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How to bypass ATM fees while you're on the road

Some banks will credit customers' accounts for any

Some banks will credit customers' accounts for any fees that are charged by ATM owners. Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto

If you find yourself short on cash while on vacation, you might hit up the nearest ATM. But if that handy machine is not in your bank's network, you could get a double whammy of fees: The ATM owner will probably charge a few dollars for the convenience, and your own bank may tack on an extra $2.50 or so.

But with some thought, you can avoid paying ATM surcharges. Here's how to get cash without added expense on your next trip.

ATM fee reimbursement

Some banks will credit customers' accounts for any fees that are charged by ATM owners. Depending on the bank and account, refunds may be unlimited or they could be capped at around $10 per statement cycle.

Even capped reimbursements would cover a few trips to the cash machine while on vacation, so if you think you'll be hit with multiple ATM charges, consider opening an account at a bank that refunds fees. Note that if you're traveling overseas and need funds, you may still incur foreign transaction fees.

Free cash back

If you use a debit card for purchases while on your trip, look for merchants such as supermarkets or drugstores that offer free cash back with purchases. This is an easy way to skip the ATM, though it does mean you'll have to make a purchase. But if you were doing that anyway, it means no extra costs.

Two things to consider: It's likely the merchant's cash back limit is lower than an ATM's —  you may be able to withdraw up to $500 from a cash machine, but as little as $40 from a retailer — and some merchants charge a fee of a dollar or so for the convenience. Before you tap the "cash back" button in the checkout line, ask if there's a fee.

Join a large ATM network 

For customers who travel within the United States, a bank or credit union account that has access to thousands of domestic ATMs is another good option.

Many small credit unions and online banks are part of cooperative networks, such as Allpoint and Co-op, that provide access to 30,000 or more member ATMs within the United States.

In addition, some banks have relationships with convenience stores or other retailers that have ATMs on site. So a cash machine might be inside a gas station, even if no bank branch is nearby. Check your institution's website or mobile app to locate nearby in-network ATMs.

Do you really need to hit the ATM?

You may not need much cash. If you want a snack from a hotel vending machine or to pay for a parking spot, see if you can use a credit or debit card.

If you want to split a restaurant check with a companion, put the total on your or your companion's plastic and using Venmo or another peer-to-peer payment app to settle up. It's a way to pay your share without having to dig up dollar bills.


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