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NerdWallet’s Best Banks for ATM Lovers

Banking, Banks & Credit Unions
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Best Banks for ATM Lovers

Who doesn’t love cash? Even though many people enjoy the convenience of paying with plastic, everyone needs a bit of the green stuff now and again. We’ve rounded up the financial institutions least likely to charge you exorbitant fees to get your own money out of a cash machine, plus a few surprise banking products for true ATM lovers.

Best online checking account for domestic ATM users: Bank of Internet USA

Odd as it may seem, one of the best banks for getting cash anywhere in the U.S. doesn’t actually own any ATMs. Recognizing that even if you do all your banking online, you still need access to cash, the Bank of Internet USA Rewards Checking account gives customers access to any ATM in the country. Not only does it charge you nothing when you use a cash machine, it also offers unlimited reimbursement of fees charged by ATM owners. That money is automatically deposited in your account by the end of the next business day. The bank does charge a hefty 2% service fee for using an ATM in another country, but for getting cash closer to home, it’s hard to beat.

In the past, Ally Bank has also offered unlimited ATM fee reimbursements, but it has recently announced that starting Aug. 15, 2015, it will cover only up to $10 in fees per statement cycle.

Bank of Internet, based in San Diego, has other attractive features besides its generous ATM fee coverage. It advertises an annual percentage yield, or APY, of up to 1.25% on checking balances, but it’s a tiered system that requires direct deposits and debit-card transactions. The bottom line is that you can get an APY of 0.4166% (that’s about a third of the advertised 1.25% rate) for each of the following:

  • At least $1,000 a month in direct deposits
  • At least 10 debit card transactions of at least $3 each per month
  • An additional 5 debit card transactions of at least $3 each per month

Meet all those requirements, and your APY climbs to 1.25%. That’s a far cry from the average interest rate of 0.04% paid on checking account balances, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

For customers who want an online checking account with a relatively high yield and easy access to ATMs, Bank of Internet USA is a solid choice.

Best credit union for ATM access:
Alliant Credit Union

This Chicago-based institution has more than 270,000 members, and its membership requirements are fairly easy to meet. But it’s the credit union’s ATM network that has won it a spot on this list. It participates in several large cash machine networks: the CO-OP Network, Alliance One, CU Here, AllPoint and Bank of the West. These add up to more than 80,000 surcharge-free ATMs that Alliant members can use. But because you’re inevitably going to need cash at some point when none of those 80,000 machines is in sight, it also reimburses up to $20 a month in fees charged by owners of out-of-network ATMs.

The Alliant Free Checking account carries a respectable APY of 0.65%, provided you receive statements electronically and make one qualifying electronic deposit per month. Those can be deposits made directly, through an ATM, by wire transfer from another financial institution, or by mobile app. There are no minimum balance requirements and no monthly fees. If a full-service checking account from a credit union is your jam and you want nationwide access to free cash machines, Alliant might be the perfect choice.

Best international ATM access: Schwab Bank

In general, the higher your balance, the more perks your financial institution may be willing to give you to remain a customer. Free ATM access is one of those perks — but a rare few checking accounts give you unlimited access to your money all over the world and don’t require you to have a super high balance. Charles Schwab is mostly an investment company, but it also offers its Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account to any customer with an investment account. The checking account has no minimum balance or monthly fees. If you use your debit card to make a purchase while abroad, there’s no foreign exchange transaction fee — you’re charged only the dollar equivalent of the amount.

Schwab doesn’t charge you to use ATMs owned by other companies — and it will reimburse you for fees charged by the owners of those machines. This offer is good in the U.S. and internationally, making it one of the best checking accounts for people who travel frequently overseas.

Best for smartphone and ATM compatibility: BMO Harris Bank

BMO Harris, a Bank of Montreal subsidiary based in Chicago, has done a better job than most in keeping its customers connected to branch offices and ATMs in the digital age. It adopted EMV chip technology on its debit cards before many competitors. EMV cards are more secure because they can’t be copied like those that have only a magnetic strip, since the chip and its authentication technology are required to use the card for in-person transactions.

The bank’s mobile app lets users make an appointment with a banker at a nearby branch. But if you don’t need to talk to an actual person, you can also use your smartphone instead of a card to get cash quickly from an ATM with the bank’s Mobile Cash tool. There are only 1,300 Harris ATMs, though, and customers pay $2.50 each time they use an ATM owned by another bank or network. But if you live near a Harris branch and want a combination of mobile and branch banking, this may be a good bet.

Best prepaid debit card with free ATM access: American Express Bluebird

If you can get a traditional bank account, that’s probably best. There are some things you can do with a bank account that you just can’t do with a prepaid debit card, and these cards are notorious for high fees and other problems.

But if you do need an alternative to a regular checking account, the Bluebird card by American Express and Walmart Stores might be just the ticket. You can get cash, make balance inquiries or take other actions on your account for free at any of the 24,000 ATMs in the MoneyPass network or in Walmart’s MoneyCenter Express system, but you’ll pay $2.50 per use at out-of-network ATMs, plus whatever the machine’s owner charges.

The Bluebird can be loaded for free by direct deposit, mobile check deposit or a transfer from a checking or savings account, or at a Walmart register. There’s no monthly fee, and the money you put on the card is held in federally insured banks. If you want a prepaid debit card with low fees and widespread ATM access, the Bluebird is worth a look.

The takeaway

Virtually any bank will let you withdraw money free from its own ATMs, and many banks also participate in a larger ATM network to give their customers even more free access to their cash. But financial institutions are competing for your business, and you should take advantage of that by hunting for one that also gives you other benefits. If easy, low-cost access to cash machines is important to you, choosing a bank based on the extent of its ATM network and its fees might be the deciding factor when you’re looking to open a bank account. For other prospective customers, a key issue may be whether a bank reimburses charges applied by owners of out-of-network machines you may use, or it may be how well the bank’s mobile apps sync up with its ATMs. Ultimately, the choice comes down to personal preferences.


We looked at the 15 largest banks by assets and eliminated those without a significant retail banking presence. We also included financial institutions in the country’s five largest metro areas and several of the largest online-only banks that offer a full suite of checking and savings products. We rounded off the list with some of the country’s biggest credit unions with broad-based membership requirements.

Financial institutions surveyed included Alliant Credit Union, Ally, Bank of America, Bank5 Connect, Bank of Internet USA, Barclays, BB&T, BBVA Compass, BMO Harris Bank, Capital One 360, Chase, CIT Bank, Citibank, Connexus Credit Union, Consumers Credit Union, Discover Bank, HSBC Bank, Nationwide, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, PNC Bank, SunTrust Bank, Synchrony Bank, TD Bank, Union Bank, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo.

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @vcmcguire.

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