The first thing to remember when using an ATM is to be safe. That machine has direct access to your bank account, and you might have a lot of cash on hand immediately before or after you use the ATM. For those reasons, thieves target ATMs (and people using them). Be aware of your surroundings, and don't use an ATM if anything looks suspicious. For more tips on how to use an ATM safely, see 7 Tips for ATM Safety.
When in doubt, just walk away and find a different ATM. There's no need to put yourself in harm's way when there are a million other ATMs out there.
The Card Reader
Once you've determined that an ATM is safe to use, insert your card into the card reader. There should be an image of a card showing you exactly how the card goes in; look for the black magnetic stripe for guidance, or possibly an image showing how your name and card number should be lined up.
In some cases, you'll insert the card completely into the ATM, and the machine will hold onto it until your transaction is complete. Other machines allow you to just "dip" your card quickly so that you can get it back in your wallet as soon as possible. If the machine holds onto your card, make sure to get the card back before leaving the machine.
Choose a Transaction
- Withdrawals are the most common way to use an ATM - you simply get cash out of your account. For a withdrawal, you'll just indicate how much you want to take out (usually in increments of $20, but some ATMs allow you to take out smaller bills).
- Deposits are also growing in popularity ATMs. You can deposit cash and checks if your bank (and the particular ATM you're at) allow it. However, there are sometimes glitches, so you should strongly consider making deposits with your mobile device as an alternative.
- Balance inquiries simply show you how much you have. This might be helpful if you need to know how much you can spend with your debit card.
- Transfers and payments might also be available, depending on your bank. This option allows you to use the money in one of your accounts (without taking cash out).
Fees, Fees, Fees
If you're using an ATM that is not affiliated with your bank, you'll most likely have to pay a fee. ATMs display these fees, and they give you an opportunity to back out of the transaction if you don't want to pay the fee. However, the ATM only shows the fee from the ATM side of things – your bank might also charge additional fees that you'll find out about later.
To avoid fees, it's always best to use an ATM that is owned by or affiliated with your bank. Many credit unions also participate in shared branching, which might help you avoid fees. For more ideas on avoiding charges, see Where to find Free ATMs.
Receipt?ATMs can print receipts for you if you want a written record of your transaction. However, in most cases receipts are unnecessary – all they do is take extra time and make it possible for somebody else to see your account information (the amount you withdrew, or how much cash you have in your account, for example). Now, there are times when you should certainly take your receipt: if you do something especially important, or if you make deposits at an ATM, keeping your receipt is a good idea.
That said, it's not a good idea to dilly-dally at the ATM. Get your cash in your wallet quickly (without holding it in plain view for everybody to see how much you have), and make sure you have retrieved your card from the ATM. If your card was inside the machine, you'll want to grab it as soon as the machine spits it out – if you're too slow, the machine will suck it back in, and you'll be without your card for a while.
If anything strange happens while you use an ATM, contact your bank immediately. For example, if the machine keeps your card for any reason, call your bank. It's possible that the ATM was tampered with and that fees will be coming to collect the day’s haul of cards later.