Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Going Up: Banks Adding ATM Surcharge

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Going Up: Banks Adding ATM Surcharge

Article excerpt

Until two months ago, Marisa Gonzalez visited a bank automatic teller machine two or three times a week.

The marketing manager at a Miami steamship company banks at a small credit union that doesn't have ATMs. She liked the convenient ATMs at Barnett Banks or SunTrust Banks, until they levied a $1 surcharge on ATM transactions by non-customers.

Now, Gonzalez goes just once a week to an ATM at her neighborhood supermarket and makes cash withdrawals stretch. "They put a sign up saying they wouldn't charge," Gonzalez said. "Now I make it a point to go there."

For consumers like Gonzalez, ATM fees have risen from an irritant to major gripe since April 1, when the two largest ATM networks lifted a ban on surcharges to non-customers.

Surcharges are extra fees, on top of fees already charged, that any bank can now levy on transactions done with ATM cards not issued by that bank. Most range from 50 cents to $2, with some as high as $10

For years, Visa Inc.'s Plus system and MasterCard International's Cirrus network had banned surcharges. But 15 states - most with high tourist volume - voted to bypass the national rule. And since 1989, Visa was in and out of court defending bank challenges to the ban.

Finally, bowing to aggressive lobbying by banks, Plus and Cirrus removed the restriction. As a result, banks are gearing up to expand their ATM systems, and many are eyeing new ATM fees, including surcharges.

Consumer groups are fighting back. "It's simply double-dipping. It's a form of profiteering," charged Ed Mierzwinski, a consumer advocate at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Legislators have jumped at the chance to fight higher ATM fees. New York's Alfonse D'Amato, the powerful Republican chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and U.S. Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., have introduced bills that would ban the surcharge. …

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