by Melvin Durai
Withdrawing money from the bank used to be so convenient. You could
visit a money machine almost anywhere. Without paying a cent, you
could get enough cash to buy a television or put a large down payment
on some basketball shoes.
But a couple of years ago some banks started charging a fee. If you didn't
have an account with them, you had to pay at least a dollar to withdraw
money at their ATM (Automated Theft Machine).
Other banks followed suit and now the majority charge a fee. Some even
charge as much as $3, more than most of us save in a year. That's a
steep fee, especially when you're trying to withdraw $5.
To their credit, banks have tried to make ATMs much safer for us. They've
installed bright lights and security cameras. They don't want anyone else
Some lawmakers, bless their hearts, are trying to put a limit on the
surcharges. They don't want bankers to get carried away and use ATMs
to pay for their BMWs. They don't want the ATMs to display this message:
"Please withdraw only half as much as you can afford, because we're
taking the other half."
Banks say they have to charge a fee because ATMs are expensive. They
cost as much as $80,000 and that doesn't even include the money inside.
It would be cheaper to put a human in a box. But there's probably a law
against that. And humans, unlike machines, are prone to make mistakes
and they're also prone to run to Mexico with the money.
The surcharge also allows banks to install ATMs in many convenient
places, such as parks, plazas and prisons. They especially want ATMs
in places like casinos, where people are so desperate for money, they're
willing to trade their spouses.
But in their haste to make ATMs more convenient, banks have made
them less convenient for people like me. I'd rather have one free ATM in
my neighborhood than a dozen that want to swindle me. A couple of
dollars may not seem like much to a banker, but to me it means a feast
at Taco Bell.
Besides, it's against my principles to pay a bank to give me MY money.
I just won't do it, unless I'm stuck somewhere with no money, no Visa
and no mother.
What irks many people, including me, is that we got used to free ATMs
over many years. Banks got us hooked to them and then decided to
reel in our money.
For some reason, in the 1970s and '80s, bankers didn't complain much
about the cost of installing ATMs. Perhaps they were too busy explaining
to shareholders how the machines would replace tellers and save money.
At the unveiling of the first ATM, a banker probably said, "Here's a
revolutionary machine that dispenses cash without wasting time on chitchat
and without requiring minimum wage. It has no bad habits like smoking,
swearing or asking for raises. It cannot be threatened with a gun and will
never sue us for discrimination. One day, this machine will be able to greet
people through the video display, process their transactions quickly and
take them to the cleaners."