How to Use an ATM

By Jacqueline DeMarco · May 20, 2024 · 10 minute read

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How to Use an ATM

An automated teller machine (ATM) can be a convenient way to deposit or withdraw money, check your account balance, and conduct other aspects of your banking business. But did you know there are ways to make the process easier, faster, and perhaps less expensive?

Key Points

•   ATMs provide convenient banking services like cash withdrawals and checking account balances.

•   Deposits at ATMs are possible but may have restrictions compared to withdrawals.

•   Avoiding ATM fees is easier with in-network machines and understanding account terms.

•   Cardless withdrawals are possible through mobile apps using QR codes.

•   Safety at ATMs is crucial; always be aware of surroundings and protect PIN entries.

What Is an ATM?

An ATM (short for automated teller machine) is a device that performs some of the same functions as a human teller at a bank, such as dispensing cash. ATMs made their U.S. debut in Rockville Centre, NY, in 1969, and there are currently between 520,000 and 540,000 of these devices in America.

Almost anywhere you go, you can find an ATM, providing certain banking services quickly and conveniently. For example, it is usually possible to find ATMs in major hotel lobbies, at grocery stores, in shopping centers, and in airports. (They also may turn up at convenience stores, night clubs, restaurants, and other places where cash could be needed.)

You can typically check your bank account balance and withdraw cash from ATMs. It’s likely you can deposit cash at an ATM or possibly checks (although deposits have more restrictions than withdrawals).

💡 Quick Tip: Typically, checking accounts don’t earn interest. However, some accounts do, and online banks are more likely than brick-and-mortar banks to offer you the best rates.

How Does an ATM Work?

An ATM machine gives bank customers easy access to their banking resources at various locations and around the clock. You insert your card into a reader that scans your banking information, and you can then conduct transactions. (At some locations, contactless transactions may be possible; see more on this below.)

Here are some of the main functions an ATM can usually perform:

•   Withdraw cash.

•   Make deposits, but to do so, the device typically needs to be within the same network as the customer’s bank. Often, it’s not possible to make a deposit at an out-of-network ATM or, if it is, you’ll be charged a fee.

•   Check your account balance, which can help you avoid overdrafting when making a withdrawal or using your debit card. The balance can appear on the screen or on the printed receipt. It’s usually only free to check an account balance at an in-network ATM. If the ATM is out-of-network, this service may come with a fee.

Some ATMs do make it possible to access their services without a debit card present. This is known as a cardless withdrawal. How does an ATM work without your plastic in hand? These types of withdrawals are typically supported by a smartphone app that uses technology such as a QR code in lieu of a debit card. This can provide the ATM with the account information it needs to complete the transaction.

Things You Can’t Do at an ATM

ATMs do have limitations; here are some things consumers likely can’t do at an ATM.

•   Withdraw coins or low-value bills

•   Open a new account (unless you have preselected and prescreened)

•   Close an account

•   Send a money order

•   Purchase a cashier’s check.

How Much Are ATM Fees?

It may be free to use an in-network ATM, but when there isn’t one around and you need cash (or to conduct another transaction), you’ll likely be hit with a fee for using an out-of-network device.

It’s wise to read the fine print associated with your checking account to better understand what kind of fees you may need to pay to use an ATM. It can also be helpful to make note of where some local in-network ATMs are. This can make avoiding ATM charges easier.

How much can ATM fees be?

•   The average out-of-network fee is currently $4.73. This typically includes a $1.58 fee levied by your bank and an average of $3.15 charged by the ATM’s owners.

•   Additionally, if you are traveling internationally, you may have fees of, say, $2 to $5 to make withdrawals as well as a conversion fee.

Worth noting: Several banks will waive fees when their clients use an out-of-network ATM. If you often rack up many out-of-network ATM fees, you might want to look into which banks offer this service.

Recommended: Can You Use Your Debit Card in Another Country?

How to Find an ATM

If you are hunting for cash or need to deposit a check, here are a couple of ideas for how to find an ATM:

•   You can usually use your banking app to find ATMs. There may be a map function or you may be asked to enter a zip code to see nearby devices.

•   If you bank at a traditional vs. online bank, you can visit a branch which will often have ATMs available.

•   There are third-party services that can help you access surcharge-free ATMs.

To make this process easier, you can bank with a financial institution that has a large network of ATMs you can use without a fee. Allpoint and STAR are examples of these networks.

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How to Withdraw Money from an ATM

Want to use an ATM machine to withdraw cash? Here are the standard steps.

1.    When prompted by the screen, insert your debit card into the machine.

2.    Enter your PIN number. This is the custom PIN (personal identification number) associated with the debit card linked to their checking account.

3.    Choose the transaction type. In this case, it would be a withdrawal.

4.    Pick the account to access. If you have multiple bank accounts, this will make sure the money is coming from the right place.

