How to Avoid ATM Fees

By Julia Califano · August 12, 2023 · 8 minute read

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How to Avoid ATM Fees

“But it’s my money!” may be your thought upon withdrawing money from an ATM and discovering that you’ve been hit with a charge. Sometimes, even two charges: One from your bank (which may charge you a few dollars at out-of-network terminals) and one by the operator of the ATM (which can again add a few dollars).

Think about it: If you assessed two $3 fees when using an out-of-network machine to grab $40, you’ve paid $6 or 15% of the amount withdrawn just to get that cash into your pocket.

Fortunately, you can avoid ATM fees. Try these seven simple techniques.

7 Ways to Avoid ATM Fees

Service charges are fairly common these days. You are probably used to getting hit with them when you order movie or concert tickets online, for instance. But if you are merely taking out your very own dollars from an ATM, you likely don’t want to pay for that privilege.

While it may not be possible to always avoid these fees, particularly if you travel frequently, there are some smart strategies for evading those charges. Follow this advice.

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Planning Ahead

Before heading out for the day or evening, consider whether or not you may need cash. Some independent restaurants, stores, and barber shops still operate as cash-only businesses. So if you’re testing out a new spot, you may want to check the website so you’re prepared with cash if needed.

If an establishment only accepts cash and you don’t have any, you may get stuck using the nearest ATM, which may result in double fees. It can also be a good idea to get some cash in advance (fee-free) if you’re going to a restaurant, gas station, or store that offers a discount for paying cash.

Choosing Restaurants That Take Credit Cards

A corollary to the above tip is to scope out a restaurant’s payment policies before you head out to dinner. It’s no secret that dining out can be a big expense (especially if you order that nice bottle of wine). Nor is it privileged information that many eateries are cash-only.

It’s wise to check the restaurant’s situation beforehand to make sure they take plastic. Otherwise, you will likely be forced to use the closest ATM, which can get pricey.

Taking Money Out Before Going Out

Another way to avoid ATM fees when dining out: Hit up the cash machine en route or earlier in the week. That way, you know you are covered.

Recommended: Pros & Cons of Living Cash-Only

2. Using Your Bank’s ATMs

Taking some time to familiarize yourself with your bank’s closest ATM locations (considering both home and work) can save you money and hassle down the line. There may be a location finder tool on the bank’s website or app, or you can do a general web search, or even use your phone’s maps app.

Generally, the larger, national banks will have more options for branded ATMs than smaller, regional institutions. Banks of all sizes, however, often partner with large ATM networks in order to expand their customers’ options and provide them with a fee-free banking experience.

3. Finding Partner ATMs

Another way to avoid out-of-network ATM fees is to find those terminals with which your bank has a relationship.

The biggest advantage of partnership networks is the potentially vast number of fee-free ATM locations available. Some of the largest networks even include ATMs in locations like convenience stores, pharmacies, and retailers.

If your bank partners with an ATM network, you may be able to perform ATM transactions at their terminals without getting hit with any fees from your bank, though some locations may still collect ATM surcharges. It can be wise to familiarize yourself with the policies before you start regularly hitting the machines for cash.

The easiest way to find your bank’s partners is to check the back of your debit card. If you see a logo for Allpoint, for example, you can search their app for the closest of their 55,000-plus locations.

This doesn’t automatically mean that your transaction will be entirely fee-free, but either your bank or the partner may waive charges. It’s a good idea to check with your bank for details.

Bank Partner ATMs Explained

What are bank partner ATMs? This means that there is a relationship between your bank and their partner and you can likely use their ATMs fee-free.

These kinds of partnerships can exist for various reasons. Perhaps you bank at a relatively small, local bank network. They may team up with a larger network of ATMs to make it more convenient for customers to get cash on the go.

Or perhaps you bank at an online bank, which doesn’t have brick-and-mortar locations but wants to provide access to cash machines. Their partner network can provide terminals fee-free, a nice perk for the bank’s clients.

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4. Taking Out More Than You Need

How else to avoid ATM fees? Consider that ATM fees are typically per transaction, so one easy way to avoid extra charges is to withdraw more cash than you need. This is particularly true when traveling overseas, where surcharges can be significantly higher than domestic ATM fees. The downside is that you may feel uncomfortable keeping a bunch of cash on hand.

The Benefits of Less Frequent Withdrawals

Making less frequent withdrawals can have a few pros:

•   Saves you time thanks to fewer visits to the ATM

•   Costs you less in fees (if they are assessed)

•   Can help with budgeting; taking one larger lump sum may focus you more on your spending vs. grabbing $20 here and there without realizing how much cash you are going through.

Recommended: ATM Withdrawal Limits – What You Need to Know

5. Getting Cash Back

If you need cash and aren’t near one of your bank’s ATMs, you may be able to avoid paying an ATM fee by finding a nearby grocery store, gas station, or large retailer. Many of these retailers offer cash back when you make a purchase using your debit card.

If you go this route, you’ll need to make a purchase (ideally for something you need) and ask for cash back. The cashier will add the amount of cash you want to the purchase price and give it to use as cash, typically without charging any fee.

Where Can You Get Cash Back?

Many retailers allow you to ask for cash back, often with a stated maximum amount. You might be able to get cash when making a purchase at:

•   Gas stations

•   Grocery stores/supermarkets

•   Large retailers, such as Target, Walmart, and Costco.

6. Choosing a Different Bank

Not all banks charge out-of-network ATM fees. If you’re getting hit with fees, especially double fees, you may want to consider switching to an institution that has a larger ATM network, doesn’t charge ATM fees, and/or refunds ATM fees charged by machine providers.

Some banks will reimburse up to a certain amount every month in fees charged by an out-of-network provider. If you suspect you’ll use non-network ATMs frequently, you may want to consider a bank that will refund you.

Some Banks Reimburse ATM Fees

The banking industry is changing, and several players now embrace the idea of reimbursing ATM fees. This puts the customer first. It also addresses the fact that online-only financial institutions are getting more popular; this means there are no bank-owned terminals because there are no brick-and-mortar locations.

Recommended: Cardless Money Withdrawal

7. Using Personal Payment Apps to Pay Your Friends

With peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps like Venmo, you can often avoid a trip to the ATM entirely. Once you set up an account and link your bank account, it’s easy to move money directly from your account to your friends’ accounts. Your bank may also have its own P2P payment app.

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account

ATM fees can be annoying and add up quickly. But, fortunately, this is usually an avoidable expense.

One way to avoid ATM fees is to do some research on where your financial institution’s branded ATMs are located in your area, as well as ATMs that are in their partner networks. Other options include using payment apps or asking for cash back at a retail cash register when it’s available.

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How do you avoid paying fees at an ATM?

There are several ways to avoid paying ATM fees, For instance, you might only use in-network or partner bank ATMs, carry cash, and/or use credit cards or P2P payment apps.

Is it free to withdraw cash from ATMs?

It should be free to withdraw cash from an ATM provided you use your bank’s or its partner bank’s network. If you use an out-of-network terminal, however, you could pay a fee to both your bank and the machine’s operator.

Why do some ATMs charge you for withdrawing money?

You may be charged a fee if you use an out-of-network ATM. Because you are not a member of the bank providing the terminal, they can assess a charge to handle your transaction. In addition, free-standing ATM machines are a for-profit enterprise, offering the convenience of cash while earning a fee on every transaction.

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