The ATM I use most regularly is in the vestibule of the closest branch of my bank, Citizens Bank. I didn’t choose to be a customer of theirs. My original bank was sold years ago, and then that bank was swallowed by Citizens, and here I am. I know that using another bank’s ATM or an anonymous machine inside a convenience store or at a gas station can cost money, but since I’ve never done that I haven’t given it much thought, until now.
The other day, I stopped at my ATM to deposit a check and get some cash. I was leaning on a counter, filling out the deposit envelope when someone came in and went up to the machine. It was hard not to notice him, he was wearing a day-glo yellow vest, and impossible to ignore him when he began grumbling at the machine. When he turned to go he said, loud enough to invite comment, “I’ll never use that damn machine again.” I clucked sympathetically having no idea what the problem was, while he continued, “It has a $3.50 charge! I just paid $3.50 to get twenty bucks.” I replied with something like, “Ouch, that does hurt,” as he pushed open the door and left. And really, why should he have to pay three dollars and fifty cents to get money out of a machine whose expense had most likely long since been amortized to nothing and whose upkeep is pennies compared to what it would cost to pay a live person inside the bank?
When I left the bank I saw a garbage truck double-parked and unattended down the block and concluded that its driver was probably the guy from the ATM. I figured he must have gotten money so he could pop into Panera for coffee. I was tempted to try to find him and offer to buy him coffee to make up for the $3.50, but I was afraid that would seem condescending. After a moment of waffling, I went home.
Then I got my monthly paper statement from the bank. It includes images of checks I’ve written which they now charge three dollars for. Still feeling indignant on behalf of the garbage man, I decided to call the bank to cancel the check images. That’s when I discovered that the images only cost one dollar a month; the paper statement itself costs two dollars. I was furious. The woman on the phone pointed out that it wasn’t her fault, and I couldn’t disagree so instead I yelled, “I’m too angry to finish this conversation,” and hung up without making the change.
I like getting the statement in the mail. I may decide that it’s worth $2 a month to keep getting it, but what about people with low incomes and no computers? This is like the twisted logic that people with high enough balances in their checking accounts are exempt from the maintenance fees that less fortunate people pay. I understand that is the bank’s way to thank consumers for using their money, but it’s also an example of how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
My most recent statement—the one that cost me $2—indicated that I’d earned $1.65 in interest. That's not even enough for a cup of coffee, no matter who's drinking it.