How to Use an ATM

Automated Teller Machines, known more commonly as ATMs, are an integral part of our financial lives. They offer us round-the-clock access to our bank accounts, allowing us to perform various transactions, including withdrawing cash, depositing money, checking balances, and even paying bills. For this reason, knowing how to use an ATM effectively and safely is a key skill in personal finance.

woman using ATM

Key Takeaways

  • ATMs provide convenient services like withdrawing cash, depositing funds, checking balances, and paying bills. Knowing your bank’s policies and using in-network ATMs can help avoid unnecessary ATM fees.
  • Secure usage involves shielding your PIN, monitoring for skimmers, and using well-lit ATMs to ensure personal safety. Report any lost or stolen cards immediately to prevent unauthorized transactions.
  • Advanced ATM features like fund transfers and bill payments offer added convenience. However, practicing good financial habits like inspecting the machine and regularly reviewing bank accounts is key to maintaining security.

ATM Basics

ATMs come in many forms – those owned by your own bank, out-of-network ATMs, and privately owned ATMs. Each of these types might have slightly different functions, and the ATM fees they charge can vary significantly. Using your bank or credit union’s ATM locator tool, which is generally available on their website or mobile app, can help you find an in-network ATM near you.

To use an automated teller machine (ATM), you’ll need your ATM card or debit card and your personal identification number (PIN). Your debit card acts like a key to access your bank account, while your PIN is a secret code that verifies it’s indeed you who is accessing the account.

Inserting Your Card into the ATM

To kick off any ATM transaction, you’ll need to insert your ATM or debit card into the card reader. The ATM will have a clearly labeled slot for this, often with a diagram indicating which way to insert the card.

Some ATMs today only require you to dip and remove your card, rather than inserting it for the duration of the transaction.

Should you encounter an issue with the ATM accepting your card, it could be due to a variety of factors, such as a damaged card or an expired card. In such situations, it would be best to contact your financial institution.

Entering Your PIN

The PIN serves as a secret code to ensure your financial safety. Memorizing this number and not sharing it with anyone is of utmost importance. Upon inserting your card, you’ll be prompted to enter your PIN. To shield your details from potential onlookers, it’s always wise to cover the keypad with your hand while entering your PIN.

Those waiting in line to use the ATM should be courteous and stand a few feet away. If you are getting ready to use an ATM, especially for a cash withdrawal, and feel suspicious or uncomfortable, don’t be shy about leaving and finding another ATM.

How to Withdraw Cash from an ATM

One of the most common uses of an ATM is to withdraw money from your bank account. After inserting your ATM card into the card reader and entering your PIN, you’ll be directed to the main menu of the ATM transaction.

Select the Right Account

The options available will vary depending on your financial institution, but generally, you’ll see a “Withdraw Cash” or “Cash Withdrawal” option. Upon selecting this option, you’ll then be asked to choose from which account you wish to withdraw money. The choices usually include a checking account or a savings account.

Enter the Amount

Next, you’ll be asked to enter the amount of money you want to withdraw. ATMs typically dispense cash in increments of $20, although some machines may also offer $1, $5, $10 or $50 increments, depending on the financial institution and the ATM’s setup.

Consider the Withdrawal Limit

Once you’ve entered the desired amount, the machine will process your request. Bear in mind that most financial institutions and banks impose a daily withdrawal limit on ATM transactions for security reasons.

Confirm and End the Transaction

Before finalizing your transaction, the ATM might ask if you want a receipt for your withdrawal. After taking your cash and your ATM card, remember to end your session on the ATM to prevent any misuse.

How to Deposit Cash or Checks into Your Account

ATMs can also make depositing money into your bank account a breeze. To deposit cash or checks, you’ll need to go through a process similar to withdrawing money. Insert your ATM card, enter your PIN, and navigate to the main menu. From there, you’ll find an option to deposit money.

Depositing Cash

If you’re depositing cash, the machine will guide you through the process, which usually involves inserting your bills into a designated slot. It’s essential to note that while most ATMs accept cash deposits, not all do, especially if it’s not your bank’s ATM.

Depositing Checks

For check deposits, the process is slightly different. Some ATMs require you to enclose checks in a deposit envelope, while others allow you to insert checks directly into a special slot for scanning. Follow the directions for the machine you are using.

Understand Your Bank’s Policies

For either cash or check deposits, the ATM will ask if you want a receipt. This receipt will provide a record of your deposit. It’s worth noting that depositing money at an ATM might not result in immediate access to the funds. Your bank or credit union may have policies in place about the availability of deposited funds. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these policies to manage your bank accounts effectively.

How to Check Your Account Balance

ATMs are not just cash-dispensing machines. They also allow you to check the balance of your bank accounts. After inserting your card and entering your PIN, select the “Balance Inquiry” or “Account Balance” option from the main menu.

