Complete Guide to ATM Fees & How to Refund Them

As of 2019, according to the World Bank, there were more than 215 ATMs per 100,000 residents of the United States. And that value continues to grow.

You can find an ATM locations on almost any city block or in any convenience store. And they are an easy way to get cash when and wherever you need it.

But, if you use an out-of-network ATM, you most likely will pay bank fees. This goes for cash withdrawals, but also deposits and sometimes even balance inquiries. And besides paying a fee to your bank, the owner of the ATM likely will charge you as well.

This can begin to add up especially if you are pulling out small amounts each time. So, is there a way to maximize the convenience of using ATMs whenever you need cash while minimizing or even eliminating the risk of fees? The answer is yes, but it involves various strategies and a little bit of homework.

The good thing is that once implemented, these practices will become second nature. Keep reading to find out some fool-proof ways of avoiding ATM fees, so that you can spend your money on more important and meaningful things.

Avoiding ATM Bank Fees

How much are ATM fees? According to an annual Bankrate survey, although out-of-network bank fees have tapered in the last few years, the average amount paid for using an out-of-network bank's ATM was $4.64 in 2019. The average ATM surcharge for non-customers was $3.08, the second-highest amount in the history of the survey. And foreign ATM withdrawal fees can be much higher than that.

The average fee your own bank will charge you per transaction, $1.56, fell for the third straight year. Declining fees averages across-the-board does not mean that banks are easing up. It could be a strong sign that customers are finding ways to avoid paying exorbitant charges for ATM transactions.

But that number remains high. On average, Americans pay about $720 on bank fees per year according to our internal research. That is a lot of money, especially when you can avoid it. Starting with the most rudimentary, here are some methods you can employ to do just that.

Basics of Free ATMs

Most banks do not charge fees for using their ATMs. If you happen to use a bank that does, you should consider switching. There are many options to choose from and having a network of ATMs should be table stakes.

Banks That Waive or Reimburse Fees

You can also join a bank that waives fees for using ATMs that are not their own. This means that the bank eats charges from other ATM owners. There is usually a limit on the number of times they will do so in any given month. Charles Schwab and USAA are some of the best banks known for this.

Other banks will reimburse you a set dollar amount for ATM fees, usually about $10 per month. These are both great ways to avoiding the consequences of using an out-of-network ATM for cash and not having to find an ATM that belongs to your bank.

Other Checking Account Fees

Be careful of the lure of some of these programs with generous ATM waivers. Banks may try to offset them by tacking on other fees, like monthly maintenance fees.

This is money that could otherwise be growing in a high-yield savings account or other investment account with a decent interest rate. Having it sitting in your checking to avoid ATM fees comes with consequences, no matter how you cut it.

In short, if you do decide to change banks for the sake of ATM fee policies, be sure that using the services of the new institutions is not too onerous. You will want to weigh all bank fees before making the jump.

ATM Networks

Besides allowing fee-free withdrawals from their own ATMs, some FDIC-insured institutions, like Capital One and Bank of America,  permit them from the bank's network ATMs. Two of the largest and most popular networks that advertise fee-free ATM withdrawal are Allpoint and MoneyPass.

Allpoint is the largest, with 55,000 participating ATMs across the globe. They pride themselves on ATM access. You can find them in many popular retail and grocery stores.

Moneypass is a bit smaller and requires a specific card linked to your bank account to use their ATM’s without having to pay a fee. Their network comprises 24,000 ATMs for 1,600 participating banks and institutions.

Both of these networks have convenient apps to help you locate the nearest ATM. And, since each bank is unique, ask your financial institution about their policies to find out what networks, if any, they use. Also ask if there are any in-network ATM fees.

If you have an account with a credit union, check to see if they take part in a network. The company CO-OP, a broad system of over 30,000 ATMs nationwide, is the most widely used one. Many of their ATMs are within participating credit union branches, but others are in retail outlets.

