Financial Fitness


5 ways to avoid ATM fees

Posted at 6:31 AM, Oct 31, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-31 06:31:22-04

Imagine if each time you wanted to take a $20 bill out of your wallet, you had to put a $5 bill through a paper shredder. That’s essentially what you’re doing when you pay ATM fees — you’re paying to access your own money, and it can add up to a lot of waste. People pay the fees in order to have fast cash (the national average is $2.77, according to the 2014 Bankrate Checking Survey), either because they don’t think fees are a big deal or they have no other choice, but they’re ridiculously easy to avoid.

1. Use Your Phone to Find an ATM

The easiest way to avoid ATM fees is to use your bank’s ATMs, but it’s understandably tempting to not bother to look for a Chase when there’s a Bank of America right in front of you. With the rise in popularity of mobile banking, it’s likely your bank has a smartphone app with an ATM-finder function. Go forth and enjoy the money-saving wonders technology brings you. (Do you do business with a credit union? They often have free networks as well as apps to help you find them.)

Using an in-network ATM may not let you go fee-free, because there are two types of ATM fees: convenience fees and foreign fees. Your bank may charge you a foreign fee for using an ATM out of its network, and the ATM owner may charge you a fee for using its machine. Oftentimes, you’ll get hit by both fees, but you may see only one on your bank statement.

2. Get Cash Back

A lot of big-box stores allow you to use your debit card to get cash back at their registers. You can buy something small for $1 or $2, like a bottle of water, candy bar, pack of gum or lip balm, choose to pay with your debit card and select the cash back option, and you can get your cash without paying an ATM fee.

Yes, you’re still paying for something, quite possibly something you don’t need, but wouldn’t you rather pay $3 for snacks you can use than have nothing to show for the $3 you paid to get your money from an ATM? Don’t expect to get a lot of money, though. Many stores have limits on how much you can get at the register.

3. Make a Habit of Carrying Cash

If you feel like you’re constantly stuck in situations where you need cash and use a non-bank ATM to get it, consider going to the ATM or bank once a week and taking out $100. If you’re prepared, you won’t need to deal with ATM fees.

Make sure to work your ATM visits into your budget and you’re only taking out the amount of money you’ll need before your next trip to the bank. Know what’s at risk when you’re carrying a lot of cash: If someone steals your wallet, you’re never getting that cash back, but you aren’t necessarily liable for unauthorized credit card and debit card purchases.

4. Find a Bank That Doesn’t Charge Fees

Not all banks charge ATM fees, because not all banks have ATMs. It’s common for online banks and small credit unions to waive ATM fees because they can’t plant ATMs all around town for their customers’ convenience. Waiving fees is their way of offering a good customer experience, so if you can’t seem to avoid paying ATM fees, you may want to research banks that did away with them. Keep in mind you may still have to pay convenience fees charged by the ATM owner, so check with your financial services provider to make sure you understand their policies.

5. Know What’s in Your Wallet

Do you absolutely need cash right this second? Before you run to an ATM, find out if whoever you’re paying accepts credit or debit cards. If not, ask yourself if you absolutely need whatever you’re thinking of purchasing. Tack $3 extra onto the price — is it still worth it?

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