Learn About the Risks of Depositing Money at ATMs

This illustration describes safety tips for ATM deposits including "Choose safe ATM locations, like machines inside branches and safe neighborhoods," "Prepare your deposit ahead of time so you're not fumbling with cash at the machine," "Try a mobile deposit using your smartphone," and "If you're concerned about your deposit," go inside a branch and work directly with a teller."

Marina Li @ The Balance 

Deposits at ATMs can be convenient, and they typically work well. However, you may experience problems or have doubts about depositing money at ATMs. Are they safe? Do they have special rules? It’s best to understand some of the pitfalls of ATM deposits so you can avoid unpleasant surprises.

The Safety of ATMs for Deposits

In most cases, your deposits should be successful and error-free. But consider the consequences of an error. Especially when you’re making a large, important deposit—or if you’re in danger of bouncing checks—an ATM might not be your best choice. From time to time, there will be errors. You might not experience any problems in your lifetime, and your bank can resolve most issues without causing additional complications. Still, you're dealing with a machine that may make a mistake.

There are plenty of horror stories out there about failed ATM deposits. For example, money could vanish immediately after going into the slot, or maybe there’s no record made of the deposit. If your deposit is significant, go inside a branch, and work directly with a teller.

No matter what you’re doing at an ATM, it’s always smart to follow some basic ATM security practices.

Choose Safe Locations

ATMs inside bank branches, safe neighborhoods, and areas with security personnel are a good start for safe ATM deposits.

Prepare In Advance

Organize your deposit, so you’re not fumbling with cash before putting it into the ATM. If you need to use a deposit slip, fill one out before you head to the ATM.

If errors happen, the ATM operator will need to review the transaction, any security footage, or the internal workings of the machine (including any jammed bills), and report back to your bank. In many cases, the ATM operator is a separate organization—not your bank. Even if the ATM is located in a bank branch, the employees inside probably cannot open up the machine.

Use Your Bank’s Deposit ATM

You might only be able to make deposits at ATMs owned by your bank, but your bank may belong to a network that allows you to deposit funds with an ATM in the network. Still, it’s best to use your bank’s ATM.

If you use a deposit ATM from another bank (within the network), your funds might not show up in your account as quickly as they would if you had used your bank. That's fine if you've got sufficient funds in your account, but it can cause overdrafts, fees, and other problems if you don't.

Funds Available After Your Deposit

Your bank has policies that spell out when funds are available. For deposit ATMs, the rules might be different, so call your bank, and check the funds-availability policy for details. You can typically expect to have $200 or so available from a check deposit quickly, with the rest on hold and available in several business days.

However, your funds might be available more slowly when you deposit at an ATM. Completing the deposit in person with a bank employee should result in getting your money faster sooner. But remember that you’re responsible for any deposits you make.

If a check bounces or comes back as a fake, you’ll need to replace any money that your bank lets you spend or withdraw.

Alternatives to ATM Deposits

Mobile Deposit

If your bank allows it, you might be able to deposit checks using a mobile device, computer, or scanner. That approach can help you avoid most of the pitfalls discussed above, and you won't even have to leave your house. It might even be worth opening an account at an online bank that offers those services to get the benefits of remote-deposit technology.

Direct Deposit

If you’re constantly depositing paychecks, it may be best to sign up for direct deposit. Doing so will result in funds going directly to your account electronically, and there’s typically no fee for using that service. Ask your employer how to sign up.

Shared Branching

If you use a credit union, you may be able to use branches of thousands of different credit unions nationwide through shared branching. Find out whether your credit union participates. If so, you can deposit funds with a teller—in person or at a drive-through—at times and locations that are convenient for you.

In some cases, you'll just have to go inside your bank and deposit with a teller.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are ATMs always open?

ATMs are usually left on through the night. If the ATM is somewhere like a street corner that you can access all night, then you can probably make a deposit or withdrawal all night, as well.

Do ATMs take coins?

Most ATMs do not take coins. If you want to deposit coins, you'll need to go into a branch and deposit them with a teller.

How do you deposit checks at an ATM?

If an ATM accepts check deposits, then the process is simple. You'll dip your debit card to bring up your account information, select some variation of "check deposit" on the ATM screen, enter the value of the check on the number pad, and then deposit the check into the ATM.