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FDIC Consumer News

Summer 2015

At the ATM: 10 Ways to Minimize Fees and Maximize Security

En Español

at the ATM inserting ATM cardMany depositors who need cash often turn to automated teller machines (ATMs) because of the convenience. But that convenience can come with costs. Here are 10 things to keep in mind at the ATM so that the cash coming out of your account goes into your pocket.

  1. Know which ATMs you can use for free. For many people, the availability and cost of ATMs are big reasons why they choose one bank over another. Generally, you can use your own financial institution's ATMs without incurring fees. Your institution may also be part of a larger, no-fee ATM network. Talk to a bank representative to learn more or visit your institution's website to search for its ATMs.
  2. If you cannot use a fee-free ATM in your bank's network, know that fees can vary. By law, the fee that the operator of an ATM may charge for a withdrawal or other transaction must be disclosed on the screen of the machine or on a printout so that you can cancel the transaction before paying any fees. These charges can vary widely, so consider finding another ATM if the fee is larger than you expect. In addition to incurring fees from the ATM operator, you may be charged a fee by your bank for using a machine that's not within its ATM network.
  3. Consider other ways to keep ATM fees down. If you anticipate needing cash for multiple reasons, withdrawing more money at one time (such as $100 or $200 instead of $20 or $40) can mean fewer trips to the ATM and savings on transaction fees. Using your debit card to get "cash back" from a merchant at checkout (such as a grocery store) for no fee is another option. While the amounts may seem small, reducing or eliminating ATM fees can result in significant savings over time.
  4. Guard against overdrafts, which can be costly. Overdrafts can occur if you withdraw more money than you have available in your account or if the new balance in your account won't be enough to cover a future, pre-arranged withdrawal, such as a payment for a recurring utility bill. You can avoid overdrafts by keeping an up-to-date record of your account balance and the scheduled transactions to come. "Something as simple as a paper-based log or an app on a smartphone can help," said Luke W. Reynolds, Chief of the FDIC's Outreach and Program Development Section.

    Also note that under federal rules, if you "opt in" to an overdraft program, the bank can charge you a fee to process an ATM or everyday debit card transaction that exceeds your account balance. For more about those rules and changes that may be coming, go to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's website. Also see consumer tips on avoiding overdraft fees at the ATM and the cash register in the FDIC brochure Your Guide to Preventing and Managing Overdraft Fees.
  5. See if your bank's ATMs have new features that can be helpful to you. For example, some institutions allow consumers to use an app on their smartphone to withdraw cash at an ATM without using an ATM/debit card. Some banks enable customers who have questions to speak with a teller through an ATM. You also may be able to have an ATM receipt e-mailed to you instead of getting a paper copy.
  6. Keep personal safety in mind. ATM manufacturers and owners, including financial institutions, go to great lengths to prevent robberies and fraud at cash dispensing machine. But even so, you need to be careful. Be aware of your surroundings, particularly if there is anything suspicious, such as a broken light or someone loitering nearby. Have your card in your hand as you approach the ATM. And, if you withdraw cash, put it away promptly. The time for counting your money can come later in private.
  7. Walk away if you notice something suspicious at the machine. The FBI recommends inspecting the ATM for anything that looks unusual, such as scratches or tape near where your card would go. Those could indicate fraudulent recording devices have been attached to the ATM for "skimming" or gathering information from the magnetic strip on the back of the card. For similar purposes, fraudsters also use transparent overlays on ATM keypads that can record keystrokes and tiny cameras that are focused on where ATM users enter their personal identification numbers (PINs).
  8. Take precautions with your ATM cards. Know where your current cards are and keep them safe. "Also make sure to destroy old or expired ATM cards. If your debit or ATM card falls into the wrong hands, someone could try to create a counterfeit or use the information on the card to fraudulently order a new one from your bank," said Michael Benardo, Manager of the FDIC's Cyber Fraud and Financial Crimes Section. "Be sure to cut through the account number and magnetic strip before throwing the pieces in the trash."

    Also keep in mind that banks are increasingly replacing credit and debit/ATM cards with new cards with computer chips that can better protect against fraud. Learn more about chip cards here.
  9. Protect your PINs. Memorize your PIN and never write it on your ATM card or on a piece of paper in your wallet. Don't share your PIN with anyone who isn't a co-owner of the account. And, when you enter your PIN, block the keypad with your other hand.
  10. Immediately report a lost or stolen card or anything else that could be a warning sign of a problem. "Promptly notify your bank if you misplace your card or if you spot an unauthorized ATM or debit card transaction on your account," Benardo recommended. "The faster you report a problem, the greater your federal protections are" under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act.

    Benardo also said to never respond to unsolicited requests for your bank account number and the PIN for your debit/ATM card. And, be sure to report anything dangerous or suspicious you see at an ATM to the police or the bank that owns the machine.

    As you can see, there's a lot to consider about choosing and using ATMs. You may also want to ask a customer service representative at your bank for other practical suggestions.