ATM fees rising, but they are avoidable

Even though taxpayers bailed out the banks with billions of dollars, banks continue to look for ways to sock it to us.

The latest increases involve just pennies if you look at only one ATM transaction, but the banks make billions given the volume of those transactions. In fact estimates banks rake in $2 billion per year in ATM charges. found that ATM surcharges are up almost 11% over last year. In 2008 the average ATM charge for using another bank's machine was $1.78. In 2009 the average went up to $1.97. That's only 19 cents per transaction and most people don't even notice it, but the banks are making out like bandits on their fees given the volume of ATM transactions everyday.

In addition to this charge for using another bank's ATM, you'll also likely get charged by your own bank. So you're actually charged twice for one transaction. The average for the home bank's charges have also gone up. In 2008 they averaged $1.25, which is up to $1.46 in 2009. That adds another 21 cents to have the convenience of using another bank's ATM.You can certainly avoid all ATM fees by using your own bank and planning your cash needs more carefully to avoid having to hit the closest ATM in an emergency. But, emergencies do happen so luckily you probably won't be hit too hard if forced to occasionally use another bank's ATM.

Those fees do vary widely, so if you put your card into an ATM and are told you'll be socked with a fee of $2.50 to $3 or more to use that machine, walk away. You probably will find another nearby with lower fees. Remember, you'll likely also be charged an additional $1 to $2 by your own bank for using the ATM of another bank. If you're not sure of the charges, call your bank.

ATM fees are not the only ones going up. In fact overdraft fees are going up faster and can cost you hundreds of dollars. Congress is even considering bills to regulate banking fees.

Some banks have voluntarily cut back on overdraft fees in the hope of preventing more government regulation of their business practices. Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase are leading the effort to stall bills now pending in Congress to limit the use of overdraft fees.

Both banks announced that they will allow customers to opt out of overdraft protection services and avoid the possibility of paying overdraft fees. JP Morgan also will cancel fees charged on accounts overdrawn by $5 or less. Bank of America went a little further and will not charge fees on accounts withdrawn by $10 or less. How often have you made a $5 or $10 error in calculation when balancing your checkbook?

Both banks also agreed to cut down the number of times depositors could be charged a fee. JP Morgan will charge no more than three overdraft fees each day. Prior to this change, customers could be charged up to six fees in one day. That's more generous than Bank of America, which will limit the number of times customers can be charged overdraft fees to four times a day. Prior to this change, Bank of America used to charge fees as many as 10 times in one day.

Of course, one can avoid these fees by always keeping a sizable cushion in one's checking account and that's the best way to manage one's cash flow. But, can anyone really believe it costs the bank $350 to deal with the overdrafts? No way, but it does fuel the banks profit margins. In fact The Washington Post reports that banks will collect $38.5 billion in fees this year.

Don't be one of their victims. Manage your accounts and your cash needs to you can avoid having to pay these fees entirely.

Lita Epstein has written more than 25 books including "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Improving Your Credit Score."
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