Why Bitch About Entirely Avoidable Fees?

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Sure, ATM fees are ridiculous: You’re charged $3 for using an out-of-network machine, and then, adding insult to injury, your bank may hit you with another fee of $2 or more. The result is that you pay $5 for transactions that cost the banks a few pennies, if that, all to access your own money sitting in an account that probably generates zero interest. Ridiculous, right?

Well, yes, absolutely. But who is more ridiculous in this situation: the banks charging the fees, or the customers who pay them?

The LA Times’ David Lazarus takes banks to task on the ATM fee front:

What’s particularly galling about these fees is the fact that the transactions are entirely automated and, with millions of ATM transactions daily, represent enormous economies of scale. As with the fees to process debit and credit card purchases, consumer advocates say it probably costs banks only a penny or two (if that) to process an out-of-network ATM withdrawal.

The rest is pure gravy.

It’s outrageous, without question, a total ripoff. But while Lazarus and others call for regulators to step in and force banks to stop charging such fees, I sorta feel like this is one instance best left to the free market. By my count, there are at least two super easy ways to avoid ATM fees: 1) use an in-network machine (most banks have hundreds—and if there aren’t many where you live, switch to a bank that has better options); or 2) open an account with a bank that reimburses for all ATM fees (again, the options are plentiful, and then you never have to think about it again).

Strictly speaking from the standpoint of practicality, it sure would seem easier to change one’s own behavior than it would be to forcibly change the policies of certain banks. Ripping off customers is no way to gain loyalty, especially not when there are other, far more reasonable alternatives out there. If there were no other viable options, then sure, I’d say it was time for the feds to step in. But as things stand, I’d rather see these bank policies—and perhaps entire banks—die on their own as customers get sick of dealing with ridiculous fees. Smart consumers can accomplish a lot more than government regulators ever could.

So don’t just complain about fees. Do something about it—and no, in this instance, complaining doesn’t count as actually doing something. Take your business elsewhere and open up an account with a more reasonable bank: Now that’s doing something.