Friday, January 05, 2007

Zapped by ATM Balance Check: $2 fee for 5-Cent Service. Answers

My husband went to an area supermarket, where the bank machines are out of our ATM network and therefore, off limits for us. And like a good consumer, he skipped the cash-spitting services of this foreign ATM.

But what about a simple balance check? Insert card, make request and out spits a receipt with our balance and a $2 or $3 fee for the out-of-network balance check.

He's stunned and I'm surprised and embarrassed. As a reporter, I've written about banks and their double-dipping ATM fees. How did this one slip past me?

For advice, I turned to an analyst at Yesterday, I interviewed Greg McBride, CFA Senior Financial Analyst at, a publication of Bankrate, Inc.

Here's my record of our conversation:

Me: How did we get zapped on that ATM transaction?
McBride: You didn't actually take the money out. It was just a balance inquiry.

Me: Yeah! Is that a new fee?
McBride: I first heard about it about two years ago.[He went on to say that the fee is one of the charges that flies under the radar.] It surprises people because they don't actually get any money. But there's a fee because the two ATMs have to link up and make a connection just as if you were making a withdrawal. It's the same function.

Me: But $2 for that? I've written stories about bank fees and the real cost of electronic service is like pennies.
McBride: No doubt about that. ATM Fees are a huge profit center for banks and the fees have consistently gone up over the years.

Me: For sure. I don't remember the exact figures, but I remember that each ATM transaction cost banks pennies to execute.I remember industry or regulatory reports that quoted cost figures of 5 cents per transaction.
McBride: It's a small figure and it doesn't come close to the fees that the consumer pays.


The Frugal Duchess Boutique


Anonymous said...

Where do you live?I mean,where were the ATM that charged you for balance inquiry.In fact,banks in many countries have began to charge it.In China,it was from June 1,2006.And many cardholders expressed their dissatifaction.

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Run Coach David said...

Thanks for posting this.

I just joined WaMu, and got stiffed for this fee yesterday.

When I spoke with WaMu customer service about this, I got through to a supervisor who said it was policy and is stated in the account disclosure docs.

I explained that I was a new WaMu customer, excited about being with "The Home of Free Checking" and was most disappointed with being stiffed in such a way. Also saying that I have never seen any other bank charge such a fee.

The supervisor again said it was WaMu policy.

I asked that the supervisor waive this fee for this one occassion, and I will be willing to pay if I do it again. She agreed, and waived the fee.

I must admit, I got pretty stern with her. I don't normally do that. But I was explicit in saying what I wanted to happen, and I was pretty sure supervisor would be authorised to remove a single $2 charge.

But I agree with you in prinicipal.... $2 for this is ridiculous....

Ironically, I saw in an article about WaMu senior executives having their bonuses linked to "growth in fees".