Bankrate.com this week released the results of the 2011 edition of its Checking Account Survey, which showed ATM fees increasing nationwide for the seventh consecutive year. The average ATM fee charged to non-bank customers rose 3 percent, from $2.33 in 2010 to $2.40 in 2011.
However, fees charged by banks to its own customers for using out-of-network machines remained unchanged at $1.41.
"A few years ago, Bank of America moved to the $3 surcharge, which at the time was uncharted territory. Now, it's the most common surcharge that we find in the survey," said Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate's senior financial analyst. "There was a lot of negative reaction at the time, but it didn't take long before the industry embraced it."
According to the survey, the average total charged to customers for using an out-of-network ATM by both banks is $3.81.
"The ATM surcharge is almost universal, and it's been that way for years," McBride said. "The fee increasing every year is a function of somebody planting a flag every year and moving their fee up to that next threshold."
The survey also revealed the top five U.S. cities with the highest and lowest ATM surcharge fees. Denver was ranked No. 1 at $2.75, 35-cents higher than the national average, while Cleveland had the lowest at $2.06. See below for the complete list.
Cities with highest surcharge fees
Denver - $2.75
San Diego - $2.70
Houston - $2.69
Seattle - $2.63
New York City - $2.60
Cities with lowest surcharge fees
Cleveland - $2.06
Minneapolis - $2.15
Tampa, Fla. - $2.19
Chicago - $2.20
Cincinnati - $2.22
Julie Conroy McNelley, senior analyst with Aite Group, an independent research and advisory firm for the financial services industry, points to the regulatory climate, specifically the Durbin Amendment, as the reason behind the fee increases.
"The fee increase is largely driven by the fallout of the Durbin Amendment, and similar regulatory changes that have hit the banks over the last 18 months. The Durbin Amendment will reduce banks’ debit card revenue by approximately 50 percent, so now all banks are looking to areas where they can make up for some of that lost revenue," McNelley said. "Consumers have also seen debit card rewards disappear and free checking is rapidly disappearing as well."
Mike Lee, chief executive officer of the ATM Industry Association, also points to regulatory and compliance issues as the impetuses behind steady surcharge increases.
"The rise in surcharge indicated in the report needs to be contextualized by mapping it against the steep rise in costs, including huge compliance costs, increases in ATM fees and generally higher operational costs. Against this backdrop, the increase from $2.33 in 2010 to $2.40 in 2011 is marginal. There is also the question of the convenience supplied by retail and remote, or off-premise, ATMs," Lee said.
The ATM industry and the FIs have felt the increasing pressure of machine upgrade costs during the past year, especially with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements looming. Finding ways to cope with associated costs, without shifting too much of the burden to consumers, has and will continue to be a challenge.
"After all, one pays different prices for a can of coke depending whether you purchase it at a large supermarket, a vending machine, a small convenience store or a hotel mini-bar. It's the old message of location, location, location. The same principle applies to ATMs. U.S. consumers have vast choices where they can draw their cash, thanks to our mature and efficient ATM industry."
Bankrate surveyed banks in 25 major U.S. markets from Aug. 1-12, 2011.
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