Switched To Fee-Free ATM Withdrawals

I’m sick of paying ATM fees so I just finished switching to my USAA debit card for my cash money needs. They refund up to $15 of ATM fees per month and don’t charge you any fees for using other people’s ATMs. I’m still keeping my WaMu account but I took my WaMu debit card out of my wallet and just funded my USAA account with some money. Not that I have a problem but I think this will also help reduce petty cash spending. Plus, by using cash more often that means I’m getting more change, and all my coin change goes into my piggy bank (60% full at the moment, looking forward to the day I take it to the Commerce Bank “Penny Arcade” coin-counting machine). With the specter of a recession giving us all wet willies, are you making any changes to your personal finance system?

(Photo: Ben Popken)


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  1. Bladefist says:

    a lot of banks do this now, but 15$ is probably one of the higher offers.

  2. NewPerfection says:

    Don’t take your change to a coin-counting machine. That looses you 10% of what you have. Just take it to the bank, they count and deposit it for free.

    Personally, I have an easier time spending cash than money on my card. I have a debit card and no credit card. So I don’t carry cash, except when I need to. That way I spend less. It just depends on the person though which ends up working better.

  3. SaveMeJeebus says:

    Being a USAA member myself, this is a great program. However, since they tout it as being “fee free,” they should really adjust the amount reimbursed both monthly and per transaction to better match the current market. The reimbursement rate has been the same for about 2-3 years now.

    Non-profit banks and credit unions rule!

  4. A.W.E.S.O.M.-O says:

    Uh, am I missing something here? You’re not getting more change because you use cash. You get exactly the same amount, only now it’s taking up space on your kitchen counter and not earning (a little) interest in your bank account.

  5. mdkiff says:

    The best move you will ever make. You should consider yourself lucky that you have access to USAA – I have it through my wife (her father, actually). Best bank/brokerage house/insurance company ever.

  6. Jorel says:

    Macatawa Bank in West Michigan gives out “reverse ATM fees” just like this. Use any ATM, get charged that ATM’s fees and get reimbursed even that ATM is in Europe. It’s great and I like working with a regional bank (I also use a credit union).

  7. redhelix says:

    Changes to my personal finance?

    Aside from spending thousands of dollars on stocks selling for half of what they’re usually worth as stock prices plummet… no, not really.

    With the specter of a recession hanging over us, I think getting nicked at the ATM shouldn’t fall under the purview of “changes in personal finance.”

  8. qwickone says:

    @A.W.E.S.O.M.-O: you dont get change when you use a card – they charge the exact amount. and most people don’t earn interest on their checking account.

  9. Coelacanth says:

    If my father used to be in the Navy, do I have access to USAA? I can no longer be claimed as a dependant.

  10. A.W.E.S.O.M.-O says:

    @qwickone: Yeah, I know you don’t get change on a card, I mean you retain the money that they would have given you in cash. Even if you don’t have an interest-bearing account, the percentage the change machine skims off the top means you lose money anyway.

  11. rdm says:

    I cannot remember the last time I paid an ATM fee. Why not just go to your own bank?

  12. Michael Belisle says:

    Using cash makes it vividly clear how much you’re spending in a month. And it’s harder to say “I need a new stand mixer.” when you have to stop by the ATM and withdraw $300 first.

    Personally, I switch to cash until I run out for the month, when I switch to credit. It sort of defeats the idea, but I think I’m making headway at pushing that date back.

    Good moves Ben.

  13. Michael Belisle says:

    @COELACANTH: Depends on if he joined USAA, since it sounds like he’s not recently separated. Check the eligibility requirements.

  14. fuzzymuffins says:

    getting cash back at the grocery store w/ your debit card is free. get your groceries and a cash for the week.

    as far as i know….. getting cash back at every retailer that lets you is free (i haven’t found one that charged me yet)

    i never use atms.

  15. AD8BC says:

    Bank of Texas: Unlimited ATM Fee Reimbursements (i.e. I haven’t yet found the limit)… reimbursements are not automatic, you need to send in your receipts and they cannot be more than 90 days old. But still a bargain if you live in Dallas or Houston.

  16. rmz says:

    Is that ATM using Comic Sans?

