Some ATMs are your friends and some are your enemies, but they come in three basic flavors:

  • Proprietary: These are the ones your bank owns. It is a rare bank indeed that charges its own customers to use its ATMs, but it's far from unheard of. Approximately 10% of all banks charge their own customers for using the ATM. The ones that do charge tend to have a fee of around $1.
  • Non-Proprietary: These are all the machines that belong to somebody other than your bank. These will charge you about $1 to $1.50 (and sometimes more!) to make your transaction, and they'll post that they're imposing a fee either on the "welcome" screen or else with a sticker on the machine itself. But wait, there's more! Your own bank is probably charging you a similar fee for not using its own network. Find out how much your bank charges for this, but generally expect to be out about $3 between the fee from the ATM you're using and your own bank's fee.
  • National ATM: The bank is hooked up to a regional or national network, such as Cirrus, Plus, NYCE, Interlink, or others. When you use these out-of-town networks, expect that the fee will be no less than $1.50, and possibly as high as $3. Then add the fee that your bank is charging you.

Hey, every ATM dispenses cash in the same way -- they all provide the same service. What you really need to know, Fool, is which machines won't charge you, and when or whether your bank charges you. If you often find yourself using non-proprietary or national ATMs, then you'd better figure out just how much your bank is charging you per year and decide whether you aren't better off banking with an establishment that doesn't hit you with charges.

More and more, "free" ATMs are cropping up at convenience stores as a way to lure people in. (But don't assume that the machine is free -- make sure by reading the "welcome" screen and any stickers on the machine.)

You can learn more at the ATM$ website, which also offers guidance on finding free ATMs. The Co-op Network can also help you with that.

Knowing where the free ATMs are is especially important if you have opened or are thinking of opening an account with an Internet bank -- because those Internet-based banks won't have proprietary ATMs.

Learn much more about banking and online banking at the Fool's Banking Center.

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