CHICAGO (7/22/08)--An ATM industry publication says the U.S. economic downturn is boosting business at surcharge-free ATM networks while cost-conscious consumers look for ways to cut costs. Community banks and credit unions are joining the four largest surcharge-free ATM networks--Allpoint, Credit Union 24, CO-OP Network and MoneyPass--to help depositors and reduce credit union members' fees during challenging economic times, reported ATM & Debit News (July 17). In the past few months, surcharge-free ATM networks announced several new deals, all resulting in growth. The largest is a 2.5 year contract between Tallahassee, Fla.-based Credit Union 24 and Bethesda, Md.-based Allpoint. The agreement means the "CU Here Premium" network will have 50,000 ATMs nationwide. Minneapolis-based MoneyPass, which has 13,000 ATMs and has added 100 financial institutions since January, also belongs to CU Here Premium, said the article. CO-OP Network, based in Rancho Cucamonga, recently announced that 111 credit unions--with more than 500 ATMs--had joined the network during the first half of the year. Jim Gowan, Credit Union 24 executive vice president and chief operating officer, told the publication that the networks help credit unions and community banks having fewer ATMs individually compete on a national scale against banks with thousands of ATMs. The networks emphasize their surcharge-free withdrawals, and CO-OP also stresses locations of ATMs for members' convenience, said James A. Hanisch, CO-OP executive vice president of development. Its network has 25,000 machines with 9,000 accepting deposits. Consumers' need to save money means that credit union membership is a viable, needed alternative to other financial institutions, said Jim Park, Credit Union 24 president/CEO. MoneyPass President Doug Miraglia noted that financial institutions are responding to their cost-conscious customers' demand that they get access to surcharge-free transactions. Banks typically charge nonblank customers surcharge fees averaging $1.78 per withdrawal, said Bankrate.com. Both the ATM owner bank and the consumer's bank charge a surcharge, meaning a cash withdrawal may cost more than $3 in fees per transaction.