How to Use an ATM

Getting things done is quick and easy if you know how to use an ATM. There's no need to deal with your bank's inconvenient hours and you can handle your business just about anywhere. So let's review 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. For those reasons, thieves target ATMs (and 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 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 goes in; 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) will 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. Need ideas on how to use a secure PIN that's also easy to remember?

Choose a Transaction

Getting Cash at ATM
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You can use an ATM to do a number of different things, so you'll have to tell the machine what you want. 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 are also growing in popularity ATMs. You can deposit cash and checks if your bank (and the particular ATM you're at) allow it. However, there are sometimes glitches, so you should strongly consider making deposits with your mobile device as an alternative.
  • Balance inquiries simply show you how much you have (you'll see 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 taking cash out).

Fees, Fees, Fees

ATM Fees
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If you're using an ATM that is not affiliated with your bank, you'll most likely have to pay a fee. ATMs display these fees, and they give you an opportunity to back out of the transaction if you don't want to pay the fee. However, the ATM only shows the fee from the ATM side of things – your bank might also charge additional fees that you'll find out about later.

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. For more ideas on avoiding charges, see Where to find Free ATMs.


ATM receipt
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ATMs can print receipts for you if you want a written record of your transaction. However, in most cases receipts are unnecessary – all they do is take extra time and make it possible for somebody else to see your account information (the amount you withdrew, or how much cash you have in your account, for example). Now, there are times when you should certainly take your receipt: if you do something especially important, or if you make deposits at an ATM, keeping your receipt is a good idea.

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, it's possible that somebody could 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 dilly-dally at the ATM. Get your cash in your wallet quickly (without holding it in plain view for everybody to see how much you have), and make sure you have retrieved your card from the ATM. If your card was inside the machine, you'll want to grab it as soon as the machine spits it out – if you're too slow, the machine will suck it back in, and you'll be without your card for a while.

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 money, call your bank. It's possible that the ATM was tampered with and that thieves will be coming to collect the day’s haul of cards later. Learn more about how to handle problems with an ATM.