GAO: ATM surcharges climbing

The average ATM surcharge at banks and credit unions has gone up about 20 percent since 2007, not counting inflation, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in an April 11 report.

Surcharges in 2012 averaged $2.16 at banks and $1.99 at credit unions according to the report, "Automated Teller Machines." 

However, most people are avoiding paying to get access to their cash. The report showed that only about 14 percent of cash withdrawals at financial institutions incurred a surcharge.

"Consumers have many ways to obtain cash without incurring fees, such as using ATMs within their financial institution's network," the GAO said. In addition, some financial institutions participate in surcharge-free networks.

The report, drawn from surveys of banks and market research data, provides a top-down view of how people are using the estimated 420,000 ATMs scattered around banks, bars, gas stations and convenience stores in the U.S.  In 2009, consumers made 6 billion ATM withdrawals for about $647 billion.

Slightly more than half of all ATMs are operated by independent owners rather than financial institutions, the GAO report said. A nonrepresentative sample of 100 independent machines found an average surcharge of $2.24 in 2012, with a range of $1.50 to $3. However, independent machines outside the small sample may have a wider range of fees, the GAO said. Surcharges at financial institutions ranged from 45 cents to $5.

The study found less of a change in the "foreign" fee that financial institutions charge customers for using an ATM outside the network.  The estimated average foreign fee at banks is up seven cents to $1.52 since 2007, in inflation-adjusted terms, GAO said. At credit unions, the foreign fee was up 2 cents to $1.29.

The report shed little light on the use of credit cards to get cash at ATMs. The 11 banks in the survey that distinguished between credit cards and other cards said that cash advances ranged from less than 1 percent of transactions to 5 percent.

See related: ATMs 2.0: Meet the futuristic cash dispensers

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Updated: 03-21-2019