Automated Teller Machines:

Banks Reported That Use of Surcharge Fees Has Increased

T-GGD-97-123: Published: Jun 11, 1997. Publicly Released: Jun 11, 1997.

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GAO discussed the results of its study on the use of surcharge fees for automated teller machines (ATMs), focusing on the: (1) number of banks that operate ATMs; and (2) number of these banks that surcharge non-account holders and the amounts of surcharges that are assessed.

GAO noted that: (1) banks have access to ATM networks that link their respective ATM and computer systems so that depositors from any member of the network can access their respective accounts through any network bank's ATM; (2) there are fees associated with using ATMs; (3) one type of fee is the surcharge fee that ATM owners may charge ATM users who do not have accounts with them; (4) in assessing these fees, ATM owners generally charge users' banks, which pay the fees and then charge them directly to the users' accounts; (5) GAO conducted a projectable survey of 246 randomly selected banks throughout the United States to determine the number of banks that operate ATMs, the number of these banks that surcharge non-account holders, and the amounts of surcharges that are assessed; (6) as of February 1, 1997, about three-fourths of all banks in the United States operated ATMs; (7) as of that date banks operated about 119,000 ATMs, an increase of 34 percent over the 89,000 ATMs operated at the end of 1995; (8) about one-third of the banks that operated ATMs reported that they imposed surcharges on non-account holders who used their machines; (9) more of the large banks than smaller banks reported surcharging, and a greater percentage of the large banks reported that they began surcharging during the past year; (10) actual surcharge fees tend to occur in 50-cent increments, e.g., $1.00, $1.50, $2.00; (11) the average surcharge fee for all ATMs operated by banks, including those with no surcharge fees, had more than tripled since the end of 1995, from $0.17 to $0.62 in 1997; and (12) the average reported surcharge fee for those ATMs with surcharges was $1.14 in 1997, the most commonly reported actual surcharge fee was $1.00.

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