An ATM provides convenience 24 hours a day so consumers can withdraw their cash, make cash or check deposits, or transfer money between their checking and savings accounts. Consumers can find ATMs at their bank or inside retailers such as grocery stores, pharmacies and other retailers.
Not all ATMs are equal – stick to ones at a bank or a store to ensure your safety and ones from your bank’s network to avoid paying additional transaction fees.
“Studies have shown that consumers spend more when using plastic than cash,” says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate, a financial data company. “While the cash might burn a hole in the pockets of some, at least it sets a boundary on what you can spend at one point in time. And there are consumers that actually prefer cash as a way to budget or manage their spending because of the pain or regret they feel when parting with it.”
How to Use an ATM
Consumers who get cash should be aware of the ATM’s surroundings. Depositing or withdrawing cash could attract the attention of criminals, so check whether anyone is watching you.
“If you are alone in a low-visibility area when withdrawing money, you attract the wrong sort of attention from criminals who are looking for fresh targets,” says Bruce McClary, senior vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and a former U.S. News contributor.
Some ATMs are not owned by a bank and are placed inside a retailer, restaurant, mall or casino in highly trafficked areas, but without any security watching the machine.
Tech-savvy criminals can rig an ATM with a skimming device to copy and transmit your card number and PIN, McClary says. Criminals have also used a technique that involves the placement of cameras that capture your card number and PIN while you complete your transaction.
“Amid a pandemic, consumers are concerned about the risk of exposure from the ATM keypad,” says McBride. “The risk of withdrawing a pocketful of cash while your back is to everything and everyone still poses the biggest risk to your safety.”
Here are steps for using an ATM:
- Look around to make sure the area is safe, whether it’s a walk-up or drive-thru. At night, it should be well-lit.
- Insert your debit card. Some ATMs require that you swipe and remove your card right away, but with others, you keep it inserted until you’re done with your transactions. Punch in your PIN (don’t let anyone else see it). You could also use a credit card, but it’s best not to use one because of fees for cash advances. At some ATMs, you can use your smartphone or smartwatch.
- Pick what you want to do, either on the screen or the keypad. You can do more than one kind of transaction. You’ll need to choose how much you want to withdraw. You may need to input how much you’re depositing, but some ATMs can read your checks. Some ATMs will display your most-used transactions as a shortcut.
- Pick up your cash and/or your receipt if you want one. You may want either a paper or emailed receipt to show the deposit amount before the checks have cleared.
- Take your card and make sure the screen shows you’re clear (so no one else can access your accounts).
Don’t Cost Yourself Money When Using an ATM
To avoid costly transaction fees, use an ATM that is managed by your bank or credit union, McClary says. Otherwise, you can get hit by two sets of fees – from your bank and the owner of the ATM. The fees can run from $2.50 each time to as much as $5 or more, especially if you are using an ATM in another country.
It is easier to find an ATM managed by a national bank such as Citibank since it has more than 65,000 ATMs, including ones located throughout the U.S. in stores such as CVS, Target, Rite Aid and Walgreens. But even smaller banks and credit unions may be part of ATM networks such as Allpoint that spread across the country with more than 40,000 locations.
“Avoid ATMs in casinos, stadiums or other entertainment venues,” McBride says. “Not only are the fees often higher, the temptation and pressure to spend in those environments can wreak havoc on your monthly budget.”
Alternatives to Using ATMs
Many retailers allow customers to receive a limited amount of cash back when they are making a purchase. This option is even available via self-checkout lanes at national retailers such as Target. Grocery stores and wholesale clubs such as Trader Joe’s, Kroger and Costco also offer this option. You can avoid paying fees and receive cash in a safe environment.
“Using a debit card and getting cash back at the point-of-sale terminal in a supermarket, pharmacy or general retailer is often equivalent to a free ATM withdrawal as most merchants do not charge for this,” McBride says.
Consumers can transfer money between their savings account and checking account from the bank’s website or its app. You can also make check deposits from a bank’s app.
“In most cases, (depositing a check is) as easy as following the step-by-step instructions in the app to take a picture of the front and back of the endorsed check and transmit the information to complete the deposit,” McClary says.