Want free ATM withdrawals? Here are 5 ways to beat those pesky fees

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Want free ATM withdrawals? Here are 5 ways to beat those pesky fees
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Looking for free ATM withdrawals near you? We’ve got five suggestions for you!

RELATED: New ATM warning — Watch out for pinhole cameras

5 ways to get free ATM withdrawals and beat the fees

What is the definition of bank robbery to you?

It used to mean that a desperado would go into a branch with  guns blazing and steal all the money. Today, however, it’s much different.

The modern bank robber is more likely to look like the guy or gal next door — and that’s because the bank robber has become the banker.

The average total cost to withdraw money from an out-of-network ATM is now up to $4.69 a pop.

“Paying an ATM fee to access your own money is reverse bank robbery, plain and simple!” money expert Clark Howard says.

But here’s the thing, you’re complicit in the crime if you pay those fees.

If that sounds like you, don’t beat yourself up. You’re in good company! Clark himself is famous for obsessively remembering the last time he paid an ATM fee: June 1996 in Moab, Utah, to be exact!

It’s been 22 years and he’s continues to be rankled over it.

“It still eats at me,” the consumer champ grouses. “I can practically remember the very day!”

Of course, Clark learned his lesson and has been getting free ATM withdrawals for the past two decades.

Fortunately, more and more people are being more like Clark and finding ways to avoid the reverse bank robbery at ATMs.

Case in point: A new study from bank industry consultants Mercator Advisory Group finds that 77% of people say they do anything they can to avoid paying ATM fees.

Hopefully you’re among that 77% of people! But if you’re not and you’ve finally reached the point where you’re tired of throwing your hard-earned money away, here are better ways to get your ATM withdrawals for free.

1. Use your own bank’s ATM

You’re often hit twice to use an ATM as a non-customer: Once by your own bank and once by the institution that owns the foreign ATM. So this one is a basic no-brainer — use your own bank’s ATMs exclusively and you’ll never pay another ATM fee again!

2. Find retail partner ATMs

Many banks will have agreements in place with retailers to be their preferred ATM provider. Wells Fargo ATMs can be found in QT gas stations and Citibank ATMs are in 7-Elevens. Those are just two examples of the many affiliate partnerships out there. Ask your bank who their affiliates are.

3. Get cash back at the register

Many supermarkets will give you up to $200 at the register, fee-free. Ditto for the major pharmacy chains. (This is a great way for stores to reduce cash on hand if the event of a robbery.)

In addition, Sam’s Club allows you to get up to $100 cash back when you check out.

4. Bank with an organization that will eat the fee for you 

A couple of examples are USAA and Charles Schwab. They absorb or refund the ATM fee when you use a foreign ATM, up to a set amount.

Here’s another idea: Many of the credit unions that have large co-op networks offer ATM withdrawals for free. Find one near you at ASmarterChoice.org.

5. Borrow from a friend or family member

Why not just borrow a few bucks rather than pay a hefty fee at an out-of-network ATM? Paypal, Venmo, Square Cash and Google Wallet are all great options for this approach.

New dangers with ATMs

Free ATM withdrawals are great, but not if you’re getting your money stolen in the process!

You’re probably familiar with skimmers on ATMs. Skimmers are devices that criminals attach to the front of an ATM where you insert your card to capture the data from your card and steal your money.

Skimmers are usually used in tandem with hidden cameras that capture your PIN when you enter it at an ATM.

You can deal with skimmers pretty effectively by taking these two steps:

1. Grab the plastic slot on an ATM where you insert your card and shake it to make sure that it doesn’t come loose. If it’s moving up and down in your hand, there may be a skimmer attached and you shouldn’t use it.

2. Use your free hand to cover the keypad as you punch in your PIN. This will cut a criminal’s sight line and protect your digits if you’re on a hidden camera or being watched in some other way.

So that’s the base line for making safe ATM withdrawals.

But recently, a report emerged that put the prying eyes closer than ever. According to the latest reports we’re seeing, criminals are now able to position a camera inside a tiny pinhole within an ATM. See the picture below:

That makes covering the keypad with your hand more important than ever! But you can never be too safe. So in addition to that old standby, consider the following advice:

Set a daily ATM limit: If you don’t carry huge money in your checking account, you might consider instituting a daily limit on ATM withdrawals. Check with your bank or credit union for more details.

Only use bank-affiliated ATMs: According to FICO, there’s been a 70% rise in skimming incidents at ATMs. Of those, 60% occurred specifically at non-bank ATMs.

The message is clear: Avoid independent ATMs that aren’t associated with a particular bank, like those at gas stations and other random locations.

Avoid using a debit card at other places that are popular for scammers: This can include grocery stores and bodegas. Here are more places to never used a debit card.

If you can ditch your debit card for a credit card, do it: Credit cards come with a lot more protections than debit cards do.

But note this well: You should only use a credit card if you can pay it off in full each month to avoid interest charges. That’s the key message of Clark Howard’s credit card philosophy.

Check your bank statements daily: If your account is compromised, you may be able to catch it quickly and avoid more damage if you keep up with your accounts regularly.

You can also sign up for text alerts from your bank or credit union. Just beware of fake text alerts that criminals send to trick you into divulging info that will let them get at your money!

More ATM stories on Clark.com:

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