Money

4 ways to never pay ATM fees ever again

Justin Sullivan / Today
A customer uses an ATM at a Bank of America branch office on April 17, 2013 in San Francisco, California.

If you've been feeling like your bank is nickel-and-diming you, you're wrong. You should be counting in five-dollar bills. But you can avoid costly bank ATM fees with a little strategy.

According to a new Bankrate survey, the average ATM withdrawal fee is $4.35, up 5 percent from last year. That's up from $1.97 in 2008, and 89 cents in 1989.

Banks say they're trying to claw back the fixed costs of maintaining their ATM networks while the number of customers generating out of network fees has gone down.

But as long as you pay attention, you don't to have to be the one helping them with your own paycheck.

Here are four tips from the experts to avoid ATM fees. 

Switch to a bank that refunds ATM fees

Zero ATM fee banks

If you're using a bank that doesn't credit back your ATM fees, you could be wasting upwards $200-$300 per year, said David Bach, Vice Chairman of Edelman Financial Services. For a brick and mortar bank that doesn't charge fees, check out a a few of the more "premium" checking accounts at TD Bank or a "performance select checking" account at PNC Bank. However, the former requires a monthly minimum balance of $2,500 or more to qualify for ATM reimbursements. The latter requires a monthly minimum balance of $5,000, or the same amount in qualifying direct deposits, to avoid a $25 monthly surcharge.

Online-only banks
Several online-only banks -- such as Ally, Simple and USAA -- also refund ATM fees, either unlimited or up to certain levels. Their lack of physical location may mean you'll want to hold onto your old bank as your primary account if you make cash deposits, but there are ways to get around that, like by buying prepaid cards at the drug store and transferring the balance into your account.

Brokerage firm accounts
Investment and brokerage firms also often offer money market accounts that reimburse ATM fees. Examples here include Charles Schwab, E*trade and Fidelity. Again, minimum balances of $1,000 or more may be required to open an account or to stay eligible for getting your ATM fees back.

Overhauling your banking can be a hassle, but it can be worth it to dodge the withdrawal dings. "The bank I bank with today got me as a customer specifically because they credit back ATM fees," said Bach.

For more options, check out the FatWallet personal finance forum's running list of banks that reimburse ATM fees.

But for folks living paycheck to paycheck and without any savings cushion, they're going to have to stay on their toes a little more to avoid ATM fees.

Stay in your bank's network
If you have a big bank, only go to their ATMs. Otherwise you're likely to rack up an out-of-network fee. To make it easier, these big banks like Bank of America, Chase and Citi all have apps to find the nearest in-network ATM.

Similarly, smaller banks often belong to a larger network, such as the surcharge-free Allpoint. And nearly half of all credit unions and co-ops are part of the Co-Op network. Flip over your card and if the logo on the back matches the one on the machine, there's no withdrawal fee. For the most up-to-date locations of fee-free ATMs, both Allpoint's site and Co-Op's site offer web locators and downloadable apps.

"The good news is these ATM networks are bigger than ever," said Greg McBride, Bankrate's Chief Financial Analyst. "So staying within your network is easier than it's ever been."

Withdraw less frequently
A common sense way to avoid fees from ATMs is to simply use them less often. "People tend to go to the ATM daily," said Bach. "They're basically pulling money out for the day, then get hit with a fee every day." 

Instead, experts say, make fewer visits.

"I try to limit my trip to the ATM to once a week," said CNBC Personal Finance Correspondent Sharon Epperson. "Limiting my ATM use also helps me budget. I take out just enough cash for the week."

Get cash back at checkout, but watch out for fees
Skip the ATM entirely and just buy with your debit card something you were already going to buy at drug store or grocery store. At checkout, ask for "cash back" and they'll simply hand you the amount you ask for, usually up to $50 or $100.

It's a little extra work but "it's tantamount to a free ATM," said McBride.

That's as long as the store doesn't charge cash back fees, as some dollar stores have. Make sure to first ask the clerk if there are any, and also watch the signature capture device to see if you're agreeing to any fees there too.

While ATM fees may look like just a few bucks here and there when you need to grab cash for the day or the night out, they can quickly add up. But if you're mindful, you can save.

"They keep your money for free and then charge you $4 to get your money back," said Bach. "People don't consider how much this costs in terms of percentages."

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