What to Do if an ATM Doesn't Give You Money

Woman in front of ATM machines, does not look happy
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It’s a rare occurrence, but a very frustrating one: You use an ATM to make a withdrawal, but you don’t get any (or all of) your cash. But you see the withdrawal in your account. Now your account balance is lower, and you have nothing to show for it.

ATMs occasionally malfunction, and sometimes there’s fraud involved. These issues almost always get cleared up, but they can create anxiety while you wonder whether or not you’ll ever get reimbursed.

What’s more, they can leave you penniless for several days (or longer) if your account was already running low.

What to Do

If an ATM fails to give you money, report the incident as soon as possible. In a best-case-scenario, the bank or ATM operator will already know that the error occurred, and it will be fixed in your account before you can even get home and make a phone call. But in some cases, it’ll take more effort on your part.

Take note: Record the exact time, date, and location of the malfunction. If there are several machines at one location, which one was it? If you’ve got your phone handy, snap a few pictures and send yourself a text message for a digital record of when and where you got shorted.

Move along: Don’t continue using an ATM that didn’t give you money. If you need cash, go somewhere else after the first sign of trouble. The ATM may continue to malfunction, and you’ll exhaust your withdrawal limit without getting any cash.

ATM problems can also be a sign of fraud, so you want to minimize contact with that machine.

Instead of using cash, try other forms of payment (like a debit card for purchases, or payment services and apps for sending cash to friends). If you use a credit union, you may be able to get cash in person at almost any other credit union using shared branching.

Call your card issuer or bank: File a claim with your credit card company immediately (if it was a credit card) or your bank (if it was a debit card). Let them know exactly what happened, as this is the fastest way to get funds credited to your account. Your card issuer will sort things out with the ATM operator. You should not need to contact another bank (besides your own bank), even if you used another bank’s ATM.

Can the ATM owner help? It doesn’t hurt to try and contact the ATM owner, but your bank is really the best place to go. Even if the ATM is in the lobby at a bank branch, onsite employees most likely cannot open the machine or reimburse you (but if you bank with that same institution they can take your claim in person). If the ATM is somewhere else – at a convenience store, for example – it’s probably worth telling an employee there. They might have a procedure to help move things along, and they can alert others who try to use the machine.

Again, the best (and fastest) way to get money back into your account is to notify your card issuer. Unfortunately, employees of other organizations can do little to help you.

What to Expect

Under federal law, you are protected from these types of errors (and fraud).

Assuming you used a debit card (hopefully you’re not using credit cards for cash advances), Regulation E provides that your bank must investigate the incident and resolve your claim against the ATM operator.

Official report: Contact your bank immediately (use the phone number on the back of your card) and ask how to file a claim for an ATM that didn’t give you your money. You might be able to do it over the phone, or you may have to submit something in writing to make it official. Either way, make sure to make it official so that you protect your rights (you can always make a verbal report and follow up in writing just to be safe).

Replacement funds: After you notify your bank of the missing money, the bank will begin an inquiry. You should then see funds credited to your account within 10 days (known as a provisional credit) – but many times it’ll happen within a day or so.

This credit is provisional because you only get to keep the money if the bank finds an error. If the bank decides against you, the credit will be removed, and you’ll be responsible for replacing the money if you already spent it.

Time to investigate: Your bank has 45 days to investigate ATM withdrawals (90 days for other types of disputes), so nothing is certain until you hear back from the bank. The bank and ATM operator will do what they can to find out what happened: watch surveillance video, count cash in the machine, look for hidden devices that might have trapped the bills before they got into your hands, and more.

This doesn’t make things any easier in the short-term, but there’s a very good chance that you’ll be reimbursed eventually. If you’ve been unlucky enough to find a bad ATM, hopefully you’ll find consolation in knowing it’ll probably never happen to you again.