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ATM Users Fight Back With Pentagon’s Help

The Pentagon wants to ban ATM bank charges on all military bases in the US and around the world. The move has delighted politicians and consumer watchdog groups. John Howard reports.

Seeking to help financially strapped military personnel, the Pentagon has proposed banning ATM surcharges in military bases both in the US and around the world.

The US Defence Department issued the proposal for public comment in August. The public comment period ended last week and the department is expected to make a decision in 60 to 90 days.

The proposal "is a nuclear bomb that spells the beginning of the end of the ATM fee rip-off," Jon Golinger, consumer program director for California Public Interest Resource Group, said in a statement yesterday.

His group is one of several organising a November 2 ballot proposition (referenda) banning all ATM surcharges in San Francisco. The state government's of Connecticut and Iowa have already banned the surcharges.

The highly unpopular surcharges are levied by banks on people who use their automated teller machines if they are not customers of that bank. They come on top of charges by customer's own banks for using an ATM operated by another bank.

The same surcharge regime applies in New Zealand. A bank customer can be charged 35 cents per transaction for using their own bank ATM plus another 50 cents if they use another bank's ATM - a possible 85 cents per transaction.

New Zealand consumer groups expressed concern when the charges were altered from October 1, saying the surcharges were unfair because many rural towns do not have a full range of banking services or ATM machines which meant than customers had no alternative but to incur the surcharge.

However, US consumer groups say that until politicians started announcing their concern and legislating to protect consumer rights, which is now happening in the US, the banks were not really interested in changing their policies.

No political party in New Zealand has announced its intention to legislate in this area if it becomes elected.

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