Personal Finance

Banks Jack Up ATM Fees, Blame Regulations

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ATM_William_Grootonk_CCFlickrGet ready for big fee increases at your nearest ATM. Some of the nation’s largest banks are boosting fees on their automated teller machine networks.

The new fees could be especially costly for people who withdraw cash from another bank’s ATM. Chase is now charging Illinois residents $5 every time a non-customer withdraws money from a Chase ATM. That’s in addition to any fees charged by the customer’s bank.

“Wow. That’s steep,” says Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com’s personal finance expert. “Even if you take out $100 at a time, that’s still an expensive way to get at your own money.”

Chase also is experimenting with a $4 fee for non-customers in Texas, said Christine Holevas, a spokeswoman for JPMorgan Chase. TD Bank recently stopped reimbursing its customers for fees incurred through the use of other banks’ ATMs. Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank did the same for its free checking account customers, a spokesman for the bank said.

The average fee for non-customers using a bank’s ATM is $2.60, says Mike Moebs, CEO of Moebs Services, a banking industry research firm.

The changes come at a time of big upheaval in the banking industry. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, passed by Congress last year, imposes new compliance requirements that could be costly for banks. It included the Durbin amendment, which would limit banks’ income from debit card fees.

[Related: House Debit Card Interchange Hearing Favors Delay]

“The new regulations add up to big money,” says Bill Bradway of Bradway Research, a consulting firm for banks. “If the banks don’t do anything, their income goes down. So they’re looking for new ways to replace that income, and increasing ATM fees is one way to do that.”

Other experts doubt banks’ arguments that increased ATM fees are a response to new federal regulations. Chase’s decision to try higher fees in Texas and Illinois is part of a decade-long trend of gradually increasing ATM charges, Moebs says.

“I don’t take the industry claims at face value,” said Norman I. Silber, a professor at Hofstra University School of Law who specializes in consumer law. “I am doubtful… that the compliance costs are as costly as they say.”

The fee increases have more to do with politics than finances, consumer advocates say. The Durbin amendment’s limit on debit card fees is scheduled to take effect April 21. Banks and credit unions, worried that the amendment will cost them billions of dollars a year, are engaged in an expensive lobbying battle now to pressure Congress to postponing the deadline.

[Resource: Credit.com's Consumer Guide to the Proposed Debit Interchange Rule]

“I look at these higher fees as a scare tactic aimed at roiling Congressional waters,” says Ed Mierzwinski, director of the consumer program at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Meanwhile, advocates encouraged customers to avoid such high fees by using only the ATMs that belong to their own bank.

“Consumers need to understand that using an ATM not owned by your bank is double dumb,” Mierzwinksi says, since both banks charge fees for the same service.

There are between 450,000 and half a million ATMs in the U.S., Moebs says. It can cost up to $15,000 to maintain an ATM that isn’t attached to a bank branch.

“I think customers have taken for granted the cost of banks’ infrastructure,” says Margaret Kane, president and CEO of Kane Bank Services, a consulting firm. “ATMs are very expensive to install and maintain.”

Image: William Grootonk

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