WASHINGTON - Angered by rising ATM fees, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee said Tuesday he'll renew his push to ban extra charges for consumers who use cash machines not owned by their banks.
A consumer group released a survey showing that the number of automated teller machines that levy such charges has nearly doubled to 45 percent in the last six months.
At the same time, the average cost of the surcharges is up, with big banks likely to charge more for the service than small banks, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group said in its report. Tuesday was the first anniversary of the decision by the nation's two largest ATM networks, Plus and Cirrus, to allow machine owners to charge a second fee.
The surcharges, which are paid to the bank operating the ATM, come on top of fees many customers pay to their own banks when they use another bank's machine.
"More and more consumers are now forced to pay twice for the `privilege' of gaining access to their own money. That's outrageous," said Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. "Banks are posting record profits, yet they are crying poverty when it comes to ATMs. That just doesn't wash. If they cannot afford ATMs, why did they put up over 100,000 of them?"
D'Amato said he will reintroduce his legislation to ban such double-charges.
But a bankers' group spokesman maintained that the fees are outweighed by the 24-hour convenience for customers and are needed to make the machines profitable.
John Hall, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association, said his group believed "the marketplace should decide prices for ATMs, not the government."
Hall said the rapid growth in machines over the past year - a record 33,400 new ATMs were installed in 1996 - was made possible by the surcharges, which go toward paying rent, security costs and other expenses for the machines.
He said most banks offer unlimited free ATM use for their customers using the bank's machines.
The survey by PIRG, a liberal consumer group, covered 860 automated teller machines in 27 states and the District of Columbia, out of a total 140,000 nationwide.
The average ATM surcharge is now $1.15, up from 97 cents last year, the survey found.
Reps. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Marge Roukema, R-N.J., members of the House Banking Committee, have proposed a measure to require disclosure of all ATM charges on the terminal screens before money is withdrawn.
Schumer said Tuesday that such a disclosure bill had a good chance of congressional approval, but it was unrealistic to expect a surcharge ban as proposed by D'Amato to pass.
Connecticut and Iowa have outlawed the fees, and legislation to ban the surcharges or impose a moratorium is being considered in Arizona, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington state.
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