never far from a free ATM.

Your Debit Card + Your Friends

One way to eliminate the stress of finding ATMs while you’re out and about is to try and make a habit of getting cash back when you are at the grocery store. If you shop for food weekly just make it a point to also get your cash out for the week at the same time. Also, when you’re out with friends and find yourself low on green, you can use your credit or debit card to pay the bill and have your friends fork over the cash. Plus, there are lots of online payment systems like PayPal and PopMoney that allow you to send your friends money from your bank account instead of pulling cash out to split the check. Your financial institution might even be partnered with one of them to make it easier or reduce the fees (here at GNCU, we use PopMoney).

Travelling Near and Far

Planning a trip? You’ll want to make sure you’re using a fee-friendly ATM in US cities with the highest  ATM fees: Milwaukee, Phoenix, Houston, Cincinnati, San Francisco, and San Diego. If you’re heading abroad, there will be plenty of cost involved…and the last thing you want to do is add expense with fees!

  • Foreign ATMs:  Each ATM transaction abroad can cost around $5.00 in surcharges, so before travelling abroad, call the 1-800 number on the back of your ATM card and pick the brain of your customer service rep. Make sure to tell them where you are going and when so that your card doesn’t get frozen due to unusual activity.  Also make sure to read the fine print when using your credit card abroad, as most charge an extra fee for currency conversion.
  • Pre-Paid Debit Cards: One way to avoid fees is to use a pre-paid debit card. They look like a credit card and can be used as a debit card or credit card with merchants. They are safe because you must have a pin to use them. It’s recommended to use a well recognized carrier like Visa or Master Card so that your card will be valid wherever these cards are accepted.
  • Traveler’s Checks: When I was backpacking through Europe in the early 1990’s traveler’s checks were widely used. Today it seems as if they are more hassle than they are worth. You can buy them in advance but they come with a service fee. Then when you cash them in the country you are visiting there is another fee. In addition, not all countries accept traveler’s checks, so make sure to check before you buy them if this is the route you decide to go.
  • Your Checking Account: Okay, I’m about to shamelessly plug my own company so bear with me. But Greater Nevada offers two checking accounts that pay ATM fee refunds. Some other financial institutions have similar features on their checking accounts, so when you’re shopping for a new account, keep that in mind.
When in Doubt ...Ask a Pro

Next time you’re in your financial institution (or even on the phone with their call center) ask them to explain their surcharge policies and options. Don’t let fees eat into your hard earned cash. By working with your financial institution, you can stay on top of unnecessary charges. Do you have any smart fee-saving techniques you’d like to share with us? Please comment here!