HARRISBURG, Pa. — The $3 foreign fee imposed last summer by two big banks to recover their costs is coming under new credit union scrutiny following the move this month by a third big bank, JPMorgan/Chase, to quietly join the pack.

Shining the spotlight on the ATM hike was the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association whose president/CEO penned a Jan. 27 letter to the editor of the Harrisburg Patriot News reminding the public that Pennsylvania CUs, which are members of a statewide alliance, offer surcharge-free ATMs.

“Currently, there are 407 credit unions with more than 1,100 machines located throughout Pennsylvania and into 12 states” where users will not be charged, wrote James McCormack, president/CEO of PCUA.

He was responding to a Patriot News article earlier in the month entitled, “Do You Pay For Cash?” containing suggestions by an official of Bankrate.com that users turn to alternative financial institutions.

No CUs were mentioned in the article that quoted Harrisburg bankers explaining the trend away from using cash and relying on ATMs. Also none of the bankers said they had plans to match the $3 fee of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, or Chase.

Quoted in the article was Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.Com in Florida, who noted that Americans paid an estimated $4.4 billion in ATM fees in 2007. The average fee for non-customers to use a machine in 2007, according to Bankrate, was $1.78, up from $1.64 in 2006. The most common fee is $2.

“Although the fees have been marching higher, the fact is consumers are not hostage to those higher fees,” said McBride. “The ATM surcharge is completely avoidable, and there are a large number of people that have never paid an ATM fee in their lives.”

–jrubenscut@aol.com