How to Avoid ATM Fees

By: Christopher Lampton

Alternatives to Using ATMs

ATMs are fast and convenient, but they can also cost you money. Let's consider some alternatives to hitting the local ATM every other day. For one, you could keep a healthy amount of cash on hand. OK, there are reasons why you might not want to keep a lot of cash in your purse or wallet -- it might get stolen and it won't be earning any interest from your pocket. But consider the advantages. If you need cash in an emergency, you'll have it. Carrying money is especially useful if you're going to be out of town, where your bank might not have any branches, or if you're going to be at a festival or sporting event for several hours where the selection of ATMs might be limited or charge a hefty fee.

Another option to multiple ATM visits is to simply take more money out of an ATM when you're there. The surcharge you pay on an ATM withdrawal is a flat fee, not a percentage of the cash you withdraw. So the $3.00 fee you pay to take out $20 in cash is still only $3.00 when you take out $100. However, if you take out the $100 in five $20 withdrawals, the total fee will soar to $15! That's 15 percent of your money. Not good.


Most stores accept both credit and debit cards in lieu of cash payments. If you take advantage of this option whenever possible, a little bit of cash in your pocket can go a long way. But be careful to pay off the credit card debt before interest begins to accrue, or you may end up paying a fee anyway. And while you're using that check or debit card, take advantage of the cash back option. You can get cash along with your purchase for no extra fee and save yourself a trip to the ATM.

Checks are starting to seem old fashioned. Many people only use them for payments that can't be done electronically. But some stores still accept checks, so keeping a checkbook with you could get you out of a jam when you run out of cash. Of course, the store may require that you carry its check-cashing card before it will accept your check, but these cards are usually free and many stores allow you to make your first check purchase immediately after filling out the application. Even better, the store may give you cash back if you write the check for a larger amount than the purchase (but ask first to make certain this is the store policy).

Follow these rules and you'll save enough money that, by the end of the year, you can afford to give yourself a nice holiday present. Or you can just leave the money where it already is -- in the bank.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • "ATM Fees."
  • "Bank Robbery? Record High ATM Fees." CNN Money.
  • "Banks That Reimburse ATM Surcharges."
  • Bruce, Laura. "Bank ATM Surcharges Leap."
  • "How to Avoid ATM Surcharge Fees."
  • "Non-Bank ATM Owners: Independent Service Operators." NYPIRG.