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GAO reports rising ATM fees

By Marcie Geffner · Bankrate.com
Friday, April 26, 2013
Posted: 7 am ET

It's not your imagination. Some ATM fees have been going up, according to the report, "Automated Teller Machines: Some Consumer Fees Have Increased," released this month by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The prevalence and amount of ATM fees charged by financial institutions have increased since 2007. The estimated average fee assessed by those financial institutions that charged a fee increased to $2.10 in 2012 from $1.75, adjusted for inflation, in 2007, the GAO estimates.

Last year, the GAO found that financial institutions charged ATM fees that ranged from 45 cents to $5 while a sample of 100 ATMs run by four independent operators charged fees that averaged $2.24 and ranged from $1.50 to $3. Some independent ATMs not in the sample might have even higher or lower fees.

The so-called "foreign ATM fee," assessed by a financial institution when a consumer uses a non-network ATM, generally stayed constant from 2007 to 2012.

An estimated 420,000 ATMs exist in the U.S. About half of them are operated by banks, credit unions and other financial companies. The remainder are operated by independent firms.

Financial institutions set the fees for ATMs they operate while independent operators, together with merchants, determine the fees for their machines. ATMs can be found at shopping centers, drug stores, grocery stores and other public locations in addition to bank and credit union branches.

Financial institutions generally operate ATMs as a convenience to their customers while independent ATM operators generally rely on fees unless the ATM is part of a surcharge-free ATM network.

ATM operators told the GAO that per-ATM operating costs increased in the last five years while per-ATM revenues declined. Many operators believed costs will continue to rise and revenues will be flat or decline.

That suggests ATM fees could rise more in the future.

Consumers can obtain cash without incurring ATM fees by using their own financial company's ATMs or ATMs within a network in which that company participates. These networks can greatly expand the number and location of ATMs that consumers can use free of charge, the GAO said.

Do you go to your bank's ATM to avoid fees? Is it worth the trouble?

Follow me on Twitter: @marciegeff.

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