When you're in need of cash and can't get to your own bank, you're probably going to have to visit another bank's ATM. But remember, you may be stuck with that dreaded automated teller machine (ATM) fee.

These days, many banks reimburse their customers for ATM fees by keeping track of the charges incurred over a statement cycle, then electronically crediting the sum of those charges back into the customer's account. Online banks are leading the trend toward fee reimbursement. That's because most of these institutions do not maintain physical ATM locations and require customers to incur fees for using out-of-network ATMs.

For people who use ATMs regularly, fee reimbursement represents a welcome solution to years of frustration. However, most banks that reimburse ATM fees impose specific restrictions and limitations on this service. Therefore, customers need to remain aware of reimbursement program provisions.

Key Takeaways

  • People incur ATM fees when they make withdrawals from machines that are out of their network.
  • Customers are charged twice: Once by the ATM where they withdraw and again by their own bank.
  • ATM fee reimbursements are common for most online banks.
  • While most banks automate the process and credit customers regularly each month, many institutions put limits on how much is reimbursed.

ATM Fee Frustration

Even in an increasingly paperless world, sometimes you simply have to pull cash out from an ATM. Getting cash from an out-of-network ATM invariably results in a fee, and sometimes, customers have to pay this fee twice. One goes to the bank that owns the ATM and the other to their own bank for using an out-of-network ATM.

According to Bankrate, the national average fee to use an out-of-network ATM was $4.68 in 2018—36% higher than it was in 2008. The fee charged by consumers' own banks was $3.02, the highest it's ever been. That's a total of $7.70 just for one cash withdrawal. But ATM fees vary by city and region. But that figure may be even higher depending on where you live. Detroit had the highest average ATM fee at $5.28 out of 25 cities surveyed by the site, and does not include the additional surcharge.

These fees can add up for those who use ATMs more than sparingly. Paying a fee just to access one's own money is tantamount to throwing money down the drain. Customers of online banks in particular fall prey to these fees, given online banks' lack of physical ATM locations.

ATM Fee Reimbursement

In most cases, banks reimburse ATM fees at the end of each statement cycle by crediting the customer's account with the total fees the customer was charged that cycle. Since most banks issue statements monthly, customers can expect reimbursement for ATM fees once each month.

Nearly every bank that offers ATM fee reimbursement completely automates the process. Customers do not need to keep receipts or fill out paperwork. When they use an ATM and pay its bank's fee, their own bank is made aware of the fee, even if it does not impose its own fee.

For example, most online banks, including Ally Financial (ALLY), do not charge their own ATM fees. Moreover, many of them have deals with other ATM owners who allow their customers to use those ATMs with no charges. Charles Schwab's High Yield Investor Checking Account is one account option that comes with unlimited ATM fee reimbursements. There is no monthly fee, and no monthly minimum balance required to waive any fees, as long as the account is linked to a Charles Schwab brokerage account.

Limitations

Banks tend to limit their largesse when it comes to ATM fee reimbursement. Most impose monthly reimbursement limits, while others maintain stringent conditions for getting reimbursed.

Many banks put limitations and restrictions on the amount of ATM fees reimbursed each month.

For example, Ally limits ATM fee reimbursement to $10 per statement cycle. In contrast, banks from EverBank Financial (EVER) and E-Trade Financial (ETFC) require $5,000 minimum daily average balances to qualify for ATM fee reimbursement.

One notable exception is the rewards checking account from Axos Bank. This account offers unlimited fee reimbursement from any ATM in the United States. Best of all, customers get reimbursed the next day, not at the end of their statement cycle.

Avoiding ATM Fees

if you don't like paying ATM fees, there are a number of ways you can avoid them altogether. The first—and most obvious—solution is to go completely cashless. These days, most retailers take credit and debit cards, with only a limited number that do only cash transactions. As long as you keep your checking account balance limits in mind and pay off your credit card each month to avoid interest, this should be the best option for you.

Here's another option to consider. Many major grocery store chains and big retailers like Walmart offer cash back with purchases at the register. When you complete your purchase, you may notice the option to get cash back. This amount goes on top of your purchase amount and is debited from your checking or savings account. So if you purchase $15 worth of merchandise, you can also request $60 cash back. The total you'll see on your receipt and out of your account will be $75.