How To Avoid ATM Fees

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Few things burn me more than being charged an ATM fee for withdrawing my own money… so I developed a system that enables me to avoid ATM fees altogether – here’s how I do it.

Use banks with no atm fees

When considering a new bank or credit union, look for one that doesn’t charge ATM fees.  If they do charge fees be sure they have a system in place that allows you to avoid being charged the fees such as belonging to a nationwide ATM network.

Betsy and I use Capital One 360 for our main checking and savings accounts and have been able to completely avoid ATM fees.  Capital One 360 is a member of the All-Point Network of ATMs giving us access to our cash at any Target store nationwide, along with many other locations in every part of the country.  If we need to hit up an ATM we can always find something close.

If you’re interested in Capital One 360, you can read more about their checking accounts here and more about their savings accounts here… or you can read my Capital One 360 review.

Update: Shortly after publishing this article Ally Bank contacted me to let me know that they reimburse all ATM fees our customers incur in the United States, including those charged by other banks!  If you’re interested you can read more about Ally Bank’s Fee-free interest checking here and more about their savings accounts here.  I also endorse them and have noticed they’ve really stepped up their focus on customers over the last few years.

If you are not looking for a new bank then you can employ the final two tactics to avoid or greatly lessen your ATM fees.

Use a cash envelope system

Back in November of 2009 Betsy and I attended Dave Ramsey’s 13 week Financial Peace University course – at our local church – which inspired us to adopt a cash envelope system for several specific budget categories.  For our situation we decided using cash would work best for:

  • Groceries
  • Dining out
  • Entertainment
  • Clothing
  • Miscellaneous

These categories may not be best for everyone so be sure to figure out what works best for you.

We each carry our own cash and manage it in a way that works best for us.  Betsy carries and uses the Dave Ramsey cash envelope organizer that came with our FPU kit, while I stick to a much simpler system of keeping a wad of cash in my wallet and journalling each transaction to keep track of each category.

I only recommend keeping all your cash together if you journal the spending; otherwise you can easily spend much more in a certain category than allotted.  If you’re not going to journal the activity it’s best to keep the cash separate for each category.

Withdraw money once per month

To avoid fees, simply withdraw your cash envelope money once each month rather than hitting up an ATM every time you need money.

Here is a detailed breakdown of how much Betsy and I use for each category:

  • Groceries – Betsy gets $260, Matt gets $100
  • Dining out – Betsy gets $40, Matt gets $20
  • Entertainment – Betsy gets $40, Matt gets $20
  • Clothing – Betsy gets $60, Matt gets $20
  • Miscellaneous – We both get $100

If you do the math you’ll see that we need $760 total, so at the beginning of the month Betsy and I head over to Target and withdraw the entire amount.  You may have noticed that she carries a bit more in several of the categories than I do; that’s because we’re usually together and it works out best for us.  I carry my own grocery money for when I have to run to the store by myself to pick up a few odds and ends.

It’s also worth noting that Capital One 360 has a $1,000 daily ATM withdrawal limit; keep that in mind if you use or plan to use Capital One 360.  Otherwise be sure your cash envelope amount fits within the daily ATM withdrawal limit of your bank.  If the amount needed exceeds the daily limit simply go to the ATM twice each month, once in the beginning of the month and once in the middle.

What tactics do you employ to avoid paying ATM fees?



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