Economy
11:14 am
Fri April 22, 2011

Two Michigan retirees flip the script on ATM fees

Two retirees from Fowlerville, Michigan, Nancy Kinder and Ray Harrison, have filed several lawsuits challenging banks on ATM fee notifications.

The Electronic Fund Transfer Act says the amount the bank will charge for use of the ATM machine "shall be posted in a prominent and conspicuous location on or at the automated teller machine at which the electronic fund transfer is initiated by the consumer."

Tresa Baldas reports in the Detroit Free Press that the retirees have been taking advantage of this part of the law:

Kinder and Harrison have been "combing the state by car, looking for ATMs that don't have the notification sign, records show. When they spot one, they make a withdrawal, take a picture of the ATM, and then it's off to court."

They've sued 36 banks in two years and they recently filed five lawsuits in one day.

Instead of paying two or three bucks to the bank, they're hoping to reap thousands if not millions with the lawsuits.

The Freep reports that these types of lawsuits are a "cottage industry":

Nationwide, a cottage industry of plaintiffs firms have spawned a flurry of ATM fee lawsuits, which have popped up in California, Texas, Illinois and Michigan. The suits have triggered settlements ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to $2.5 million. ATM fees for non-customers are generally $2 or $3.

The banks call these lawsuits frivolous - a way for attorneys and their plaintiffs to make money. They wish the lawsuits would go away.

One attorney from the Consumer Advocacy Center responded to the accusation - telling the Freep that the law is simple:

"If you're going to nickel and dime someone, you better be upfront about it."

The lawyer for Kinder and Harrison said they make about $1,000 or $2,000 for each successful case:

He also said they've donated $100,000 from the ATM suits -- some not yet finalized -- to charity, and that number will grow close to $200,000 by the end of the year.

The lawsuits will continue so long as the law remains intact and banks fail to post how much their ATM fees are.

And if you think $2 to $3 is a lot for an ATM fee, just wait.

The Wall Street Journal reports banks are responding to tighter restrictions on debit card and overdraft fees. They report the $5 ATM fee is coming:

J.P. Morgan’s retail bank, Chase, is even testing fees of $5 in Illinois and $4 in Texas for people who use a Chase ATM and aren’t a bank customer...ATMs generated $7.1 billion in fees last year, according to consulting firm Oliver Wyman. Of that, banks collected roughly $3 billion from charging their customers for using another institution’s ATM.

What's the most you've been charged at an ATM machine?

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