Consumers may be angry about automated teller machine surcharges, but that has not stopped them from using machines that charge the fees, according to a survey sponsored by Star Systems Inc., the nation's largest ATM network.

Star reported Tuesday that ATM/debit cardholders use "foreign" ATMs nearly four out of 10 times, on average. Curiously, the survey also found that 70% of respondents would favor the elimination of fees even if it reduced the number of ATMs they could use.

The survey was done late last year by Applied Management and Planning Group, an independent research firm in Los Angeles. It questioned 8,486 people, 85% of whom described themselves as active ATM card users.

Star, which is based in Maitland, Fla., said the survey showed that actions speak louder than words. With respondents saying nearly 40% of their ATM transactions are at machines that charge fees, Star concluded that people "value the convenience and access of foreign ATMs, even with surcharges," said Barbara Span, a spokeswoman.

Surcharging returned as a high-profile consumer issue last fall, when San Francisco and Santa Monica, Calif., became the first municipalities to approve ordinances banning the fees - and, subsequently, the first to be sued by big banking companies. The fees have become a rallying point for politicians, and several other cities, including New York, have proposed or approved similar ordinances.

Banking interests have routinely argued that curbs on surcharging would only hurt consumers in the long run, by limiting the number of cash-access points. In Santa Monica, for instance, Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. turned off their machines to all noncustomers after the surcharge ban was enacted. Most people interviewed did not care about limiting access, at least in theory.

Ms. Span said the phone survey, which contacted people in 20 states and the District of Columbia, was one of the largest done in the electronic payments services industry.

It found that ATM cardholders use their cards an average of 17 times a month - nine times at ATMs and eight times in stores. Of the nine ATM transactions, an average of 3.3 are at "foreign" ATMs - machines owned by a company other than the cardholder's bank. Since more than 80% of ATMs surcharge noncustomer transactions, a cardholder is more than likely to pay a fee during those 3.3 transactions.

In separate findings, 50% of cardholders preferred online debit transactions, in which they used a personal identification number.

Thirty-one percent favored the offline mode, which requires a signature, and 11% said they had no preference or used both methods.

This article previously appeared on AB Online.

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