Do You Really Need a Large ATM Network?


ATM surcharges add up over time. To avoid this expense, many consumers think they need to choose a bank account connected to a large ATM network, and typically, that means choosing a big bank with ATMs all over the country. However, it may not be necessary. You can avoid these surcharges without a large ATM network. Here’s what you need to consider.


1. Even the Big Banks Don’t Have a Presence in Every State

If you open an account at a big bank, you may assume that you can easily access branded ATMs all over the country, but that is not the case. For instance, Chase, the largest bank in the country, has thousands of ATMs but they are only in about half the states. If you open an account in Massachusetts, for example, you won’t be able to find any Chase ATMs next door in New Hampshire. As you compare banking options, it’s important to remember that you don’t necessarily get an all-encompassing ATM network, even if you choose an extremely large bank.


2. Branded ATMs Aren’t the Only Option

To get the benefits of a large ATM network, you don’t necessarily need to choose a bank that has its own ATMs around the country. Instead, you can open an account at a financial institution that is part of a large ATM network. For instance, the SUM-ATM Network works with financial institutions around the country.


The network exists in almost every state, with the exception of some less populated areas such as Arkansas, Montana, and New Mexico. When you open an account at one of the participating banks, you can use ATMs all over the country without incurring any surcharges. Arguably, that’s even more convenient than choosing a larger bank that doesn’t have ATMs everywhere.


3. There Are Alternatives to ATMs

For many people, it seems like just yesterday that banks were encouraging people to use ATMs. If you deposited your paycheck in an ATM instead of going to a teller, for example, many banks offered a small cash reward. Incentives like that helped to convince consumers to make the jump from tellers to ATM machines. Now, a mere 20 to 25 years later, the industry is moving away from ATMs and toward mobile banking.


With a banking app, you can deposit paychecks and check your balance. As long as you have a smartphone, you don’t need an ATM for those functions any more. You can also take care of a lot of things such as paying bills or making transfers that you couldn’t do with an ATM, and mobile banking isn’t the only ATM alternative.


Some people use debit cards or mobile payment apps almost exclusively, and they hardly ever carry cash. Others get cash back when they buy items from merchants. Or, they take out all the cash they need for the week when they deposit their paycheck at a bank branch. Ultimately, when deciding if you need a large ATM network, you should look at your financial habits and assess your ATM usage. You may decide that you simply aren’t worried about having access to a large number of ATMs.


5. Some Banks Offer ATM Surcharge Reimbursements

If you use ATMs frequently, there are ways to avoid paying surcharges, even if you don’t choose a bank with a large network of ATM machines. Some banks offer reimbursements for ATM surcharges up to a certain amount. Often, the value of the reimbursements vary based on the type of account you open.


For instance, some banks may waive $10 of surcharges every month with certain accounts. However, if you opt to open the next level of account, you may receive unlimited reimbursements for ATM fees. Typically, to access personal checking accounts with these types of benefits, you need to meet certain criteria such as having a significant car loan or mortgage with the bank, setting up direct deposit, or maintaining e-statements. As you compare different accounts, talk with a personal banker about the features and requirements offered by each of the possible accounts.


Keep in mind these reimbursements tend to apply to surcharges assessed by other banks. In some cases, consumers end up paying double surcharges. They pay a surcharge to the bank or business that owns the ATM and they also pay an additional surcharge from their own bank for using an out-of-network ATM. To avoid the stacking of surcharges, look for a bank that doesn’t assess surcharges for using out-of-network ATMs.


At Blue Hills Bank, we offer the best of both worlds. With all of our checking accounts including our free checking account, you get access to the SUM network of ATMs. With certain accounts, you can also get ATM surcharges reimbursed. On top of that, you get the personal touch and customer service you expect from a community bank.