A Washington-based consumer group has found that consumers must pay surcharges at 23% of automated teller machines.

The survey by U.S. Public Interest Research Group of 458 ATMs in 20 states indicated that the pricing practice has spread rapidly in the six months since Visa and MasterCard changed their rules to allow it.

The research said 57% of the surcharging machines are in bank branches and 58% are owned by the nation's 300 biggest banks.

The fee range was 25 cents to $3.90, with $1 said to be typical.

Janice Shields, consumer research director, said she was dismayed that so many machines on bank premises impose the fee on customers of other financial institutions. She noted that banks said they supported surcharging "to offer ATMs at remote locations and have those users pay the extra costs."

A spokeswoman for Barnett Banks Inc., which imposes fees at all its 800- plus ATMs in Florida, said, "Barnett has invested a great deal of resources in establishing the largest ATM network in Florida for our customers. We feel it's reasonable that another bank's customer pay a nominal fee of $1."

The consumer group's survey showed at least 60% of ATMs in Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona, and Texas surcharge, as did 40% to 60% of machines in New Mexico, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Some of those states had allowed surcharging before the card associations lifted their remaining restrictions April 1 on the Cirrus and Plus networks.

A financial industry consulting firm, Carmody & Bloom of Ridgewood, N.J., found in a telephone survey of 350 institutions that 40% of ATMs, owned by 45% of the banks, imposed surcharges.

The fees are most common in the Southeast and Southwest, the consultants found, but less prevalent in the Midwest, Northeast, or California. For example, only 14% of banks in New York imposed surcharges.

The Public Interest Research Group will list ATMs that surcharge on its World Wide Web site (www.pirg.org/pirg/consumer.htm). Ms. Shields said the group encourages consumers to avoid paying the fees and to press banks that don't charge them to maintain that stance.

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