5.    You’ll likely be prompted to enter the dollar amount you want to withdraw (or press the option showing your choice of amounts), and you may be asked to select your bill denominations.

6.    Take the card back. Now it’s time to complete the transaction. Many ATMs say to take your card back and then the machine will dispense your cash.

How Much Money Will an ATM Let You Take Out?

There are typically limits on how much you can withdraw from an ATM. (This is often done to make sure there is enough cash in the machine to go around vs. a few customers draining the funds.)

•   Daily withdrawal limits are typically between $300 and $5,000.

Check with your bank to learn its limits and whether it determines that by calendar day or by a 24-hour period.

How to Deposit Money at an ATM

Next, take a look at how to use an ATM machine to deposit money. Keep in mind that only certain ATMs will accept deposits, so you want to be aware that depositing money may not be a possibility at the ATM closest to you.

1.    Find an in-network ATM or an ATM that allows deposits to the bank associated with your debit card.

2.    Insert your card and enter your PIN (typically a 4-digit code).

3.    Choose “deposit” as your transaction type.

4.    Type in the exact amount of the intended deposit.

5.    Insert the cash or check. If this is a check, endorse the back first; then follow the on-screen instructions to get your card back and a receipt, if desired.

Recommended: What to Do if an ATM Eats Your Deposit?

Other Transactions You May Be Able to Complete at an ATM

Now that you know how to withdraw money at an ATM and deposit as well, take a look at some of the other things banking customers can often do at these devices.

Cash Checks and Money Orders

Some ATMs may let you cash checks for free as well as money orders. These are typically in-network ATMs.

Make Bill Payments

At some ATMs (such as those in the Chase network) allow you to pay the mortgage, home equity loan, or credit card bill you have with them at an ATM.

Get a Cash Advance From a Credit Card

You may be able to get a cash advance from a credit card (though this typically carries a high interest rate, so proceed with caution).

Tips to Keep Yourself Safe at ATMs

With both in-person and online banking, security is important. When using an ATM machine, it’s important to learn how to do so safely, whether making a deposit or withdrawal. Here are some tips for staying safe:

•   Be aware of your surroundings. If there is someone loitering around an ATM that you’d like to use (especially at night), you might want to go elsewhere.

•   You may feel safer using ATMs located in bank branches.

•   Here’s what you should do before approaching an ATM: Have your card in your hand as you approach the device versus fumbling through your pockets or bag while at the ATM.

•   Cover the keypad when entering in the PIN number so no one else can see it. Some keypads are designed in such a way as to help protect your personal information as you type in those digits.

•   Review ATMs closely for misaligned card readers, skimming devices (more on that in a moment), or suspicious markings before using one.

•   If you are withdrawing cash, put it away ASAP when you receive it. Don’t walk away from the ATM with cash in your hands.

Also be aware that there are ATM scams. One common one involves card skimmers, a device that a fraudster attaches to an ATM (or gas pump card reader) in order to fraudulently collect the account information of users. Inspect card readers for signs of tampering; you may try to wiggle an ATM’s card reader to detect card skimmers.

If you have reason to be concerned, it could be wise to avoid this ATM and look for another or else get some cash back at, say, your grocery store to tide you over.

The Takeaway

ATMs can offer a convenient way to access a number of basic but essential banking services (such as withdrawing and depositing cash) without having to actually visit a branch location during business hours. It’s important to remember to pay attention to ATM fees, which are much easier to avoid when using an in-network ATM. It’s also essential to keep safety in mind to avoid theft or fraud when using an ATM.

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What if the ATM gave me too much money?

Sorry, it’s not free cash. Contact your bank (or the owner of the ATM, if the device is out-of-network) and explain what happened. Keep your receipt, and follow the advice given.

What are the pros and cons of ATMs?

The major pro of using an ATM is probably convenience; you can access some banking services during non-business hours or wherever you may be. The cons associated with ATMs include the fact that services are limited, fees may be charged, and there’s the possibility of theft.

How many times can I use an ATM?

How many times you can use an ATM often depends on how much money you withdraw each time. Most banks limit the dollar amount someone can withdraw (usually $300 to $5,000) per day. Check your bank for its withdrawal limits.

Can I use my debit card at any ATM?

You can generally use a debit card to withdraw cash (although not necessarily to make deposits) at any ATM, even if it is out-of-network. However, making a withdrawal at an out-of-network ATM can lead to having to pay fees.

What should you do before you approach an ATM?

Before approaching an ATM, you should look around and make sure no one is loitering nearby. It’s also wise to have your debit card ready to use in your hand vs. having to dig for it at the terminal.

How much money will an ATM let you take out?

Banks typically have withdrawal limits per day. These vary among financial institutions but are usually between $300 and $5,000.

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