Hoping to undermine a ban on ATM surcharges, bank and thrift trade groups are asking Visa U.S.A. and MasterCard International to loosen the rules governing these fees.

"Each of our organizations shares a common goal of avoiding the dangerous precedent of federal price-setting," wrote the Independent Bankers Association of America and America's Community Bankers in joint letters sent last week to the presidents of each card association.

The trade groups asked the card companies to permit ATM owners to collect either a surcharge or an interchange fee, but not both on the same transaction. It also said Visa and MasterCard should compensate banks for the cost of providing surcharge disclosures and allow small banks and thrifts to waive or reduce surcharges when serving each others' customers.

"We are anxious to find a private sector solution to the issues that have arisen as access fees have become more prevalent," the trade groups wrote.

MasterCard, which owns the Cirrus ATM network, and Visa, owner of the Plus System network, lifted a national ban on surcharges on April 1, 1996. Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., is expected to introduce legislation this year that would reinstate the ban.

-Olaf de Senerpont Domis

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