  17. devsgurf says:

    Depends how long ago your father retired.
    But, doesn’t sound like it:[www.usaa.com]

  18. Copper says:

    @COELACANTH: It depends. Does he use USAA services? If so, then yes, you qualify. If he never signed up and it’s been a certain number of years (not sure how many) then he nor you can sign up now.

    I got it though my dad and step-mom (whose dads are both retired military), but my step-dad, who was in the Marines about thirty years ago can’t sign up for USAA now because it’s been too long.

    Also, when my dad and mom were married, they had a credit card through USAA so now that my mom is divorced, she only has access to USAA’s credit cards, not anything else and my step-dad can get a credit card through my mom, but nothing else.

    It’s kind of complicated. It doesn’t hurt to call them up and ask. All CSRs they have are really nice.

    On topic, I do love USAA and their free checking.

  19. Michael Belisle says:

    @rdm: Because that’s a pain when you can use any ATM, even the one at the strip club that charges a $10 fee (not that I would know anything about that… I’ve just heard).

  20. themidget says:

    @NewPerfection: I agree about not using the coin-counting machines, but many banks won’t provide counting service anymore, mine (Wachovia) requires you to bring change in rolled. It may depend on the branch, you may have better luck at one of the central bank locations in your city. I like to count and roll my own change, so I don’t mind so much.

  21. Buran says:

    @rdm: That’s what I do. I’m a happy BofA customer (have not had problems with them, I know some have but every company is going to have unhappy customers) and they’ve got ATMs everywhere I want to go, so far, and I can find them easily with my car’s navigation system which can locate nearby “cash machines” and even tell you what bank owns them.

    But I nearly never use cash — prefer the fraud protection of credit cards and pay them off monthly.

    If you don’t live in an area with a large national bank that serves your home area and everywhere you want to travel to, finding a bank/credit union with this policy makes sense, but personally I’d rather not have any fees to worry about reimbursement for in the first place.

  22. ucdcsteve says:

    USAA is great for that reason, and their car insurance is actually really great as well (had it since I could drive, never a single issue). Also, the insurance dividend is great. Since it’s not a for-profit bank – or at least it’s for less profit being associated with the military, they refund a pro-rated cut of the unspent insurance monies each year. Yeah, it’s only $30-40 or so, but would GEICO give you money BACK?!

    The only problem is they have zero branches, except at their headquarters in San Antonio, TX, so unless you plan on visiting the lone star state quite often, you can’t deposit cash. Only drawback, but it’s a small issue, and with your other account, you should be able to do that digitally. Welcome!

  23. savvy9999 says:

    @NewPerfection: don’t know what bank you have, but the 3 I use (2 local CUs and one regional bank) will absolutely NOT count your loose change if you are not a commercial customer. When asked, all 3 replied the same– hand you a wad of coin wrappers and tell you to come back later when it’s rolled (and your acct # written clearly on the side).

    So I rolled up the quarters and dimes (for a sweet $90 back!), but took the nickels and pennies to one of those machines at the grocery store. A whole bucketful only added up to like $14, so for a measly $1.40 ‘fee’, the machine is well worth the time saved.

  24. merkidemis says:

    Wow, with all the horror stories about WaMu being posted on this site, and it being in the running for worst company in america, I am surprised you still have an account with them.

  25. chemmy says:

    CitiBank also refunds me for up to $12 in fees from using other ATM’s.

  26. vastrightwing says:

    Save more money by keeping your hard earned money in your mattress. Your mattress:
    1) Never charges you a fee for withdrawal.
    2) Never charges inactivity fees
    3) Never charges maintenance fees
    4) Never reports your cash transactions to the government (or anyone)
    5) Won’t lose your deposits accidentally
    6) Is always soft, never rude and never blames you for being a bad customer.
    7) Is safe from phishing attacks
    8) Will never lie to you
    9) Allows you to make deposits and take withdrawals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
    10) Never charges you to speak to it
    11) Never spams you with tons of useless offers.

  27. vastrightwing says:

    Save more money by keeping it in your mattress. Your mattress:
    1) Never charges you a fee for withdrawal.
    2) Never charges inactivity fees
    3) Never charges maintenance fees
    4) Never reports your cash transactions to the government
    5) Won’t lose your deposits accidentally
    6) Is always soft, never rude and never blames you for being a bad customer.
    7) Is safe from phishing attacks
    8) Will never lie to you
    9) Allows you to make deposits and take withdrawals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
    10) Never charges you to speak to it
    11) Never spams you with tons of useless offers.

