Bank of America Slashes ATM Network In Cost-Cutting

It's not your imagination. Bank of America really did get less convenient.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank has hauled off more than 1,500 ATMs from shopping malls, grocery stores and gas stations this year, the bank confirmed to The Huffington Post on Monday.

That means customers will have to pay at least $2 to use another bank's automated teller -- or take a hike to find a Bank of America location to get fee-free cash. The shrinkage comes as the bank focuses on cost-cutting and Americans change how and where they use ATMs.

Tara Burke, a spokeswoman for the bank, said that most of the locations losing ATMs were those with limited access, and were machines that only dispensed cash, rather than those accepting deposits. More than half of the bank's deposits are made through an automated teller, she said.

Burke added that new, full-service machines will be added in bank-branded 24-hour locations in the future. She declined to elaborate. Bank of America ATMs are still available in airports, she said.

According to the latest earnings report from June 30, the bank had 16,220 ATM machines, a decrease of nearly 9 percent since the start of the year. The bank said one-time ATM reduction is part of a drive to slash $8 billion from expenses by 2015, Bloomberg reported.

The move underscores the bank's strategy to shed some of its more unprofitable customers. "We have 42 million retail customers," said CEO Brian Moynihan last fall. "Many of those don't contribute or overcome their cost-to-serve."

Meanwhile, JPMorgan Chase appears to picking up some of that market share. It has expanded its ATM footprint to more than 18,000 locations, making it one of the biggest networks in the country. It has also expanded product offerings to include prepaid cards as an alternative to checking for low-income customers. Wells Fargo has more than 12,000 ATM locations.

The availability and convenience of a bank's ATM network plays a significant role in how much a checking account actually costs consumers. Go out of network more than once or twice a month, and the fees can add up quickly. Banks typically charge from $2 to $3 to use non-network ATMs, plus there is a fee at the other bank's machine of $2 to $5.

The biggest banks have justified monthly maintenance fees of $7 to $15 with the argument that the cost is made up with savings on ATM fees. But that monthly fee is actually underwriting the cost of paying for the ATM locations. According to Bloomberg, it costs a bank around $1,700 per month to operate an ATM on property it doesn't own.

Even as some BofA customers will have to adjust to finding new places to access their cash for free, chances are they were not doing it at the mall. Mall traffic has declined as the recession has dampened sport shopping and online vendors nibble at brick-and-mortar stores' customers.

"Given the problems indoor malls are having now drawing traffic, those can't be high-performing machines," said Suzanne Cluckey, an editor at ATM MarketPlace, a trade publication for the ATM industry. There are around 400,000 ATMs in the U.S., according to the publication. Around half of those are operated by banks, and the others are operated by third-party companies.

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