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How Do Cardless ATMs Work?

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Updated September 27, 2023

Cardless ATMs are automated teller machines you can use without a debit card or ATM card. Unlike traditional ATMs, instead of a physical card, you can use your mobile phone to access the ATM and handle supported banking transactions. Here’s a closer look at how cardless ATMs work and which banks support them.

Examples of cardless ATM accounts

BankInterest checking account optionAPYMonthly fee
Chase
Chase Premier Plus Checking
0.01%
$25 (waived with $15,000 balance across eligible Chase accounts or with an eligible Chase mortgage on autopay from the account or active military)
360 Checking
0.10%
None
Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo Prime Checking
0.05% for balances up to $99,999.99. .10% for balances of $100,000 or above
$25 (waived with $20,000 balance across eligible Wells Fargo accounts)

How do cardless ATMs work?

Cardless ATMs use your bank’s mobile app to enable ATM access instead of a physical bank card. The feature to interact with your account may work in one of several ways.

  • NFC: Near Field Communication (NFC) is the technology powering tap-to-pay features built into payment cards and digital wallets. Similar to checking out at a store with a tap from your phone, some cardless ATMs allow you to tap a phone or smartwatch connected to your bank’s mobile app to use an ATM.
  • QR code: Quick Response (QR) codes are square barcodes you’ve likely seen on posters or other ads allowing you to quickly reach a website. The same codes can be generated for one-time use. Some bank apps allow you to unlock an ATM by scanning a QR code on the ATM screen from your bank’s app.
  • Access code: For some cardless ATMs, you can set up your transaction in the bank’s mobile app before approaching the ATM. The app will give you a code that’s entered into the ATM to complete the transaction.

Every bank and ATM network uses proprietary software to run its ATMs. In some cases, a bank’s new ATMs support cardless features while older machines still require an ATM card. If you’re unsure if you’ll be able to find a cardless ATM, it’s still a good idea to carry your card with you so you can access quick cash in an emergency. In the future, as more ATMs offer cardless functionality, cards may go by the wayside.

Cardless ATMs: Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Less opportunity for card fraud
Potential for security breach if you lose your phone
Convenient use without a physical card
Confusing for individuals uncomfortable with modern smartphone apps

Advantages of cardless ATMs

Less opportunity for card fraud

If someone with bad intentions gets hold of your card and PIN, they can use an ATM to drain your account. When your card is safely tucked away and you use your mobile device at the ATM, you have less risk of someone else stealing and using your card.

Convenient use without a physical card

One fewer card can lighten your load or shrink your wallet. There’s no need to worry about forgetting your ATM card at home. Most people never leave home without their phone, and cardless ATMs allow you to make a withdrawal using your cherished mobile device.

Disadvantages of cardless ATMs

Potential for security breach if you lose your phone

If you lose your phone and don’t have strong security features to keep it locked, it’s easy for a thief to open your bank’s app and access your accounts. Taking full advantage of your phone’s most secure locking features and using strong passwords helps keep the bad guys at bay if your phone is lost or stolen. To go a step further, consider adding remote tracking and wipe capabilities through your Google, Apple, or a third-party security app.

Confusing for individuals uncomfortable with modern smartphone apps

Older adults and others who don’t consider themselves tech savvy may struggle accessing new features, such as the NFC or QR code scanning needed to use a cardless ATM. Many cardless ATMs allow both a card alongside cardless features to maintain maximum compatibility.

Your phone needs to work

If your phone needs recharging or has other problems, you won’t be able to access your money.

How to use a cardless ATM

Cardless ATMs are easy to use when you understand how they work. Follow these simple steps to use a cardless ATM with NFC:

  1. Pre-ATM setup: Enable NFC on your smartphone and add your card to your mobile wallet app or set up your bank’s mobile app, depending on your bank’s requirements for using an ATM with cardless features. Verify the card, usually through an SMS or email code.
  2. Find a compatible ATM: Use your bank's mobile app to locate an ATM with cardless, NFC capabilities. Look for the NFC logo on the machine.
  3. Ready your mobile wallet: When you approach the ATM, open your mobile wallet and select the card you plan to use.
  4. Tap and authenticate: Choose the cardless option on the ATM menu, then tap your phone to the NFC reader. Authenticate through your mobile wallet's security feature.
  5. Transact and collect: Proceed with your desired transaction, collect your cash and receipt, and you're good to go.

The steps are different when using a QR code or ATM access code through your bank’s mobile app, but you’ll still use your phone to authenticate with the machine before proceeding with your transaction. Once you’ve unlocked the ATM with your account, it’s just like using an ATM for a traditional card-based transaction.

TIME Stamp: Cardless ATMs are the future of banking

Cardless ATMs are a convenient way to withdraw cash or handle other transactions independently of a bank teller. As long as you maintain cybersecurity best practices and keep your phone secure—and charged—it’s a safe way to unlock your account and manage your money.

Check with your bank to find out if cardless is an option, or consider signing up with one of the banks that offer an account with cardless features. If you’re thinking about switching banks, check out our list of the best bank accounts here.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Can you get a cardless ATM at any ATM?

No, you cannot use cardless features at any ATM. Only modern ATMs with support for cardless transactions allow you to use your smartphone to gain access.

Is cardless cash safe?

When you use strong and unique passwords—and keep your phone updated and follow security best practices—using cardless ATM features, or “cardless cash,” is safe.

How many times can you withdraw from a cardless ATM per day?

Withdrawal limits at ATMs vary by bank. Check with your bank to learn your transaction limits. Some banks may increase your limits on request.

The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.

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