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State ATMs rank No. 2 in fees

April 2, 2001

Heidi Wenger is sick of paying high fees to get her money out of the bank.

“Banks usually charge outrageous fees,” said the finance graduate student, who withdraws money using ATMs nearly every day. “I usually pay about $2, but I use them because of the convenience.”

Wenger isn’t alone in her distaste for ATM fees.

Michigan has the second-highest ATM fees in the nation, according to a survey of 14 state banks by the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan. And the group is urging state bankers to do something to change that.

Research group spokeswoman Megan Owens said many banks charge noncustomers more in fees than it costs them to make a transaction.

“Banks are doing this because they can get away with it,” she said. “Consumers need to pay attention to the fees they are charged - a lot of them don’t know how quickly it adds up.”

Accounting Professor Harold Sollenberger agrees that consumers, especially students, need to be aware of ATM fees.

“ATM fees are high,” he said. “But that is a national problem.”

But Sollenberger said the group’s report could be unreliable, depending on whether credit unions were part of the survey with national banks.

Credit unions are typically owned by members, not stockholders, and charge lower fees for most services, including ATMs, Sollenberger said.

“Students need to shop around,” he said. “The more informed a consumer is, the more competitive the fees will be.

“The consumer is a sucker for falling into the ATM fee trap.”

Most banks only charge noncustomers for the convenience of using their ATMs.

Robert Darmanin, director of corporate relations for Michigan National Bank, said his bank charges noncustomers $3.25 to use its ATMs. He said $1.75 goes to the bank, while the other $1.50 goes to the ATM user’s bank to pay for the transaction.

“ATMs are very expensive to maintain and purchase,” he said. “We think it is a fair fee because they offer a convenience that the customers appreciate.”

And although activist groups such as the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan hope consumers will fight high ATM charges, customers such as Wenger feel most ATM users don’t care enough to boycott banks with high charges.

“People might start to fight (the fees) because they have gone up so much in the last year,” she said. “But I think a lot of people like the convenience and students go and grab money from the closest ATM machine on the way to class.”

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