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Convenience Banking: ATMs

For those who keep odd hours, and whose banks aren’t yet allowing images of checks taken by cell phone for deposit purposes, automatic teller machines (ATMs) can provide convenience. ATMs are becoming even more convenient with the advent of machines that can scan cash and checks, rather than requiring you to hunt up a deposit slip and envelope. However, as with nearly all conveniences in our society, banking at an ATM can come with costs.

New ATMs Make Personal Banking a Little More Convenient

Being able to use your cell phone to take an image of a check and send it remotely is the height of convenience. However, few banks are offering this service right now. Besides, it doesn’t help much when you have cash to deposit. This is where the new ATMs come in. Across the country, some banks are including ATMs equipped with scanners. You pop in your debit card so the ATM knows which account to credit the deposit to, and these scanners read the checks and cash deposited directly into the machine – in a manner similar to the way you insert bills at a vending machine. However, unlike a vending machine, you don’t have to feed the deposit documents and bills into the ATM one at a time; you can use a stack of them at once.

According to Erin O’Neil at About.com, these scanners are able to read the face values on cash bills, as well as read account numbers and dollar amounts on checks. As a result, it is possible for the ATMs to accept your money, and then offer a receipt. In many cases, you can actually have the images of the checks you deposit printed on the receipt. O’Neil recommends choosing this options, since it will provide you with a record of your deposit, and provide a back-up in the event of a bank error.

The whole process is faster and more convenient. You don’t have to rush in order get to the bank or credit union before closing, and you don’t have to wait in line. Plus, it’s nice not to have to fill out a deposit slip. (There are some financial institutions that are getting rid of deposit slips altogether, even for in-person teller transactions.) Advanced ATMs of this sort provide one more way that consumers can bank at times that are more convenient to them.

ATM Banking with Credit Unions and Online Banks

One of the difficulties associated with ATM banking is the fact that local credit unions and online banks might not have locations as widespread as national banks. The good news is that there are ATM networks that allow you to bank even though you might be hundreds of miles away from your financial institution’s locality. ATM networks and co-ops offer a way for you to make deposits and withdrawals without some of the burdensome fees that might be charged otherwise. Before you go on a trip, it is a good idea to find out what ATM options you have, and where co-op or network ATMs are located. You can check with your online bank for information how to make ATM transactions.

One way you can benefit is to keep you money in online banks or credit unions that refund ATM fees that you pay. You can find these financial institutions if you look for them, allowing you the convenience of an ATM without the cost.

Fees are Still a Part of Using ATMs

Of course, there are still some fees that you might end up paying when you use an ATM. Most financial institutions won’t charge you a fee if you are a customer using an ATM owned by the institution, or an ATM that is part of an approved network or co-op. However, once you start using ATMs at financial institutions where you don’t have an account, the fees can start to add up.

In some cases, you are actually charged twice. The financial institution that owns the ATM may charge you a fee, and your own financial institution may penalize you for using an ATM it doesn’t own. If the owner of the ATM charges you $2.50 and your own bank charges you $2, you would be paying a total fee of $4.50. If you bank with ATMs regularly, those fees can start to add up – especially if you spend an extended period of time away from ATMs owned by your own financial institution (or if you use an online bank).

As mentioned above, one way that you can avoid ATM fees is by checking to see if your financial institution is part of a network or co-op. Some financial institutions may not charge you a fee when you use an ATM owned by someone else. That takes care of the fee that your own financial institution charges you, but you might still be charged by the bank that owns the ATM. You can’t avoid paying the fee up front in such cases, but you might be able to get a refund.

Some banks (this can be found among some online banks) and credit unions will actually reimburse you for ATM fees. However, there might be requirements. You will probably have to keep the ATM receipt so that you can verify the amount you paid for a fee. Make sure you understand the requirements of the reimbursement; some financial institutions won’t refund your ATM fees paid to other banks if you could have reasonably gone to one owned by your own financial institution.

Another issue is using ATMs when you travel to a foreign country. Realize that you might have higher surcharges in such places. Find out whether your bank charges a flat fee, or whether it charges a percentage of the transaction. You may not be reimbursed for foreign ATM transactions; find out the policy on this before you leave.

You will likely have to pay a fee for the currency conversion as well. However, you might get a lower currency exchange fee by using an ATM abroad, rather than using a traveler’s check or going to a bank or money changer in person. Find out which ATM networks are available in the country you are visiting, and know where those can be found. Additionally, PINs may work a different way (if you have a PIN beyond four numbers, or that includes letters, it probably won’t work in Europe). Before you leave, discuss possible issues with your bank, and consider changing your PIN to something more compatible with the country you are visiting.

ATM banking can be convenient, but there are still things to be aware of, and plans you need to make, if you want to avoid fees.

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  |     |   Comment #1
My bank began adding deposit image ATMs as a "convenience" more than three years ago at select branches (predominately at its grocery store & supercenter locations).  Unfortunately, the bank ultimately decided that the advanced ATMs should become the sole medium for deposits & withdrawals at those locations (leaving personnel for "account servicing" and soliciting loans).  The problem?  As it couldn't distinguish checks, its holds differed from the company's policies; for example, my out-of-state payroll checks endured a multi-day hold (vs. next-day availability; my company opted to discontinue direct deposit temporarily during the early reigns of its bankruptcy).  Nor could the ATMs offer specific currency dominations for my withdrawals.  Thus, while these machines are a convenience supplementing teller services, they're a disservice when the bank attempts to replace traditional teller services with them (unless, of course, the branch would close anyway; Comerica operates at least a dozen ATMs within Detroit's city limits in which they've closed the adjacent branch).
  |     |   Comment #2
Chase has gone to the deposit image ATMs.  Horrible.  It is not uncommon to deposit a dozen checks, and have it take 10 - 15 minutes, only to have it fail with half the checks.  Can't even read a Treasury check correctly (come'on fellas... that technology was perfected back in the mid-1990's).  Total deposit is almost always wrong - get a letter a week later that my account is being "corrected." This can't save money, since obviously they still have manual checking of the deposited checks.  [Oddly, if you chose "Receipt with Check Images," it will usually let you manually enter unread images.  If chose not to get the four foot long receipt, then it just keeps rejecting the checks.]  By the way, tried to lodge a complaint about them.  Online website doesn't have that option, and the girl at a teller window said they aren't allowed to accept complaints about the ATM's. 

Haven't tried the iPhone deposit yet.  It only accepts checks less than $1000 and no more than $3000 per month deposit.  Also useless.  Bring back deposit slips and drive-by deposit boxes!!! {:>)

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