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How to Use an ATM

It’s no secret—around here, cash is king! There’s nothing like flashing a stack of cash to help you get a great deal (and maybe better service). And paying for stuff with cash is a great way to curb your spending and stick to your budget.

Back in the day, our parents and grandparents had to actually step foot inside a bank and interact with a live person (called a bank teller) to get cash out of their accounts. Now you can go pretty much anywhere and get cash instantly from your account through an automated teller machine (ATM).

ATMs have actually been around for over 50 years! The first ATM was put into service in 1969 in New York State. It started out fairly basic—just dispensing cash money. But in the five decades since, ATMs have become pretty sophisticated and can handle all kinds of things like deposits, balance inquiries and more.

Using an ATM is easy and natural in today’s world. But just remember: When you use an ATM, there’s no magic to it. That’s your money coming out of it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Using an ATM is super simple, but there are a few things to keep in mind before you start pushing buttons.

How to Use an ATM

Like we said, using an ATM is pretty simple. No matter what you’re using the ATM for, the first three steps are always the same:

  • Insert your ATM or debit card. The first step is inserting your ATM or debit card into the slot in the machine. Some machines will keep the card inside for the whole transaction. Others will have you insert just the card and then quickly take it out (or swipe it). And still others will have you insert the card just far enough to read the chip in the card.
  • Enter your PIN. Next, the machine will ask you for your personal identification number (PIN)—the secret number that’s tied to your card that proves you are who you say you are. Be sure to put this number into the machine’s keypad without anyone seeing. You don’t want anyone knowing it except you!
  • Choose what you want to do. This is the “choose your own adventure” part of the ATM experience, where you’ll tell the machine what you want to do. We’ll go over your options in more detail, so keep reading.

Keep in mind that ATMs (like people) are different, and some machines may ask for your PIN after you select what you want to do. But they will ask at some point—unless you go to an ATM at a bank like Chase, where you can use your PIN on your smartphone to operate the ATM.1

How to Withdraw Money From an ATM

  1. Choose “Withdrawal.” Once you enter your PIN, a menu will pop up on the ATM screen. If you want to get some cash, select that option (usually either “Withdrawal” or “Get Cash”). The ATM will then ask you which account you want to pull the money from—checking and savings are the most common.
  2. Type in how much money you want. Sometimes the ATM will have preset amounts of money for you to select. Other times it will have a blank number field, and you can type in how much you want using the keypad. And still others will have both options (what a world we live in—so many choices!).
  3. Get your cash. After processing your request, the ATM will open up a slot (usually with attention-grabbing lights and beeps) and spit out your cash. Most of the time, the ATM only lets you take out money in $20 bills. Some bank ATMs can give out other bills, but $20 is the general standard.

Here’s the bad news (or the good news, depending on your point of view): There’s a limit to how much money you can withdraw from an ATM in one day. But the limit depends on which bank you do business with. The range can be anywhere from $300 to $3,000.2 Be sure to check with your bank to see what your daily limit is.

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If, for some reason, you need to take out more than the limit allowed by your bank, you’ll have to either call your bank or go inside a bank branch during their normal business hours.

How to Deposit Money at an ATM

Not only can you take money out of an ATM, but you can also use it to deposit money into your account. Shocking but true!

  1. Choose “Deposit.” After putting in your PIN, push the button labeled “Deposit.” The ATM will then ask what kind of deposit you’re making (it can usually take checks or cold hard cash).
  2. Type in how much money you’re depositing. Depending on how fancy the ATM you’re using is, you’ll have to tell it how much you want to deposit. Some ATMs will have you type in the amount on the keypad. Others will just scan the bills or checks when you deposit them into the machine and count them automatically (pretty cool, right?).
  3. Insert your deposit. A slot will open in the machine (usually accompanied by more flashing lights and beeps) and you’ll put your cash or checks into the slot. This is the part where some ATMs may actually count the amount for you (see step 2 above). If your ATM is old school, you’ll have to place everything in an envelope before you put it in.

Unlike withdrawals, there’s no limit on the amount of money you can deposit into your account in a day (banks really want your money, you know). However, some banks limit the number of checks and bills you can deposit in a single transaction.

One last thing to keep in mind if you’re depositing from an ATM: The money most likely won’t be available to spend for a few days. Banks are only required by law to make the money available within five business days. Again, check with your bank to see what their deposit delay time is. And that time might be affected by whether you’re using your bank’s ATM or not. So don’t get caught in a situation where you’ll get dinged with overdraft fees because of a delayed deposit. Plan ahead.

Other Features

ATMs can do lots of other things besides give and take cash, you know. Here are some of the features you could see when you’re at the machine:

  • Check your account balances
  • Transfer money between accounts
  • Pay bills
  • Talk to a teller (yes, some banks offer real live people!)

ATM Fees

Now comes the not-so-fun part: ATM fees. That’s right. If you use an ATM that’s out of your bank’s network, you’ll probably be charged a fee to use the machine for anything. Usually, a message will pop up on the screen to ask if it’s okay to charge you a fee to use the ATM. These fees can come from either the ATM company or the bank—or both.

Let’s say you’re on a trip to Italy and need cash for that souvenir mini Leaning Tower of Pisa. There are also international ATM fees that could be either a flat rate or a percentage of the amount being withdrawn (mamma mia!).

The amount of the ATM fee will depend on your bank and the ATM company. The amount is usually printed on the ATM machine somewhere, but also check with your bank to see if they have their own fees. The amounts usually range from around 25 cents to $5 but could always be more. Some banks don’t charge any fees, and others will reimburse you for any fees you get charged by an ATM (either up to a certain amount or unlimited).

How to Find an ATM

Convenience is the theme when it comes to ATMs. They can be found anywhere and everywhere: banks, gas stations, retail stores—even Antarctica! They’re at pretty much any place that takes cash as a payment. Some places are cash-only (typically because the retailers can’t afford or don’t want to pay the card processing fees) and have an ATM on site for the convenience of their customers.

Usually, a store will let you know they have an ATM machine by posting a sign outside saying something like, “ATM Inside,” “ATM Here,” or just plain old “ATM.” They’re pretty easy to spot. Some ATMs are drive-up or drive-thru, meaning you don’t even have to leave your car to get cash!

Today’s technology makes finding an ATM even easier. Your bank’s website or app will likely have a list of all its ATM locations. Or you can just Google “ATMs near me” and bring up a map that has all the ATM locations highlighted. Or check Google Maps. There are even free smartphone apps solely dedicated to helping you find an ATM.

ATMs Mean Convenience and Caution

So, ATMs are pretty convenient when you need cash fast, they're very easy to use, and they're absolutely everywhere! But it's ultimately your money—which means it's your responsibility to budget that money properly so you're not accidentally left high and dry (and subject to overdeaft fees) when your money runs out.

And be aware of any fees that an ATM (or your own bank) may charge and really think about whether the convenience is worth the cost. After all, why go to an ATM with a fee when there might be a fee-free alternative just down the street?

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Ramsey Solutions

About the author


Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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