Accessing your money gets more expensive; ATM fees climb again, ‘free’ checking has more strings attached

Bankrate.com chart. Click for more.
Bankrate.com chart. Click for more.

It’s getting more expensive to park and access your own money, but you probably knew that.  Bankrate.com’s annual survey of checking account fees came out Monday, revealing that the average cost for withdrawing money from a not-your-bank ATM has risen to $4.52, a record.

Some checking account fees are up, too, while the hurdles needed to avoid them are also up.

ATM fees are always good for some outrage, but this isn’t actually an entirely bad news story. Part of the reason ATM fees are up is simple: People are using them less. A lot less — 47 percent less, according to this Wall Street Journal story.  Of course they are.  Cash is unnecessary in all but extreme circumstances.  Some small business owners are holdouts and won’t take credit cards.  Sometimes, people don’t want an electronic record of a transaction.  The holdouts, and the privacy, are dwindling, however. And the non-cash options, like mobilepay, are growing.  That means investing in the ATM industry is a bad idea.

Some people are hurt however: The usual suspects who have fewer options than high-income consumers.  People with bad credit or other challenges using credit cards are now paying more to access their cash. As are people who find themselves in some kind of emergency. How much more?

“ATMs charge an average of $2.88 to let noncustomers withdraw money — up 4% since last year. On top of that, your own bank likely will charge you a fee that averages $1.64 for using an out-of-network ATM,” Bankrate says. 

Meanwhile, slightly fewer banks are offering free checking, Bankrate says — 37 percent in 2015 vs 38 percent last year.   Consumers can avoid the fees, but doing so requires automatic deposit transactions, or minimum balances, or both.

Meeting these requirements can be tricky.  If you balance falls below $1,000 for even one day in a month, a $10-$20 monthly fee can be added. I’ve also spoken with teachers who are paid 10 months out of the year and lose their free checking when the aren’t paid — and thus don’t have a direct deposit — during summer months.



About Bob Sullivan 1348 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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