Banks Are Getting Rich Off of Your ATM Fees

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By Farran Powell

NEW YORK -- All those fees at the ATM really add up -- making a steady stream of revenue for most major and local U.S. banks.

Banks have turned to charging non-customers fees at ATMs as another source of revenue. Major consumer banks netted $437.7 million dollars in revenue from ATMs fees in the first quarter of this year alone, according to a recent report released by SNL Financial.

Wells Fargo (WFC) and Bank of America (BAC) racked in $90 million and $87 million respectively in ATM fees during the first quarter of 2015, followed by Chase (JPM) with $56 million in ATM surcharges, according to the report.

Hikes in ATM fees are seen as a strategy by most banks to offset lost revenue from caps that are set on the amount they can charge retailers for debit-card transactions. The Federal Reserve imposed caps to banks on the amount they could charge retailers on debit card purchases in 2011.

On average, a typical banking customer forks over around $2.25 for an out-of-network ATM fee. But, that fee can be as high as $3 -- a fee that Canada-based TD Bank (TD) charges its consumers for using an out-of-network machine.

Aside from some non-brick-and-mortar financial institutions, most banks do charge for customers for using out-of-network t machines. The nation's largest banks -- Bank of America, Citibank (C) and Wells Fargo -- tack on a $2.50 for their out-of-network fee to their customers. ATM fees become even more expensive when your own bank gets into the act, sometimes charging you -- its customer -- a surcharge for using a competitor's machine. Some out-of-network ATMs charge between $1.50 and $3, and this can be topped off with fee that your bank may charge you. Paying double at the ATM can cost you as much $4 or $5 in surcharges -- the price of an expensive latte.

But, around 61 percent of Americans say they are able navigate around banking fees and pay zero in fees each month, according to a survey conducted by the American Bankers Association released on August 18.

"Today's consumers have become adept at using the many options that may allow them to bank for free, whether it's maintaining a minimum balance, opting for direct deposit or using ATMs owned by their bank," said Nessa Feddis, vice president at ABA.

So, here are some ways to beat those unwanted ATM charges:

Mobile Apps

Sometimes your bank's ATM is just around the corner. Most banks, such as Chase, Bank of America and TD Bank, to name just a few; have a feature within their mobile banking app to locate nearby branches or ATMs that won't charge you a fee.

Go Big

Bigger banks often have more accessible ATMs as well as partnerships with popular retailers to place their branded ATMs in stores. Chase, for example, has ATMs located in Walgreens and Duane Reade stores, and Citibank has cash machines in 7-Eleven stores.

Switch to No ATM Fee Banks

Switch to a bank that refunds ATM fees. A handful of banks, mainly online-only and brokerages, waive ATM fees with certain guidelines. USAA Federal Savings Bank, Schwab Bank (SCHW), Ally Bank (ALLY) and EverBank (EVER), for example, all have free checking accounts that offer some form of ATM fee reimbursement.

Surcharge-free ATMs

These ATMs do exist and are usually surcharge-free if your financial institution is a member. Allpoint Network has 43,000 surcharge-free ATMs across the U.S. in retailers, such as Target (TGT) and Kroger (KR), and Star Network has 57,000 ATMs nationwide.

But, if your financial institution isn't a member, then you'll probably pay a fee -- roughly between $1.50 and $2.50.
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