Beginning Nov. 17, Washington Mutual will no longer be known as the big bank with the free ATMs.
WaMu has decided to charge people who use its ATMs without having an account there, something most large banks have done for years. Non-customers will pay $2 in Oregon, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Nevada, and $1.50 in Washington, California and most other states.
A WaMu spokeswoman said lines have gotten long at some automated teller machines because of the company's long-standing, no-fee policy.
"This is something we're doing for our customers," Darcy Donahoe-Wilmot said. "Why should customers have to wait in line for people who aren't our customers?"
WaMu figures its ATMs get more than twice the traffic of competitors, partly because they are free.
The company had never charged non-customers for using its ATMs in Washington and Oregon; it instituted the no-fee policy in other states five years ago.
The income generated by the new surcharge will be modest, Donahoe-Wilmot said, and will go toward expanding and upgrading WaMu's system of more than 3,500 ATMs nationwide (nearly 250 machines in Washington).
But Kathy Flynn, a WaMu customer for 20 years who said she does not wait in long lines for an ATM, doubts the fee is to reduce waiting times.
"That's not why they're doing it," said Flynn, who lives on Vashon Island. "They're doing it to make more money."
WaMu's new fee is part of the growing cost of using ATMs. The average non-customer surcharge has risen 40 percent in the past six years to $1.40, according to a recent study by BankRate.com. Of the banks surveyed by the consumer Web site, nearly 91 percent assess that type of fee.
Many banks, including WaMu, also charge customers for using ATMs outside their network.
BankRate.com figures consumers spend about $4 billion a year using ATMs at banks other than their own.
Michael Moebs, head of a banking-research firm in Illinois, said banks charge more for ATM use because their cost for each transaction has gone up as customers favor debit cards.
"ATMs are dying, and debit cards are taking over," he said.
In the Seattle area, the bank with the most market share — Bank of America — charges non-customers $2 to use its ATMs. It also charges customers $1.50 if they try to take more than their daily withdrawal limit from another bank's ATM. Customers are denied the money and then charged a "denial fee," which recently came to light when an MSNBC blogger tried to take more than his $300 daily limit.
WaMu, with the second-largest market share in Seattle, has no such fee.