Paying Big For Your Own Money

A new government report reveals what many consumers already know: It's costing more and more to withdraw money from bank automatic teller machines. And many bank customers believe these ATM fees are excessive.

But, CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston reports, banks, for the most part, continue to have their way, resulting in transaction fees that have topped four dollars in at least two cities.

In the past five years, the nation's bankers say they've spent millions to double the number of ATM's. The banks say it's a costly customer convenience. But consumer advocates accuse banks of using high ATM fees to boost their bottom line.

"Banks have a three-part strategy to gouge consumers," charges Edward Mierzwinski of the U.S. Public Interest research group. "They're raising existing fees, inventing new fees and making it harder to avoid fees."

And in Chicago for example, ATM fees can add up to a breathtaking $4.50.

"So, if you do it ten times over the course of a month, you're talking about $45 just to walk away with your own cash," notes Gail Siegel of the Chicago Coalition for Consumer Rights.

It's called a double whammy— the combination in which consumers pay their own bank a fee, plus a surcharge for using a different bank's ATM.

Here's a worst-case scenario: In Chicago, LaSalle Bank charges its customers $2.50 for using a St. Paul Federal Bank ATM. Then, St. Paul tacks on a separate fee of $2, for a total of $4.50.

While the amount varies from state to state, the trend is clear. A Federal Reserve Board analysis out this month shows that from 1994 to 99, ATM fees "substantially exceeded the inflation rate" and the number of banks imposing ATM surcharges "increased dramatically".

In 1999, the average "double whammy" varied widely in cities across the country:

  • Houston: $4.02.
  • Denver: $2.65.
  • Los Angeles: $2.51.
  • New York: $2.10.

    Banks admit to trying to make a profit. Consumers, they say, have a choice. "It's too easy to vote with your feet, maybe walk an extra block to your own ATM and avoid the fee," says Fritz Elmendorf of the Consumer Bankers' Association.

    But efforts by legislators in several states to vote down surcharges have failed so far, leaving banks free to do what they do best— make more money.