Are you using ATMs properly?

Table of Contents


Chances are, you’ve probably seen ATMs around your city, the mall, or on street corners. But exactly what do those magical little boxes do? Don’t worry, your friends at Academy are here to demystify all money-related questions to help you boost your financial fitness.

What is an ATM?

An ATM, or Automatic Teller Machine, completes many of the same functions that a teller in a bank might, but without the hassle of actually going into the bank. These magical boxes are programmed with functions that allow users to complete many of the same processes they would in a bank.

Most ATMs allow users to withdraw money and check account balances. However, some more specialized ATMs permit patrons to perform additional functions, including check and cash deposits, transfers, payment processing, and other services. In this way, ATMs are like self-serve bank vending machines. 

Most ATMs can be used by people with most credit or debit cards, regardless of whether or not the ATM is from the same bank as the card. However, there may be some restrictions on their use, especially internationally. When using an ATM that is not from your bank, it’s important to be mindful of the often variable and sometimes terrible service fees.  

Fees involved

If you hold a Bank of America card and happen upon a Bank of America ATM, for example, you have hit the jackpot. Why? Credit and debit card holders that use ATMs from the same bank usually can use these machines free of cost.

However, if you are in a jam and can’t find an ATM from your bank, you may be subjected to service fees. Some research suggests that using an ATM from a different bank may cost you a whopping $4-5 dollars per transaction. This may be even higher in foreign countries, although the exchange rate offered through ATMs may make the extra cost worth it. 

How do you use an ATM?

ATMs are offered in a variety of locations, sometimes on street corners, outside gas stations, in malls or even in bank drive-throughs. Wherever the machine is located, however, the process for using them is generally the same.

Check out these simple steps to get started using an ATM:

1. Slide or insert your card

When you arrive to the machine, slide or insert your card using the machine’s card reader. Make sure to insert or slide your card correctly; most machines have instructions to help you figure out which way to insert or turn your card. When you complete this step, the ATM’s card reader is able to access the information stored in your card’s magnetic strip or chip.

Futuristic, right?

2. Follow the screen prompts

After inserting your card, it will typically ask you to type in your pin in order to log into your account. Make sure to cover your hand as you type this pin, to prevent peeping eyes from getting a hold of that valuable information. Many ATMs have mirrors that will allow you to see who is around you at the time of your transaction. 

3. Specify your transaction

After successfully entering your account, it will prompt you with possible transactions (i.e. review account balance, withdraw, deposit, etc.). Select the transaction you wish to complete.

4. Complete the transaction

After specifying the transaction, you will have the options to specify the amount you wish to withdraw from which account, specify the account balance you wish to see or deposit a check. Some ATMs will even ask you a further security verification question before allowing you to complete the transaction.

Finally, make sure to take your receipts and collect the money withdrawn (if applicable). 

5. Wait until the it logs out

Before walking away from the ATM, wait until it logs out so that the next patron doesn’t have access to your account. Some ATMs prompt you to specify that you have completed your transactions. Others will not. Either way, when it displays the welcome screen for a new patron, you know that you’ve logged out of your account and can walk away.

Safety tips

While ATMs are an excellent tool to make your financial transactions more convenient, there are some risks associated with using them. However, by being mindful of a few basic safety tips, you can help mitigate some of these risks.

  • Be mindful of your surroundings – Before approaching a machine, observe your surroundings. Are you in a well-lit area in view of security cameras? Are there other bystanders around? Do suspicious characters appear to be hanging around the ATM? If you feel unsafe, try looking for a better-located ATM.
  • Block the screen and keypad from view – Cover the screen and keypad during use to prevent strangers from seeing your personal bank information.
  • Complete your transaction quickly – It’s a good idea to complete your transaction quickly. If you withdraw money or print a receipt, make sure to save these in your wallet or purse and review them later.
  • Memorize your pin – Avoid writing down your pin on paper or in your cell phone. In the event of theft, this will make it more difficult for thieves to guess your pin.
  • Report lost or stolen cards immediately – If your credit or debit cards are lost or stolen, make sure to call your bank immediately to freeze them.
  • Research local risks related to ATM use when traveling – Every country has its own risks related to ATM use. Some crooks rob ATM users directly while others may use high-tech gadgets to lift card information for later illicit use. Make sure to research these risks and your card’s theft policies before using ATMs abroad. 

Like a savings account and a debit card, ATMs are one tool which can make your financial tasks easier to complete. Now that you’ve gotten a handle on a few of these basics, check out the rest of the Academy library to continue learning how to cultivate financial wellbeing. 

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