June 28, 2006 - Ed Goes Through Withdrawal
There used to be a time when you could walk up to any ATM anywhere and withdraw money from your account without paying a fee. For a late night cash run or a spontaneous, “I should get some cash”, it was a guilt-free, fee-free luxury to be able to choose any cash machine for a withdrawal. They were all selling crisp twenty-dollar bills for the same price, so the only thing important was location-location-location.
Well, those good old days of cooperative banking are gone the way of the free toaster. Now a bank in the hand is worth two in the bush – about two dollars that is.
If you think about it, cash machine neutrality was good for the environment and traffic. Without it,
the empty wallet crowd will often drive extra distances to get free access to their money. Once upon a time people threw rocks at bank windows. Now, to pay them a fee just to get your own dough seems a bit of a stretch for some.
Yesterday, the dedicated staff of edhat.com drove downtown and parked our green car in the almost empty Granada Garage (400 free spaces just waiting for the cars that renewing Measure D will facilitate). Once on the street, we did a quick walking tour of the ATMs of downtown Santa Barbara. Our only interest was finding out the going rate for cash withdrawals from banks with which someone doesn’t have a relationship (banking is all about relationships – at least that’s what they tell us).
All of the ATM machines we inspected had a placard with fine print informing the visually proficient the time deposits will post and what additional fees might be charged. While some banks specified the extra withdrawal charge, others only stated in no uncertain terms that there “may be” a surcharge – failing to mention the criteria or the amount. It was Ed’s guess that the intentional ambiguity allowed banks to raise fees whenever they wanted without needing to re-placard. But, just like cleaning services, the ones that disclosed the damages before customers put their skin in the game (or cards in the slot) came across a bit more honest.
For the banks whose surcharge was cloaked in a veil of secrecy, the task of finding the charge involved inserting the card, entering our pin number, selecting withdraw, identifying the account,
and entering the amount. Only then would the “additional fee” notification be shown. The message was always followed by a Sphinx’s riddle of a question to determine if we were okay with the fee. For example, Washington Mutual asked,
“Would you like to keep going?” – “Sure” or “No Thanks”.
Going? We we’re just standing still. And now that we found out what the charge is, we’d like to get our card back and BE going. Is that what they were asking? Or, thought our most juvenile dedicated staffer, maybe we really ARE going, and we need to check our shorts.
The fee for cash ranged from $1.50 at Wells Fargo to $3.50 at Business First National Bank (where Tom’s Toy World used to be). The most common fee was two bucks. The average was $2.18. As an aside, it was interesting that we could get our account balance at many banks without paying.
Here are all the fees we gathered:
Wells Fargo $1.50
Mid State Bank 2.00
First Bank 2.00
Citi Bank 2.00
Washington Mutual 2.00
Bank of America 2.00
Bank of the West 2.00
SB Bank & Trust 2.25
Bank of Montecito 2.50
Business First 3.50
After our ATM extravaganza was over, we hurried back to our car. And lucky for us, our task had taken less than 75 minutes. We avoided the $1.50 parking fee!
The winner of yesterday’s contest was AgentsMe who guessed $2.20. It’s a no cash deal. AgentsMe wins an Edhat t-shirt.
Contestant Comments - sometimes your own bank charges you additional fees when you go to another bank.
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