How to Use an ATM

ATMs can be intimidating for first-timers, but once you get the hang of them, they're incredibly quick and convenient. There's no need to drive across town to your bank branch or deal with inconvenient hours—you can handle your business just about anywhere and anytime.

If you're a newcomer or need a refresher, here's what you need to know to use an ATM safely and effectively.

Safety First

sketchy ATM
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The first thing to remember when using an ATM is to be safe. That machine has direct access to your bank account, and you might have a lot of cash on hand immediately before or after you use the ATM (depending on whether you're making a deposit or withdrawal). For those reasons, thieves target ATMs and the people using them. Be aware of your surroundings, and don't use an ATM if anything looks suspicious.

When in doubt, just walk away and find a different, safer ATM. There's no need to put yourself in harm's way when there are a million other ATMs out there.

The Card Reader

inserting card into ATM
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Once you've determined that an ATM is safe to use, insert your card into the card reader. There should be an image of a card showing you exactly how the card needs to be inserted. Look for the black magnetic stripe for guidance, or possibly an image showing how your name and card number should be lined up.

In some cases, you'll insert the card completely into the ATM, and the machine will hold onto it until your transaction is complete. Other machines allow you to just "dip" your card quickly so that you can get it back in your wallet as soon as possible. If the machine holds onto your card, make sure to get the card back before leaving the machine.

Enter PIN

enter your PIN
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Next, you'll have to enter your personal identification number (PIN) to prove that you are an authorized card user. As you learn how to use an ATM, develop the habit of hiding the keypad as you type in your PIN (use your free hand to cover your typing). Somebody might be watching you, and some thieves even install hidden cameras on ATMs to capture PINs.

Choose a Transaction

Getting Cash at ATM
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You can use an ATM to do several different things, so you'll have to tell the machine what you want to do. Getting cash is easiest, but you can eventually learn how to use an ATM for other transactions.

Withdrawals are the most common way to use an ATM—you simply get cash out of your account. For a withdrawal, you'll just indicate how much you want to take out (usually in increments of $20, but some ATMs allow you to take out smaller bills).

Deposits can also be made at most ATMs. You can deposit cash and checks if your bank has a partnership with the ATM you're using. However, there are some risks to ATM deposits, so you should strongly consider making deposits with your mobile device as an alternative.

Balance inquiries show you how much money you have. Selecting this option will display your current account balance. This might be helpful if you need to know how much you can spend with your debit card.

Transfers and payments might also be available, depending on your bank. This option allows you to use the money in one of your accounts (without physically withdrawing cash).

Fees, Fees, Fees

ATM Fees
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If you're using an ATM that is not affiliated with your bank, you may have to pay a fee. ATMs display these fees before the transaction is complete, allowing you to back out if you don't want to pay the fee. However, the ATM only shows the fee that it charges. Your bank might also charge additional fees.

To avoid fees, it's always best to use an ATM that is owned by or affiliated with your bank. Many credit unions also participate in shared branching, which might help you avoid fees. With the right bank and a little planning, you should be able to find free ATMs.

Receipt?

ATM receipt
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ATMs can print receipts for you if you want a written record of your transaction. In most cases, receipts are unnecessary, and they pose a potential security risk. If you throw the receipt away in a public space, somebody else could see your account information such as the amount you withdrew, or how much cash you have in your account.

There are times when you should take your receipt. For instance, if you deposit a check at an ATM, keeping your receipt is a good idea until the funds land in your account.

Finish Up

get your card back
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Once you've done what you need to do, close out your session with the ATM. Make sure that the machine is not waiting for you to perform another transaction. If you walk away before your session is closed, somebody could theoretically walk up behind you and withdraw cash from your account. Don't worry about holding up the line—stand there until you're sure that it's safe to leave.

That said, it's not a good idea to linger needlessly at the ATM. Get your cash in your wallet quickly (so others can't see how much you have). If the ATM kept your card during the transaction, you'll want to grab it as soon as the machine spits it out. If you're too slow, the machine could suck the card back in. This is a security measure to prevent your card from being stolen, but if it happens to you, it'll be tough to get the card back. You may have to get a new one.

If anything strange happens while you use an ATM, contact your bank immediately. For example, if the machine keeps your card for any reason or fails to give you the money you tried to withdraw, call your bank. The ATM could've been tampered with, and thieves could be coming to collect the day’s haul of cards later. Luckily, you can easily handle problems with an ATM by recording the details of the incident and contacting your bank as soon as possible.