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How to Get an ATM Fee Reimbursement

By Brooke Vaughan // October 23, 2020

A woman conducts a transaction at an ATM.

You’ve just strolled up to your favorite local deli, a cardboard sign sits in the front window: CASH ONLY. How this slipped your mind you’re not quite sure, but your mind flashes to your wallet. Did I already use that $20 that I keep hidden from myself for a rainy day? Indeed, you did. 

Your bank is clear across town, the nearest in-network ATM several blocks away, and the deli closes in 10 minutes. Attempting to dissuade hungry, cashless customers from making a beeline to the card-accepting cafe across the way, the deli owner has plopped an ATM in the corner of the dining area. 

Before you arrived, you thought your toughest decision would be “turkey or pastrami?” Suddenly it’s become: Should I stomach the out-of-network ATM fee or walk away with an empty tummy? 

We’ve all been there, in some form or another. If it’s a machine owned by your bank, typically you can deposit, withdraw, and inquire about your balance to your heart’s content. 

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. Unfortunately, that could be nearly $5 a pop. 

According to Cushion’s analysis of $13 billion worth of transactions, banks charge on average $3 per ATM fee, with ATM fees coming in most frequently at $2.50. Recent research indicates that the average fees paid per person per month is on the rise. In January 2020, the average was $2.06 per person per month. By September, that average had more than doubled to $4.82. 

Although ATM fees cost a fraction of other bank and credit card penalties—such as overdrafts, credit card interest, or monthly fees—they are a relatively common occurrence. They account for approximately 16% of the fees that Cushion negotiates, and should not be overlooked.

What is an ATM Fee?

You can get a fee when making ATM withdrawals, deposits, or balance inquiries at a machine owned or operated by a financial institution different from your own. These ATMs are called out-of-network, and when using one you will often incur two fees—one from your bank and another from the bank or institution that owns the ATM. Each will typically cost $1–$5. 

When using an international ATM, you may also pay an international transaction fee, typically 3% of the dollar amount withdrawn. This can be charged on top of any standard ATM fees charged by the institutions.

How to Avoid ATM Fees

The simplest way to avoid these fees is to proactively create an ATM plan before you’d even need to access one. By keeping track of when checks are expected to be deposited into your account, when payments are scheduled to be withdrawn, and how much money is available in your account at all times, you could avoid having to make a surprise trip to the ATM. If you do have to visit one, know where the closest in-network ATM is to your house, work, or gym. 

Visit your bank’s partner ATMs.
If you’re out of town or unable to visit an in-network ATM by your home, look for a partner ATM. Some banks partner with ATMs at gas stations, grocery stores, or convenience stores where you won’t get a fee from either institution. You can typically find a list of partner ATMs on your bank’s “Find a Branch or ATM Near You” page. 

Use mobile banking ATM locators. 
Many online banks feature ATM locators so you can track down an in-network machine right from your smartphone no matter where you are. Typically you can search for the nearest services by inputting a city or zip code within the Help or Service section of the app. 

Lessen the blow by finding a fee-free ATM. 
There are fee-free, or surcharge-free, ATMs that don’t charge users a fee, however your bank may still charge for use of the out-of-network machine. In other words, you might still get stuck with one penalty, but you’d also be avoiding one. 

Choose cash back when using debit cards at grocery and convenience stores. 
If a little cash is all that you’re looking for, opt to get cash back next time you check out at the grocery store or gas station. There aren’t 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, among other perks.

How to Get an ATM Fee Refunded

In the unfortunate event that you’ve incurred an ATM fee that you’d like to contest, contact your bank’s customer service line to see if they will reimburse ATM charges. Once your statement cycle comes to a close, or the fee appears on your digital list of transactions, you have a couple options. 

Contact your bank for a fee reimbursement yourself
It may be intimidating, or even just a hassle. However, if you’re properly prepared for the conversation it’s likely to go smoother than you anticipate. 

  • Prepare necessary information. This includes the full name on the account, address, social security number, and card number.
  • First, introduce yourself. Hello. My name is [your name], and I recently received an ATM fee. I’m contacting you to see if you would be willing to refund this fee.
  • Prepare your argument. If you’re initially denied a refund, press the issue by saying you have been financially affected by COVID-19, are a loyal customer who has banked with them for years, rarely get ATM fees—or use another compelling argument. 
  • Be polite, persistent, and prepared not to get a refund every time. If necessary, ask to speak with a supervisor or try calling again to speak with another representative. If the representative isn’t budging, you might have to count it as a loss and move on.

Have Cushion Do It for You
While negotiating ATM fees yourself is possible, the process can be time consuming and exhausting. If you’re looking for a more stress-free method, Cushion can negotiate on your behalf.*

When signing up for Cushion’s  ⚛️ Fee Genius, you can opt into the 💭 Fee Negotiation add-on, which enables us to automatically negotiate your fees with high refund odds on your behalf. You can also add on 💭 Fee Genius after you’ve signed up from the Profile tab of your dashboard.

This way, you get to eat the sandwich and get your ATM fee reversed.

Cushion helps you waste less money, save more, and live a financially healthier life. We monitor your bank and credit card accounts 24/7, find and alert you about pesky fees, let you know which fees are negotiable, which banks are cooperative, and can even automatically negotiate on your behalf.* To date, Cushion has secured customers more than $11 million in bank and credit card fee refunds—and we’re just getting started.

*Cushion only negotiates fees with high refund odds. We cannot guarantee any negotiations, a regular frequency of negotiations, or fee refunds—your bank makes the final call.