Find a free ATM near
send those surcharging banks a message
That other bank's ATM that
you pass every day on the way to work is going to zap you with a $1.50
surcharge if you dare use it to grab some fast cash.
So, what do you do? How about striding right
by that lousy, surcharging ATM and hopping over to a free ATM. That's
right -- free.
ATMs that don't charge you a cent to get to
your own money do exist. It just takes some work to find
More than 78 percent of banks charge noncustomers
a fee for using their ATMs, according to Bankrate.com's semiannual
checking account survey. That means 22 percent of bank ATMs out
there are free.
You can send a message to surcharging banks
everywhere by saying "no" to all those pricey ATMs and tracking
down a free ATM near you. Use it on a regular basis. By doing so
you'll be saying "take that" to fee-happy banks and save a few bucks
a month in the process.
"The most important thing for consumers to do
is to get information on the issue and let banks know that they
don't like it," says David Sorkin, a professor at John Marshall
Law School who runs the Web site ATM
the local credit union
You may be able to track down a surcharge-free ATM by simply
taking a drive around town. Do you swing by a credit union? Many
of them boast surcharge-free ATMs. Lots of smaller banks don't collect
surcharges either. Those that don't often will have a big sign saying
so near the ATM. Many ATM networks require banks to post notices
on ATMs that surcharge. So open your eyes before you insert that
Free ATMs also can be tracked down using the
Internet. The Credit
Union National Association, the Independent
Community Bankers Association and The
Co-Op Network all have ATM locators on their Web sites. Free
ATM locations can also be found on ATM $urcharges, which includes
a detailed listing of free ATMs in the city of Chicago.
One of the best sites for finding free ATMs
is the aptly named freeatms.com
from CompuBank, an online bank with no ATMs of its own.
"We're trying to create as much choice as possible
and help the consumer become educated because banks are terrible
about charging fees," says Jonathon Lack, executive vice president
of marketing and planning for CompuBank.
one across the country
The freeatms.com site allows you to search the directories of 10
surcharge-free alliances and networks from around the country. So
you can track down a free ATM in your neighborhood or one clear
across the country.
"This is perfect for when you're traveling and
you're in a new city and you don't want to pay the $2 fee at the
ATM in the hotel lobby," Lack says.
Look at San Francisco, where Bank of America
and Wells Fargo are threatening to block noncustomers from using
their ATMs after city residents voted to ban ATM surcharges.
There are more than 40 ATMs in the city of San
Francisco that will let you access your cash for free, according
Of course the easiest way to get your money
for free is to use your own bank's ATMs. Most banks do not charge
their own customers a fee for using their ATMs.
Some small banks and credit unions have increased
the number of free ATMs available to their customers by joining
selective-surcharge alliances. Alliance members agree not to surcharge
each other's customers.
ATMs on the rise
As of August more than 2,200 financial institutions were members
of these kinds of alliances, almost double the number in November
1998, according to Bank Network News.
The nice thing about selective surcharge alliances
is that they give small bank customers and credit union members
access to a larger, free ATM network. Of course if your bank or
credit union is not an alliance member, you may be charged a surcharge
at alliance ATMs. Some alliance members surcharge non-alliance ATM
customers and some don't.
For example, credit unions in the CO-OP Network,
which stretches across more than a dozen western states, established
selective surcharging in November 1998. Yet 132 of the network's
501 credit unions continue to be members of the No-Surcharge ATM
"Some credit unions just have a no-surcharge
philosophy," says Irene Whitcomb, vice president of membership and
marketing for the CO-OP Network.
To add to the confusion, some CO-OP credit unions
only surcharge at some of their ATM machines. So again, it
pays to keep your eyes peeled when you choose an ATM machine.
The other fee to keep in mind in this whole
ATM uproar is something called an "off-us" or "foreign" fee. This
is a fee that your own bank charges you when you take out money
from another bank's ATM. It's this one-two punch of a surcharge
and an off-us fee that has so many folks upset. Paying $3 in fees,
$1.50 to your own bank and $1.50 to the bank that owns the ATM,
to get $20 in cash seems kind of steep.
Part of the off-us fee goes to reimburse the
ATM owner, which means that bank is getting paid twice -- both times
by the consumer.
"They're anti-American," says Jon Golinger,
consumer program director at the
California Public Interest Research Group, of ATM fees.
"They're forcing people to pay not once but
twice for getting a single service and that single service is getting
access to your own money."
For people who belong to a bank that charges
an off-us fee, a free ATM means using their own bank's ATM and only
their own bank's ATM.
for cash back
Another way to avoid both surcharges and off-us fees is to
ask for cash back when you use your ATM card at a grocery store.
This service is free at many stores.
People who want to see ATM surcharges eliminated
altogether should take a stand, says Sorkin.
Few banks are worried about losing customers
over surcharges now. In fact, it's just the opposite. Banks that
surcharge figure people will get sick of paying the fees and decide
to become bank customers so they can use the ATMs for free.
"Right now banks think imposing surcharges gets
them more customers," Sorkin says.
All this fury over ATM surcharges has not been
lost on the folks in Washington. Rep. Bernard Sanders (Ind.-Vt.)
has introduced a bill
aimed at ending ATM surcharges. The ATM
Fees Act of 1999 would place a federal ban on "double charges"
Sanders also plans to introduce a bill
that would affirm the authority of city and state governments to
ban ATM surcharges.
"At a time of record-breaking bank profits,
it is time for the Congress to finally put an end to these outrageous
fees," Sanders says in a Nov. 3 press release. "And if Congress
won't stand up to the Big Money interests, they should get out of
the way and let the states and municipalities do the job."
-- Posted: Nov. 23, 1999