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The shrinking number of debit cardholders withdrawing funds from ATMs other than their issuers' are paying higher surcharge fees, a recent survey by Bankrate.com has found. 

This year, financial institutions are charging noncustomers an average ATM surcharge fee of $2.22, up 12.7% from $1.97 last year, Greg McBride, Bankrate.com senior financial analyst, tells ATM&Debit News.

Bankrate.com surveyed 250 banks and thrifts nationwide in August before releasing the survey results last Wednesday.

Ninety-nine percent of banks and thrifts surveyed impose a surcharge fee, according to the report "Bank ATM Surcharges Leap," which is part of Bankrate.com's 2009 Checking study.

 Banks and thrifts raised their surcharge fees because fewer noncustomers are withdrawing funds from their ATMs, says McBride, but was unable to provide specific data to support that contention. The ATM owners need the extra fees to support their machines, he says.

"ATM surcharge fees have gone up by leaps and bounds," McBride says. "Over the past few years, surcharge fees have increased faster than the rate of inflation." In the fall of 1998, banks and thrifts charged an average surcharge fee of 89 cents, by  fall 2007, the average surcharge fee jumped to $1.78, McBride says.

But in this difficult economy, rising ATM surcharge fees have collided with cardholders trying to stretch every dollar, so many consumers are using their own banks' ATMs to avoid the fees, McBride says. "Surcharge fees are higher, but they are avoidable," he adds.

Bankrate.com says some banks have cut surcharge fees, but just a few. "They were the exception, not the rule," McBride says.

While ATM deployers are targeting noncustomers with higher fees, they are being kinder to their own customers by reducing how much they charge for using other deployers' machines. The average foreign-ATM fee is $1.32, down 10% from $1.46 last year, Bankrate.com says. Approximately 72% of banks charge customers foreign-ATM fees, Bankrate.com says.

Some banks and thrifts cut their foreign fees to hold on to accountholders and because community banks are joining surcharge-free ATM networks, which creates a level playing field for smaller banks to compete with national banks, McBride says. Bankrate.com is based in North Palm Beach, Fla. ATM

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