10 Ways to Avoid ATM Rip-Offs

You shouldn't have to pay to access your own money. Here's how to get around the fees.
Publish date:

People pay several billion dollars a year to get access to their own money through ATMs, but they don't have to.


estimates consumers will spend nearly $4.2 billion in ATM fees this year. Most of this money is from surcharges (also called convenience fees) when you use an ATM that is not in your bank's network system. The surcharge typically runs between $1.50 and $2.50. In addition, your own bank may also charge a fee to you when you use another bank's ATM, which typically ranges from $1 to $1.50.

If you find you spend a lot on ATM fees each month, here are some tips to reduce the amount you're paying:



Change banks

: Some banks still charge you to take your own money from its ATMs. Search for a bank that has conveniently located ATMs in its system and does not charge a fee when you use them. You can also try to find a bank that doesn't charge you a fee when you use an ATM that is not in its network. As a general rule, smaller banks and

credit unions are less likely to charge this fee than larger banking institutions.



Try an online bank

: More and more online banks and brokerage firms now offer surcharge-free access to other banks' ATMs (or will refund any surcharge applied) to remain competitive.



Look for a convenient network

: It makes no sense to have a bank that doesn't charge an ATM fee if its ATMs are not located where you can easily use them. Using other banks' ATMs will almost always result in a surcharge.



Allpoint Network


Allpoint Network is a nationwide ATM system for surcharge-free ATMs. The system has 32,000 ATMs across the country, most of which are in metropolitan areas. If you use an ATM in Allpoint's system and your bank is a member, using it will be surcharge-free or they will refund the money.



Go to the teller

: If your bank charges for using its own ATMs and you can't find one that doesn't that is still convenient, try getting to the bank when it is open and use a teller instead. Just make sure the bank doesn't charge a teller fee, which some banks are now doing.



Make larger withdrawals

: ATM surcharges are usually a set amount for each withdrawal you make, rather than a percentage of the amount of money withdrawn. That means that if you take out $350 for the entire week, it'll only cost you one fee, whereas if you take out $50 each day over a one-week period (for the same $350), you will incur seven separate surcharges. If you take this approach, be sure you are disciplined enough not to spend the cash you have too quickly.



Get cash back at stores

: To get around paying ATM fees, you may be able to ask for cash back when using your debit card while shopping. Be aware that some banks have begun to charge a fee for this service. You can check your bank statement to see whether your bank charges a fee when doing this. If they do charge a fee, another option is to write a check for a certain amount above the purchase price and ask for cash back.



Avoid ATMs while traveling

: Using ATMs away from home will almost always result in a surcharge if your bank isn't part of a nationwide network. In addition, while traveling you are usually not in a position to search for ATMs within your network. Instead of using an ATM for your cash needs, opt for checks, traveler's checks or credit cards when traveling.



Know which ATMs to use

: If you find yourself in a situation where you can't use your own bank's or the surcharge-free ATMs, chose a competing bank's ATM. ATMs in airports, convenience stores, casinos, hotels and restaurants almost always have a higher surcharge than a competing bank will have.



Don't use ATMs for loans

: Avoid at all costs taking cash advances on credit cards from ATMs. When you add up all the fees (the bank's fee, the credit card issuer's fee for using the ATM and the interest for the cash advance) it ends up being one of the more expensive loans you can get.

Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.