A.T.M. Surcharge Fees on the Rise

ATM machine
Yuri Arcurs | Getty Images

Anyone who uses A.T.M.'s to get cash knows that you usually pay a penalty for using a machine outside your own bank's network. A recent government report documents just how much those fees have increased in recent years.

Average A.T.M. surcharges — the fee a bank charges someone who is not a customer for using its machine — have increased by 20 percent over the last five years, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office finds.

The average surcharge for banks and credit unions rose to $2.10 in 2012, from $1.75 in 2007 (adjusted for inflation). The surcharges ranged from 45 cents to $5, the report found.

In contrast, the average "foreign" fee — the fee a bank charges its own customers for using a machine not in its network — has remained flat, the report found.

It's unclear just what bank, in what market, is charging $5 surcharge fees, since the report is based on aggregate data and didn't name names. Some big banks, notably, JP Morgan Chase, tested $4 and $5 surcharge fees in some markets two years ago, but quietly dropped them.

Generally, banks don't want their A.T.M. surcharge fees to be so high that they turn away potential customers, one bank official told the G.A.O. investigators. Rather, they want account holders from competing banks to use their machines — and then, perhaps, open accounts at their bank.

Fees are generally higher, bank officials told the government investigators, in areas of low competition, like airports, or amusement parks.

The report estimates there are about 420,000 A.T.M.'s in the United States. About half are operated by financial institutions, which determine the fees charged. The other half are operated by independent firms that work with merchants to set fees.

Most users of the independently owned A.T.M.s pay surcharges, although there are some fee-free networks. Based on an analysis of about 100 A.T.M.'s. run by independent operators, the G.A.O. found the average surcharge for such machines was $2.24, and ranged from $1.50 to $3. (But it said some operators could charge fees that are higher or lower.)

Have you encountered a $5 A.T.M. surcharge? What is the highest surcharge you have paid?