Hate ATM fees? Get your bank to pay

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If you’re one of the many people who really hate paying banks’ ATM fees, don’t get mad, get reimbursed. Lots of banks offer checking accounts with ATM fee reimbursement as a key perk.

Fifth Third Bank in particular is running a promotion offering ATM reimbursements on checking accounts for new customers who sign up by Aug. 15. From Rick Rothacker at the Charlotte Observer:

For customers who sign up, Fifth Third won’t charge fees for using another bank’s ATM, up to 10 transactions per month. It also will automatically reimburse these customers for fees levied by the ATM’s operator.

ATM fee reimbursement has long been a standby of many regional-to-small banks, credit unions and online banks, which offer it in lieu of the kind of massive nationwide ATM network fielded by the bigs in the banking industry.

Typically, checking accounts that offer it provide a set amount of ATM reimbursement for account holders, limited either by dollar amount or number of transactions. ATM fee reimbursement is an especially common feature of high-yield checking accounts, which give you a small but better-than-nothing return on your cash reserves.

I think ATM fee reimbursement is a win-win for regional-to-small banks and their customers. By offering ATM fee reimbursement, smaller banks don’t have to compete on the basis of having a ubiquitous ATM network. ATMs are really pricey to build and maintain; an article on ABCnews.com in March pegged banks’ cost for maintaining an ATM not attached to a branch at $15,000 a year. Multiply that times several thousand ATM locations and you’re talking about real money, even for a bank. Having their customers just use other banks’ ATMs helps them avoid that cost.

Bank customers also win, because they can save a little bit on their ATM withdrawals without having to hunt down an ATM for their particular bank.

What do you think? Is freedom from ATM fees enough to get your banking business? Could this be a way to finally end the scourge of ATM fee vigilantism?