Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Take plenty of cash when you go on vacation this summer. Otherwise you could pay higher fees when you tap an ATM for money.
Experts say that ATM surcharges - fees charged at ATM machines - are rising. So are fees charged by a customer's bank for using another bank's ATM.
Data available at www.Bankrate.com recently indicated that the average ATM surcharge rose $1.40 this year. In addition, the average fee a bank customer pays for using another bank's ATM reached $1.35.
Say you withdraw $20 from a bank ATM near the beach: Fees totaling $2.75 translate into a whopping 13.5 percent charge for the transaction.
It also is getting tougher to track down ATMs that are universally free of surcharges.
In the past, many credit unions would let you use their ATM machines for free. All you'd pay, perhaps, is a "foreign ATM fee" charged by the bank, thrift or credit union that issued your ATM card.
Today, you still might find some surcharge-free ATMs at credit unions. But many say that large numbers of totally free credit-union ATMs are a thing of the past.
"A lot have figured out or come to the conclusion, 'Why should I give free access to Bank of America customers when they're not going to give it to mine?"' says Ben Psillas, president and founder of the Allpoint Network in Bethesda, Md.
No vacation from fees
Vacationing in Florida? For many years, Publix Supermarkets' ATMs were off-limits to surcharges. No more. Publix finally bit the bullet in May 2004. Its 919 machines levy a $1 surcharge to cardholders of issuers whose banks have not joined its network, which spans Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee.
So where can you find the best deals? The only outfits with large numbers of ATMs that we could confirm are surcharge-free to all include:
¢ Washington Mutual, Seattle, which has more than 3,300 ATMs nationwide. "Surcharge-free ATMs are one way to introduce ourselves to prospective customers in new markets," explained Washington Mutual spokeswoman Sheri Pollock.
How you can avoid paying an ATM surcharge while traveling:
¢ Have an account at a bank with a large ATM network, such as Bank of America or Wachovia. Typically banks don't levy ATM fees on their own customers using the bank's ATMs.
¢ Learn which ATMs are part of any networks to which your bank belongs. Often, you can find this information at your bank's Web site, which may hyperlink to the ATM networks. Look for network logos on your ATM or debit card.
¢ Instead of withdrawing money from an ATM, get a cash-back transaction from a merchant. When making a purchase, access more cash by check or debit card than the amount of your purchase.
¢ Wawa Inc., a Pennsylvania-based chain of convenience and gasoline retailers, which has 744 ATMs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. The surcharge-free ATMs are part of its strategy of delivering value and good service to its customers, the company says.
Instead of waiving ATM surcharges entirely, many financial institutions have launched "selective surcharging." This means that an ATM machine may be surcharge-free to you - but only if your bank has agreed to pay a fee or fees to participate in a network.
Some larger networks offering these arrangements include:
¢ CO-OP Network of Ontario, Calif., a network largely of nonprofit credit unions.
¢ Allpoint Network of Bethesda, Md., a network that provides access to ATMs at merchant locations.
¢ MoneyPass and Fastbank Free, which, with a combined 15,700 ATMs, are affiliates of U.S. Bancorp of Minneapolis.
¢ STAR Network reports that it too has a special network, known as "STAR sf," which selectively surcharges customers.
Costs of convenience
Are there any benefits to paying ATM fees? The answer: convenience, particularly in urban areas.
Research by Christopher Knittel, assistant professor of economics at the University of California at Davis, and Victor Stango, associate professor of economics at Dartmouth Tuck School of Business, seems to confirm this. They found that growth rates of ATM surcharges are higher in urban areas.
Unfortunately, Knittel says that preliminary results from newer research indicate that banks with larger ATM networks also tend to charge higher fees.
Lynn says ATM surcharges also may help fuel some new developments. For example, expect ATMs soon to start letting you deposit cash. Traditionally, if the ATM network even allows deposits, they must be made by checks inserted in envelopes. By depositing cash in ATMs, she says, you may be able to obtain faster access to your funds.