Learn About the Risks of Deposits at ATMs

Hundred dollar bills emerging from ATM
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Deposits at ATMs can be convenient, and they almost always work fine. However, you may run into trouble or have doubts about deposit ATMs. Are they safe? Do they have special rules? Learn about a few pitfalls of ATM deposits so you can avoid unpleasant surprises.

The Safety of ATMs for Deposits

For the most part, yes, your deposits should show up without error. However, you should consider the consequences of an error. If you’re making a large deposit or if you’re in danger of bouncing checks, the ATM might not be your best choice. From time to time there will be errors -- you might not experience them in your lifetime, and most problems will be resolved easily by your bank, but you're dealing with a machine that may make a mistake.

You can find plenty of horror stories about deposits that went horribly: money vanishes immediately after going in the slot, there’s no record of the deposit, and so on. If your deposit is a big deal, go inside and work with a teller.

You should also observe the basics of ATM security:

  • Location matters: Most Dangerous ATM Locations
  • Basic security tips: Before You Use an ATM

If there ever is a problem, an investigation can take several days (at least). The ATM operator will need to review the transaction, any security footage, 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 -- even if the ATM is located in your bank branch, the employees on staff are most likely not able to open up the machine.

Your Bank’s Deposit ATM

You’ll generally only be able to make deposits at ATMs owned by your bank. It’s possible that your bank belongs to a ‘network’ and you can use any ATM in the network, but it’s best to just use your bank’s ATM.

If you use a deposit ATM from another bank (within the network) your funds may not show up in your account as quickly. 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 Deposits at ATMs

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

Alternatives to the ATM

If your bank allows it, you might be able to deposit checks using a mobile device or home computer and scanner. This approach would help you avoid most of the pitfalls above, and you don't even have to leave the house. It might even be worth opening an account at an online bank that offers the service just to enjoy the benefit of remote deposit technology.

In some cases, you'll just have to go inside and deposit with a teller. For example, if you're making a deposit of coins, the bank may have special requirements (and ATMs don't have the ability to accept coins).