A tourist scoffed at paying a $4 fee to withdraw cash from the ATM of a local bank.
So she canceled the transaction and walked away, muttering that she could still get a drink with her Starbucks card.
Michael and Sharon Fryette from Hawaii paid a $3 ATM fee to get money to feed a meter and avoid having to pay a $9 parking ticket.
Tourists can bank on having to pay costly ATM fees here. They are usually higher than the national average of $2.40, as determined in a 2011 survey by Bankrate.com.
The Bank of the San Juans and First National Bank of Durango, which has the biggest ATM network in La Plata County, both charge $4 for noncustomers to withdraw cash from their machines. Pine River Valley Bank charges $5 for the same transaction.
These fees are in addition to what banks will charge consumers for withdrawing money from another bank’s ATM. These fees average $1.41, according to Bankrate.com.
So a nonconsumer could conceivably pay a total a $6.50 to $7 to withdraw money from the Pine River Valley Bank, which did not respond to an email for comment.
As a travel hotspot and remote location, Durango fits the profile of a place that charges high ATM fees, according to an article at Creditcards.com. Other places with high ATM fees include strip clubs, amusement parks and convenience stores.
To avoid paying ATM fees, bankers tell consumers to just use their bank’s ATM, but out-of-towners short on cash will be hard-pressed to find an ATM from their own banking network – the only national bank with a location here is Wells Fargo.
There is also a Chase ATM at Walgreens. Bank of America had an ATM at a Valero gas station on Main Avenue until it pulled the machine this spring. The closest Bank of America ATM is now 36 miles away in Aztec.
Colleen Haggerty, a media relations representative for Bank of America, said the bank decided to end its relationship with Valero in order to provide “ATMs that offer full functionality, including accepting deposits, greater efficiency and additional customer touch points. We are removing ATMs which don’t fit our strategy.”
Dan Katz, director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group, surmises that local banks charge higher fees because they know tourists are trapped.
“It does seem like they’re charging to what the market can pay,” Katz said. “There’s a lot of rich tourists and they don’t have any options. So they can charge them a lot more because they don’t have a lot of competition.”
Passing higher fees onto noncustomers has an added benefit of keeping costs low for their own customers, Katz said.
Art Chase, president of Bank of the San Juans, does not think that its ATM fees are “unreasonable,” saying he once paid $5.50 to withdraw money from an ATM in New York.
“There are many costs involved with owning and running an ATM,” Chase said. “For example, we purchased three new ATMs that are (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. That was a requirement. It cost us close to $100,000.”
Mark Daigle, president of First National Bank of Durango, said local banks have to charge higher fees because they don’t have the same economies of scale as a national bank or even a statewide bank like Bank of Colorado, which charges $3 per withdrawal, or Alpine Bank, which charges $3.50 per withdrawal.
“There are different issues when you are primarily focused on one market,” Daigle said.
Because Durango is a small town, First National has to pay for higher costs such as regularly bringing in a maintenance service from Albuquerque, Daigle said.
“The servicing cost does come into play,” Daigle said. “ATM fees become a target from a consumer standpoint. Yet, they’re expensive machines and they sit there with cash in them.”
Because First National recognizes the hardships of college students, it recently decided to drop its ATM fee at Fort Lewis College to $2.50, Daigle said.
College students are “operating on a tighter budget and may not have the alternative available,” he said. ‘We’re trying to make it a little easier on them.”
But all consumers can do things to avoid the ATM fee, Daigle said.
“Certainly, we welcome anyone who wants to take advantage of the no cost,” he said. “All they have to do is bank with us.”
Staff photographer Shaun Stanley contributed to this story.