July 27, 1997

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Credit unions pinpoint free teller machines


The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- People fed up with having a few quarters plucked from their pockets every time they use an automated teller can get what amounts to a treasure map: a guide to machines that don't charge extra fees.

The Pennsylvania Credit Union League has published a list of 300 Pennsylvania ATMs that don't levy surcharges on people who don't have accounts at the banks and credit unions that operate the machines.

Some banks still can charge their own customers for withdrawals made at competitor banks' machines, and that fee can be collected even at surcharge-free ATMs.

Publishers of the 23 page pamphlet acknowledge that it does not include every surcharge-free machine in the state but should be useful to customers hoping to save some money. There are some 4,200 automated tellers statewide, according to the league.

The Pennsylvania Bankers' association has no similar publication.

Typically, banks that collect surcharges have many more ATMs, making an account there much more convenient.

Most machines charge from 50 cents to $2 per withdrawal unless the user has an account with the bank that owns the machine.

"It adds up over the course of a year to be quite a bit of money,'' said Elizabeth Letcavage, a spokeswoman for the league in Harrisburg. "You're paying $100 to $150 bucks a year just to have access to your money, which just isn't fair.''

Despite the savings, some users say they would rather pay the surcharge than seek out the free machines.

"It's what, a buck or half a buck? That doesn't bother me at all,'' said Don Burrell, 49, manager of the ALCOA Building in Pittsburgh. "I use what's convenient. It's worth it to me.''

Burrell said he wouldn't take the time to search out the free ATMs listed in the PCUL pamphlet.

A surcharge-free machine that sits in the lobby of Burrell's building is free to members of Alcoa's credit union, such as Burrell, and account holders from other banks such as Maria Bauman.

Bauman, 26, a secretary at a Pittsburgh law firm, said she avoids ATMs from other banks because of surcharges.

Last year she even moved her account to a bank that operates more teller machines so it would be easier to find when she needed a withdrawal.

"It's hard to find a free one, and some are pretty expensive,'' Bauman said.

Ben Turner, 19, a college student from Bethlehem, Pa., said he is interested in the list of free ATMs because he spends a lot of time trying to find the machines on his own.

"At school there was only one ATM on campus and that was not my bank so I lost probably $30 or $40 that I'd really like to have back,'' Turner said.

One of the free ATMs is in a mall not far from Turner's home. He said he tries not to go to any other machine, but wishes he knew where more free ATMs are.

"If I'm out of town or in another part of town, I'd search (the free ATMs) out,'' he said. "I just think surcharges are absurd.''