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There are a number of tactics people can use to avoid being charged fees when they use automatic teller machines (ATMs), including banking with an institution that has a high number of ATMs or reimburses ATM fees, planning ahead, and using cash back features. Some of these techniques are more complicated than others, and it's important to remember that it is possible to waste more energy trying to save money than is worth the actual savings.
Being a customer of a large bank with a number of branches is one way to avoid ATM fees. People are not charged for withdrawing money from branches of their own banks, or banks their bank has reciprocal relationships with. Before going on a trip, people can check to see if there are local bank branches available for them to use, or ask about bank partnerships that may allow them to avoid ATM fees.
Another option is to belong to a bank that reimburses customers for ATM fees. Online banks commonly do this, because their customers don't have the option of going to a brick and mortar branch bank to get cash, and some other banks do as well. However, such banks may have higher account fees, an important thing to keep in mind.
Planning ahead can also help people avoid ATM fees. If people know they will have cash expenses in the near future, they can withdraw cash to cover them, or take out traveler's checks if they are going to be traveling. Using credit while on the road can be another useful way to avoid ATM fees; if a card will be accepted for a transaction, it can be used instead of paying cash, allowing people to hold on to their cash and limit the need for an ATM.
Using cash back features is another option. Many stores allow people to make purchases with bank cards and will offer cash back on transactions. Someone heading to the movies and in need of cash, for example, could pick up a candy bar at the corner store and ask for cash back on the transaction. Another method for avoiding ATM fees is to use a mobile phone application that locates fee-free ATMs. Such applications allow people to enter a zip code, and will return a list of ATMs in the area that do not charge fees.
If an ATM fee is unavoidable, sometimes a bank will provide reimbursement. Small community banks are more likely to offer this on a case by case basis as a courtesy to their customers, recognizing that people may have unexpectedly needed cash while traveling in an area where the bank does not operate.
It is advisable to avoid private ATMs, if possible, as they typically charge extremely high fees. In addition, some private ATMs are poorly secured and can present an identity theft risk for customers.