How To

A $5 ATM Fee? Five Ways to Avoid ATM Fees Altogether

photo:  DucDigital

Have you been dinged with an ATM fee recently? You’re certainly not alone — and by the looks of it, you’ll be in growing company going forward.

Bank fees have risen to record numbers, according to a 2010 study by Bankrate.com.

The latest culprit? JP Morgan Chase (JPM) is now testing a $5 (yes, that’s likely more than your daily latte) ATM fee for non-customers who use its ATMs — and that’s not including the ATM fee your own bank may charge you. In all, you could end up spending as much as $7 or $8 just for the sake of convenience.

This is only the latest example in a steady upward trend for ATM fees in the past couple of years. According to Bankrate, ATM fees have increased by 5% since 2009, to an average $2.33 — an all-time high. Out-of-network ATM fees have increased even more, by 7%, to $1.41.

Overdraft fees, meanwhile, have increased to a new record of $30.47, while monthly fees for not maintaining a minimum balance on non-interest checking accounts now average $2.49, while those for interest-bearing checking accounts average $13.04.

That enough numbers for you? There’s more: The number of banks and thrifts that offer free checking accounts with no minimum balance requirements is down to 65% of institutions, from 76% last year. And those minimum balances required to avoid monthly charges are up 34%, from an average $185.75 to $249.50. The average minimum balance requirement for interest checking accounts, meanwhile, jumped 15%, from $3,372 to $3,883.

The study also indicated the average fees associated with using and maintaining interest bearing accounts. These fees included bounced check fees, ATM surcharges, and monthly service fees with overdraft fees increasing three percent to a new record of $30.47.

In all, if they’re not careful, consumers could be spending a hefty $620 annually on checking account fees, according to Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

Why are fees on the rise? Most likely, banks are feeling the pressure of federal regulation that earlier this year changed the overdraft protection game, making it harder – if not impossible – to charge overdraft fees for consumers who have not actively opted into the bank’s overdraft program. Since overdraft fees had been a source of high revenue to banks, banks are trying to resort to other sources of income and are passing fees onto customers in numerous other ways.

However, these fees are avoidable. You can stay ahead of the game by following these tips.

1. Confine your ATM withdrawals to your own bank’s ATM network. If you need cash, get to an “in-network” or bank ATM. Otherwise you’ll be charged two fees: one from the ATM and one from your bank.

2. Plan ahead. If you’re planning to travel, check on your bank’s branch and/ or ATM availability at your destination. If no ATMs are available, load up on cash so that you’re not forced to use another bank’s ATM. Or follow our next tip…

3. Get cash back at the point-of-sale when using a debit card. Go to a grocery store, drug store or any other retailer that would give you cash back. Buy a small snack if you don’t need to buy anything else.

4. Choose a bank that reimburses ATM fees. Some banks, particularly online-only ones like Ally Bank and Schwab, actually reimburse a certain number of ATM fees charged by other banks’ ATMs.

5. Bank online. As we mentioned, online banks are more likely to reimburse ATM fees than their brick-and-mortar competitors. And in general, online banks charge fewer fees, simply because they have lower overhead costs. They also offer free ATM access through networks such as Allpoint. If you have an ING Direct checking account, for example, you get free access to the network’s 35,000 ATMs throughout the country. (The bank even has an iPhone app that locates the nearest free ATMs in your area.)

 

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