  28. MerylBurbank says:

    @qwickone: USAA’s free checking account DOES pay interest. Every month, I get about 20 bucks from my bank- checking account interest, ATM refunds, and one-half of one percent cash back on purchases I make when I use my USAA debit card as a credit.

  29. ludwigk says:

    Talk to your bank teller to get some coin rolls, and roll them up, and deposit them that way.

  30. ahdn says:

    I feel I need to throw in a little comment for my bank, Charles Schwab. I switched to them a couple months ago from Wells Fargo and haven’t looked back. They are awesome! Unlimited ATM fee rebates internationally and interest on top of it. Now, instead of having to pay Wells Fargo for every little thing ($7/month for bill pay just for starters), Schwab just GIVES me money every month. I’ve never paid them a single fee for checks, transactions, etc. Customer service has always exceeded expectations, as well!

  31. forgottenpassword says:

    Not really making any changes to my finance system. I already have it optimized for maximum saving ability & convenience.

    Since I basically use a cash-back rewards credit card for just about all cash transactions…I find I rarely need to stop by an ATM for cash & IF I ever do I will only do it at one of my bank’s atm locations, but I keep a 20 in my wallet just in case.

    Btw…. I dont like debit cards as they often dont offer the same protections credit cards do. ANd besides….if something DOES happen its the credit card’s money it happens to….NOT MY money in my bank account.

  32. PirateSmurf says:

    @vastrightwing: And the Mattress is the first place a theif will look for loot and cash.
    If you are going to stash your booty in your house create a secret area that isnt easily found. I also recommend a fire proof box. After all fire doesnt discriminate.

  33. ideagirl says:

    @themidget: Where I live the coin counting machines give you the option of cash minus the fee, or a fee-free amazon egift certificate. I use the change to fund my Amazon account for no fee. Although it is silly, it feels like I am getting free stuff : )

  34. Beerad says:

    @NewPerfection: @themidget: @ludwigk:
    That’s why Commerce Bank is really the best bank ever. Free coin counting machines (charmingly called the “Penny Arcade”). Admittedly, this doesn’t help unless you live in their area (Eastern PA/NJ/NYC IIRC). I closed my account there because when I moved there wasn’t a location close to my new home, but I miss the great hours and good customer service I got there.

  35. That70sHeidi says:

    Hmmmm. I don’t carry literal cash because of the ick factor… Dirty money and all that. That actually has cut down on any impulse buys at vending machines (especially at work!) so hey, a little saved. I check my bank balance quite a bit so “knowing what I’m spending” isn’t an issue. Also, a quick call to the automated acct info on a cell phone would give you that anyway, in case of emergencies. Or new stand mixer envy.

    PNC has a free coin counter (for customers or non, you get a receipt to take to the tellers) but they put it in a bad spot – enclosed in a smallish glass room. Talk about LOUD.

    As for changes to my personal finance system, I’ve closed all bank accts I don’t need. At one point I had five, due to location and company paychecks. Now I’m down to two and hoping to get to one shortly!

  36. GhettoGodfather says:

    No need to make changes to my finances… already have USAA, The best there is. Make sure you have access to that Deposit@Home (the scan your checks in to deposit deal) also. You should only need your WaMu account to deposit cash that you can ACH in to your USAA account (with immediate availability).

  37. @ucdcsteve: I had to deposit a wad of cash into my USAA account and they told me to convert it to multiple USPS money orders (max $1000 ea) then mail those in. Worked fine.

    I can’t say enough good things about USAA (except that their online trading platform sucks, but it’s not geared to active investors anyway). I used a BofA ATM over the weekend and was startled at the $3 fee for a sec but went “WTF, I’ll get it back” and took the cash.

    Also, while you must meet specific affiliation requirements for their insurance, pretty much anyone can use USAA banking services.

  38. Landru says:

    Speaking of WAMU, and maybe this is a topic for another posting, but should consumers care if WAMU is tanking?


  39. yes they should (wamu). I finally got my mom out of there last month and back to USAA.

  40. forgottenpassword says:


    The commerce bank chain (located in the midwest) also offers free coin counting services.

