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How To Use an ATM

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There are a lot of ways to make payments, so you may not even remember the last time you actually counted out tens and twenties, let alone ambled up to one of the thousands and thousands of ATMs sprinkled across the US. 

If this feels familiar, you may wonder why even bother writing – or reading – about how to use an ATM, right?

Well, cash-only businesses (they exist!) are one pretty good reason. And, seriously, there could be times you may just want to use cash. When you use an ATM, you don’t have to worry about trekking into a bank before the counters close. 

So break out some pre-2020 music, find your PIN and settle in, because this quick “how to use an ATM” guide could be just what you need. 

How to use an ATM

Before going to an ATM – that’s automatic teller machine in case you’re wondering – you need: 

  • A debit card, a credit card or cardless ATM access 
  • A PIN number, aka a Personal Identification Number (probably needed) 

Got this covered? Let’s go to next steps.

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Step 1: Find an ATM

ATMs can be just about anywhere, including banks, gas stations, stores, shopping malls, and very importantly, places that are open 24/7. To find one, use your bank’s website or app, or use a search term like “ATM Finder.” 

Keep in mind that you’ll be handling money and may have your wallet open or your phone out, so personal safety is really important when choosing an ATM. When you get there, consider electronic security too (like looking out for card skimmers) to help keep your account information safe.

Using debit and credit cards at ATMs

A card is a card right? Not really, because even though you can withdraw money at an ATM with debit and credit cards, the transactions aren’t the same. In fact, the difference could determine how much your ATM trip could cost. 

Here’s what’s going on with each type of card: 

  • When you use a debit card at an ATM to withdraw cash, money is pulled from the bank account that’s linked to that card. If you’re using a prepaid debit card at an ATM, it will draw down the card’s balance (so make sure there’s money on it). In both cases, you’re withdrawing money from a funded account.  
  • When you use a credit card at an ATM, you’re not withdrawing money from a funded account — you’re getting a cash advance. In finance terms, this means an extension of credit in the form of cash, so you can expect to pay interest on the money you borrowed. Interest on the cash advance may start accumulating the day you withdraw the money and be higher than what you’d see for purchases. Your bank may even add a service charge in addition to interest. 

How much does it cost to use an ATM?

Paying to withdraw your own cash could seem a little odd, but depending on the ATM you use and your bank, you could rack up costs for using an ATM. 

Using your bank’s ATM could be your safest bet for a fee-free transaction. The second-best option in terms of fees would probably be tapping into a network of non-bank ATMs your bank’s connected to. 

Stepping outside of your bank’s ATM network is when costs could start to stack up: You could be charged a fee by the non-affiliated ATM and your own bank. Your bank may refund some out-of-network fees, so get to know your bank’s rules before hitting up the closest cash machine. 

Oh, and if you’re travelling abroad, you may want to see how your bank handles foreign transaction fees. These could include a percentage of what you’re withdrawing plus a fee for using an international ATM. These could be in addition to any fees the ATM’s operator charges. 

Step 2: Access your account

Here’s how to make a withdrawal using an ATM with a debit or credit card:  

  • If you’re using a card, you’ll need to dip your card into the machine or leave the card in the machine until the transaction’s over. After that step you will enter your PIN.
  • If you’re going cardless, you could unlock your account with a PIN number you get from your bank’s app, a QR code or mobile wallet. 

Then choose your transaction type. These could include withdrawal, deposit and checking your balance. If you’re getting cash out, enter how much you’d like to withdraw. Otherwise, follow the deposit or balance-checking prompts. 

Step 3: End the transaction

Important: Don’t walk away right after grabbing your money or making your deposit! Among other things, you want to make sure you exit your account so no one else can use it.  

There could still be a few things to do before you’re prompted to exit: 

  • You may be asked if there’s more stuff you want to do at the ATM before closing out the session.
  • You may have to follow prompts to let the ATM know you’re ready to leave.

When the ATM says you’re done, grab your card and receipt (if you requested one) and put them in a secure pocket. Some will let you email a receipt to yourself, too. Check and make sure the screen no longer offers account access and maybe take another look around for safety and exit.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.