A text "ATM" against a red background.

Banking Basics: all about ATM cash machines

ATMs have a solid concept: type PIN, get money. But if you’ve ever wondered what comes next, this guide holds the answers.

4 min read

Even though we live in an increasingly digital world, everyone finds themselves needing cash-in-hand at some point. That’s where the cash machine come in handy. For decades, they’ve been the most convenient way to get instant access to the money in your account, without physically having to go into the bank.

The question is, are you sure you’re getting the most out of your cash machine experience? For instance, how do you find the closest one when you’re in a rush? Do you know what it charges? And is an ATM even the best option? This article goes back to basics, to take a closer look at one of the handiest machines we encounter on the street everyday.

What is an ATM?

ATM stands for “Automated Teller Machine”, also commonly known as a “cash machine”, “cash dispenser”, “cashpoint” or “hole-in-the-wall”. In essence, it’s a machine that’s often situated either inside a bank branch or around the wall outside it, where you can enter your card, type in a PIN and withdraw money from your account. Often, ATMs offer several features to let you take care of other everyday banking tasks, too.

How can I find an ATM near me?

If you’ve ever gone to dinner and realised you forgot to get cash out beforehand, you’ve probably asked yourself this question. In big towns and cities, there’s normally plenty of ATMs to be found.

As you’d expect, they’re often located in or outside bank branches, but you can also find them elsewhere, for instance, in shopping malls, at stores or near public transport stations.

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ATM locators

If you haven’t got time to wander around town looking for the nearest ATM, an online or app-based ATM locator can help. It provides a map of the local area with ATM cash points marked on it.

In the N26 app, just touch the map symbol in the top right corner to see the Cash Map, and easily navigate to the nearest ATM.

ATM charges

Do ATMs cost money to use? It depends. In some countries, like the UK, most ATMs are free to use. But in others, you might have to pay – especially if you withdraw money from an ATM owned by a bank that you don’t bank with.

Germany is one example of this system. It’s standard practice for people to only take cash out from ATM machines run by their own bank. Customers are able to keep an eye out for any fees, because legally these have to be stated during the transaction. But even knowing the fees upfront doesn’t make them any easier to swallow, and people can feel pressured to pay just for the convenience of being at the closest ATM.

But remember that whichever country you’re in, there will probably be a few ATMs – typically ones which are not operated by a bank – that will always charge a fee, so look out for these.

Types of ATM

There are two basic types of ATM:

  • Bank-owned ATMs, which as the name suggests, are run by a bank. Many of them will actually be in or just outside of a branch of that bank – but you could also find bank-owned ATMs in other locations, like train stations or shopping malls. As well as withdrawing cash, you can do a variety of other things via bank-owned ATMs, such as depositing money if you have an account at the same branch.
  • Independent ATMs. You’re more likely to find the independent ones in convenience stores or convenient spending locations like gas stations, bars and restaurants. If you’re using an ATM that’s not owned by a bank, be careful to check for extra fees because in these cases, you’re being charged by the ATM operator itself, rather than your bank.

How much can I withdraw from an ATM?

You should check directly with your bank to find out what their ATM withdrawal limit is – they can vary quite widely and often this actually depends on your bank rather than the ATM itself.

For N26 customers, the maximum withdrawal limit from an ATM is €2.500 in most countries. If you want to set a lower withdrawal limit, you can change this in the app.

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