The total fees consumers pay to withdraw money from out-of-network ATMs have hit a record $4.72, a rise of 33% on average over the past 10 years, according to a new analysis by personal-finance website and credit-card recommendation site Bankrate.com.
That average $4.72 fee includes ATM owners’ surcharges on non-customers, which increased 2% over last year to a record-high $3.09, as well as the fees banks slap on their own customers for withdrawing from out of network, which dipped 2% from last year to $1.63.
The most common surcharge fee was around $3, but charges varied by area, Bankrate chief financial analyst Greg McBride told MarketWatch. “The good news is they’re all avoidable — if you stay in network, you can avoid the fees,” McBride said. “Plan ahead as to where and when you make your ATM withdrawals.”
That might be as simple as looking on your bank’s website or app to find the nearest in-network ATM location, he said — or, in a pinch, getting cash back at the point of sale when you make a debit-card transaction. “Most banks and most merchants do not charge to get cash back at the point of sale, so it’s the equivalent of a free ATM withdrawal,” he said.
Having an account with a smaller bank or credit union doesn’t necessarily put you at a disadvantage, McBride added, as many of them belong to large nationwide alliances that allow for fee-free ATM withdrawals. “In many cases, you may have more ATMs available for free than even the customers of the big banks,” he said.
Meanwhile, the average overdraft fee for checking accounts also increased over the previous year to $33.36, only two cents less than 2017’s record high. The average balance requirement on interest checking accounts — “a form of stealth fee increase,” said McBride — also increased 13% over last year.
On the bright side, Bankrate found that about 99% of non-interest checking accounts were by default free or had the potential to be free. Some 42% were free, McBride said, while another 43% would waive the monthly fee based on just direct deposit.
Bankrate surveyed 10 banks and thrifts each in 25 large U.S. markets. The survey also included interest and non-interest accounts from 244 institutions that offer checking accounts, as well as 238 interest and 237 non-interest accounts.
While the pace of ATM, overdraft and monthly account fee increases this year was modest relative to years past, “we’ve seen the biggest increases in years where interest rates were really low and banks’ interest margins were squeezed,” McBride said.
“Be on the lookout over the course of the next 12 months,” he said. “We’re likely to see fees go up at a faster pace, because the Federal Reserve has been cutting interest rates and bank margins are under pressure once again.”