It's a bit cheaper in 2021 to make an out-of-network ATM withdrawal with your debit card, but it'll cost you a bit more, on top of an already hefty price, to use your card for a purchase when you don't have enough funds in your checking account.

According to Bankrate.com's annual Checking Account and ATM Fee Study, overdraft charges are at a new record high of $33.58. The average cost to overdraw an account, which occurs when you attempt to pay with a checking account that has insufficient funds, rose slightly from $33.47 in 2020, according to the study.

For the 13th year in a row, the most common fee charged by banks to cover the shortfall is $35. By a 7-to-1 margin, the study finds, more banks are increasing overdraft fees than decreasing them.

In response to the study's findings, John McWeeney, president and CEO of the New Jersey Bankers Association, noted that today's consumers have numerous ways to avoid overdraft fees.

"With tools designed to alert customers to low balances or overdrawn balances, and the ability to link their checking accounts with other accounts such as savings and credit cards, shortfalls and overdrafts are now easier to avoid," he said. "These tools and services not only help consumers avoid overdraft fees, but also help avoid incurring bounced check fees as well."

Bankrate's study found positive news for individuals who can't easily make it to an ATM at their own bank when they're in need of cash. According to the survey of hundreds of banks across the U.S., the average total cost of an out-of-network ATM withdrawal is $4.59. That's down for the second year in a row, and it's mostly due to the fact that more institutions are permitting free out-of-network withdrawals.

"Despite the increasing prevalence of free out-of-network withdrawals, that's not the only fee to worry about," said Greg McBride, Bankrate's chief financial analyst. "Every ATM owner surveyed still charges non-customers so avoiding ATM fees still means avoiding withdrawals outside your network."

McBride said one way to avoid ATM fees is to instead use the cash-back option when making a purchase at a store — most merchants won't charge you a fee for that. Also, many community banks and credit unions belong to nationwide ATM alliances, so you may have more free options that you'd think.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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