You stroll up to your favorite deli, a sign in the front window reads: CASH ONLY. Did you already use that $20 in your wallet that you keep hidden from yourself for a rainy day? You did. Your bank is clear across town, the nearest in-network ATM is several blocks away, and the deli closes in 10 minutes. Before you arrived, you thought your toughest decision would be “turkey or pastrami?” Suddenly it’s: Should I accept the out-of-network ATM fee and fight for an ATM fee reimbursement later on, or walk away with an empty stomach?
We’ve all been there. If it’s a machine owned by your financial institution, you can typically deposit, withdraw, and make balance inquiries to your heart’s content — no ATM fee necessary. The real trouble comes when you’re in a bind and forced to pay for the convenience of these services at an ATM without your bank’s logo on it.
According to Cushion’s analysis of $13 billion worth of transactions, banks charge on average $3 per ATM fee. Although an ATM fee costs a fraction of other what other bank and credit card penalties do — think overdraft fee, credit card interest, or monthly fee — it is a common occurrence and therefore should not be overlooked.
What is an ATM Fee?
You can get ATM fees when making cash withdrawals, deposits, or balance inquiries at an out-of-network ATM. That means it is owned or operated by a bank, credit union, or business that is not associated with where you do your banking. An ATM fee will show up as a charge on your mobile banking app immediately or on your paper statement at the end of your statement cycle.
How Much Does an ATM Fee Cost?
When you use an out-of-network ATM, you will often incur two ATM fees — one from your bank and another from the bank or company that owns the ATM. Each ATM fee will typically cost $1–$5.
When using an international ATM, you may also pay an international transaction fee. That fee is typically 3% of the dollar amount that you withdraw. Unfortunately, this fee can be charged on top of any standard ATM fees charged by the ATM owner.
How Does an ATM Fee Reimbursement Work?
In the unfortunate event that you’ve incurred ATM fees, contact your bank’s customer service line to see if they will reimburse the charges. There are a few steps that you should follow to prepare to get your ATM fees reimbursed.
Prepare your personal and checking account information
To help verify your identity, prepare your:
- Social security number
- Debit or credit card number
Start with: “Hello. My name is , and I recently received ATM fees while using my card. I’m contacting you to see if you would be willing to refund the charges.”
Identify your points of leverage
It’s possible that your bank will say that they can’t offer a bank fee refund. Try not to get discouraged. They often can (and will) if you have a compelling argument.
- Have you been financially affected by COVID-19?
- Are you a loyal customer?
- Have you banked with the institution for a long time?
- Do you have multiple accounts with the bank, such as a savings account, business account, or another personal checking account?
- Is this your primary income bank account? In other words, do you make regular deposits to the account?
- Do you rarely get ATM fees?
You can use any of these arguments to convince the representative to waive ATM fees.
Things to Remember When Asking for an ATM Fee Reimbursement
You’ve prepared all of your information. Now you should keep a couple things in mind during the negotiation.
Remember to be kind. It goes a long way. The representative that you’re negotiating with likely didn’t write the rules on fee refunds. If you ask nicely, the representative may be more willing to issue you the refund.
Don’t hesitate to press the issue if you initially hear “no.” You’ve prepared your points of leverage for this very reason. If you’ve prepared correctly, you should have several arguments ready.
If you continue to hear no, you can escalate the issue. A customer service representative may not be at the authority to give you a refund, but a manager might be able to.
Success can also depend on the representative that you speak with. Try calling back a few days later to speak with someone new. Once again, politely let them know why you deserve an ATM fee refund, and see what happens.
Be prepared not to get a refund every time
Finally, you have to be willing to lose some negotiations. Bank fee refunds are at your bank’s discretion. Plus, you shouldn’t expect unlimited ATM fee reimbursements. The more ATM fees that you get, the less likely your bank may be to refund them.
You won’t win the full refund amount every time. If your bank doesn’t offer unlimited ATM fee rebates, you might get a partial refund or no refund at all. Try not to get discouraged, but do take the necessary steps to avoid ATM fees in the future.
How to Avoid ATM Fees
Avoiding ATM fees requires proactivity. In other words, you should create an ATM plan before you even need one. Do what you can to avoid surprise trips to the ATM. Keep track of when checks and paychecks are expected to be deposited into your checking account. Know when payments are scheduled to be withdrawn. And keep tabs on how much money is available in your checking account at all times.
Use an in-network ATM
If you do have to visit an ATM, know where the closest in-network machine is to wherever you spend most of your time. This tends to be your house, place of work, or gym.
Visit partner ATMs
If you’re out of town or unable to visit an ATM with your bank’s logo on it, look for a partner ATM. Some banks and credit unions partner with ATMs at gas stations, grocery stores, or convenience stores where you won’t get a fee from either institution.
Many banks offer online ATM locators so you can track down an in-network machine right from your smartphone no matter where you are. You can typically search for the nearest services by inputting a city or zip code within the Help or Service section of your mobile banking app.
Find a fee-free, out-of-network ATM
Unfortunately, you may still get hit with one fee, but this way lessens the blow. If you use a fee-free, or surcharge-free, ATM, the ATM owner will not charge you a fee for using the machine. You may, however, still have to deal with a charge from your own bank for out-of-network usage. While you might still get stuck with one penalty, you’d at least be avoiding another one.
Choose cash back at grocery and convenience stores
If a little cash is all that you’re looking for, opt to get cash back next time you use your debit card to check out at the grocery store or gas station. There aren’t ATM fees associated with getting cash back at these stores so you won’t be out any extra money.
Consider a cash management account
A cash management account combines checking, savings, and investing in one account. While ATM fees might not be reason enough to make the move, many institutions with these accounts offer unlimited or reduced ATM waivers and competitive interest rates, in addition to other perks.
Find a bank without ATM fees
Some banks, including online banks, have abolished ATM fees on checking accounts. While it may not make sense to move all of your money to a new bank to save on ATM fees, just know that these banks typically also offer other perks, like no overdraft fees or monthly fees.
Online banks, in particular, do not have certain operating expenses that brick-and-mortar banks and credit unions do. For that reason, they are able to cut out ATM fees and other pesky penalties.