How Do Cardless ATMs Work?

Leave your cards at home

 A woman uses an ATM.
•••

Oscar Wong / Getty Images

It’s easier than ever to pay for things electronically, eliminating the need to handle cash. You can use your phone’s mobile wallet as a replacement for payment cards, and you can even use your phone for cash withdrawals at an ATM.

You probably take your mobile device everywhere you go, and that might include short trips when you leave home without a debit card. Learn how cardless ATMs work so you can decide how to make your next withdrawal.

Key Takeaways

  • Cardless ATMs allow you to withdraw cash without an ATM card
  • Major banks like Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo offer cardless ATMs.
  • Near-field communication (NFC), QR codes, and biometrics are common technologies used for cardless ATMs.


What Is a Cardless ATM?

Cardless ATMs are machines where you can withdraw cash without inserting a traditional ATM card into the machine. With this technology, your experience at the ATM may be safer and faster. You can complete the same banking tasks as you would with a card, including cash withdrawals, balance inquiries, and more.

Chase Bank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and other major banks offer the option of accessing an ATM with your bank’s app. But this isn’t just for customers of big banks—your local credit union or regional bank likely offers cardless ATM withdrawals, too.

How Cardless ATMs Work

To use a cardless ATM, you’ll provide card information stored in your phone’s mobile wallet. For example, you might use Apple Pay, Google Pay, or Samsung Pay. Alternatively, you might need to install your bank or credit union’s mobile app for cardless ATM transactions.

You’ll verify your identity and authorize the transaction on your mobile device, and your device communicates with the ATM with the help of a QR code or radio waves.

Near-Field Communication (NFC)

NFC is a way for devices to communicate in close proximity using radio waves that travel just four inches or so, which requires the devices to be nearby. That’s why your bank might instruct you to “tap” your phone on a specific location when using your ATM.

When you tap your phone, it sends information about your card to the ATM. Then, you enter your PIN or use additional methods to authorize the transaction. 

Wells Fargo’s debit cards have NFC built into them, so you can tap your card at an ATM with NFC, too.

QR and Other Verification Codes

Cardless transactions may require you to verify your identity with more than just an NFC device or card. In some cases, the ATM displays an image of a QR code that you scan with your mobile device’s camera. 

Biometrics

Biometric security solutions use your body to verify your identity, adding additional protection for your bank accounts. The most popular biometric security measures on phones are facial and fingerprint recognition. When you enable cardless ATM transactions (by adding a debit card to a mobile wallet, for example), it’s smart to secure your wallet with face or fingerprint verification or a strong passcode. For example, you might set your phone to require a fingerprint before allowing access to your digital wallet.

Some ATMs rely exclusively on biometrics, eliminating the need to use a mobile device, although they are most common outside of the U.S. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Cardless ATMs

Advantages
    • Secure
    • Allows you to travel light
    • Fast


Disadvantages
    • Not universal
    • Still has security issues
    • Compatibility


Advantages Explained

  • Secure: There’s no risk of card skimming because you never swipe your card, and you can’t lose your card while you’re out in public. Plus, if your bank or credit union doesn’t require you to enter your PIN, there’s no risk of people seeing your PIN or hidden cameras capturing sensitive information.
  • Travel light: Whether you forget your cards at home or you prefer not to carry them everywhere you go, your phone is all you need.
  • Fast: Cardless ATM withdrawals can save you time, and you can even begin the process before you arrive at the ATM.

Disadvantages Explained

  • Not universal: Not every ATM may offer cardless access, and your bank may not have cardless ATMs near you.
  • Still has security concerns: Losing your phone can result in additional headaches when your money is at risk. It’s critical to keep your phone up-to-date, enable all available security measures (like biometric security and two-factor authentication), and notify your bank immediately if you lose your phone.
  • Compatibility: Most modern phones should be capable of handling your bank’s app and NFC, when required. But in some cases, like when you have an older phone, you may not be able to do cardless transactions.

Monitor your accounts carefully. If you spot fraud or errors, notify your bank immediately. By acting quickly, you maximize your protection.

Is a Cardless ATM Right for You?

If you like carrying as little as possible when you’re out and about, and you don’t use cash often, cardless ATM access is a good fit for you. Plus, you reduce the risk of loss or theft since cardless ATMs allow you to leave your physical debit cards at home.

Check with your bank to find out how feasible cardless ATM use might be for you. If you decide to use this option, be sure you implement robust security measures on your phone’s lock screen, mobile wallet, and bank apps. But if you’re happy with your current way of doing things and you don’t like the idea of a dead phone battery keeping you from withdrawing cash, there’s nothing wrong with continuing to use plastic.