ATM fees cost you money – plain and simple. You probably think that a few dollars aren’t a big deal. It beats driving a few extra blocks to use the ATM at a branch you bank with every day. But, it adds up quickly. ATM fees can cost you thousands of dollars over the course of your lifetime.
According to research conducted by National Financial Educators Council, the lack of financial literacy can cost the average American almost $10,000 over the course of a lifetime. A lack of personal finance knowledge costs people money through ATM fees, other bank fees, higher interest on credit card debt and loans due to poor credit, investment losses, and other bad financial decisions.
ATM fees are like your daily coffee at Starbucks. David Bach made the latte factor famous in his bestselling book, The Automatic Millionaire. If you spent $3.50 every workday on coffee at your local coffee shop on your way to work instead of brewing it at home, you’d have wasted almost $1,000 by the end of the year. And, that doesn’t even count weekends or adding a muffin with your purchases. Extrapolate that amount over the course of your working life, and you’ve bought a luxury car worth of coffee during your career.
The same is true for ATM fees. Small amounts add up without you even realizing it. A $3 ATM fee every payday equals $72 per year or almost $3,000 over the course of your working lifetime. If you invested that $72 every year for 40 years in an S&P 500 index fund instead, you could have had over $20,000 saved, assuming an average 8% annual return.
Are you tired of paying ATM fees? Here are five ways to break your out of network ATM habit.
5 ways to finally ditch the ATM fee habit
1. Know Your Network
If you want to avoid ATM fees, you have to know your banking network. On the back of your debit card, there is typically a list of fee-free ATM networks that you can use to avoid paying a fee at ATMs. Many of the popular ATM networks include MoneyPass, Allpoint, NYCE, CO-OP, and STAR. Knowing which network your bank and debit card use can help you stay away from ATM fees altogether.
2. Switch Banks
For the longest time, I found myself using an ATM at a bank that was right in front of the grocery store where I shopped. I used their ATM so much that eventually it just made sense to switch banks so I could use the ATM there for free.
You don’t have to move all of your accounts to a new bank though. You may want to consider just moving a small portion of your paycheck there each pay period. Look back at your bank statements.
Do you find yourself withdrawing $100 each paycheck at your local ATM, paying the fee? Set up an automatic transfer with the bank you typically use to the new bank with the ATM you use.
Setting up the automatic transfer can also help with your budgeting as well. Look at your ATM withdrawal history in your past bank statements to get a sense of how many times you visit an ATM. The results might surprise you. You typically use an ATM more than you think.
You may find yourself not going to the ATM as much if you know that you only have $200 per month in your budget for cash withdrawals. Limiting your cash withdrawals at ATMs is a great forcing mechanism to keep you on track with your monthly budget.
3. Find a Bank that Rebates ATM Fees
Believe it or not, but you can still find a bank that rebates ATM fees to its customers. The number of banks that rebate ATM fees seem to be shrinking as more and more look to cut costs and shore up their balance sheets. But, there are some still out there that offer rebates for the ATM fees bank charge you for using out of network ATMs.
There is a great running list of banks that reimburse ATM fees on the FatWallet personal finance forums that you can use to find a bank close to you. Or, you may want to consider an online only bank like Ally Bank or Everbank that rebates ATM fees for its customers. Many online banks offer ATM fee reimbursement if you maintain a certain account balance.
4. Use Your Bank’s Smartphone App
You can use a smartphone app to find ATMs in your network. Many of the popular ATM networks have smartphone apps that allow you to search for ATMs in their network on a GPS-enabled smartphone. Most bank smartphone apps offer the same feature as well. Or, you can find ATMs in your network on your bank or the network’s website.
5. Understand the Fine Print
You should read your bank account disclosures carefully. It’s not fun to read the fine print, but it can save you a fortune if you know the rules. You need to understand your bank’s ATM fee schedule and reimbursement rules. You must know your ATM network and understand the out of network ATM charges and any other banking fees your bank may charge you.
Understand Your Habits
Using an ATM that is convenient but out of your network is a habit. It’s muscle memory. We don’t even realize we’re doing it most times. But, understanding that using a particular ATM and realizing that it’s a habit is the first step to combating it and saving you money.
Don’t get caught in the thinking trap that it’s only a few dollars. Those dollars can add up quickly. And, there are much better uses for your hard earned money. You can put those few dollars to work. Who doesn’t need to pad their emergency fund? Or, could you use that money to increase your retirement investments? Are you maxing out your Roth IRA or 401k retirement plans?
Why throw money away on ATM fees when you could use that money elsewhere? If you’re struggling with your budget, look to see if you’re leaking money at the ATM. I bet the answer may surprise you.
What about you? How much money did you spend in ATM fees last month?