    A while back I read about a coinstar machine hack that allowed you to get your change counted without their % fee. Involved unplugging the phone line to the machine & picking some other form of payment. The machine attempts to call , but cant so it gives you your full amount back. [www.antiyawn.com]

  41. mdkiff says:

    @savvy9999: Chevy Chase Bank has a coin machine that has no fee – and you don’t have to be a customer. When you go to the teller to cash your receipt they will ask if you want to open an account – I say “No” and they couldn’t care less. Great deal.

  42. Buran says:

    @vastrightwing: … and never double-posts, but does get stolen by dishonest big-box home-improvement store installers.

  43. sabrinad says:

    I haven’t used my debit card, outside of emergencies, for … six, eight months? I started going to the bank and withdrawing cash in person. You get better at managing your funds when this is all the lunch money you get until the end of the month. :) Plus, no ATM fees ever, and my bankers all know me by name!

    Tiny local bank <3 4evr!

  44. BeFrugalNotCheap says:

    My view of USAA is sort of tainted since 2004 and an incident between them and I. But the one thing that keeps my checking account open is the “no fee” ATM card.

  45. alejo699 says:

    I don’t understand how taking out cash makes you spend less. If you are planning to purchase something you’ll always take out more cash than you need, then end up spending that cash on some impulse item. With a debit card I’ve never got “hot money” in my pocket.
    Plus, not carrying cash where I live (Seattle) means I don’t have to feel bad for not giving any to the panhandlers. I’m all about the “cashless society.”

  46. PeteyNice says:

    @geeniusatwrok: “pretty much anyone”? Not even close. Only a small percentage of people meet their requirements.

    I second Schwab. Excellent customer service. Unlimited ATM refunds, postage paid deposit envelopes, interest on your money (Currently 3% not great but better than 0%). And it is available to anyone. Like USAA they only have one branch (In Reno, NV) but the unlimited ATM refunds and postage paid envelopes take the sting out of that.

    As for WaMu. Unless you have more than $100k in accounts there I wouldn’t be too concerned. Either they will be bought up by another bank or, worst case, the FDIC will back you up.

  47. Nodren says:

    with usaa’s new deposit@home feature, i really dont see the need for a brick and mortor bank. i can scan and deposit a check and have full access to the funds immediately. So why keep two accounts? WaMu just seems like overkill.

  48. Vanvi says:

    I don’t have an account with them, but I heard that the eTrade checking account refunds ATM fees and gives you interest.

  49. Michael Belisle says:

    @Landru: No, but investors should Buy! Buy! Buy! It’s down to 33¢ per dollar of equity! It’s like an everything-must-go sale!*

    *Information is provided ‘as is’ and solely for informational purposes, not for trading purposes or advice, and may be delayed.

  50. skittlbrau says:

    @ahdn: I bank with Schwab too – I have had nothing but good experiences with them. Their customer service is exemplary and can resolve problems on their own *gasp*

  51. yourbffjill says:

    @Vanvi: I have that account and it is outstanding. Unlimited ATM refunds, and they are almost always refunded immediately (end of day at the latest).

    There are limitations on it though, you have to have at least 5k in your checking to get the high interest rate, and I believe you need either 5k in your checking or 50k in all of your accounts (brokerage included) to get unlimited ATM refunds. Don’t quote me, check the fine print. For what it’s worth, the max-rate checking interest rate has not been dropping nearly as quickly as the savings rate.

    Anyway I think it’s a real time saver to have your checking, savings, and brokerage accounts in the same place, and it’s definitely a bonus that I can always get to my money regardless of where I am (my city does not share any banks with my hometown, so I always found myself travelling with entirely too much cash on me). But I don’t fault people who keep accounts at several different banks for the sake of maximizing their interest rates, this just makes things so easy for me.

  52. burgundyyears says:

    @geeniusatwrok: That is no longer true. You now must meet USAA’s traditional requirements for membership now to use the banking services as well. The exception to that is if you live in Bexar County, Texas, where the single branch is based.

  53. vision646 says:

    There is a much easier way, don’t use cash. Problem solved you’ll never pay atm fees ever again.

  54. halajenn says:

    @burgundyyears: ok, kinda true. I live in Bexar County (San Antonio) and I had to qualify just like everyone else. (Through my Dad who retired from the Army like 30 years ago – not sure how he qualified…) I started with my car insurance and have been so happy with them that I pretty much use them exclusively for banking/insurance/credit card.

