Automated teller machine fees bother few people in the Southwest, according to a study commissioned by the Pulse Electronic Funds Transfer Association.

The survey, of 1,700 banking customers in seven southwestern states, found fewer than 2% had switched accounts to other institutions to avoid ATM surcharges.

The Southwest was the first region of the country to embrace ATM surcharging, so people who live there have had the most time to grow accustomed to the practice.

Observers of the surcharge debate said the acceptance of ATM fees in the Southwest may prove a reference point for other markets, where some people may still be adjusting to the relatively new fees.

The Southwest "may reflect the rest of the country when surcharging matures," said Alanna Kellogg, president of Kellogg Group, a St. Louis- based electronic banking consulting firm.

Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah were among the first states to pass legislation enabling banks and other ATM owners to impose surcharges. Fees of $1 to $2 per transaction became prevalent in those states.

In response to that surcharging, the Plus and Cirrus ATM networks lifted their nationwide surcharge bans in April 1996.

After that, surcharging became common in other parts of the country. So far, 15 states have enacted laws protecting ATM owners by permitting surcharging.

The survey by Houston-based Pulse indicates that southwesterners have become familiar enough with the surcharges to find ways to get around them them. More than 80% of the banking customers polled said they avoid ATMs that they know surcharge.

Pulse has analyzed its own transaction data and concluded that, at least in Texas, 18% of ATM users pay 60% of all surcharges.

"I think that is a very powerful number," said Richard R. Batsell, a marketing professor at Rice University in Houston who conducted the survey for Pulse. "It is pretty clear that a small minority of users" get surcharged the most.

The Pulse study also found that 90% of respondents said financial institutions informed them "sufficiently" about ATM fees.

Thirty percent of respondents said they had paid surcharges at least once. More than 8% said they had paid over $1.

And 61.2% of respondents said the fees charged at ATMs were "just right" or "a bargain."

"It is evident that the free market is functioning with regard to ATM use," Mr. Batsell said. "The data shows that consumers are clearly aware of their options."

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