This system was developed as an innovative way for credit unions to reduce teller traffic and replace it with ATM operators. Allowing a member to use many different ATMs owned by other institutions increases convenience. It also keeps customers from flooding their own branches for minor transactions.

The companies Simple and Chime are examples of prominent online banks. They rely on direct deposit incentives, mobile banking engagement, and interchange revenue from transactions for their primary business models. Since they do not have their own brick-and-mortar branches, they also rely on a network of participating ATMs. Other prominent financial institutions, like Ally Bank, have also started to shift more towards online-only services.

If an in-network ATM happens to charge you a fee, these banks will refund it to your account. And all of them offer user-friendly online search tools for locating participating ATMs.

Put Technology to Use

One way to avoid bank fees is to use mobile banking locators to find ATMs. This may not help in situations where you have to use a random ATM at a restaurant to pay your tab. But it may be worth a quick detour on your way there to keep you from being stuck with an ATM fee.

Another way to plan ahead is to check online for information about the store or event you are attending. Nowadays, most restaurants accept credit or debit cards, but not all of them. Events like concerts and fairs also can go either way.

You may already be on their site to check out menus, lineups, or attractions. So, take a few minutes to find out what options you have for paying for the things when you get there.

Digital wallets, like Apple Pay or Android Pay, are not as ubiquitous as credit card readers, but that may very well change soon. There ease-of-use will continue to make them popular at food trucks and other services that want to keep lines moving as cashless trends continue to rise and they are a great alternative to forking over ATM fees.

Using peer-to-peer services is another simple way to avoid ATM fees to get cash. Venmo, Cash App, and Zelle are free services for transferring your own money to friends from a bank account. Even PayPal now has a fee-free option for doing so.

This can come in handy in situations where your friend is willing to pick up dinner or pay for services that require cash in exchange for your “wire transfer.” Also, these apps allow you to see in real-time the sending and receiving of funds, so no one has to wait days to see whether the transaction went through.

Other Strategies

Another simple way to limit fees associated with ATMs is to avoid having to use them all together. Get cashback at grocery or convenience stores when checking out. Most larger retailers do not have fees associated with this, although they may have limits (usually $100) on how much cash they can give you.

Although this may not be a good option for situations where you need cash in-the-moment, it can be a simple way to save money with a little foresight. Also, if you are using a rewards debit card, where you earn points whenever you use it, this method could actually make you a little bit of money along the way.

Also, there are services that will negotiate with banks to return ATM charges to your account. In addition to ATM fees, these might include:

These services use algorithms to automatically start a negotiation every statement cycle. A small percentage of what the banks charge goes to their services.

If worse comes to worst, account holders can request an ATM fee rebate from your bank. State that you are a loyal customer and were in a situation where using the out-of-network ATM was necessary. It is not guaranteed that they will grant it, but it cannot hurt to ask.

Avoid ATM Fees

Now that you have a sense of how ATM fees work and the many ways that you can either avoid or limit them, take time to explore the options in your area. In addition to brick-and-mortar establishments, there are many banking options online today that you can find one that works for you.

With the tools above, you can avoid bank fees and put your money to better use. Have the peace-of-mind that you are not wasting your hard-earned money on unnecessary charges, and that this money will go toward  achieving your personal finance goals.

About the Author

Harvest helps increase the net worth of the 99% through artificial intelligence and financial automation. To date, Harvest has refunded over $2M in bank fees and interest charges to its members with the ultimate goal of increasing the net worth of everyday Americans by $1 trillion by 2030. Our platform starts with providing immediate relief through bank fee and interest charge refunds, orients a member's financial health with our proprietary PRO Index, and keeps track of net worth over time aided by our suite of financial tools. Check out our 8-step guide on "How to Build Wealth from Nothing" to get started on increasing your net worth.

Disclaimer: Harvest is not providing financial advice. The content presented does not reflect the view of the Issuing Banks and is presented for general education and informational purposes only. Please consult with a qualified professional for financial advice.