    And by the way, the USAA campus is massive and so heavily guarded you’d better be sure you know EXACTLY where you’re going if you want to make a deposit in person. It’s a very scary place. :)

  55. SeraSera says:

    I don’t withdraw large amounts of money, so I just withdraw from Trader Joe’s and CVS.

  56. gingerCE says:

    With USAA how do you make deposits that are not direct deposits? At any atm? That would be really good.

  57. Michael Belisle says:

    @gingerCE: With a scanner. Or by mail. Not in any ATMs that I know of.

  58. rpm773 says:

    I’ve been thinking about signing up for a Schwab account, which offers reimbursement for any incurred ATM fees. The question I have is this:

    If enough people go this route, why doesn’t Bank of America just up its fee charged to nonmembers to something like $10/transaction? It would provide BoA with sorely needed cash while zinging a competitor. And if the fees charged to someone like Schwab become to high, Schwab will either just end the program or significantly limit the amount it’s willing to reimburse each month.

    That’s why I’m hesitant. I think this ATM fee reimbursement, while great, is only temporary.

  59. burgundyyears says:

    @halajenn: Yeah, you have to meet their usual membership requirements regardless of where you live for the insurance products, but (in theory) at least you would be allowed to use the USAA Bank just by showing you’re a resident, regardless of your military affiliation.

  60. sleze69 says:

    PNC bank (and probably many other banks) offers unlimited reimbursement for their checking accounts IF you maintain a $2500 balance. While to some that may seem silly BUT if you have a bit of savings AND you use lots of different ATMs there is a compelling reason to keep that balance in your 0% interest checking account:

    At the highest interest rates of last year, $2500 will yield $10 a month in interest. Use a foreign ATM 5 times a month and you have matched that. Use it more and it pays to lose the interest and get the fees reimbursed.

    That’s at 5% interest. Now with interest rates in the toilet, it makes even more sense to have a checking account that reimburses fees.

  61. consumingall says:

    Compass Bank in Arizona, Colorado, and a few southeastern states also refunds all ATM fees. There’s no limit, but you do have to bring/send in your receipts. It’s the main reason I switched my accounts to them several years ago, I think ATM fees are one of the biggest ripoffs out there.

  62. xamarshahx says:

    @NewPerfection: Commerce’s coin counting is free.

  63. medalian1 says:

    My Charles Schwab High yield checking earns me 3.01% variable APY and I never pay ATM withdraw fees at any ATM in the world (no cap of $15 either). Just go to their website ([www.schwab.com]) and click on the link on the front page.

  64. hannahlin says:

    My bank has world-wide completely free ATMs. I’m charged “out of network” ATM fees but they are credited back to my account within 24 hours. No monthly limits.
    Love it!
    I think I’m one of the few people who are happy with their bank. I don’t pay fees for any of my accounts & when I call customer service (which I just did today due to this Hannaford Supermarkets security thing) I get a real live helpful person who answers on the first ring!
    Bangor Savings Bank in Maine

  65. youbastid says:

    @medalian1: This is verrrry interesting and new to me – how long does it take them to reimburse you? Is it instant, monthly, bi-monthly?

  66. PeteyNice says:

    In my, granted limited, experience they add up all your ATM fees and credit you back at the end of your statement period. It works well, I have yet to have any problems with them crediting me.

  67. ahdn says:

    @youbastid: Yep, Schwab is monthly. On the last day of each month, you will see two deposit transactions: one is your ATM fee rebate and the other is your interest. My ATM fees have always been accurate. As for depositing, (someone brought this up about USAA), Schwab provides pre-addressed, postage-paid envelopes to mail your checks in. And, if you ever run out, just call them up and they’ll happily send you several more stacks.

  68. northernplateguy says:

    @AD8BC: USAA refunds ATM fees automaticly. No need to muss or fuss with mailing in receipts.

  69. hannahlin says:

    My bank credits ATM fees within 24 hours- not monthly.

  70. 51tiggy says:

    Digital Federal Credit Union refunds ATM fees, among their many other great services,
    Happy customer for 30 years.
    No restrictions to join as opposed to USAA.

  71. RumorsDaily says:

    Please post positive things about organizations I’d actually be able to become a member of. Thank you.