Select the Account Type

The ATM will then ask you to choose which account balance you wish to view. This usually involves selecting between your checking account and your savings account. If you have multiple accounts of the same type, you’ll need to select the one you want to check.

View Your Account Balance

After you’ve selected your account, the ATM will then display your current balance. Some ATMs display this information directly on the screen, while others offer you the option to print a receipt with your balance. Keep in mind that, like the withdrawal and deposit functions, checking your account balance at an out-of-network ATM may come with a fee.

Advanced ATM Features

Beyond basic services such as cash withdrawals, balance inquiries, and depositing money, many automated teller machines offer advanced features that can help you handle more of your banking needs right at the machine.

Transferring Money

These additional features often include the ability to transfer funds between your own accounts. This could be from your savings account to your checking account, or vice versa, enabling you to manage your money more effectively.

Paying Bills

Other features could include paying your credit card bill directly from your bank account using the ATM. This convenience makes it easier to manage your personal finances and stay on top of payments. Some ATMs even offer the convenience of utility and mobile top-up bill payments.

Multilingual Support

Another noteworthy feature of modern ATMs is their multilingual support. This feature makes them accessible to a wider range of users and encourages financial inclusivity. Some ATMs even have

How to Ensure ATM Safety and Security

ATMs provide great convenience, but it’s vital to use them safely to protect your financial information. After all, each time you use an ATM, you’re accessing your bank account, and that can be an attractive target for fraudsters.

Protect Your PIN

Your personal identification number, or PIN, is your electronic signature. It verifies your identity and grants access to your bank accounts. Therefore, it’s important to keep your PIN secret and safe. Never share your PIN with anyone, even family members or trusted friends.

Do not write down your PIN and keep it in your wallet. If you lose your wallet, a thief would have everything they need to withdraw cash from your account.

Be Cautious When Using the ATM

Always shield the keypad with your hand when entering your PIN at the ATM. This simple act can prevent someone from watching you enter your PIN, which is a common tactic used by thieves. Also, be wary of ATMs that appear to have loose or extra parts attached to the card reader, as these could be “skimmers” designed to steal your card information.

Spotting ATM Skimmers

One common method criminals use to steal card data is through skimming devices. These devices are attached to the card reader, and they record your card information when you insert your card into the ATM.

Always inspect the card reader before using an ATM and look for anything out of the ordinary, such as loose parts or mismatched colors. If you notice something suspicious, don’t use the ATM and report it to the financial institution immediately.

Safely Using ATMs at Night

Nighttime can pose additional safety risks when using ATMs, primarily due to lower visibility and fewer people around. If you must use an ATM after dark, prioritize choosing one in a well-lit area. Preferably, select an ATM located in a busy area or inside a store where there are other people around.

Always be aware of your surroundings when you use an ATM at night. Avoid distractions such as your phone, and keep your focus on your transaction and surroundings. Pay attention to any individuals or situations that appear suspicious. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and leave.

As with daytime transactions, make sure no one is watching you conduct your transaction or can see your PIN when you enter it. Position yourself so that you’re blocking anyone’s view of the keypad.

Electronic Banking Safety Measures

In some rare instances, an ATM might malfunction and not return your card. If this happens, contact your financial institution immediately to report the issue. They can help you retrieve your card or, if necessary, deactivate it to prevent unauthorized access to your bank account.

Report Lost or Stolen Cards

If you lose your ATM card or if it’s stolen, you need to report it to your bank or credit union as soon as possible. Most financial institutions have 24-hour hotlines for this purpose. By doing so, you safeguard your account by enabling the bank to freeze your card, preventing anyone else from using it for unauthorized transactions.

You may be able to freeze a lost, stolen or misplaced card using your bank’s mobile app. This can be handy if you’ve temporarily lost track of your card but aren’t ready to report it as lost and request a new one.

Monitor Your Bank Accounts Regularly

In addition to the above measures, regularly monitor your bank account statements. Keep an eye out for any unfamiliar transactions and report them to your bank immediately.

Electronic banking, while convenient, requires diligence in maintaining the security of your personal finance. Regular monitoring is one of the most effective ways to spot and stop potential fraud early.

Bottom Line

Knowing how to use an ATM effectively is a critical skill for managing your personal finances. ATMs offer a wealth of services that can make your financial life easier – from checking your savings account balances to transferring funds. But like all things in finance, it’s vital to practice good habits, like shielding your PIN and inspecting the ATM before use. Remember, while ATMs offer convenience, maintaining your financial security should always be your top priority.

Dawn Allcot
Meet the author

Dawn Allot is a personal finance writer and content marketing expert specializing in finance, travel, real estate, and technology. In addition to her work at Crediful, Dawn regularly writes for Bankrate, GoBankingRates, and The Balance.