One of the easiest ways to avoid ATM fees is by doing something, well, obvious -- use only ATMs that don't charge a fee. Believe it or not, there are ATMs that won't charge you a fee when you use them. Typically, the bank where you have your checking account will let you use its ATMs free of charge. If it doesn't, consider moving your money to another bank. You can check a bank's Web site or ask a bank manager to find out which banks charge ATM fees and which don't. Once you've established that your bank doesn't charge a fee, log on to its Web site and use the "branch locator" to find out where its ATMs are located. Many banks have ATMs in locations other than bank branches, such as grocery stores and hotel lobbies. If you're opening a new bank account, make sure that your new bank has lots of ATMs, especially in areas near where you work, live and shop. You don't want to have to go too far out of your way to find a no-fee ATM, because then you'll be paying with time and gasoline what you're no longer paying in fees.
What if you're going on an out-of-town trip? Check to see if there are branches of your bank there. Write down the locations and put the list in your luggage or wallet. Or call your bank and ask if it has a reciprocal agreement with some bank in your destination city that allows you to use its ATMs without charge. If no agreement exists, ask if your bank will waive foreign ATM fees for the period when you're out of town. The bank might refuse, but it never hurts to ask.
Some banks will even reimburse the ATM fees that other banks charge, effectively making all your ATM withdrawals free. For instance, USAA Bank (http://www.usaa.com) will refund up to $15 a month in ATM fees. That could save you as much as $130 every year.
Be warned, however, that banks may change their policies on ATM use and that a bank that previously offered fee-free ATM withdrawals might suddenly change its mind. This is most likely to happen when a bank is bought out by another bank, so if one day your bank changes its name, check to make sure you aren't suddenly liable for ATM fees that you weren't paying before.
Another fee-free option is to see if your bank is part of a no-fee ATM network. If it is a member of one of these networks, go to the network Web site and find out where the machines are located. Two such no-fee networks are AllPoint (http://www.allpointnetwork.com/) and Moneypass (http://www.moneypass.com). Both have thousands of ATMs across the United States. The network Web sites will tell you where they are.
OK, so it is possible to use ATMs without having to worry about unnecessary fees. But what if you could avoid ATMs altogether? Keep reading to learn about alternatives to ATMs.