Ten ways to save on ATM fees

It’s not exactly a huge surprise that the banks are gouging us all blind with ATM fees, but the figure of $600m has outraged everybody in the media today. And that figure will certainly make me think twice before using a non-bank ATM. Although I still will, because I’ll be at a pub, and the idea of paying $1.50 to get more cash will seem like a small price to pay next to the amount I’m about to dump on the pokies.

Actually, I don’t mind paying for those little ‘convenience’ ATMs. The shopkeeper deserves to earn a bit of coin for providing the service. And how can we be mad at an ATM when it’s soooo cute?
What infuriates me is the inter-bank ATM fee, when you get slugged for using a Westpac ATM when you’re with the NAB, and so on. When I was a kid, there were no fees for using another bank’s ATM. They had competing networks – anyone remember Cashcard Tellers? – so you could use CBA cards in Westpac, but not at St George. And so on.
I’ve seen the figure that it costs banks $1 a time to process other banks’ ATM fees, and it’s been commented that charging consumers $2 for that service is exorbitant. And so it is. But what I want to take issue with is the $1. According to the article quoted earlier, Westpac said that “There are significant costs when a customer uses a non-Westpac ATM.” Bollocks. You can’t tell me that in this era of high-speed interconnected networks, it costs $1 for one computer to ask another whether a bank account has any money in it. Technically, it’s about as complicated as checking your email – it’s just one server polling another and getting a reply. And it doesn’t cost $1 a time to use internet banking, which is surely a more complicated transaction. And if swiping a card and withdrawing funds did really cost a dollar, the EFTPOS network would be costing retailers an absolute fortune. It’s just profiteering, nothing more. And we shouldn’t stand for it.
So here are ten ways to beat ATM fees. Please add your own.

  • Use cash out on EFTPOS. Buy the pissiest, cheapest thing you can at Woolies, like a single box of matches or something, and then get $100 cash out at the same time. There may be queueing involved, but think of the money you’ll save. And as an added bonus, it’ll infuriate both the cashier and everyone else queueing.
  • Don’t pay cash – put everything on a credit card. You’ll pay it off faithfully each month. Sure you will. And you’ll have to eat at more expensive places that take credit cards. But that’s okay. Once you’ve maxed out your card, you can just get another one. Banks are unscrupulous, so you’re sure to find another one with a fantastic limited-time low-interest offer.
  • Hoard your cash in a shoebox under your bed. There’s a chance of being robbed. But that’s better than using banks, when you’re guaranteed to be robbed.
  • Move next door to a branch of your bank. This can be costly and inconvenient to do, and given the number of branches closing these days, you’ll probably end up living on George St. But at least you’ll be able to withdraw all the cash you need every morning. Until you run out of your pitifully small number of fee-free transactions, and end up paying anyway.
  • Have no money. I’ve tested this one in the past, and it works well. With no money in your account, there is nothing to withdraw. Goodbye, withdrawal fees.
  • Use a passbook like an old person. Again, there’s a lot of queuing, and probably a whole lot of other fees. But at least those fees won’t technically be ATM fees. So at least you’ll have won on principle.
  • Rob a bank. That way, even if the bank manager charges you $2 to withdraw all the money from the safe after you hold a gun to their head, you’ll come out ahead. But if you choose to rob your own bank, don’t show the manager your ATM card and say that this should count as one of your five monthly fee-free transactions.
  • Alternatively – ram raid an ATM. They can’t charge you $2 when they’re disconnected from their networks, and you’re making a withdrawal with a hacksaw.
  • Buy a few banks. Many commentators have noted that the Australian banking sector has scope for further consolidation. If you buy three or four banks and combine them, then there will be four times as many ‘home’ ATMs you can use. This technique is also known as the ‘1 pillar’ approach.
  • Opt out of the whole cash-based economy. If you deal exclusively in bartered transactions, the banks will get nothing. Note that this may work better for those conducting primitive, predominantly agrarian lifestyles.
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