Despite the continued push in many countries for more government oversight and new legislation aimed at reducing ATM fees, just what costs do we really face when we need to get some quick cash? With very little effort those costs can be... uh... zero!

True, when withdrawing cash from an ATM we often face the prospect having to pay a so-called convenience fee. This is especially true when the ATM is not one associated with our bank debit card. In many cases these fees can be quite high (Read "Banks ranked by ATM fees" to see which institutions are collecting the most!) And depending on where you bank you may incur other charges as well. But all that does not have to be.

First, consider the dynamic behind an ATM transaction - why are there fees in the first place? In order to operate an ATM someone has to pay for the equipment, put cash inside the machine, periodically replenish the cash and service the machine if it breaks down. And don't forget to factor in the cost of electricity, communications and insurance. All of those expenses can add up quickly! So ATM operators, whether banks or independent deployers, often charge a fee to cover their cost of operations. Not unreasonable... but that means we the consumers end up bearing those costs!

On the other hand, regular folks, like us, simply want to withdraw "our money" and not have to pay for the privelege. It would seem operators and consumers have competing interests. Fortunately, basic economics have given rise to changes that benefit us all. In any competitive environment when a seller charges too much to his customers they will often seek out lower cost alternatives. To challenge the competition, some ATM operators have altered their business model by lowering and even foregoing the usual fees to attract more customers, making up the difference in other ways. Other market driven alternatives - more locations, membership associations - provide us with even greater choice, and in many cases lower the costs. But our goal here is not just to find the lowest cost alternative... our goal is to eliminate the cost entirely!

So here are CurrenScene's 7 ways to reduce ATM fees to zero! With a little thought and planning you may never have to pay an ATM fee again. (Our ideas work best within your own local area, but some can be applied while you travel as well.)

  • Use an ATM from your own bank, online account or brokerage house. Although some banks still impose a charge on their own customers, most do not. Using your own bank's ATM is free. If your bank charges you to use their ATM maybe its time to change banks! Know where your bank has the nearest ATM in operation and make that your go-to destination for cash.
  • Open a bank account with an institution that reimburses all ATM fees... and there are many alternatives such as Charles Schwab, Ally Bank and others. Yes, some financial service providers in order to lure more business their way actually reimburse you for any fees you may have incurred any time you use any ATM -- anywhere! Sweet! (Hint: Google is your friend! Some have locations around the country and around the world!)
  • Look for ATMs that advertise as participating in a surcharge-free network. See if your bank participates. Find and use these surcharge free ATMs. Surcharge free networks enable smaller banks and credit unions to offer more free locations to their customers. One of the largest is ALLPoint Network (www.allpointnetwork.com) For Credit Unions check into the Co-Op Network (co-opcreditunions.org) Each of these examples do not charge any ATM fees at their branded locations to cardholders from participating banks and credit unions. These surcharge free alliances represent thousand of locations where you can get free cash. Find them and use them.
  • Get cash back at the counter from a purchase. There are many incentives for retailers to offer a cash back option - convenience for their customers, to get rid of cash from the register (which is expensive to handle and risky to keep on hand) or simply because the competition across the street offers their customers cash back. In any case whether you are making a major purchase or merely buying a "stick of gum" cash back at the register is free to the consumer.
  • Why use cash - you have a debit card in your hand. Duh... you can make purchases almost anywhere with your debit card. Unless you have an absolute requirement to carry cash you can answer the age-old question: Paper or plastic - with plastic! And debit is often accepted as the equivalent of cash with a slightly lower price than for credit card purchases - a hidden benefit.
  • Two words - Apple Pay. Or any of the other mobile payment options that are coming to a smartphone near you. More and more retailers are accepting these cash and debit alternatives. If you carry a smartphone you now have another smart alternative that doesn't carry any fees!
  • One word -- Bitcoin. Actually... we're only half-kidding. Alternative currencies may be the next big thing. Maybe one day virtual currency will replace cash.

So... until Bitcoin replaces real coin and all the ATMs are FREE... be smart. Follow our simple guidelines, plan ahead and enforce your own "zero-tolerance" policy for ATM fees.